Randy Orton’s 2012 didn’t turn out quite like he thought it would.
After dominating SmackDown’s main event picture for most of 2011, he suddenly found himself as a bit of an afterthought throughout most of this year.
Orton didn’t really have a substantial role in the build to WrestleMania 28 (or the show itself), he was suspended for 60 days for violating the WWE’s Talent Wellness program and he finished off the year without capturing a World title.
For a guy who’s been a top star for the better part of a decade now, Orton’s 2012 can’t be described as anything but a major disappointment.
His dramatic fall down the card came seemingly out of nowhere, and as we near 2013, there hasn’t been a whole lot to suggest that he’s going to creep back up it.
Many believe that Orton’s second Wellness suspension is what’s come back to bite him in the butt, causing the WWE to be apprehensive about putting him back in the main event mix when he’s one strike away from getting fired.
However, while some may think his plunge has been caused exclusively by Orton himself, it also seems that the WWE doesn’t value him as a performer as much as it once did.
This isn’t really Orton’s fault, either. Rather, it’s a direct result of the rise of several other superstars.
In 2012, we’ve seen plenty of guys dash their way up the card and establish themselves among the WWE’s biggest stars in the process. Names that immediately come to mind are Daniel Bryan, Ryback and Sheamus.
While Orton was suspended and then struggling to get noticed in the upper midcard, this trio of babyfaces has ascended to the top of the WWE. As of right now, you could make a case that Ryback, Sheamus and Bryan are the three biggest babyfaces not named John Cena.
As a result, that’s knocked Orton down a few pegs on the WWE’s pecking order.
No longer is Orton seen as the No. 2 guy in the company like he was from roughly 2007 to 2010. He now seems to be viewed as, at best, it’s No. 5 good guy. Throw in guys like Triple H, The Undertaker and The Rock come WrestleMania time, and Orton plunges even further down the card.
As Orton continues to get lost in the shuffle, though, it’s safe to say that he’s currently undervalued by the WWE.
The guy is a nine-time World champion and a surefire future Hall of Famer. Yet, he’s turned into an afterthought when it comes to the booking of the WWE’s top feuds and storylines.
Orton hasn’t had a main-event caliber rivalry in more than a year now. Instead, he’s been saddled with pointless feuds with guys like Kane and Alberto Del Rio that ultimately accomplished nothing for either guy.
It’s hard not to question this treatment of Orton when he’s developed into one of the WWE’s best overall performers over the last couple of years.
Even though Orton does tend to “mail it in” at times, when he’s on, he’s as good in the ring as anyone else on the roster. In 2011, he had the best year of his career in terms of his matches—putting on that classic series with Christian and having great bouts with everyone from CM Punk to Mark Henry.
In 2012, Orton has still been the same fantastic performer when he’s motivated. His TV matches are consistently great, and his Night of Champions match against Dolph Ziggler was one of the best matches of the year.
Perhaps that’s why it’s such a mystery to see Orton go from arguably the WWE’s No. 2 star to just another guy in such a short span.
The crowd reaction is still there for Orton, but the support of the creative team and mega-push that typically comes along with it simply isn’t.
While a big plus that’s come out of Orton’s rough 2012 has been the rise of other stars (and in particular, other babyfaces), it’s still disappointing to see that the WWE doesn’t value him quite as much as it did just a year ago.
In 2011, Orton was the face of SmackDown, a two-time World heavyweight champion and second only to Cena on the WWE’s pecking order. Today, he’s looking up at five stars or more.
Some will always attribute Orton’s fall to his second Wellness suspension, but Jeff Hardy once won a World title despite having two suspensions to his name.
It’s not Orton’s suspension that’s holding him back, it’s those people who don’t value Orton like they should.
It’s the WWE.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!