Next Sunday at WrestleMania 30, Randy Orton will put his WWE World Heavyweight Championship up for grabs in a Triple Threat match against Batista and either Triple H or Daniel Bryan. Orton has reigned supreme atop the WWE since SummerSlam, but his time as champion could very well be coming to an end on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
It was ten years ago at WrestleMania 20 that Orton made his WrestleMania debut in a Handicap match, teaming with Evolution members Batista and Ric Flair to take on The Rock ‘N Sock Connection. Now, one decade later, Orton will be headlining the event as the world champion. Time flies, doesn’t it?
The Viper’s character as of late may not as interesting as it once was, but there’s denying that he can get the job done in the ring, and that’s especially evident at WrestleMania. Since most members of the WWE Universe are currently discussing Bryan’s “Yes!” Movement and Batista’s return to the company, I think Orton’s in-ring skills and ability to have a great match are often overlooked.
In light of this special anniversary, I will rank each of Orton’s matches at The Show of Shows from over the last ten years. Where will his Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 30 rank among these memorable matchups?
On the March 3, 2012 edition of SmackDown, Kane randomly assaulted Randy Orton. It was later revealed that Kane had held a grudge against Orton after they shook hands following their No Holds Barred match in July 2011, Kane’s final televised match before being taken out by Mark Henry. Thus, the two feuded going into WrestleMania 28.
The storyline support was weak, but they were made the most of it. At the time, they were two of the most psychotic personas in the WWE, so it was an interesting clash of styles to say the least.
Their match at WrestleMania took place second on the card, but they were able to get over 10 minutes of in-ring time. They had a well-worked match that featured pleasantly surprising action, exceeding the low expectations of some in the process.
The finish saw Kane deliver a chokeslam off the top rope to pick up the clean victory. Not only did Orton lose on The Grandest Stage of Them All, but the loss occurred on his birthday as well.
While it was a good match for what it was worth, their subsequent matches between them were much more entertaining, leaving this bout to be afterthought.
This match was yet another case of WWE’s Creative Team not having anything substantial for Randy Orton to do going into WrestleMania, so they threw him in a six-man tag team match with The Shield just for the heck of it. Technically, he and Sheamus had already been feuding with The Shield in the months leading up to their match, but the fact Big Show was their partner made zero sense.
Regardless, it was a good matchup where each of the competitors involved played their part well. It was put in the opening slot of WrestleMania 29, so the pressure was on for them to set the tone for the rest of the show.
Although Orton looked to be closing in on the victory, he was a victim of the numbers game and was ultimately pinned by Dean Ambrose. Afterward, both he and Sheamus were knocked out by Big Show after Orton failed to cooperate with him.
The only true highlight in this match came when Orton hit an RKO on Seth Rollins in mid-air, but that was about it. It was a forgettable match that benefited The Shied, but did nothing for anyone else on the opposing team.
From 2005 to 2010, the Money in the Bank Ladder match was a match exclusive to WrestleMania that featured some of the biggest and brightest stars the company had to offer. The match featured many “WrestleMania moments” and has made the careers of many over the years including the likes of Edge, CM Punk and Jack Swagger.
In early 2007, Randy Orton regularly teamed with Edge as Rated-RKO, but once their aspirations for the WWE Championship got between them, they went their separate ways. They were rumored to face each other at WrestleMania 23, but both were inserted in the Money in the Bank Ladder match instead.
Other contestants in the match were Mr. Kennedy, Finlay, CM Punk, Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy and King Booker. The contest featured several cool spots, including one where Jeff Hardy broke a ladder in half by executing a splash right on top of Edge.
Orton was highlighted here as well, at one point hitting almost every other participant in the bout with an RKO. Despite a standout performance, Orton was unable to retrieve the briefcase.
Although it was a very fun match, it didn’t do much to progress the career of Orton, who had already been involved in other marquee matches at ‘Mania prior to this night.
Evolution was first formed in early 2003, but due to injuries sustained by Randy Orton and Batista, the full faction was unable to appear at WrestleMania 19. While Triple H was busy defending his World Heavyweight Championship the very next year in the main event of WrestleMania 20, Orton and Batista teamed up with Ric Flair to take on the reuniting Rock N’ Sock Connection in a three-on-two Handicap match.
Not only was this Foley’s first match in nearly four years, but it would also be Rock’s final match in nearly seven years. Orton and Batista were looking to make a name for themselves by taking out two of the WWE’s most iconic figures and the impression they made that night would lead them to multiple championships.
The match was worth watching for the interactions between Ric Flair and The Rock alone. Rock and Foley made a comeback after Evolution dominanted most of the match only to succumb to defeat in the end.
It is well-documented that Foley wasn’t happy with his performance that night and that it didn’t live up to his standards, but Orton particularly shined here. In fact, it was Orton who nailed The Hardcore Legend with an RKO to pick up the victory.
This win for Orton on the grand stage helped propel him to super stardom, winning his first world title only five months later. He and Foley resumed their feud going into April’s Backlash event, where Foley helped make the career of Orton following a brutal No Holds Barred match for the Intercontinental Championship.
In late 2008, Randy Orton formed The Legacy with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, running rampant on the Raw roster for well over a year. Together, they took out the established likes of Triple H, Shawn Michaels, John Cena and others.
Around the time of 2010’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view, tensions started to mount between the members of the group after DiBiase and Rhodes inadvertently cost Orton the WWE Championship on multiple occasions. Shortly after Elimination Chamber, Orton solidified his split from his former proteges by nailing them both with RKOs and turning face in the process.
