Welcome to another edition of The Main Event. I am your host, Don Franc, back with another column that you will all hopefully enjoy. I took a hiatus for nearly a month. What has come to light recently has really taken away some of my motivation to consume wrestling. Couple that with forcefully watching a WWE product just going through the motions and I had no choice but to take a break. Nevertheless, break time is over and it’s time to get back at it, so let’s jump right to…
THE MAIN EVENT
The Match That Birthed The Legend Killer
When looking back at the beginning of Randy Orton’s tenure in WWE you would never say that he’d be a future Hall Of Famer. However, when he was deemed worthy enough to become a part of Evolution, his inclusion in the group set him on a path to the greatness that he is known for today. There are those who try and dispute his greatness, but mostly fail in their attempts. Whatever perception you may have of him, his status as one of the all time greats cannot be denied.
But you have to wonder… When was Randy Orton’s greatness realised? When did it become known that he was a legend in the making? Well, that would have to be in his match against Shawn Michaels at Unforgiven 2003; if you weren’t paying close enough attention. Yes, Orton may have defeated Michaels’ (with help from Ric Flair), but despite HBK’s legendary stature his loss to The Legend Killer was not the moment that marked his rise to the top.
It should easily be said that Orton’s classic against Cactus Jack at Backlash 2004 is the exact moment in time that signalled the former’s eventual greatness; yet it’s not. Many pinpoint this as the starting point of young Randy’s career. However, I would beg to differ. I would agree that the match itself earned him the respect of fans and pundits alike. And although The Apex Predator made his bones in the match, it is mostly certainly not the moment people should harken back to when referencing the moment that Randy’s greatness was realised.
That honor belongs to Randy Orton vs Rob Van Dam at Armageddon 2003 for the Intercontinental Championship. This match defined the talent that Orton possessed. It was in this contest where he showcased his true potential. Michaels’ certainly had more name recognition than RVD – which is not a knock on Van Dam – but the Armageddon match just worked in every possible way.
I am always of the belief that facing a competitor that is on your level can truly allow you to stand out. This is especially the case when you intend on becoming the main attraction in a division, which is why I thought their match at the final PPV of 2003 represented just that. Because Orton was on par with Van Dam the match took place on equal footing. Yes, Mr. Monday Night was already established; but not as a main-eventer. This allowed the bout to be much more evenly contested and it was all the better for it. From top to bottom this overlooked classic summarises the perfect midcard elevation affair.
During this time period Orton would always say, “It’s not arrogance, it’s destiny”, and I think that is an apt description of where he was at. He oozed arrogance when he interrupted Mick Foley, perhaps because he knew that his ability made him destined for greatness. And that is exactly what he would soon showcase.
The quick reversal exchanges in the opening stages really set the tone for this match. J.R’s proclamation that these two young studs are undoubtedly going to have a great match was foreshadowing what was to come. That one line, and the conviction with which J.R announces it, especially hits home after the two competitors in the ring have a stand-off after the above-mentioned opening exchange. The look on Randy’s face immediately after painted a picture of a man who knew he was going to give it his all.
This notion was further explored when RVD was in control with Randy kicking out of a beautifully sold Flying Cross Body. The action is exciting and serves as a reminder that Orton is a better seller than people give him credit for. It’s when he finally gets the advantage in the match – which comes after pushing RVD off the top rope onto the barrier on the outside – that the tide turns and he is allowed to display his cockiness. Orton was so good at playing the cocky douchebag and he was able to display that during his time in control of the match.
Randy Orton had a rugged elegance about his moveset. An example of this would be his picture perfect Dropkick to Rob on the outside. What a beauty! It looked even better with the way RVD sold it. Not only does Orton want to win this match, he wants to look good doing so. Mick Foley plays his role as referee very well and is the perfect foil for Fair’s interference. RVD makes a failed attempt at a comeback and Orton looks at Mick almost as if to check if Foley is seeing how great he is. He even goes so far as to pin his opponent in a cocky manner, exposing his arrogance even more. Perhaps Orton’s character was an extension of who he truly was, which explains why he was so good at the role.
Both men take turns in control and the crowd is into it. Of course Van Dam’s offense is more exciting, but Orton shows such sensibility in his choice of manoeuvre and the way he executes them. A significant moment in the match occurs when a rope break during a pinfall attempt is botched. However, instead of detracting from the match, it effectively fits the narrative of the ongoing feud Orton and Foley were embroiled in. Only in a great match, intertwined with one of the greatest feuds of all time, can a botch so easily be justified.
The pivotal moment of the match comes when RVD hilariously attacks Flair for no reason and The Nature Boy tries to get retribution. However, Foley intervenes and adds another layer to this match. Unlike his win over Michaels’, Orton wouldn’t be able to get any assistance from Flair due to Foley’s involvement. That makes this victory so much more important because Orton’s character had to prove that he could become the greatest all on his own. For this reason can it never be claimed that Randy’s match with Shawn two months prior was the match that showcased Orton’s future superstardom.
