Randy Orton returned to WWE at Extreme Rules on Sunday, July 15. The Viper received a huge reaction from the crowd as he came down to the ring following Shinsuke Nakamura’s United States title win over Jeff Hardy. Nakamura had won with a low-blow and a Kinshasa, giving him his first taste of gold in WWE. But the real news is what Orton did to Hardy.
Orton planted a boot between Jeff Hardy’s legs and then left the ring as Nakamura stared on in disbelief. Once again WWE’s Apex Predator showed his true colors and resumed his role as one of the company’s most dastardly heels. No one knows just yet where this will take him, but it could very well be that Randy Orton will become the top antagonist on SmackDown Live.
This is exactly what Orton needed. His run as a member of The Wyatt Family found him in a odd spot as a popular babyface that was actually working heel. Fans found the entire situation curious at best and no one really knew how to react to him. Randy was a tremendous heel when the mood was right but he was just so over that fans really didn’t want to boo him.
Watch Orton attack Hardy at Extreme Rules:
But his betrayal of Bray led them to WrestleMania 33 and the WWE Championship exchanged hands on that night. Though many did not want to see Randy go full babyface again, at least he had finally chosen a side.
However in the year that followed, Randy did not seem to be himself. He was still doing good work in the ring and he still seemed to be on his game but something did not feel right. Randy was playing a character and living in a skin that just did not fit him the way it should. Fans could likely see this and they knew that the only cure was a heel turn.
It’s not as though WWE didn’t give Randy a chance to succeed as a protagonist. Orton’s primary opponent during his title run was Jinder Mahal, a Superstar that has no redeeming qualities at all. It’s extremely easy to hate him because he’s never been an over-the-top character.
Those types of characters typically become so entertaining that fans can’t help but love them. Kevin Owens is a great example of this. Owens is a heel and carries himself like one. But he is also very aware of just how fun he is to watch and he uses that to his benefit. KO is a villain but he is a lovable villain. There’s just no reason to boo him.
But Jinder Mahal knows what his strengths are and he plays to those strengths. He’s a despicable heel, a throwback to the days when running an in-between character didn’t happen all that often. Pro wrestling was comprised of heroes and villains. In that era, as in this one, Jinder Mahal is definitely a villain.
Watch Orton burn The Wyatt Family Compound:
The same is true of Randy Orton. He may get a pop as a heel and some fans continue to cheer for him because they love him in that role. But Orton does very little to get that reaction. Randy is most definitely at his best when he’s at his worst. So where does The Viper go from here?
The fact is that SmackDown Live needs a great top heel and Randy Orton is the right man for the job. This is especially true because of guys like Jeff Hardy and Daniel Bryan, who are both top babyfaces on the brand. The stronger the antagonist, the stronger the protagonist becomes of course. Orton’s rediscovered evil should serve him well.
Indeed it would be interesting to see Orton mix it up with Bryan again, especially considering the two’s past history. Orton was the WWE world champion going into 2014’s WrestleMania 30 but he lost the title to Daniel that night in a Triple Threat Match with Batista. Orton was the face of The Authority and that defeat led Randy back into Evolution along with Triple H.
It’s unknown how long Bryan and Kane’s Team Hell No reunion will last. But the possibility of Daniel and Randy crossing paths again is definitely there. Of course Jeff Hardy will surely want a measure of revenge against Orton first and that may or may not lead to a storyline in the near future.
But it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Randy Orton does not target WWE champion AJ Styles. This is the match that many fans would like to see, mostly because of Orton’s heel turn. Styles has presumably moved on from Shinsuke Nakamura. Rusev failed to capture AJ’s title at Extreme Rules. Randy Orton could very well be the most logical choice to now challenge for SmackDown’s top championship.
However does the WWE faithful want to see Orton back in the world title picture once again? One of the chief criticisms leveled at the company before the advent of The New Era was that the same guys were always on top .
Watch 10 of Orton’s best RKOs:
Indeed, Raw and SmackDown seemed to be the John Cena and Randy Orton show each and every week. Then when one of them lost a title, the two would eventually end up feuding against each other again. That continued for years in WWE until fan frustration boiled over. It’s entirely possible that booking Orton back into the top spot again could perhaps backfire as fans would not accept the move.
WWE has turned the corner, after all. The main roster is rife with newer Superstars that are working hard to earn main event spots in the company. But there are only so many spots to go around and that’s not counting the group of men and women in NXT. Should WWE give the nod to a guy like Orton, who’s been at the top for most of his career?
The fact is that no matter how WWE chooses to use him, Randy Orton can adapt to any situation. He’s one of the best that company has ever produced and he’s finally back on the active roster once again. He’s also back in his element as the sinister Viper as well.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Wrestling Rumors. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, iHeart Radio, Amazon Android, Windows Phone and online at boinkstudios.com