Though Kevin Owens and John Cena worked together on the final Smackdown of 2022, their shared time in the WWE Universe didn’t start off so smoothly. No, as KO pointed out in an interview with Peter Rosenberg on The Ringer’s Cheap Heat, the duo actually began their time together as foes, with Cena serving as Owen’s first foe on the main roster when he answered his open challenge on Raw.

“I remember, vividly, Triple H telling me on the afternoon of a NXT show in Philly that I was going to start Monday on Raw,” Owens said via Fightful. “I was getting called up and that was it for me in NXT, and I was going to start with Cena. I was like, ‘Oh, woah, that was quick.’ Also, somehow, I can’t tell you how, but I knew that’s how it was going to happen and it would be that quick.”

“I remember telling my wife, we had moved to Florida for NXT and it was a difficult thing to do, we had a three-month-old daughter at the time and our son was only six, and it was taking them away from our families back in Canada, it was very tricky. I remember telling her, ‘Okay, give me six months from the moment I show up on NXT TV and I’m going to make it to the main roster and we can move back.’ That seemed to be a very unattainable goal, but that’s exactly what happened and I don’t know how. Maybe I manifested it, I don’t know, but I knew, somehow, a month or two before I got called up, I started seeing the landscape and the open challenges. I remember thinking, ‘let me put that out there.’ I did a promo class at the Performance Center talking about how I was going to answer John Cena’s open challenge on Monday. I don’t know if me saying it would plant seeds somewhere, maybe it did because some people at promo class were talking to Road Dogg, who was doing what he’s doing now, and Sami had answered an open challenge, and two weeks later I was the one answering. I remember that, and being amazed everything worked out the way it did. At the same time, not being surprised at all because I felt it already.”

For those who don’t recall, Owens made his RAW television debut on May 18th, 2015, when he emerged from the back with his NXT World Championship belt slung over his shoulder. He talked some smack on “The Champ,” kicked him in the crotch, and then laid out Cena with the pop-up power bomb, a move that he really should use more often. For fans who didn’t watch Ring of Honor, let alone NXT, this was a cool way to introduce the character of KO, as it laid out his personality, his rebellious nature, and ultimately set up a program that would define Owens’ maiden voyage on the RAW roster.

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John Cena taught Kevin Owens a lot in their WWE program.

Though Cena and Owens only wrestled four matches on either television or Pay-Per-View in the summer of 2015, with solo matches at Elimination Chamber, Money in the Banks, and Battleground, plus a six-man tag on RAW that saw Cena and Owens on opposite sides of the match, the duo actually wrestled 17 matches between May and September, as they were a featured program on both the WWE Live circuit and the SummerSlam Heatwave Tour. That summer, according to Owens, helped him to become a legitimate WWE Superstar.

“Getting to work with John, being around him and his energy, we ended up working together all summer because he was still doing the live events at that time,” Owens said. “Seeing the passion of a guy who, at that point, really didn’t need to be as passionate as he was for this. He was already on the cusp of doing his stuff in Hollywood, he was by far the biggest face in the company. He showed up at every live event and gave it his all. If he wasn’t in the ring, he was at the monitor watching the show. I saw in John Cena what I was myself, but I saw it at a level of, this guy doesn’t need to be doing any of this, he just wants to do it. That was really cool and very admirable. Now it’s all circling back around, and we get to team on SmackDown. It’s another thing to add to the list of experiences I’ve had in WWE that are surreal, and I’m thankful for.”

So, in a way, the Owens-Cena tag team pairing on the final SmackDown of the year was a fun way to close out the calendar but also a full-circle moment for KO, as he was afforded an opportunity to work with the man who broke him into the main roster in the match that cemented his 20th year with the company.