While taping this year's final 2011 SmackDown broadcast, Randy Orton suffered an injury in his street fight with Wade Barrett.
WWE.com posted the following news blurb:
Due to an injury he sustained at SmackDown in Indianapolis, Randy Orton will be replaced by Sheamus in scheduled Street Fights against Wade Barrett at WWE live events this week.
As the blurb hinted, the injury came about as a result of a street fight. The spoilers for the show indicated that Barrett and Orton took a literal meaning to the rules and brawled everywhere including an elevator.
Barrett apparently pushed "The Viper" down a stairwell. Orton was reportedly in extreme pain after the tumble.
Current word backstage is that it's feared the injury is in Orton's back and that he might be out up to six months. As noted in the WWE's blurb, Sheamus will take over duties for the current house show tour.
This does hurt the Blue Brand in a big way. Orton was brought over from Raw as a replacement for Edge when the "Rated R Superstar" retired due to medical issues.
Orton has been a strong presence on the show, feuding with Christian over the course of the summer before losing his title to the monster Mark Henry. Orton has since feuded with Cody Rhodes and Barrett in heavily featured feuds.
The issue, though, is can the WWE compensate for the loss of Orton? In the short term, yes.
There is enough talent and intriguing angles to keep the program afloat. One telling thing is that ratings have been fairly steady around the 2.0 mark for a while now while Orton has not been champion.
SmackDown also has a returning Christian to help offset the blow to the roster and the "SuperShow" concept gives the WWE the ability to shift Raw brand talent over to SmackDown to help as well.
However, where the WWE is really hurting might be the lack of a resident top babyface on SmackDown. Ironically, this was part of the reason for the rumored R-Truth face turn on Raw.
The WWE feared an injury to Punk or Cena on Raw and what effect it would have. They needed a third top babyface to help ease the burden if one of the two went down.
Sheamus, as much as I like the guy, isn't in an position to carry the show for an extended period of time. Newly crowned World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan needs a lot of work to give the image the casual fans of the WWE look for in a Champion.
Big Show remains a possibility to help carry the show, as he does have the longevity and familiarity that makes for a top babyface.
Whatever the WWE does, this does happen an odd time for the WWE. It's not an emergency situation as far as creative planning goes.
With so many weeks away from the next pay-per-view, there is time to alter plans accordingly and push certain talent to help offset the loss of the WWE's resident "Apex Predator."
One thing to consider as well is this will push newer faces like Bryan and Barrett into the limelight. Barrett can legitimately say he knocked off "The Viper" and be seen as a devastating heel. Bryan, by virtue of his World Heavyweight Championship, will receive much more time on TV as well.
No matter what though, Orton's loss hurts. Get well soon, Randy.