Randy Orton: The Night He Became WWE's Youngest World Champion

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Randy Orton: The Night He Became WWE's Youngest World Champion
photo from wwe.com

Randy Orton rolled off Chris Benoit with his mouth agape from shock. Referee Earl Hebner handed him the World Heavyweight Championship and he held it to his face, overcome with emotion.

On Aug. 15, 2004, Orton became the youngest person ever to hold that title.

That SummerSlam also featured a grudge match between Triple H and Eugene, and JBL retaining the WWE title against The Undertaker, but Orton's moment is the lasting image.

Fans think of that night and picture Orton in his salmon-colored wrestling tights, with tears in his eyes and barely a tattoo on his body.

For WWE to award him this opportunity at age 24 showed just how earnestly they believed in his ability and potential. They bestowed the crown to a young prince whom they trusted to become a king.

In Orton, WWE saw its next megastar.

Though he lacked the wiliness of a ring veteran, he coursed with potential. 

At that age, most wrestlers are still learning the craft in a developmental or independent promotion. Orton made history by accelerating his career path at an historic pace.

His opponent had won the coveted title just five months earlier in an unforgettable WrestleMania match against Shawn Michaels and Triple H. That night culminated in Benoit standing in a confetti shower, the big gold belt held above his head.

The younger Orton would soon take the championship from him and receive an iconic photo-op of his own.

On July 26's episode of Raw, Benoit defeated Triple H in an Iron Man match to remain champion. That same night, Orton outlasted 19 other men in a battle royal to earn the right to face The Wolverine.

A month later, Benoit and Orton met at SummerSlam's main event. They delivered a classic at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto that night.

The match began with a powerful staredown, inflating the grandness of the moment. The two men moved on to mat wrestling and submission-heavy offense, battling at a grinding pace.

Orton, bloody lip and all, looked immensely devious as he punished Benoit. He smashed The Wolverine's face into the ring barricade and spent much of the match working on his neck. 

A sudden RKO provided the climax. The Toronto crowd watched as Hebner counted to three, as Orton inserted his name into WWE's history books.

The night of his first World Heavyweight Championship win, he rose to a higher level than his father, "Cowboy" Bob Orton or his grandfather, Bob Orton, Sr. ever had.

With that first world title win, Orton's path to the Hall of Fame had officially begun.

The youthful champion hadn't yet reached the apex of his skills and maybe he still hasn't, but sometimes greatness is obvious even before it's fully developed.  

As Orton celebrated, Jim Ross said, "Aug. 15 is a date that will live in Randy Orton's mind forever." Of course that comment is a major understatement.

It is a date and a moment that will live on in scores of wrestling fans' minds as the first of many coronations for a WWE icon.

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