It finally happened. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho’s longstanding friendship came to a sudden, violent end during the “Festival of Friendship” on Monday Night Raw. It was a segment so brilliantly done, it managed to prevail over predictability and act as a strong start to establish Owens as a true heel — something hard to come by in WWE in 2017.
Owens, for reasons not yet fully known, attacked Jericho, setting up a final run to the climax of one of the more unusual and intriguing storylines in recent WWE history. Owens and Jericho were originally put together in what was essentially busy work starting around SummerSlam last year. It seemed no major plans were intended between the two, and Jericho’s peculiar month-to-month contracts with the company meant that Y2J was not expected to be working his current run for much longer.
Except Owens and Jericho started clicking remarkably well, so Jericho kept extending his stay, and WWE continued to run with the duo.
“I’ve had such a great time working with you, being your partner; it’s made this last year in the WWE one of my favorite years of my entire career,” Jericho said in character Monday.
While he said that to Owens in kayfabe, it was a seemingly true statement outside of it as well. It was why a mere rest-stop storyline turned into a full-fledged narrative that is now extending from SummerSlam into WrestleMania.
The key, though, is everybody knew it was just a matter of time.
Unlike the famous turn on El Generico (Sami Zayn) in ROH back in 2009, everybody knew the end goal to this friendship was that it would sour at some point.
What started off a goofy and comedic segment Monday turned into a heartwarming moment.
The audience was sucked in just as Owens’ character appeared like he couldn’t resist the heartfelt nature of the whole affair. Then came the turn.
Despite the predictability, WWE managed to catch the fans completely off guard. After so many teases in the months before, the people had been lulled into a comfort. Fans thought they were seeing Owens and Jericho reach a new level of their relationship and at its most heartwarming moment, the tables turned completely. The realization crept over the audience in those brief moments, then all hell broke loose.
Conquering the predictability of the turn was one thing, but Owens and Jericho had managed to become such a successful gimmick together that its effect is almost compounded. Not only did you pull the fans into an emotional scene and flip it on them unexpectedly, but something the fans truly enjoyed and were invested in was destroyed in that moment. For maybe the first time of his WWE run, Owens has been set up to be a genuine heel.
Owens has of course always played a heel-ish character. But coming in and being a rival to John Cena or, later on, Roman Reigns isn’t exactly a great way to get booed. WWE has not done too well with heels of late, as the top heel characters are the ones getting the most cheers overall. But finally we have a character that breaks the mold.
In the course of the “Festival of Friendship,” WWE managed to make Jericho one of the most sympathetic faces on the roster and Owens one of the most hate-worthy heels all in one fell swoop. Longtime fans of Owens, back to his days in ROH and PWG, saw his return to the sociopathic, hateful heel he does so well.
Owens may be a fan favorite and an indie darling, but everything about the long partnership and eventual turn on Jericho was done so well that if the audience doesn’t see Owens as a true heel now, nothing will convince them. The foundation was laid marvelously; now it is just a matter of WWE capitalizing effectively and consistently.