Kevin Eck is a former member of the WWE creative team and now blogs about pro wrestling for PressBox.
Now that Roman Reigns' status as the heir apparent to top star John Cena is in doubt, it seems WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon is once again looking for someone to anoint as Cena's successor.
Finding a wrestler to fill Cena's sneakers is certainly a daunting task, but the answer is actually right in front of McMahon. All he needs to do is to look outside the box.
When he does, he'll see Kevin Owens standing there.
Admittedly, Owens doesn't look like face-of-the-company material at first glance. Unlike Reigns, Owens doesn't have a movie-star mug, muscular physique or the flowing locks of a romance novel cover model.
During the past several years, however, WWE fans have rejected prototypical supermen such as Reigns and pro wrestler-turned-Bond-villain Batista in main event slots and gravitated to less-chiseled, substance-over-style ring generals such as Daniel Bryan and CM Punk.
Having worked on the WWE creative team for three years, I can attest to the fact that McMahon never believed Bryan or Punk could be the No. 1 star in WWE, despite their overwhelming popularity, but as WWE's current slogan proclaims, it's a new era.
It's time for McMahon to abandon his narrow view of what a top guy looks like and embrace Owens as the pot-bellied poster boy of the new era.
With his scruffy face, farmer's tan and a dad body that cannot be concealed under his black t-shirt and basketball shorts, Owens looks more like a ticket-buying fan than a ticket-selling attraction, but he's a classic example of not judging the book by its cover.
In fact, a strong argument can be made Owens is the best all-around performer in the business.
The 6-foot, 266-pound Quebec native's displays of athleticism and stamina belie his physical appearance. Not only can he go hold-for-hold and punch-for-punch with the top workers in WWE, but he also delivers the most impressive frog splash since Rob Van Dam and the late Eddie Guerrero.
Owens is a master of the microphone as well. He's adept as cutting serious, money-drawing promos and also has a quick wit and terrific comedic timing. (If you want a good laugh, check out Owens' Twitter account,
, to read his biting responses to smart-aleck fans. In the realm of 140 characters or less, Owens is the undisputed champion.)
Above all, Owens has the "it factor." His charisma is obviously more understated than Cena's or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's, but his charm is undeniable.
I realize "charm" is an odd choice of words to attach to one of the most unsavory heels in pro wrestling/sports entertainment, but Owens is so good at being bad that fans can't help but appreciate his talent.
When I watch how a crowd reacts to Owens, I get the sense people want to get behind him because they find him entertaining. Owens, however, knows his job as a heel is to make the fans boo him and cheer his opponent, so he refuses to let them in or show any redeeming qualities.
When the time comes for Owens to turn babyface -- and it's bound to happen at some point -- I believe he's going to connect with the audience in a big way, especially if the story line is well-crafted and he has a strong antagonist.
The fans have clearly had a difficult time identifying with Reigns, who comes across as an aloof, genetically gifted athlete, but Owens seems more like them. He has his flaws, but that only makes him more relatable and real.
Owens shares qualities with some of the most beloved wrestlers of all time. He has the acerbic wit of Roddy Piper; the blue-collar appeal and body type of Dusty Rhodes; the anti-authority attitude and toughness of Stone Cold Steve Austin; and the independent wrestling street credibility of Bryan and Punk.
A babyface Owens would likely be a big hit with multiple demographics in WWE's fanbase.
Kids and teens would like him because he's a funny trash-talker and does cool moves; the male 18-49 demo that already respects his in-ring ability would find it more palatable to cheer for a "man's man" than a handsome hulk; and while it's true Owens won't be appearing on GQ or Muscle & Fitness anytime soon, he'd appeal to women if WWE played up the fact that he's a loving husband and the father of two young kids.
Owens would probably play well on the talk show circuit as well because he's articulate and has a great sense of humor.
Like Bryan and Punk, the 32-year-old Owens plied his trade for years at small venues far from the bright lights of WWE. The question was never whether any of them had the talent to make it to WWE, it was whether the powers that be in WWE would see past their cosmetic shortcomings and recognize their star potential.
Unlike Punk and Bryan, however, Owens did not have to work his way up the card once he finally made it to WWE's main roster; Owens started at the very top.
He made his WWE debut a little more than a year ago by showing up unannounced on "Monday Night Raw" and engaging in a verbal confrontation with Cena that concluded with Owens laying out the buff, square-jawed mega-star.
Two weeks later, Owens scored a rare clean pinfall victory over Cena on pay-per-view in his first WWE match.
Owens and Cena wrestled each other again on the next two pay-per-views, with Cena winning both. All three matches in their series drew rave reviews from fans and wrestling pundits.
Of course, when you start your WWE career by working with Cena, there's nowhere to go but down. During the past year, Owens has been one of WWE's most valuable upper-midcard performers, but he's far too talented not to be in the main event mix.
Here's one suggestion on how to turn Owens into WWE's top babyface:
Owens and his real-life best friend and long-time on-screen rival Sami Zayn apparently closed the chapter on their feud with an outstanding match at WWE's "Battleground" show July 24.
Leading up to that final battle, WWE did a great job telling the story of how the good friends became bitter enemies. The fans were emotionally invested.
I'm envisioning a scenario in which Zayn is in peril. He's being double-teamed, and just when it seems he's going to suffer a potentially career-ending injury, Owens comes out.
At first it appears Owens is going to join in on the beat-down, but he shocks everyone by going after Zayn's attackers instead.
The following week, Owens cuts a heart-felt promo about the fine line between love and hate and how his feelings of brotherly love for Zayn, the man who is his son's godfather, came to the surface when he saw how much trouble he was in.
Owens and Zayn then bury the hatchet and join forces to combat the men who tried to put Zayn out.
After that story concludes -- with Owens and Zayn prevailing, obviously -- Owens begins his quest to become world champion.
A program pitting Owens against Seth Rollins (assuming Rollins wins the WWE Universal Title at SummerSlam Aug. 21) would be amazing in the ring and on the mic. The dichotomy between "everyman" Owens and Rollins, an entitled opportunist with a CrossFit body, makes for a natural rivalry.
The fact is, sooner or later, John Cena will no longer be -- as he puts it -- the face that runs the place.
The potential new face of WWE may be more doughy than square-jawed, but Kevin Owens is definitely ready for his close-up.