Although Rhodes and DiBiase were still technically aligned, a Triple Threat match between the three of them was made for WrestleMania 26. Despite being WWE champion only a few months prior, The Viper’s match was placed second on the card.
Rhodes and DiBiase double teamed against Orton early on, but turned on each other shortly thereafter once it was made clear that it’s every man for himself. Orton, with the crowd clearly behind him, punted Rhodes in the skull and followed up with an RKO on DiBiase for the victory.
Aside from solidifying him as a fan favorite, however, what did this win really do to benefit The Legend Killer?
Although the rivalry between Randy Orton and Triple H going into WrestleMania 25 was awesome, the match they had at the event is not looked back on fondly. Keep in mind that these two had feuded on several occasions in past years, so their ‘Mania match wasn’t exactly fresh.
Despite that, Orton’s feud with Triple H in early 2009 exceeded expectations once it got personal between the two. Orton punted each member of the McMahon family in the skull and HHH responded by invading Orton’s home and beating the living daylights out of him.
One would think that because they despised each other so much, this would have been more of a brawl than a wrestling match, but that was not at all the case. The match started off with a standard headlock as opposed to The Game going straight after Orton and pummeling him.
The fact both individuals hit their finishers on one another within the first few minutes of the match didn’t help matters, either. It ended up being a good match as a whole, but the finish of HHH giving Orton a taste of his own medicine by punting him and following up with the Pedigree felt anticlimactic for many viewers.
It’s also worth noting that this was the last time Orton headlined WrestleMania before this year. Here’s hoping his title match at WrestleMania 30 will be better than this one.
One year prior to facing each other in a singles match at WrestleMania 25, Randy Orton and Triple H met in a Triple Threat match also involving John Cena at WrestleMania 24. Cena was the 2008 Royal Rumble winner, HHH won a No. 1 contender’s match and Orton was the WWE champion going in.
Each one of these men had history with one another, making the match all the more personal. Although Orton was the one with the belt around his waist, many people predicted Cena or HHH to win given their valiant returns from injury.
Orton took that as a challenge to prove to everyone that he was indeed a fighting champion. This match saw an interesting clash of styles between all three competitors that delivered in terms of entertaining in-ring action.
Everyone was able to shine at one point or another during the bout, but it was Orton who ultimately emerged victorious after pinning Cena to successfully defend his WWE Championship. The Age of Orton was indeed upon us.
Similar to his feud with Kane, Randy Orton’s rivalry with CM Punk going into WrestleMania 27 dated all the way back to late 2008. Punk held a grudge against Orton after he cost him his World Heavyweight Championship at that year’s Unforgiven event and was looking to exact revenge against him on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
In the weeks leading up to the premiere pay-per-view, Orton faced off against every member of The New Nexus where if Orton lost, that faction member would allowed to be in the corner of Punk at ‘Mania. As luck would have it, The Viper reigned supreme in every single one of those matches, ensuring that it’d be only him and Punk when they went to war.
On a card that featured John Cena vs. The Miz and Triple H vs. The Undertaker, Orton and Punk arguably stole the show. They showed just how great their in-ring chemistry can be and put on an excellent performance.
Both Superstars worked tremendously hard to put on a great match and they certainly succeeded. The finish of the bout saw Orton deliver an RKO to the leader of The New Nexus in mid-air to secure the victory.
In the 2006 Royal Rumble match, Randy Orton came close to winning, but was ultimately eliminated by eventual winner Rey Mysterio. This led to a match between the two at No Way Out the following month where Mysterio’s WrestleMania title shot was on the line, which was won by Orton.
Then-SmackDown general manager Teddy Long made it official for WrestleMania 22: a Triple Threat match between Mysterio, Orton and Kurt Angle for the World Heavyweight Championship. Despite winning the Rumble, the odds were still very much stacked against Mysterio going into the event due to his small size.
Needless to say, all three competitors are excellent in the ring and worked well together in this contest. Of the three Triple Threat matches Orton has had at ‘Mania thus far, this was undoubtedly the best of them.
Orton was looking to win his second world title in this match, but was unsuccessful. In the end, Mysterio pinned Orton to win the match and the championship in memory of the late, great Eddie Guerrero.
The only thing that kept this match from topping the list was the fact it lasted only eight minutes and didn’t close the show.
Once Randy Orton broke away from Evolution, he transitioned into the role of a fan favorite, but not for long. He turned back heel at the start of 2005 to move into a feud with The Undertaker, challenging him to a match at WrestleMania 21.
If there was anyone in the last decade who could have truly gained something from ending The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania, it would have been Orton. At the time, he was still an up-and-comer with a very bright future ahead of him.
Regardless of the fact he was a former world champion, Orton still had a lot left to prove to fans and backstage officials. He had to prove he was more than just a stereotypical “pretty face” but rather a force to be reckoned with inside the squared circle.
Well, he certainly accomplished in his match against ‘Taker.
The Deadman did a superb job of selling for Orton’s offense and making him look like a star throughout. Orton even reversed one of ‘Taker’s signature chokeslams into an RKO of his own at one point for a very close two count.
Orton’s incredibly impressive performance made him look strong in defeat and thus allowed the feud to continue for the remainder of 2005. Granted, he may not have challenged for a world title at WrestleMania 21, but he did challenge for the next best thing in ‘Taker’s streak.
From there, Orton went on to make a name for himself on the SmackDown brand and the rest is history.
How would you rank The Apex Predator’s matches at WrestleMania, and where do you think his upcoming WrestleMania 30 match will rank among them? Sound off in the comments section below.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and “like” his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.