Can Randy climb the mountain again?
When Randy Orton became the youngest person to ever hold the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam 2004, at the tender age of just 24 it seemed that a golden period of his career was just about to begin. He had just defeated the formidable Chris Benoit in a clean contest and claimed the title back for Evolution that had been lost by Triple H at the previous WrestleMania.
Many tipped him as the person who would finally break Ric Flair's long standing record of 16 World title reigns and become one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
And he still might.
However, success has not come easily for Orton, and I think the vast majority of people thought he would be further ahead in building the legacy that he will eventually leave behind him. Anybody who watched Survivor Series on Sunday night will see that Randy is in no man's land in the WWE and is currently at the crossroads of deciding whether he will be an all-time great or someone who was just very good.
Many expected Orton to triumph in last night's match, particularly when he eliminated Alberto Del Rio, to leave only himself and Dolph Ziggler in the ring. After hitting Ziggler with his trademark DDT, rather than finish him off with an RKO, Orton lined up a punt, which hasn't been seen in a WWE ring for months. Whether or not this is a hint at a possible heel turn for Orton is another story altogether. Ziggler reacted to the incoming punt with a superkick off his own to take the victory, leaving a stunned Orton and Mick Foley to brood on their defeat.
Will Randy Orton break Ric Flair's record of 16 World Title reigns?
However, many people, and I include myself in this believe Orton shouldn't have been involved in this match at all but should be challenging for one of the World Titles. Unfortunately, like at other stages of his career he has been his own worst enemy, with WWE currently unwilling to trust him with leading their brand. This follows a pattern that has dogged him throughout his career.
Back in 2004, after winning his first World Title, what should have been the start of a long reign as Champion was cut short after just a month after he lost the belt to old mentor Triple H. Many were surprised that Orton had been stripped of the title so quickly. The truth was, though, that Orton was causing too many problems backstage. Big for his boots, and high on success, WWE decided he needed bringing back down to earth which they duly did so. It would be another three years before the powers that be felt he was once again capable of being the main man, winning the title twice in one night at No Mercy in 2007.
What followed then was the longest period of sustained success in Randy's career so far. Always in the title picture and praised for his growing maturity backstage. Many people attribute this to the influence of his wife Samantha Speno who has helped to settle him down outside the ring, with the birth of his first child only enhancing this.
He is now a nine time world champion, triple crown champion, Royal Rumble winner and has won many accolades for his consistent performances in the ring.
However, the current malaise he now finds himself in is due to failing a second Wellness Program test. Due to the current WWE policy of three strikes and you're out, that leaves both Orton and the company in a perilous position. I don't for one second, think that Orton would be stupid or careless enough to fail a third test but at the moment the company can't afford to take that risk. For example, what if they were to give Randy a title win at the Royal Rumble with him carrying the belt through to WrestleMania. If he were then to fail another test they would be forced to terminate his contract immediately and strip him of the gold. Hardly an ideal scenario. If they can't trust him with the main titles then what is left for him?
I, for one, am backing Orton to come through this lean period in his career and emerge stronger for it. Another six months of keeping his nose clean and he will get the push his talent undoubtedly deserves. Whether or not he can come close to breaking the record of Flair is another matter altogether, but with another 10-12 years at the top of the business he could certainly come close.
At 32 years of age Orton stands at the fork in the road. Let's just hope he chooses the right path.