Two important things transpired when Randy Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase at SummerSlam—he captured his seventh WWE Championship (tenth world title overall) and realigned himself with original mentor and longtime rival Triple H. His victory came at the expense of Daniel Bryan, who had defeated John Cena moments earlier for that very championship.
Best heel in the business
Cashing in on Bryan alone would have been good enough, but the way everything played out—with Triple H’s involvement—made all the difference. It was a stroke of pure creative genius.
With his victory, Orton has firmly reestablished himself as the top heel in wrestling.
Alberto Del Rio is a natural heel, but lacks the ruthlessness needed to one of the greats. While Bully Ray is entertaining and an excellent promo, his act seems more comical than serious. Not to take anything away from his body of work in TNA, but I’ve never viewed him as a suitable top heel for a major promotion. Brock Lesnar is a monster, his schedule is far too infrequent. It’s tough for him to make a lasting impression when he only competes in a handful of matches per year.
With an in-ring style perfectly suited for his new role, along with Triple H and the McMahons’ serving as his corporate backup, Orton has all the tools necessary to succeed.
Establishing a legacy
Orton has been a significant player in the in WWE from the moment he debuted in 2002. You would have to think really hard to remember a period where he was not booked as an upper echelon guy. On the rare occasions when he did fall from grace it was only a matter of time before he was right back near the top.
Though his work inside the ring may not match the explosiveness of Daniel Bryan or the versatility of New Japan’s Hiroshi Tanahashi, Orton has been among the elite workers in the business for a very long time. Having grown up in a wrestling family (both his father and grandfather wrestled), Orton possessed a strong sense of ring psychology from day one. If you pay close attention to his matches you will notice his uncanny ability to pull the audience into the story. This level of mastery can only occur when a wrestler has a complete understanding of their character. Whether he was taking out the industry’s most respected veterans as the “Legend Killer,” or striking any unsuspecting superstar as the “Apex Predator,” he usually does the right thing at precisely the right moment.
While his family ties initially opened the door for him in WWE, much of his early success came as a result of working with top guys.
From 2003-2004, he teamed alongside HHH, Ric Flair, and Batista as a member of Evolution. It was during this period that he got a firsthand taste of the main event spotlight. Before he had been on the main roster for a full two years he had already engaged in clashes against the likes of Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Flair, Mick Foley, Edge, and Chris Benoit before he had been on the roster for a full two years. From 2004-2009, Orton found himself embroiled in a heated feud against Triple H. He is also one of John Cena’s biggest rivals.
In his book, “The 50 Greatest Professional Wrestlers of All Time: The Definitive Shoot,” author and Larry Matysik ranks Orton in the #50 spot, making him the youngest entrant on the list. That is heavy praise when such legends as Steve Austin, Ric Flair, and Dwayne “Rock” Johnson are on the list as well. While there is valid reason to debate Orton’s placement, his credentials paint a compelling portrait. When you take into account his championship runs, in-ring ability, and longevity at the top, Orton easily stands out as one of the best wrestlers of his generation.
Coming full circle
It was nine years ago at SummerSlam when Orton won his first World Heavyweight Championship. At the time many felt the win came too soon. Despite some rough patches along the way he eventually matured into the role of the star he was destined to become.
Triple H constantly made reference to Orton as being the new face of the WWE during a promo on this week’s episode of Raw. While much of that was said for storyline purposes, I could not help but think that he is entering into a new phase of an already storied career.