The best part of Monday Night RAW took place in the unlikeliest of settings - the opening segment. Usually reserved for booking main events or “Weekly Authority Parade”, last night’s opener was about as unexpectedly un-WWE as possible, and the cause came from the most unbelievable of sources. . . One Randall Keith Orton.
This is, if memory serves, the first time I’ll speak about Randy Orton for more than just a few sentences, mainly because over the last decade no single talent has irritated me more, both on a personal and professional level, than The Viper. Be it the uber-frat boy looks or the seemingly pointless tattoos, the completely juvenile backstage antics or the reportedly disdainful ways he treats fans and the media, Orton has never done anything for me as a wrestler. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I never even gave him the credit he may have deserved for being such a naturally gifted in-ring talent - I couldn’t see past the person to appreciate the persona, as it were.
What changed, you may ask? The introduction of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose into the main event picture. While I would normally fast-forward through any Authority promo or Orton match (for instance, I chose to ignore his entire mini-feud with Roman Reigns), with Seth and Dean in the mix, I suddenly had a reason to pay attention. And I liked what I saw.
This Orton was different from the one I remembered. This one seemed. . . grown up, even if he was involved in a “sibling rivalry” type feud with Rollins over who was the Authority’s golden boy. Instead of being the young kid punting legends in order to make a name for himself, Randy now stood as the grizzled veteran, irritated at the new stud taking his spotlight. But that wasn’t all that was different. I couldn’t really put my finger on it until recently. Somebody said something on Twitter that struck me.
For the first time in a long time. . .Hell, maybe even for the first time EVER, I saw passion behind what Randy was doing. And, as one of my previous lessons indicates, you can’t teach passion.
There was truth behind Randy’s words when he spoke out against Rollins. When he teased giving Seth the RKO a few weeks back at the end of RAW, he really looked like he wanted to do it. This wasn’t acting, or pretending, or following a script - Orton seems to genuinely have a problem with Rollins taking over his spot, and his performance has improved because of it.
You can see it in his mic work, you can see it in his ring work (which, I’ll admit, has always been solid, but you have to admit he’s taken it up a notch), but most importantly, you can see it in his interactions with the crowd.
Orton is the quintessential heel - everything about him has always screamed out for people to despise him. He’d fit right in as the villain in a cheesy 80’s college movie. Whenever Randy has played the face role, it has always felt forced, as if he can’t wait for this phase to be over and he can go back to being a prick. But not now. When he plays to the crowd now, you can tell he’s enjoying it. He can get them in the palm of his hand, and unlike so many other times before, this time they’re loving the ride.
Again, Orton cares, and shockingly enough, the fans have noticed and responded positively. Amazing how we can sense passion, isn’t it?
So let’s go back to Monday night’s opening. The Authority’s music hits, and I immediately groan. “How can they not be starting the show with Bray Wyatt or Ambrose?” I ask myself, “Why do these guys need to force themselves into being the main story?” We hear from Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. . . We hear from a freshly-dyed Rollins. (I’m telling you, that hair looks awful. It’s like Jeff Hardy after wearing his Willow get-up for 6 weeks straight.) Honestly, if it hadn’t been for J&J Security, I might have stopped watching and just caught up with the MULTIPLE replays they inevitably show during the next three hours.
Then, here comes Orton, and he looks. . . Animalistic. Seriously, I’ve never seen him so amped up. He builds himself into a frenzy very quickly (perhaps a little too Ambrosian in nature, but you can’t blame him from using what is so obviously working), and within seconds is nearly apoplectic with rage. Deep red face, pacing wildly. . . I loved it! Once more, you could see the underlying truth there. Rollins won, Orton lost and he is legitimately pissed about it.
Then, the coup de gras. He attacks Rollins, they’re separated, Triple H looks to be calming down the Viper, and then...
A lot of people are wondering on Twitter when the “official” Orton face turn is going to happen. I’d argue that it happened already over the last few weeks, but if you need a single catalyst for the change, that’s the one.
In that one moment, he defied The Authority, he attacked the Golden Boy and he did what, at least in Triple H and Stephanie’s mind, was NOT best for business.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Randy Orton, one of the most popular stars in our sport…
(Sorry, I just can’t resist!)
Man, that came out of nowhere!