Authors: Michael Essany
© 2012 by Michael Essany. All Rights Reserved worldwide. May not be copied or distributed without prior written permission from the author.
This eBook is not an official WWE or Randy Orton publication nor is it associated, affiliated, or otherwise endorsed by WWE or Randy Orton. To visit WWE.com,
All information contained in this eBook has been obtained by exclusive interviews, online research, and information freely available in the public domain.
This eBook provides information that you read and use at your own risk.
Cover image is available royalty free and for commercial use through the personal collection of sports entertainment photos owned by Mike Randazzo. Cover image was taken April 29, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois at WWE PPV “Extreme Rules.”
Part 1: The Legend Killer Becomes The Legend
Randal Keith Orton was born April 1, 1980.
For a time in his youth, however, many wondered if the date upon which Randy was born - April Fool's Day - held a veritable curse over the third-generation wrestling star's life.
It was during Randy's teenage years and early twenties when the Knoxville, Tennessee-born future grappler would, admittedly, make some of the most foolish decisions of his entire life.
"I grew up around it [wrestling]," Orton told
during a 2010 interview. "Just like any other child growing up seeing their parents or their father doing something that maybe they want to do one day, whether that's being a doctor, or... here that happened to be professional wrestling. So I'm doing that now and living my dream. And it's great. I'm really enjoying it."
That was Randy Orton’s "easy" answer to the question he is most frequently asked. The hard answer isn't such a pretty one.
In his 2011 DVD profile titled "Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator," Orton admits that he didn't really dream of being a WWE superstar while still a youngster. Orton, in fact, didn't have much direction at all.
"My father wrestled, my uncle wrestled and my grandfather wrestled," Orton told viewers during a recent guest appearance on George Lopez Tonight. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here. They paved the way for me."
Yet it wasn't until 1999 that Orton first began to consider the wrestling business as a professional possibility. It was a fateful decision that would lead him to OVW developmental territory at the same time John Cena, Batista, and Brock Lesnar were training for a future spot in WWE.
For Orton, the jump to wrestling came at a time when few - including Orton - had any clue as to what would become of the son of legendary WWE Hall of Famer "Cowboy" Bob Orton. After graduating from high school, Orton enlisted with the United States Marine Corps - a decision, as it turned out, that Orton wasn't fully prepared to make at that juncture in his life.
Despite possessing great reverence for the men and woman who wear the uniform of the United States, Orton says he didn't experience that which he signed up for. And after attempting to feign injury in hopes of getting discharged, Orton was eventually dishonorably discharged in 1999 after going AWOL on more than one occasion. He subsequently disobeyed orders from his commanding officer and served well over a month in military prison at Camp Pendleton as punishment for his actions.
Upon Orton's dishonorable discharge, one member of the military wished Orton good luck in his future. And it was at that very moment when Orton soberly confronted that very prospect: the future - one that, for the time being, lacked any real sense of direction or even inspiration.
The Family Business
Living in the basement of his parents’ home and determined to find a path toward success somewhere, Orton finally began - for the first time in his life - to seriously consider a career in professional wrestling.
After broaching the subject with his father, Randy's old man agreed to train him and take the wannabe wrestler to a WWE show in person.
Given his father's pull, Randy Orton soon landed a try-out, which resulted in a development deal, and eventually a shot at the big time.
In April 2002, Randy Orton debuted on WWE SmackDown in a match against Hardcore Holly.
He immediately went over with fans thanks to his natural athleticism and good looks.
Within one year, Orton would find himself as one of the company's biggest heels as part of the now-infamous and unforgettable wrestling stable known as "Evolution," which also included Triple H, Ric Flair, and Batista. At SummerSlam 2004, Randy Orton defeated Chris Benoit to become the youngest champion in WWE history.
After Orton moved away from Evolution, the brightest young star in the WWE would soon earn a nickname that would never leave him: "The Legend Killer." From Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, to Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton would make a name for himself by waging war in the ring with some of wrestling’s biggest icons.
But then something changed. And it once again pertained to "evolution."
