By Jeffrey Lutz
Barring an unforeseen roadblock, Randy Orton's WWE legacy is secure even though he is still in his prime. Unfortunately for Orton, though, he fits the profile of someone who could have such an impediment that could lead to a falling out with WWE and damage to his legacy after the company's revisionist history gets through with him.
It's not just his well-documented personal issues that could keep Orton from remaining in good standing with WWE over the next 10 years and beyond, though those issues could certainly play a factor. Many of the stars who fell out of favor with Vince McMahon during the WrestleMania era share traits with Orton that could lead to him falling into a similar situation.
Virtually all of those traits lead back to the one shared by all the stars -- the fact that they served as the No. 2 guy in the company for an extended period. Orton, in this way, is no different from Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior and The Rock, whose disconnects with WWE are attached to their own unique circumstances that could be traced back to the truth that they never became the top star of their respective eras. (It could be argued that Hart was the top guy, but his departure in 1997 more or less made Shawn Michaels the de facto face of early- to mid-1990s WWE.)
Even though fans, for the most part, maintained their collective love for each of those stars, the soured relationship with WWE kept them from settling into their rightful place in the company's pantheon. Hart and The Rock eventually found their way back into McMahon's good graces; Warrior and WWE are still working on patching up their relationship though Savage, who died in 2011, will never have that chance.
Orton, at least so far, seems to be more appreciated by McMahon than he is by the fans. Even though Orton has never risen to the bar John Cena has created as WWE's headliner since 2005, Orton has had as firm a grasp on the No. 2 spot in the company as Cena has had on the top. No matter how many championships Orton wins, though, he'll be viewed by fans as someone who never reached his potential because he never became The Guy. There is no shame in being second, except when you're being compared to No. 1. The ship has sailed on Orton ever reaching Cena's level.
That would make Orton the only one of the recent second bananas who failed to meet expectations. Warrior was a product of WWE's marketing machine who, even after beating Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI, never earned his chance at carrying the company. The fact that he even got to No. 2, though, was a notable accomplishment. Hart broke through as one of the first relatively undersized superstars to be given his run as champion. Savage was one of the most endearing characters of the 1980s and 90s, and The Rock was always on the cusp of meeting or exceeding Stone Cold Steve Austin's level of popularity.
The Rock, though, may illustrate the path Orton could take in regards to his relationship with WWE. Orton probably won't be a worldwide movie star, and his future returns to the company won't be met with nearly as much fanfare, but I can envision a scenario in which Orton's ties with WWE are temporarily severed because he pursues other interests. Orton's identity, as a third-generation star like The Rock, is based solely in professional wrestling, and it would make sense if he eventually broke away for a while.
If Orton and WWE have a falling out, he might not find comfort in the warm embrace of the fans. Orton is everything his admirers say about him -- the most technically sound, smoothest wrestler on WWE's roster, with no wasted motion and an innate understanding of the psychology of a wrestling match. That's not exciting, though, and I'm not sure why.
Hart was just as adept technically, but his matches were better. Something is missing with Orton and it's difficult to pinpoint, so fans fall back on the idea that he's boring. He's not boring, he's just not that interesting. His promos are similar to his in-ring style -- he hits all the right points, but he never says or does anything awe-inducing.
Maybe, though, Orton won't suffer the same fate as past No. 2 WWE stars. WWE appears to be trying to get him over the hump by handing him the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but it remains to be seen whether that will give him any momentum. Orton's best hope for keeping an amicable relationship with WWE is his ties with Triple H, who was one of Orton's mentors and who has rebuilt the burned bridges between the company and the likes of Warrior and Bruno Sammartino.
Someday, fans will look at Orton's list of accomplishments and determine that he was one of the all-time greats, even if his performance never quite reached that peak. He'll live in perpetuity as a star who never became a mega-star, who never truly became the face of the company. Being No. 2 has carried a stigma that Orton may find difficult to shake. Earning a place in history so close to the top should be good enough, but with Orton we may never feel like it is.
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 email@example.com.
Lutz's Blog: Randy Orton's failure to reach his potential casts doubt on his future relationship with WWE and its fans
Dec 23, 2013 - 11:12 AM
Dec 23, 2013 - 11:12 AM
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