Hot Takes & Hot Tags: Randy Orton Is Having A Career Resurgence On Smackdown Live

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To begin 2019, I wanted to put together a new “Hot Takes and Hot Tags” blog over something that’s been brewing on television since last summer: Randy Orton is having one of his most successful and captivating runs on the main roster in a long time. Is this heel Orton run among the “Legend Killer” or “Legacy-era” incarnations of the Apex Predator and his heel antics? Not in my opinion. But considering the gap of time since the start of the decade and the number of feuds and turns he has been a part of, this recent run of brash, personal heel attacks has been a breath of fresh air for the WWE veteran.

For the stars that came out of the Ruthless Agression Era, John Cena was always the quintessential babyface. Jacked to the gills, movie-star smile, the tough durability and “never say die” attitude of a motivational poster, Cena was the perfect choice to be “the Hulk Hogan of the new millennium.” Although Cena had many great feuds with the likes of Edge and CM Punk, I will argue that Cena’s antithesis in a quintessential heel was Orton. For everything Cena was meant to represent in a “good guy,” Orton served the opposite. Spitting in Mick Foley’s face and calling him a coward, RKO-ing Fabulous Moolah and harassing a laundry list of other WWE Hall of Famers put Orton on the map beginning in 2003 as “the Legend Killer.” He could be sadistic, he could be smarmy and he could bend the rules as much as possible to get a win or to get in the head of his opponents. He was a cross between the “Dirtiest Player in the Game” Ric Flair and “Cerebral Assassin” Triple H on his way to winning 12 World Championships in his career. Granted, I don’t think anyone (including myself) would place Orton above Flair or Triple H on a list of all-time greats, but if you’re looking for wrestlers to borrow heel traits from, Orton’s Evolution mentors are two of the best to pick.

To me, this latest run of matches and grotesque run-ins is arguably the most meaningful thing Orton has done since his days with Legacy in 2009 and 2010. That’s not to say Orton has been slacking in his work for the past eight years, in which time he has won multiple championships and put on great feuds with the likes of Christian, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins. But if we’re talking about memorable moments and what Orton will be most remembered for in his career, it’s as a despicable bad guy. Say what you will about the “RKO from outta nowhere” memes and helping put over talent like Mark Henry or Jinder Mahal in their first world title runs, Orton’s best (or viewed in another way, worst) moments came as the villain. Everything from hand-cuffing Triple H to the ring and DDT-ing Stephanie McMahon before kissing her within feet of Hunter at Backlash 2009 to pointing to the Earth and telling Rey Mysterio “Eddie [Guerrero]’s down there…in hell!” just weeks after the passing of Latino Heat.

Orton’s recent run of success all began back at Extreme Rules when Orton returned from injury and turned heel by grape-stomping Jeff Hardy’s grapefruits after his United States Championship match with Shinsuke Nakamura. Orton then took his vitriol and character to a new level of sadism by sticking his finger in Hardy’s gauge piercing on SmackDown shortly thereafter. It was a move as brilliant as it was gross because we had never seen anything like that on television recently and it was the first “heelish” thing Orton had done in the “Viper” mindset in quite some time. Orton continued this trend by wiping off the face-paint on Hardy’s face and sticking a screwdriver in Jeff’s gauge piercing and twisting it around at their Hell in a Cell match. After he was done with the Charismatic Enigma, he focused his attention briefly on Tye Dylinger, mangling his finger so he wouldn’t be able to do his signature “10” hands gesture.

Recently, he targeted the returning Rey Mysterio by ripping and clawing at the Master of the 619’s mask during a match and followed that attack by trying to beat him into unconsciousness on seemingly every SmackDown show. (Although it’s been done dozens of times on television over the years, the clawing at the mask and the corresponding commentary that the mask is one of the most sacred part of a luchador’s identity in Mexican lucha libre is good old heel heat 101).

It really feels like Orton is as comfortable and as passionate with his position and character on television as he’s ever been. While as a face, he has drawn cheers and respect from all ages in the crowd, many will agree that his best and most memorable work in the WWE will go down as a heel going up against the likes of Cena, Bryan and Triple H.

What’s in store for Orton in 2019? I’m not exactly sure, given the fact that “the new Daniel Bryan” and Orton are both heels. One thing I will predict is we will see a match-up between Orton and AJ Styles. Amazingly, even though Styles has been on the main roster for nearly three years, he hasn’t crossed paths with Orton in any meaningful fashion. Both men have held the WWE Championship and have been in the SmackDown main event several times, but both were either involved in other serious feuds or were both faces or heels at a given time. Seeing as though Styles is Smackdown’s number-one babyface and Bryan doesn’t appear to be losing the WWE Championship anytime soon, a big-time match or feud between Styles and Orton seems overdue and prime for SmackDown sometime before or after the Blue Brand’s move to the FOX Network.

Everyone, thank you for reading and I hope you have a happy, safe and productive new year. Make sure to keep enjoying all the new content here on ProWrestling.com and check out some of our older content like this (sarcasm) totally on-the-point, not wrong at all prediction about Jason Jordan I made back in January of 2018.

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Editorial Writer for "Hot Takes and Hot Tags" and WWE Pay Per-View reviews on ProWrestling.com. Follow me on Twitter at @john_heniff