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Hitting the Ropes – The Year of the Snake?

This past week on Monday Night Raw Wade Barrett pinned Randy Orton right in the middle of the ring.  I read it may be the beginning of Orton’s heel turn, all part of a storyline.  Really?  I know one thing – John Cena’s not getting pinned clean on Monday nights.  Ever.  Neither is CM Punk.  I used to think Orton was in their league but now I’m not so sure.

I was told that according to the Chinese calendar 2013 is known as the “Year of the Snake”.  This may or may not be true.  I didn’t take the time to check Wikipedia.  But I do know this: 2012 was not the “Year of the Viper”.  In fact I would wager that Randy Orton would like to forget the past twelve months of his career.  It started with a disheartening loss to Kane at Wrestlemania 28 and just got worse from there.  The WWE star known as the Apex Predator seems to have lost his way, and at least for me, a lot of his star power.

I’ll admit that in general I am not a big Randy Orton fan.  I find him kind of boring in the ring, with a slow, plodding entrance and a predictable moveset.  I don’t care for his interviews.  That’s just my opinion.  But I have no problem recognizing his impact since his WWE debut in 2002.  He’s been a big star, involved in some high-profile storylines and championship matches.  It is because of this past success that I expect him to be able to stay interesting.  To evolve.  To remain a main event draw.

To me he just hasn’t done those things.  At least not recently.

So where has it gone wrong?  When you combine his good looks, his athletic skills, and his pedigree (has Cowboy Bob’s broken arm healed up yet?), there seems to be no reason Randy Orton doesn’t continue to dominate the WWE for many years.  It certainly started out well.  A quick recap:  Upon his arrival in WWE Randy Orton joined “Evolution”, alongside Ric Flair, Triple H, and Dave Batista.  Orton quickly won the Intercontinental championship and establishing himself as “The Legend Killer”.  Then, at only 24 years old, he won the world heavyweight championship.  Wow!

That was just the beginning of a career filled with great moments.  I enjoyed his partnership with Edge, his matches with Chris Benoit, and the Legacy with Rhodes and DiBiase.  I always loved his finishing move, the RKO.  Overall, Orton has won eleven championships in WWE, including nine world titles.  He also won the Royal Rumble in 2009.  Its obviously a Hall of Fame resume.

But there is always drama surrounding Randy Orton, starting with his bad conduct discharge from the United States Marine Corps.  Apparently he received a bad conduct discharge and served time in a military prison after going AWOL twice and disobeying an order from a commanding officer.  I have been a defense contractor for 15 years and I know the importance of discipline to the military.  These are very serious transgressions.

Orton turned to pro wrestling (must be nice to have a father in the business, right?) and immediately his star was on the rise.  In some ways, pro wrestling is just like every other sport.  Your personal history is completely forgotten as long as you can help the team win.  And Orton became a winner right away in WWE.

But over the years Orton has had trouble staying healthy, battling numerous shoulder injuries that have at times derailed his character development.  Once in a while the shoulder injuries were built into a storyline, and I guess you could argue that taking someone off TV for a little while can help them remain “fresh” with the fans, but when you are a big star like Randy Orton that shouldn’t be necessary.  Maybe for Drew McIntyre…but not Randy Orton.

There have been herniated discs.  Broken collarbones.  Concussions.  Separated shoulders.  I know injuries are just a part of pro wrestling, and most of Orton’s can be rationalized as part of the wear and tear to which these athletes expose their bodies.  But Randy also injured himself in a motorcycle accident and had to miss significant ring time.  Whatever the reason, Orton has been injured a lot during his run in WWE and I feel it has had a historical impact.

I’m somewhat willing to cut Orton a break on the injuries, but I find his personal conduct more difficult to overlook.  In 2006 Orton was suspended for sixty days for “unprofessional conduct” (ironically, to cover for the suspension, Orton faked an injury).  I didn’t appreciate Orton’s disparaging remarks about Eddie Guerrero earlier that same year, considering Eddie had died just a few months before that.  There are other ways to get villain heat.  Maybe most worrisome was when Orton was accused of harassing fellow WWE employees Amy Weber and Rochelle Loewen, who even called Orton “an animal”.

Then in 2007, Sports Illustrated posted an article on its website about steroid and HGH use in professional sports. That article mentioned several current and former WWE wrestlers, including Orton, who were alleged to have obtained a boatload of steroids, including stanozolol, nandrolone, and testosterone.

You could attribute many of early Orton’s issues to immaturity.  Maybe he was given “too much too soon”.  But then this past May, WWE announced that they had suspended Orton for 60 days due to his second violation of the company’s Talent Wellness Program.  Ugh.  I remember being disappointed when I heard the news, but I was certainly not surprised.  Steroids.  Harrassment.  Drugs.  At this point Orton is what he is.

It’s interesting that Orton’s injuries and behavior have cost him roles in several movies.   In 2009, Orton injured his collarbone and was replaced by Ted DiBiase in “The Marine 2”.  Last year Orton was dropped from “Marine Homefront” due to his past issues with the USMC.  This time he was replaced by “The Miz”.  (You could sarcastically say each time this was a blessing, but that would be taking a shot at WWE Studios…which would seem unfair, right?  Right?!)

Of course WWE would never release Randy Orton, because in between these incidents Orton has won his fair share of matches and stayed in the main event picture.  In fairness, I saw him wrestle John Cena in a sensational “Iron Man” match that headlined “Bragging Rights 2009”.  I was there in Pittsburgh, PA that night and he kept my interest for the full 60 minutes.  He was great.

But I also saw him main event Wrestlemania 25 against Triple H in a match that is generally regarded as a disappointment.  Those of us in the crowd were worn out after the Undertaker’s breathtaking victory over Shawn Michaels, but nevertheless this was an underwhelming climax to the year’s biggest show.  Orton may not be completely to blame, but too many times I’ve become disinterested during (or even before) his matches, starting to tune him out as he walks (slowly) to the ring.

So I’ve seen the best and worst of Randy Orton.  More than any WWE superstar I often find his performances uneven, his matches forgettable.  I expect excellence from superstars at his level.  We’ve seen it before from him so I know he is capable of it.  That’s what makes him so frustrating.  I don’t care how many t-shirts he sells on WWE.com.  I want to see Orton shine in the ring.  His recent feuds with Barrett, Alberto Del Rio, and now the Shield (again, to explain an injury) have done little to make me think his best is yet to come.

I find it ironic that Randy Orton used to be a big part of the group “Evolution”.  If 2012 is any indication his career doesn’t seem to be evolving anymore, and as evidenced by his recent drug suspension, neither is his behavior.

— David B. (@dlb19338)