Randy Orton is one of the WWE’s best and most popular stars, but that’s hard to tell when you watch either Raw or SmackDown these days.
Sure, Orton isn’t exactly getting buried, and he continues to be pretty over with the crowd. But just because he’s not going backward, that doesn’t mean he’s going forward.
In fact, it seems pretty clear that Orton’s WWE career is at a standstill.
Throughout much of 2011, Orton was the face of SmackDown and its World Heavyweight Champion. After winning the World title shortly after WrestleMania 27, he and Christian would go on to have one of the best World title feuds and series of matches in recent memory.
The rivalry between Orton and Christian lasted most of the year, with Orton essentially being the focus of the World Heavyweight Championship picture from May through October, when he lost his rematch against Mark Henry at Hell in a Cell. But since that pay-per-view, it’s been one big plunge down the card for Orton.
He quickly dropped down to an upper midcard rivalry with Wade Barrett, one that resulted in Team Orton losing to Team Barrett at Survivor Series and seemed to be more of a way to establish Barrett as a viable main eventer than anything else.
As we transitioned into 2012, Orton found himself as the “odd man out” when it came to the build toward WrestleMania 28.
“The Viper” didn’t win the Royal Rumble like many expected him to, a concussion prevented him from participating in the Elimination Chamber match for the World Heavyweight Championship at Elimination Chamber, and as WrestleMania neared, Orton found himself in a rather lackluster feud with Kane.
That feud had tremendously poor build, and in what was only an OK match at the pay-per-view, Kane shocked the world by picking up the victory over Orton. At that point, many were left wondering just what Orton’s future would hold.
It actually didn’t take him that long to get back into the World title scene, as he worked himself into a Fatal 4-Way Match for the World Heavyweight Championship at Over the Limit. Unfortunately for Orton, he wound up losing that match, and shortly thereafter, he was suspended for 60 days for his second violation of the WWE’s Talent Wellness Program.
It seems like it was that suspension that has led to Orton finding himself in the position that he’s currently in.
He was left off of the SummerSlam card altogether (seen by many as a “punishment” for that suspension), and though he did pick up a victory over Dolph Ziggler at Night of Champions and another one over Alberto Del Rio at Hell in a Cell, he doesn’t seem like one of the WWE’s top priorities at the moment.
Orton has lost in clean fashion to both Big Show and Del Rio recently, and at the upcoming Survivor Series PPV, he’s a bit of an afterthought who’s stuck in a traditional five-on-five match—a match type that doesn’t have anywhere near the appeal that it had 20 years ago.
That makes me wonder what the next step for Orton is.
He’s still one of the most talented in-ring performers and one of the most over stars in all of the WWE, but with two Wellness strikes against him, the company doesn’t seem too willing to give him a chance to make it back to the main event scene and risk having him get a third strike while in a major feud or, even worse, holding a World title.
Perhaps that’s why the WWE has spent so much time and energy on building up Sheamus as the “face” of SmackDown and one of its top babyfaces, which seems to be working. By most accounts, Sheamus is now the No. 2 good guy in the company.
Of course, others are rising up the ranks as well. The WWE seems hell-bent on pushing Ryback as far as he can go, The Miz looks like he could be in the midst of a face turn, and whenever Daniel Bryan parts ways with Kane, he figures to be a main-event level face as well.
Orton is as talented as they get, but does that really matter all that much?
The WWE will push whom it wants to push, and at least right now, the company doesn’t seem to want to push Orton. Whether that’s a “punishment” for Orton’s suspension, a result of the WWE simply pushing other wrestlers instead or some combination of both doesn’t matter.
What really matters is that Orton continues to stay still, and he better get moving or else more stars will pass him up.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!