Nevertheless, Orton remained focussed and took advantage of RVD and Flair’s shenanigans and hits an absolutely beautifully sold RKO to win his first ever WWE championship. The highlight comes immediately after the match as the look of shock ascends upon Orton’s face when it sinks in that he just won the Intercontinental Championship. His astonishment his clear as day and you could tell just by looking at him celebrating that he was proud of this achievement. This was especially evident when Orton giddily asked Flair to put the championship around his waste. The Intercontinental Championship has never looked better around another wrestlers’ waist.
What transpired at Armageddon 2003 was the defining moment in Randy Orton’s young career. It’s a shame that this moment gets overlooked when it serves as the first sign of greatness The Viper would hold onto for the remainder of his career. It was in this moment that The Legend Killer showed off his future greatness and I’m certainly glad that he did.
Orton (Legend) Killing It, Deserves WWE Title
What a productive year for Randy Orton. At the start of 2020 I’d have never guessed Orton would be featured so prominently, yet some conflict with a returning Edge really kick-started a very good year for The Viper. His character work has been top notch and he and Edge should certainly be in contention for match of the year. They’re definitely getting that honor in WWE as the match was promoted as being the greatest wrestling match ever. The Apex Predator just seems motivated and I enjoy seeing my favourite wrestler of all time in that capacity.
I’m sure there’ll still be grumblings of Orton “just going through the motions”, but you’d be hard-pressed to be believe that with the way he has been showing off his capabilities since the start of the year. Besides, even if he’s been phoning it in he still does it better than most of your favourite wrestlers; or at least that what he said in a promo not too long ago. Everything he says now is delivered with such conviction. Orton’s absolutely been on fire this year!
Defeating Edge really set The Silent Assassin on the path of reclaiming the title of Legend Killer. His character work this year has been tremendous and although he’s not known as the greatest talker he has been doing a really good job. It seemed like his career has come full circle, but this time he’s putting a little twist on the Legend Killer character. Instead of being arrogant and opening up room for mistakes like he did when he first came out with this gimmick in 2003-2004, he is now respectful yet icy in his approach and much more calculated. I guess that’s what happens when a legend wants to start killing legends again.
Despite some phenomenal character work this year, one cannot accuse Orton of going through the motions in the ring. He has “motivated” written all over his face and that shows in his performances of late. Perhaps the most naturally gifted wrestler of all time, Orton can go in the ring when he wants to. And hey, with a career spanning almost twenty years in WWE, he almost has every right to do so. Randy Orton has always been destined to be a heel and he’s proving that with aplomb this year. Couple that with his great in-ring work for 2020 and that only leads to one conclusion…
Randy Orton deserves to win the WWE Championship.
Yeah, quite the unpopular opinion, right? There will be many who will criticize my thoughts on Orton being deserving of another WWE Title run. But yet, what argument can be made against The Viper becoming World Champion again? Try as you may but even your best thought out arguments can be negated.
Sure, you might say that Orton isn’t a draw, but then again, do WWE really have anyone on their current roster who actually is? Wrestling is on the decline – and has been for years – so whether Randy is champion or not I doubt will impact the ratings in any way. If there was someone on their roster who could impact their ratings positively, I’d be arguing for them to be champion. But there’s not, so The Viper is a fair choice for being next in line for the title.
There’ll also be those who will say Mr. RKO has been champion on thirteen occasions so his time has passed. To that I say; whose time has come? Who else could be champion? Seth Rollins? He didn’t really set the world on fire with his title reign last year. Lashley? WWE will never take him seriously as a World Champion. KO? Champion before, but not exactly hot right now as he has cooled off considerably since his big Wrestlemania win. Black? Not ready. The entire midcard is far from ready. The only reason Ricochet got a shot at Brock earlier this year was because Lesnar already defeated everybody. So I ask again: why not Orton?
It’s not like Drew McIntyre is the second coming of Jesus either. You know, I quite liked The Scottish Psychopath up until the RAW after the Rumble. He was such a badass but WWE had to turn him face and make him smile and take the piss. Why are all face turns related to a World Championship victory so lame? The Scottish Cyborg (no longer a Psychopath because good guy) lost what made him cool once he turned face. Besides, after Rollins it just felt like his reign has been about facing upper midcard opponents. Pretty lackluster as far as amazing title reigns are concerned. It would be a decent run if it ended at Summerslam and a run Drew can even be proud of.
With rumours going around that Randy Orton is in line to become champion again, the above suggests that it wouldn’t be as bad as people will undoubtedly make it out to be. Think about it; what dictates being given a title run? Good matches, great character work and momentum. Randy Orton has enveloped all of those championship winning qualities this year and is most deserving of the RAW superstars to become the next WWE Champion.
And that does it for the return edition of The Main Event. What was the match that made you an Orton fan? Do you think he is deserving of another run as World Champion? You can drop a comment below. Alternatively, you can pop me an email: [email protected]; or even hit me up on Twitter: @donfranclop. But until next time folks…
This is Don Franc signing out.