Historically Speaking: Is He Killing His Own Legend?


”[History] is little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes.” – Voltaire

The Opening Chapter
Randy Orton really has had a pretty easy go of things. In 2001 he was signed to a WWE development deal based largely on his look and the pedigree of his last name. He was touted as a future star and was seemed destined for greatness before he stepped foot in the ring. But little did we all know the man known as RKO is seriously injury-prone and has a bad attitude. In the less than five years that Orton has been on the WWE main roster he has either been injured or pulled off TV five times. His most recent transgression happened on WWE’s latest tour of Europe. Word came out that he had been sent home due to trashing a hotel room. Another report came out that he was sent home due to a stomach virus, but I do believe that was a nice cover story to keep the questions at bay. It was finally reported that he was found passed out drunk in his trashed room, a stunt that would cost WWE, or Orton probably, thousands of dollars. WWE posted a short, cryptic message on their website that they had taken disciplinary action against Orton, and that was it. The post was removed shortly thereafter.

So let’s take a look back at the brief but tumultuous career of Randy Orton. As of this writing he is still being advertised as taking place in the upcoming Backlash four way main event but it will be interesting to see what his role will be.

The Vanilla Babyface
Orton showed up on SmackDown! in May 2002 as a smiling, happy babyface, not unlike Rocky Maivia from years before. He spent the summer in the mid-card, feuding with Hardcore Holly and not going anywhere fast, save for a WWE Championship shot against Undertaker that saw him get squashed. By September he jumped to RAW with the same smiling baby face shtick, promptly beating Stevie Richards, Christian & Lance Storm in singles matches before injuring his shoulder. Rather than completely pull young Orton off TV and ruin any heat he had garnered, he instead was allowed to appear sporadically with RNN Updates on the status of his shoulder. The subtle heel technique worked and when he returned he would be in a better position than he was when he left. Plus this way there would be no “Die, Randy Die” chants that were sure to come had he stayed the course he was on.

Evolution, part one
Randy returns to TV in January 2003; fully healed and fully heeled. He sides with Ric Flair, Batista and Triple H. The crew spent the winter running over RAW brand and slowly established themselves as the top heel group. The name Evolution was quietly becoming the name of this super group and things looked destined for greatness. Then weeks before WrestleMania both Orton and Batista were injured in a house show match against the Dudley Boyz, taking them out of the picture and putting a hold on the Evolution plans.

Evolution, and Randy’s evolution
Randy returned in late May and picked up right where he left off, teaming with Flair and HHH against Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and The Hurricane. He spent the summer slowly building a rivalry with Michaels before he was inserted in the Elimination Chamber at SummerSlam. This was his first PPV appearance, and it was in the main event, so it showed that WWE had big things in store for young Randy. He was virtually a non-factor in that match but it led to a one-on-one match with Michaels at Unforgiven, which he won due to Flair’s interference. His stock rose through the fall and he was the sole survivor of the Team Austin-Team Bischoff Survivor Series elimination match, last eliminating Michaels. As a reward from Bischoff for winning he got an Intercontinental Championship match against Rob Van Dam at Armageddon, which he promptly won. Armageddon ended with a 4 Horsemen-like moment as Orton, Flair, Batista and HHH all posed with their Championships. Orton’s ride continued through the spring as he embarked on a career making feud with Mick Foley, including a handicap match at WrestleMania XX with Orton, Batista & Flair against Foley and The Rock and a hardcore bout at Backlash that saw Orton bleed buckets and come out on top. By this point he had established himself as the Legend Killer and was bringing some prestige to the Intercontinental Championship. As the summer wore on he ran against guys like Van Dam, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Tajiri and Shelton Benjamin before ultimately dropping the Intercontinental belt to Edge in July, after a nice long 7 month reign. He bounced back quickly, winning a battle royal and earning a shot against Benoit for the World Championship at SummerSlam. He took advantage of his shot, beating Benoit clean and walking away as the youngest World Champion in history, a claim he holds to this day.

The next night Evolution turned on him in a very Horsemen like manner. Orton’s face turn ended up being a blunder. He dropped the belt to Triple H a month later and lost in a rematch at the Royal Rumble. Shortly afterwards he turned heel again and challenged the Undertaker for WrestleMania to truly cement his Legend Killer status. Going into the match it looked like Orton may finally be the one to end Undertaker’s streak and cement his status as main event player. Ultimately, Undertaker won clean and Orton went out with a shoulder injury the next night.

