Randy Orton has had better times.
Especially when you consider the phenomenal 2011 that he had, it’s hard to consider Orton’s 2012 anything but a disappointment. A year ago, he had a phenomenal feud and series of matches with Christian, and he was the focal point of the World Heavyweight Championship scene for most of the year.
But in 2012, Orton has found himself struggling mightily. He’s in that very odd position of still being one of the WWE’s top stars, but not being pushed quite like the unstoppable trio of John Cena, CM Punk and Sheamus.
Much of that has to do with the booking of Orton’s character, which wasn’t very good at the beginning of the year when he was saddled with a rather lackluster feud with Kane and seemed to be the “odd man out” when it came to the top matches at WrestleMania 28.
Of course, it has also had a lot to do with Orton himself. After building up a bad reputation early on in his WWE career, he seemed to have righted the ship over the last four or five years. But that all changed when he was suspended for 60 days earlier this year after violating the WWE Talent Wellness Program for the second time.
Orton is only human, and I’m of the belief that he deserved another chance to get back on track. The question is: Is the WWE willing to give him one?
To be honest, I’m not sure the WWE knows what it wants to do with Orton or what his place in the company will be going forward.
It’s clear that the creative team is not just going to bury the guy by turning him into a jobber or leaving him off of TV altogether. After all, it’s not exactly a smart business move to do either of those things to one of your top five stars.
At the same time, the WWE appears unwilling—at least for the time being—to catapult Orton back into the World title picture and/or top storylines. I think that’s evidenced by Big Show’s feud with Sheamus.
There’s a lot of history between Orton and Sheamus, and the WWE has teased several times throughout the year that we’d see a full-fledged feud between the two. But instead, we’re getting a Show/Sheamus rivalry that I’m not sure anyone really cares about all that much.
Thus, it seems like a monumental waste of Orton to relegate him to a feud with Alberto Del Rio, who is arguably the stalest character in all of the WWE and has proven to give us very little excitement or entertainment in any of his recent feuds.
Still, it’s a way to get Orton on the PPV cards, keep him relevant and (likely) give him a win against a guy who doesn’t figure to be a fixture in the World title scene again anytime soon.
Although Orton is still being booked pretty strongly and has feuded with two of the WWE’s top heels in recent months (Dolph Ziggler and Del Rio), I think most would have expected him to make a much bigger impact than he has over the last few months.
His matches continue to be great, but his stock definitely seems to have dropped since his suspension. As many fans have noticed, he appears to be coasting by as a babyface due to his unhappiness in that role.
Sadly for Orton, though, I think that will be his role for the foreseeable future and his place in the company for the remainder of 2012.
While we’ve all heard about Orton desperately wanting to turn heel, the WWE is already extremely heel-heavy, with only three or four babyfaces who are capable of working at the top of the card. I like Orton as a heel just as much as the next guy, but turning him heel has to make sense and has to benefit the WWE as a whole.
I don’t see that happening within the next few months both because the WWE may still want to “punish” Orton for his suspension (by failing to give him the heel turn he wants) and because he’s needed in his current role as an upper-midcard babyface.
Orton has been in a better spot on the card for much of his career and has proven to be a capable main-event performer who draws interest from the fans. Even today, he gets some of the biggest pops you’ll hear and is one of the WWE’s top attractions.
But given Orton’s recent Wellness suspension and a record that isn’t squeaky clean, the WWE appears to be hesitant to elevate Orton back into the “top three”—a place where he’s spent most of the last five or six years.
As a result, Orton looks poised to remain in that borderline upper-midcard/main-event role, teetering between the two and going where he’s needed when he’s needed there.
This may be a disappointment to a superstar of Orton’s caliber, but it’s not necessarily a horrible place to be.
I’m sure Orton won’t be happy about it, but with Sheamus, Cena and Punk solidified as the top three stars (and Ryback creeping up there as well), he might want to get used to being that go-to babyface who remains over, has good matches and always generates reaction, but isn’t necessarily going to be main-eventing or winning World titles.
Because barring a heel turn, he’s going to be stuck in that awkward spot as babyface who isn’t a midcarder but isn’t quite a main-eventer, either.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!