For a long time, WWE programming had been devastated by a relentless flow of injuries. Numerous big-name Superstars (and promising guys like Neville and Kidd) faced long-term recovery periods; rather than relying on the remains of the roster to fill the gaps, the company attacked the injury problem from two different angles.
First, it relied upon the power of nostalgia. The Rock and Shane McMahon joined part-time stalwarts like Lesnar, Triple H, Jericho, and The Undertaker in an effort to fill the stadium for WrestleMania. While I cannot speak to their direct impact on ticket sales, this crew of sentimental favorites laced up their boots, and the show did go on. It was a bandage solution.
Second, the company called upon new talent from NXT, like Charlotte, Becky, Sasha, Corbin, Enzo and Cass. Adding depth to the ranks, they also called upon “new to WWE” talent, such as Zayn, Styles, Gallows and Anderson, who arrived fully-formed with impressive credentials. This was a more forward-thinking solution, christened The New Era.
The New Era is a promise, a vow to give these fresh faces a prominent position on the WWE landscape. But it’s also branding. It’s hype. And it sets the stage for what could be a spectacular return from injury…one that hasn’t happened yet. Cesaro came back to a thrilling IC Title picture. Rollins came back with a free pass to the main event. And Cena came back to a face a fellow franchise player. These were all big, ready-made moments that made sense.
But one guy has been flying under the radar while he recovers, enjoying the privacy afforded him by the miraculous healing powers of Cesaro, Rollins, and Cena. This guy doesn’t have a story waiting for him, and he doesn’t care about miracles or surprises…unless you count his signature finisher, best delivered in stealth mode.
Randy Orton is that guy, and no one would expect him to care much about The New Era. I want him to turn those expectations to his advantage. Because when Randy Orton cares about what he’s doing, he is amazing.
In his debut, Orton relied on his name when second-generation was still a novelty. It didn’t take much for him to realize success. Cocky and entitled, women swooned at his sneer, and men applauded his failure to give a crap. Orton’s temper should have been a handicap to his career, but instead it gave legitimacy to his villainous persona. His wrestling style ranged from bland (infuriating!) to ferocious (exhilarating!), depending on his mood. But Orton often demonstrated the difference between “not caring” and “not enough effort”. When he wasn’t motivated, his matches suffered. Every time he settled in with a reverse chinlock, I’d worry about growing visibly older before the match was over. And at this stage of his career, it would be easy for Orton to reverse chinlock the big paycheques until he’s done.
The company needs to tap into what makes Randy Orton CARE, and The New Era concept gives them the opportunity to do just that. There is no way Orton can come back from this injury with the traditional twinkle of the rehabilitated: Orton needs to come back MAD. He’s been gone since October, which in wrestling years is a very long time. Here is what makes Randy Orton ready to dominate the New Era:
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Orton’s moniker was the Legend Killer. He was the young upstart, but 12 years later he can now call himself a legend. The New Era finds Orton in a sweet spot: old enough to claim he’s a legend, but young enough to hang with the next generation who will step up to challenge him. Think about the brilliant video packages they can put together to elevate Orton to that legendary status. They can have Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, and The Undertaker talk about Orton’s accomplishments. Then you balance out that seniority with his Cool Factor. It was an even shorter time ago that “RKO Out of Nowhere” entered the mainstream vernacular. Suddenly, Orton was being spliced into hilariously improbable scenarios to deliver his finisher. Why? Because he’s only gotten better at delivering RKO’s in the ring. His experience gives him credibility, and it’s not bragging if you can still back it up.
By this point, the Orton family name is just a small part of Randy’s pedigree. Not only is the concept of a second-generation wrestler more common now, but also his being Bob Orton’s son is old news. Too antiquated for The New Era. What is important is Randy’s long-held prestige as “the perfect wrestler built from the ground up” (one of JBL’s favorite things to say about him). Orton has prided himself on being a physical specimen, a trait that stood out in his early years amidst the bulk and gimmickry of his Attitude-Era colleagues. How could someone from The New Era dare to claim superiority over someone of Orton’s calibre? That alone could motivate Orton to demonstrate that his prime is not in the rear view mirror.
Randy Orton is ornery as hell by nature, and won’t take kindly to all of the changes that have happened in his absence. He missed WrestleMania. Roman Reigns is the champ. Shane is back. The brands are splitting again. And now they’re calling it The New Era and there are a bunch of unfamiliar dorks in the change room, acting like they own the place. This is a prime opportunity for Orton to LOSE HIS MIND and take out his anger on his opponents. He will wrestle with focus and intensity, and we will all be richer for it. Remember, Orton is quite a multi-functional hand in the ring (think of the clinic he put on with none other than the architect Seth Rollins at WM 31, and the more brutal Last-Man Standing and Hardcore matches he’s had in the past). Orton can channel his rage into spectacular work in the ring.
Randy Orton is a master at expressing contempt, because it comes so naturally to him. He wears disdain like a finely-tailored garment. Think of it from his perspective: The New Era is bullsh-t and has no place in WWE. Go fill your musty little NXT gyms, go back to Japan, keep your circus to yourselves. (Remember, heels don’t have to be correct, as long as they have conviction.) Orton will believe that WWE has been watered down by wrestlers who don’t have real star power. He wouldn’t consider the faces of The New Era worthy of his attention, except now they’re running roughshod on his domain, stealing his spotlight. Randy’s not one to step back and embrace the next generation, or look at the big picture. But here’s my favorite part: he could not only express disdain for the New Era, but also for his peers, who’ve let themselves grow stale: Cena, Show, Jericho, Kane, Henry. They shouldn’t be resting on their laurels and putting over new guys; they should still be the marquee players. He will be disgusted. And take them to task in the ring.
THEN you put Orton in the ring with the New Era guys. The new guys have an easy reason to prove themselves. And if Randal Keith Orton buys into the idea of needing to prove himself, then we’re in for a treat. Because a motivated, engaged, fired-up Randy Orton is a delight to behold. You can see it in his eyes – I wouldn’t call it a sparkle, as that’s too pleasant. More of a glint. You can see it in the way he moves – when Orton wants to, he can keep up with the swiftest guys in the ring. Go back and watch his matches against Daniel Bryan. Randy Orton was with him, move for move, at Bryan’s pace, and he was having a damn good time doing it. He doesn’t need to win all of his matches in order to prove his point. And he doesn’t need to be pinned by all of the New Era guys in order to make THEM look amazing.
The New Era is a promise. But in my opinion, that promise doesn’t relate exclusively to the new faces on the roster. It’s a vow to make a fresh start altogether, with new ways of running the shows, unexpected pairings and dream matches. Everyone on that roster, young and old, should want in on this. I want The New Era to speak to Randy Orton – a conversation with the voices in his head. Because “new era” doesn’t just refer to new things. It’s a new time, for everyone. And I would love for it to tap into the unexpected.
Tell me what you think in the comments below, or come find me on twitter @kickyhick.