Bigger Than Before
"Randy Orton is a unique character in WWE today," says former E! Entertainment Television personality and pro wrestling industry insider Mike Randazzo. "Orton was once billed as the legend killer. Now, he's clearly on the path to becoming a legend himself. He's already one of the biggest stars in the industry. But he's not quite Shawn Michaels or even John Cena. And it remains to be seen what it will take to get him bumped up a few more notches to where, in my opinion, he deserves to be.
"I think Randy Orton faces a lot of unnecessary criticisms," Randazzo continues. "Everyone knows - and Orton himself admits - that Randy became a major ass and a conceited over-the-top cocky man when he first tasted success in the WWE. The attitude wasn't just for show. He acted like a jerk off camera too. Couple this with his admitted drug use and it’s a recipe for disaster. But Randy Orton hasn't ended up a broke druggie out of a job. Instead, he cleaned up his act and is now one of the hardest working and most respected men in the WWE. I think he's a great role model. But it seems that politics may be holding him back."
In the era or family-friendly WWE programming, Vince McMahon has reportedly been keen on keeping "clean figures" in the limelight. With Linda McMahon running for U.S. Senate in Connecticut for the second time in 2012, the McMahons have kept a close watch on who is surfacing to the top of WWE and reflecting on the company as a whole.
"The whole 'scandal' with the Marines," Randazzo says, "is still a factor - in my view - for WWE executives, especially as Linda runs for office again. Although Orton admits to his mistakes - which didn't cost any lives and didn't hurt our country - it seems that the WWE, which has close ties to the military, doesn't want to make a Marines drop-out who went A.W.O.L. the poster boy of the company. I mean, look what they did to Orton regarding 'The Marine 3.'"
Randazzo is referring to the controversial decision by WWE to originally agree to let Orton star in the third installment of the feature film series. From
WWE has pulled Randy Orton as the star of it direct-to-homevid actioner "The Marine: Homefront" after determining that his troubled past with the United States Marine Corps would pose a problem.
"WWE demonstrated poor judgment in signing Randy Orton for the third installment of the film 'The Marine,'" WWE subsequently said in a statement. "Despite Randy's popularity, the fact that he was dishonorably discharged from the USMC made it inappropriate for him to be cast in this film. He will no longer have a role in the film."
"I've really had to wonder," Randazzo concludes, "if the military thing has something to do with Orton being held back in WWE. The military is so important to WWE - the National Guard sponsors its events, for crying out loud - that McMahon may not want to elevate Orton further right now for that reason alone, particularly while his family remains in politics. That's all speculation, of course. But it seems logical."
Randy Orton, not surprisingly, seemed bitter about the decision by WWE to pull him from The Marine 3. After the decision was announced, Orton tweeted: “I respect our military. That’s why I’ve gone to Iraq or Afghan 3 times and met thousands of soldiers. Funny that’s not mentioned.”
What is, however, mentioned quite regularly is that Orton has the talent and tools to carry the WWE into the next era. The only question is: will the WWE give him the opportunity to do that which he clearly has the faculties, passion, and credibility to do?
Part 2: The Viper in Pro Wrestling Purgatory
On April 1st, 2012, WWE superstar Randy Orton turned 32 years of age.
But it wasn't a happy birthday.
For a man widely suspected of being the so-called future of the WWE for close to a decade, once again the third-generation professional wrestler and former world champion would find himself receiving anything other than a major push on sports entertainment's grandest stage.
At WrestleMania 28, Randy Orton "jobbed" to Kane - a two-decade veteran of the sport and nearing retirement from the active roster - in a defeat that some critics and wresting fans would subsequently call "an embarrassment" for the young WWE superstar.
"One year ago," says sports entertainment columnist
, "Randy Orton was in the midst of one of the best feuds in his career: for four straight PPVs, he fought Christian for the World Heavyweight Championship, and the matches got better each time."
"Since losing to Mark Henry at the Hell in a Cell PPV," he continues, "Orton has not gotten a title shot, and has instead been trying to elevate young guys like Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett. Over on SmackDown, however, these feuds were not getting the attention and exposure they truly deserved. This begs the question: Just how much of a top guy is Randy Orton these days?"