The Deadman and The Mexicans
Orton returned during June of 2005 as a draftee to SmackDown! He picked up right here he left off with his feud with Undertaker. Orton got his win over Taker at SummerSlam thanks to help from his dad Bob Orton, Jr. The pair then beat Undertaker at No Mercy in October, this time in a casket match. Undertaker finally won the blow off to the feud, a Hell in a Cell match at Armageddon in December.

With Undertaker behind him he focused on the World Heavyweight Championship. He took the runner-up spot in Royal Rumble 2006 to Rey Mysterio. He goaded Mysterio into a match at No Way Out with the Title shot on the line thanks to his comments about the late Eddie Guerrero. Orton won the match and the shot thanks to some cheating. He was poised to challenge Kurt Angle for the World Championship at WrestleMania but SmackDown! GM Teddy Long inserted Mysterio into the match anyways, making it a triple threat. Mysterio won the match and belt and Orton was on the outside looking in. Two days after WrestleMania, WWE.com reported Orton had been suspended 60 days for unprofessional content, and after losing a match to Kurt Angle on SmackDown! and having his leg “broken,” Orton was off TV again.

Rated RKO
Orton returned from his suspension on the June 5 RAW. Apparently his contract on SmackDown! had lapsed during his time off and he resigned with RAW. He immediately resumed his feud with Kurt Angle. The two traded victories as Angle beat Orton at ECW One Night Stand while Orton picked up the rematch a couple weeks later at Vengeance.

From there Orton started his build to SummerSlam and his match against Hulk Hogan. The build revolved around Orton hitting on Brooke Hogan but it ultimately went nowhere as Hogan beat Orton clean at the PPV, and with no rematch in sight it further tarnished Orton’s Legend Killer gimmick. Orton then moved on to a quick run with Carlito that he was victorious in before settling in with Edge as Rated RKO, the foil for DeGeneration X. The two duos faced off at Cyber Sunday with Rated RKO picking up the win. The two teams then co-captained teams at Survivor Series in a match that saw DX, The Hardyz and CM Punk completely eliminated Orton, Edge and their team. The blow off match at New Year’s Revolution ended in a no contest when Triple H blew out his quad and Shawn Michaels punched the ref to throw the match out. Since then Orton and Edge have maintained an uneasy alliance, working together throughout the Royal Rumble but neither winning. The partnership got even shakier on the way to WrestleMania as both Orton and Edge were in the Money in the Bank match, but again neither won. Now as we near Backlash, the Rated RKO partnership is all but dead and with Orton’s immediate future unstable it will be interesting to see if there is a reconciliation as Triple H prepares for a return in the upcoming months.

The Perspective
Amidst all of these injuries and suspensions Randy Orton still continues to survive and thrive. After every return he is once again thrust into the upper-card spotlight like he never missed a beat. Whether that sends Orton the wrong message or continues to fuel his ego is a question I personally can’t answer, but it is a strong point to argue. I personally like the guy and find him entertaining to watch, which I think puts me in the minority among my IWC colleagues. Here’s hoping the guy can get his act together and turn into the long-term superstar I think he can be. I’m still waiting for that Cena-Orton money fued, but I might be the only one.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
Big Andy Mac gives a good preview of the CHIKARA boys that are going to invade ROH this weekend.

I agree with Eric on his analysis of the Cena-Michaels. The first few minutes of stalling and headlocks telegraphed a long match and frankly it just wasn’t as good as I expected. I think I would’ve been more satisfied with a 60 minute broadway that would lead to a 60 minute iron man down the road. Also he’s got ECW analysis buried in there somewhere.

Murray gets a plug just for calling Maria “insanely hot cute.” I couldn’t agree more.

Everyone Likes to See Their Name in Print
No feedback this week, but hey at least no one yelled at me or corrected me so as DDP would say, “that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing.”

Mark was a columnist for Pulse Wrestling for over four years, evolving from his original “Historically Speaking” commentary-style column into the Monday morning powerhouse known as “This Week in ‘E.” He also contributes to other ventures, outside of IP, most notably as the National Pro Wrestling Examiner for Examiner.com and a contributor for The Wrestling Press. Follow me on Twitter here.