It’s Day One of #RandyOrtonWeek, the 20th installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. As always, we’ll start off by making Randy a Wrestler You (Should) Probably Know Better.
More often than not, sure things don’t work out. In wrestling this seems to happen less than it does in other “sports” because of the predetermined nature of the business, but if you are unable to get the crowd to care about you, then you’re never going to be worth anything to anyone in the business. It’s a lesson we learned during #LexLugerWeek and one we have a tendency to forget whenever we look at someone like last week’s WotW, Batista, as any brilliant insight into why BATISTA TOTALLY SUX on any random message board or comment section will tell you.
Getting the crowd to care about you as a performer is literally the only requirement of being a professional wrestler other than “make sure the other worker doesn’t get hurt”. And while for some, it comes naturally — through legacy, genetic or otherwise — no matter how gifted you are, it’s both a lot of work and a lot of luck. For people who function primarily as fan favorites, it’s relatively simple: move merchandise, put butts in seats and pop TV ratings.
But what about those people whose entire reason for existence is to piss people off? How do you judge them? I, personally, choose to pick moments, and there’s no one better in modern wrestling at creating moments of pure hatred than Randall Keith Orton.
Some of it’s innate: being tall, good looking and the type of dude he covers his tribal tattoos with skulls tattoos will put you on all but the bro-iest shitlists. Some of its inherited through association — from Cowboy Bob to Triple H, Randy has always associated himself with people that folks just love to hate — but there’s a significant amount that comes from the type of hard work and dedication that comes from growing up in the business and understanding not just what works, but why it works.
Everything Randy Orton does, especially when he’s in his natural role as a “bad guy”, has purpose. Every movement he makes, every facial expression he does while preening for the camera he innately knows is on him carries with it significance, if not in the overall arc, than in those fleeting moments. His matches, which Dave will get to tomorrow, are more often than not master classes in getting heat, or in the case of the 2014 Royal Rumble WWE WHC match, grabbing the focus back from people not involved to the task at hand through sheer force of will.
There’s seemingly nothing that Randy doesn’t seem to think of when he’s in the ring, from how he enters and exits it — although it’s less pronounced now, the slithering manner in which he went about getting in and out of the ring helped him earn the nickname the Viper, along with the quick-strike capability of the RKO — to the way he looks at opponents. While some are better at the individual bits of “business” he does, there really isn’t anyone who puts it together quite like him.
But it’s not just the small, subtle ways he creates an entirely enclosed space around his performance that’s accessible only the permeable membrane of audience interaction. It’s that when he goes for it, he goes for it. Although the next time Orton beats up Cena’s dad will be too soon, the first time he did it — and the fluidness with which he extracted Mr. Cena from the audience, placed him in position, and KICKED HIS HEAD OFF — while John helplessly watched handcuffed to the ring ropes (sound familiar?) was a singular moment in time where the idea of knowing that wrestling was scripted seemed secondary to the level to which this individual was allowed to let the world around him collapse entirely on the work he was doing.
But it wasn’t until he got involved with Legacy that it felt like he had reached his full potential. Along with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Jr., Orton ran through the McMahon family one punt at a time before riding the momentum that the quality of his performance gave him to a well-deserved — if ill-conceived — run as a top face for years. It was there where, while seemingly only half caring, he continued to connect with the crowd and work perfectly as the second (or third, depending on how you felt about Mr. Punk) biggest star in the company despite being fundamentally aimless.
It wasn’t until this current run that Orton regained his mojo, shifting from the psychotic serial killer of his Rated RKO and Legacy days to the run as a petulant and impossibly gifted champion he’s currently working through. And, while the crowd can chant “Yes!!!” until they pass out, he’ll the first man to be singularly The Man in the company since before John Cena wore padlocks and released a rap album. With that comes a great amount of responsibility, which Orton has happily taken on, working match after match to spin silk from Big Show matches.
How long this lasts, or what happens after he inevitability loses the belt to the Face Most Deserving is anyone’s guess. But, much like his performance on Sunday night, I’ll choose to enjoy the moments while they last, and not think too far in the future.