Nick: So, as a 49ers fan, I assume you are rooting for the Broncos?
David: That’s a touchy issue. I’m actually rooting for both teams to die in some sort of fire early in the second quarter. Not, like, a fan-killing, stadium-destroying fire, or anything. Just a nice localized righteous blaze of justice on the field.
Nick: Not a fan of Peyton Manning?
David: Not a fan of the cult of Peyton Manning.
David: And I used to date a Broncos fan, who was a terrible person, so…
Nick: PAPA JOHN’S
David: I did enjoy the “OMAHA” vs. “ALABAMA” video package they did before the AFC Championship game. It was almost WWE-esque.
Nick: Yeah, I’ve come to believe that the WWE could make the Grammy’s seem like an exciting night filled with adventure.
David: If internet smarks think the people in charge don’t care about them, they should try to watch some of these mid-winter award shows…
Nick: Yeah, though knowing smarks, they were happy Macklemore swept everything.
David: He’s a “scrappy, hustling, nice guy.” Read: White
Nick: DID YOU CATCH HIM ON HIS INDEPENDENT LABEL, HIS BEST STUFF WAS THERE… I CAN GIVE YOU THE TAPES! Oh, smarks. Of the things I like most about smarks, their unfettered hatred of our Wrestler of the Week, Randy Orton is at or near the top of the list. Mostly because they don’t get that he’s actively trolling them.
David: I know, it’s actually worse than their blind hatred of John Cena for me. The “Randy Boreton” thing has always been a mystery to me because, while he doesn’t work like it’s the ECW arena in 1995, he’s a great worker (minus 30 seconds per match of headlock on the mat). Watch a World Heavyweight Title match from anytime pre-Bret Hart and tell me that Orton works too slow of a pace for the main event.
Nick: His understanding of psychology is off the charts. Which makes sense, when you grow up in the business with guys like Roddy Piper as your dad’s running partner. Like half the headlocks now, are literally just him getting the audience to boo him.
David: Yeah, which is why heels did long holds on the mat in the first place. Fans are just so conditioned that they’re supposed to be being “entertained” that they don’t understand how a heel is supposed to be fundamentally different from a babyface in the ring. You bring up Piper; he never “Hulked up” or went on a long flurry of signature offense. He stalled and punch-kicked and said horrifically racist/homophobic/terrible things, and was the top heel of about a five-year period.
Nick: Because, as Jalen Rose says, YOU GOTTA GIVE THE PEOPLE… WHAT THEY WANT Which, in that case, was making people FUCKING HATE HIM.
David: I recently rewatched the Wrestlemania 2 promo where Piper tells Mr. T he’s not going to “paint himself black” (which he ironically later did against Bad News Allen) or “shave his head like an Indian,” and my jaw was on the floor because it was so heelish that there just isn’t a context for it anymore. Which I think is where Orton is coming from sometimes; he wants to get heat in a traditional fashion; and the crowds are like “Boo! Do the punt!” “We want to see your exciting arsenal!” Which is, you know, the opposite of how heels are supposed to work.
Nick: Yeah, the problem was them turning him that weird quasi-face anyways. Like, the flawless standing dropkick is a great heel move, for sure. But, that perfect spinning bodyslam? Not so much. It’s not that he was bad as a face, but as we’ve discussed, he’s so much better at being a heel that you spend the entire time feeling like you are missing out on the best parts of him.
David: He can play the “really well-established guy who the fans know” babyface, but even then it’s not like he was shaking hands and kissing babies. And I think during that run he was holding back on being a true babyface because he felt that when he eventually got switched back it would hurt his credibility as a top heel character if he’d been acting like John Cena.
Nick: That’s something guys like Chris Jericho should be doing. But Orton’s been around for so long that I think we’ve grown accustomed to how unique he is. Orton is basically the size of a basketball player, and wrestles like a guy four inches shorter.
David: He’s got that proportionality where he looks pretty big, but then the second he stands next to anybody else (whether it’s someone he’s conspicuously taller than like Daniel Bryan or someone he should look way shorter next to like Big Show), you instantly think “Man, that guy is tall.”
Nick: Yeah, in the ring on Monday with Batista and Brock, you realized: wow, Orton is the “biggest” guy in the ring. Like, obviously he’s not the broadside of a barn that Brock is, or the statute that Batista is, but he’s taller than both of them. Which, as you’ve talked about in your essential viewings, should have made it so he never cared. But he really does seem to care about getting better, about making the fans give a shit, and about becoming a great “character” if nothing else.
David: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s what makes him “great.”
Nick: He’s LeBron James, to me.
David: He could have coasted to a very successful career, but he actually pushed himself to have an era-defining career. LeBron is a good comparison. People can argue that he’s not the “greatest” or “best” of all time, but he’s definitely in the argument of most gifted guy ever.
Nick: What’s scary about Orton is that since he started so young, he has another 10 years in his relative prime of money making. Though, you have to worry about them repeating the same feuds over and over again because of that. He can’t even feud against Daniel Bryan, really, because he’s spend so much time doing it over the last year.
David: Yeah, and I never want to see him with Cena, Triple H, or Batista ever again. But unfortunately I don’t know if we can avoid that.
Nick: Everything he does is at least quasi-memorable, and in the era of 6 hours of TV each week, that’s kind of harmful.
David: Orton hasn’t been over-exposed and over-pushed to the degree of Cena, but he’s been conspicuously featured for so long. It makes it seem like he’s done everything already. Which, I mean, he basically had before the age of 30.
Nick: Which, I guess leads to the next question: extrapolating out, where will he likely fit on the all-time list?
David: In terms of all-time WWE stars, I think he’ll be remembered as 1A to Cena during this era. The Piper to his Hogan. If your criteria is body of work, he’s a top guy. If your criteria is character, he’s a top guy. If your criteria is having a long, successful run, he’s a top guy.
Nick: Has G.O.A.T. passed him by, though? Because he’s, let’s be real, a slightly above average face, does that mean he can’t be a Mount Rushmore guy? Not that there’s something wrong with that necessarily, but I can’t imagine what he could do to put himself higher than he already is. If that makes sense. He’s reached his ceiling, and that ceiling is 10+-time World’s Champion.
David: Well, I don’t know that his face run should be held against him too much, because that was really more a booking mistake than anything he did. But, fundamentally, I agree with you. As I said in Essential Viewing Part 2, I think his peak is definitely behind him. He will continue to be a great main event heel for years to come, but I don’t think he’ll get much “bigger” than he is now.
Nick: If that’s the case, is there any benefit to having him be champion again, at least after this run? I think, as we mentioned during Ric Flair week that his contemporary — the Hogan to his Piper, as you put it — John Cena, will DEFINITELY have enough title runs to eclipse Flair But it seems like this is Orton’s last run with the belt, as weird as that sounds considering he’s 30something
David: It’s hard to say. On one hand, I agree with you completely. On the other, Orton came up in the era of everybody having a hundred title reigns, so it might make him seem “lesser” if he stops being a perennial champion (which points to the bigger problem of the way WWE booked their title between 1999 and 2010).
Nick: Along those lines, does this run, or more accurately, the choice to make him the WWE WHC, say anything about his legacy, in the same way that as much as we make fun of Jericho for it, he IS the first undisputed champion (and that’s something they bring up CONSTANTLY to give him credibility)?
David: I think they would love for the unified title gimmick to get over like that. But, yeah, as you said, if this is his last title reign, it will in many ways signify that he was the top heel of an era, which ends with his eventual defeat.
Nick: To Batista… with Ric Flair and Triple H at ringside… CAN’T WAIT.
David: Ugh. Maybe I can. Just a little.