Kevin Owens is once again the New Face of America, and WWE's United States Champion.
The prizefighter came to WWE Battleground determined to regain the title that AJ Styles won from him at Madison Square Garden. Styles shocked everyone at that July 7th WWE house show by pinning Kevin Owens to become the new US Champion. Typically, titles don't change hands in non-televised WWE shows, but that night proved a rare exception.
It's been a long journey to tonight's rematch. At one point the listing for the match was even removed from the PPV's card on the WWE website for several days! This occurred around the same time as KO's twitter went black in protest, casting a shadow of doubt over whether the former "New Face of America" would get a direct path to his rematch, or have to endure a longer series of trials and set-backs (as Styles himself has faced) to earn it.
The Phenomenal One had a pretty good case for a title shot. Two PPVs ago at May’s Backlash, Styles came up short against KO- but only because his leg got stuck in the announce table and was counted out as a result.
Both men laid into each other with determination and fury from the outset of tonight's match. With their history and so much riding on the line, they also let the taunts and insults fly, each shouting that they were the real deserving champion.
Owens kept the upper-hand for much of the match's duration, and managed to evade and counter AJ's every attempt at a Styles Clash, Phenomenal Forearm, and Sunset Flip.
Styles finally got Owens in position for a Styles Clash to end the match, but the ensuing sequence lead to the referee being laid out. Though AJ got Owens into a middle-of-the-ring calf crusher, Owens managed to reverse into the Crippler Crossface, paying tribute to a fellow French Canadian.
Still, AJ struggled to his feet, rolling into an arm-trap crossface of his own while the stunned official began to come to. Owens seized the opportunity, rolling through another crossface into a pinning predicament, and the referee made the count, despite it looked like both men's shoulders were down
Owens reclaimed his prized US Title and emerged the victor, as in last week's tag match where he and partner Baron Corbin viciously ganged up on AJ Styles. However, Styles continues to prove his status as the face SmackDown was built on, belt or no belt.
Over the course of 2016, AJ Styles had one of the best rookie years in WWE history. Styles won the WWE Championship on top of feuding with WWE giants John Cena and Roman Reigns. That said, AJ Styles 2017 has been a little different. Styles has found himself outside of WWE's main event for most of this year, although his WrestleMania match against SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon, face-off with Shinsuke Nakamura at Money in the Bank, and US Title win at MSG are clear highlights.
But carrying the United States Title gave AJ Styles a renewed sense of purpose, allowing The Phenomenal One to pick up where Owens left off, with a tradition John Cena started– issuing weekly US Title Open Challenges on SmackDown live.
Owens may have reclaimed his prized belt, but he'll have to watch his back, as Styles isn't the only one with his sights set on the US Championship Title– there's still a locker room full of patriotic foes and foreign heels just waiting in the wings on the SmackDown Live Roster.
While KO may not afford every one of them a fair shot, there will be a reckoning for his cheap heel tactics and anti-American rhetoric coming soon enough.