According to Manisero, if Randy Orton is frustrated with where his career stands today, it's not without adequate reasoning.
"Randy Orton was considered the No. 2 face in the company last year, but while he was doing the same thing every week, a man named CM Punk passed him for that honor. Punk is getting more exposure as the WWE Champion and continues to garner great reactions week in and week out," Manisero adds. “Now, Orton is No. 3, and he is competing for that spot with the likes of Sheamus (and even Daniel Bryan at times) over on the Blue Brand... I would be frustrated right now if I were Randy Orton. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and is seemingly watching people like Punk and Bryan pass him by in the company without really doing anything wrong."
Or has he?
In The WWE's Dog House
Rumors have abounded for months that Randy Orton - or "the Viper" to many WWE fans - was in the dog house with company executive for bad-mouthing the recent return of The Rock to World Wrestling Entertainment.
Many close to the WWE locker room say that Orton is among those who believe the active WWE roster deserves top billing at WrestleMania - not an actor who left the company years ago and returns on a whim to cash a big check in return for one match against the company's top guy (John Cena.)
It's no secret, in fact, that one of The Rock’s most vocal critics upon his return to WWE in February 2011 was Orton, who can still claim the distinction of having topped The Rock as the youngest WWE champion in the promotion’s long and storied history.
In a controversial American radio interview (highlighted by the U.K. Sun), the Viper spewed his venom against Johnson in rather elaborate detail.
"The Rock comes back to our show to do this program with Cena going into WrestleMania and he cuts this promo talking about how he never left and he promises he's never going to leave again,” Orton began. "The WWE has always been a place in his heart and the fans 'if it wasn't for you... Then he wasn't around for weeks to come. He literally said 'I promise I will never leave you again.'”
“Someone had asked me who I thought was better, John Cena or Rock,” Orton recalled during his interview. “I said Rock needs a teleprompter. Rock needs a writer to write all his stuff. Cena is awesome on the mic. When it comes to wrestling in the ring and the technical aspect, I feel as if I blow him away. I feel like I'm more of an athlete. The guy can squat 800lbs, I'm not saying he's not an athlete, but watching him I feel he's a little bulky, big. A little stiff, hard to move, robotic. That certainly hasn't hurt him. That's not necessarily a dig. I'm much better but on the microphone, he's light years ahead of all of us. Including The Rock.”
So was Orton being punished for his comments in 2011 by being flung into the mid-card of every pay-per-view and televised event? It's tough to say, especially since criticizing The Rock hasn't hurt others in the WWE.
Orton, indeed, was not alone in his rumored resentment toward The Rock. Although others in the locker room supposedly seethed in silence, CM Punk joined Orton in his Rock-bashing – and largely for the same reasons.
During a late 2011 interview with the New York Daily News, CM Punk suggested that The Rock has a “Hollywood megastar” ego and it’s annoying to the roster.
“You know, the thing about that is, he’s not around,” Punk revealed. “It doesn’t help morale when the guy goes right from his limo to the dressing room to the dressing room to the ring. He’s very bourgeois Hollywood.”
Punk doesn’t believe The Rock is back to help the younger superstars. He thinks Johnson is only back for a payday, to further his Hollywood career, and to make WrestleMania 28 a success.
“He came back; he did WWE Raw after that. He said he was never gonna leave. And the next time we saw him is a month later,” Punk says. “Yeah, it does bother me. A little hello would have been nice. He could have run by with his own entourage.”
“According to Punk,” the New York Post article adds, “The Rock has made little effort to interact with the rest of WWE – and it’s caused a lot of resentment in the WWE locker room. But when asked if Rock was a diva, Punk said that would be an insult to WWE’s Divas.”
“I can’t say that,” Punk insists. “At least the WWE Divas say hi to me in the halls.”
