By Jeffrey Lutz
Expectations for Randy Orton have never been lower.
That's my perception, anyway, especially after watching Orton in the opening match on Raw last week _ a two-on-one with Sheamus against Big Show in a storyline that has been slow to develop. I enjoyed the match, even though it was brief and essentially forgotten by the end of the show, and even though it kept Orton on the cusp of a true breakout moment. It's the same position he's been in for the last four years, since his hot feud with Triple H produced a dud of a match at WrestleMania 25.
Still, most of the reason I enjoyed the handicap match on Raw last week was due to Orton's performance. He seemed to have more energy than in the past, even uncharacteristically playing to the crowd on one occasion. I became hopeful that Orton could finally turn the corner to become a babyface character that could truly connect with the audience, rather than one who gained popularity because he's been around a while and won a bunch of championships. Of course, his renewed enthusiasm is probably a precursor to a heel turn, so I won't get my hopes up too much.
Orton's decline into basically an upper-midcard act has had many culprits, but Orton himself is mostly to blame. His long-expressed desire to become a heel has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as he's gained virtually no babyface tendencies during his multi-year run as a fan favorite. He's been in the mold of Stone Cold Steve Austin in keeping most of his heel characteristics even as a good guy, but Orton either doesn't possess or refuses to exhibit the charisma that allowed Austin a smooth transition from villain to hero. He doesn't need to be Austin, but Orton has more to offer in the charisma department.
It's said that the best wrestling characters are those who turn the volume up on their true personality, and Orton seems to have taken that to heart. The problem is that he's not amplifying the right aspects of his personality, choosing to play up his quiet intensity rather than the versatility that forced us to take notice of Orton when he first arrived in WWE.
Remember the "ONN" updates Orton gave on his physical condition after his debut but before he joined Evolution? Those were entertaining and they didn't keep Orton from being a heel. I know Orton has personality because I saw it first-hand when he was a guest on a radio show I work on in Wichita. He's engaging and smart and funny, but for some reason he refuses to deviate from the loner persona he has cultivated. Fans were drawn to that initially, but his lack of character development has forced Orton slowly down the pecking order.
Orton's inability or refusal to tap into those elements of his personality has likely made it easier for WWE's writers to keep him away from the main-event picture. It's difficult to make Orton a top star because his two strikes against WWE's wellness policy have him one mistake away from termination, but if Orton was as popular as John Cena, WWE would have no other choice. It's probably too risky to put Orton in a top match at WrestleMania, but during the rest of the year he could be in the title hunt if his performance warranted that.
Unfortunately, for most of the last four years, it hasn't. The match against Triple H served as a turning point _ he hasn't been in a marquee match at WrestleMania since. He began his babyface turn at WrestleMania 26 and has been in matches of little consequence during the last three years.
A heel turn is not the answer; Orton still has a lot of ground to break as a babyface character. He could start by embracing the role, as he appeared to begin to do with an energetic showing last week. Turning Orton heel would force him back into the habits he's already had difficulty breaking. Yes, he's playing a heel even when he's a babyface, but as a good-guy he can explore the parts of his personality that can connect with the fans he's lost over a refusal to change.
All Orton really needs is motivation. With two strikes, a secure spot near the top of the card, and a track record that includes several major accomplishments, it's not difficult to become complacent. But Orton likely still has a lot of years left, and the best way to become a top star again is to act as if he wants to. Orton can be a World Champion again or he can stay stuck in the middle. The choice is his.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lutz's Blog: A motivated Randy Orton can still be a main event level player for WWE
Apr 22, 2013 - 03:01 PM
Apr 22, 2013 - 03:01 PM
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