Ultimately, Punk would go on to retain the no. 2 spot within the company for close to a year after he first began publicly jabbing at The Rock. Orton, however, seemed to be in the dog house for his Rock-related insults just as Punk was getting more and more comfortable using the microphone he calls a "pipe bomb" to level The Rock whenever "The Great One" received glorious praise.
In the fall of 2011, for example, after much deliberation, Vince McMahon and company agreed that The Rock would be advertised for November 20, 2011 at the 25th anniversary of the Survivor Series in New York City at Madison Square Garden.
Even though it wasn’t clear to the public if The Rock would wrestle at the Survivor Series at the time tickets first went on sale (although this plan was already in place at WWE), the event sold out in a matter of minutes.
And The Rock was quick to hop on Twitter and broadcast the achievement through every available social media channel – a move that once again drew criticisms from CM Punk.
"I think it's great,” Punk said in response to the sold-out Garden. “Bottom line is it's a business. If Rock is going to put asses in seats then yay for us. There are a lot of misconceptions about how I feel about it. Obviously people love asking me because they know they're going to get the 100% truth. He comes back and he says that he's never going to leave again and then he doesn't come back for months. Yes, he's doing Survivor Series and, yes, it sold out in a half hour. Let's be honest. It's the Garden and it's the 25th anniversary of Survivor Series. The show was going to sell out but I get the bragging. 'Oh, it sold out in a half hour.' I sold out the Garden - me and JBL in a cage match so I have that distinction. I can say that I sold out Madison Square Garden, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. The problem I have with Dwayne is that he came back, he said he's never leaving again and I don't appreciate all this, 'Oh, the WrestleMania buy rate was up. Oh, it's because of Dwayne.' Was it? Or was it because of me and Randy Orton or was it because of Miz and John Cena? That's unfortunately something that you can't really ever figure out. A lot of people like to live and die by the ratings. It's a big news story that he came back, absolutely. I think he even tweeted me one time saying something like, 'The Rock in the main event makes more money than CM Punk could in a lifetime,' which is obviously a fallacy. That ultimately is where I have the problem with Dwayne. He lives in a fantasy world. No matter if I like or hate whoever I'm working with, I say, 'hello,' to them. I fraternize with them. It's a brotherhood backstage. I'm with these people more than I'm with my little sisters and my family. I just don't appreciate going from limo to dressing room, from dressing room to the ring and not saying 'hi' to any of the boys. That's what he does. I was just at a Guns N' Roses show backstage in Chicago and that's exactly what Axl Rose does and Axl's a lot cooler than Dwayne. Part of me gets it but for anybody who wants to say I have a bad attitude or a chip on my shoulder about it - absolutely. I think anybody should. There are guys in that locker room that bust their ass and there are guys that should be in the main event at WrestleMania. Eventually it will happen for everybody as long as you're passionate about it. I'm passionate about. Yeah, it pisses me off."
Jealous of the Dream Match?
It was rumored but never confirmed by Orton himself that the superstar was jealous of The Rock and John Cena for headlining WrestleMania 28.
Dream matches, as we've observed, are rare in the world of sports and especially in sports entertainment.
We will never see Hulk Hogan of the early 1980’s doing battle against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin of the late 1990’s. We will never see Andre The Giant in his prime squaring off against The Big Show. C.M. Punk won’t tangle with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. And hundreds of other “dream matches” will similarly never transpire because the stars they would require involvement from are either dead or no longer able to compete at the level they once could.
But The Rock vs. John Cena was a dream match that did take place. And it became one of the biggest and most profitable main events in WrestleMania history.
And while it isn't truly known just how upset Randy Orton really is - assuming he is at all - that he didn't get the opportunity to make history with The Rock instead of John Cena, Orton fans have bigger and more pressing issues with which to concern themselves today.
Are Randy Orton's best days ahead or are they already behind him? Although it's difficult to sense where Orton's career is heading given the professional purgatory he appears to be in today, the WWE still seems to have high hopes for Orton’s future.
And one of the ways in which Vince McMahon and company will help ultimately push Orton back above the mid-card is through a series of confrontations with the organization’s biggest and most controversial stars.
It’s a list that begins with one familiar name: Brock Lesnar.