Randy Orton would probably admit that 2012 was a really rough year for him.
He had a forgettable WrestleMania feud, got suspended for 60 days and was never really much of a factor in the main event or World title pictures.
Luckily for “The Viper,” however, things are looking up for him in 2013.
Although Orton only eliminated one superstar in Sunday’s Royal Rumble and didn’t win the match, he was, in a way, one of the Rumble’s shining stars. He wreaked havoc with RKOs galore, and as expected, made it to the final five of the match.
It seems as if the WWE wanted Orton to make a strong statement in the Rumble, and though he could have done a little more to stand out, one thing did happen that makes him look poised to reenter the main event picture soon: He was eliminated by Ryback.
There’s been a lot of chatter about a potential Orton/Sheamus match at WrestleMania 29, and many expected Sheamus to eliminate Orton from the Royal Rumble this year or vice versa.
That didn’t happen, though. Instead, it was Ryback who eliminated Orton from the match and cost him a chance to compete for a World title at WrestleMania.
You have to wonder if there was more to Ryback eliminating Orton than it just being a simple elimination.
If there is, this could be what takes Orton back to the main event picture for the first time in more than a year.
After all, Ryback’s poised to have some type of big Mania match, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to be competing for a World title at the show. Barring something unforeseen happening, the same goes for Orton.
Thus, it would be logical to have these two feud in a main event-caliber angle that culminates with a WrestleMania match. Of course, this could play into Orton’s heel turn, which has been rumored for about six months now, but has yet to happen.
If the WWE is indeed going to pull the trigger on turning one of its top stars heel, then it makes sense for him to do so against one of the most popular stars in the company.
It may very well still be Sheamus who causes Orton to turn heel, but after what transpired in the Royal Rumble, it looks like Orton is a prime candidate to turn heel very soon regardless.
He’s gotten pretty much everything he can out of his babyface run, and he’s been a good guy for roughly three years now. Clearly, he’s not thrilled to be in that role, and oftentimes, he sort of just coasts by as a face.
A heel turn is exactly what Orton needs to be reinvigorated and exactly what will catapult him back to the main event.
If you look at the WWE’s recent history, heel turns can take a stale babyface to the next level. A great example of that is Big Show, who has been 100 times better in his current heel run than he ever was as a babyface.
On the flip side, you have a guy like Alberto Del Rio, who had gotten ridiculously stale as a heel before turning babyface last December. Now, he’s the World Heavyweight champion and quickly becoming one of the WWE’s biggest fan favorites.
If the trend continues, a heel turn for Orton will do wonders for him.
The WWE suddenly has plenty of top babyfaces, with Cena leading a group that includes Del Rio, The Miz, Daniel Bryan, Ryback and a bunch of part-timers, like The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker and Chris Jericho.
If ever there was a time when the creative team could afford to turn Orton heel, this is it.
Outside of Big Show, CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler, there aren’t a ton of other heels that have proven to be capable of being in the main event for the long haul. Although guys like Wade Barrett, Antonio Cesaro and Damien Sandow have really bright futures, they’re still, at best, upper midcarders at this point.
Orton, on the other hand, has the experience and, more importantly, the skills to pull off a heel turn with ease and give the WWE another top heel to build around in 2013.
While Orton may have had a rough year in 2012, the way the dominoes are falling suggests that his babyface run is coming to a close and that he’s one step away from making it back to the main event picture.
If Orton doesn’t turn heel soon, he’ll likely continue to be stuck in No Man’s Land where he’s not really a midcarder but isn’t quite a main eventer either.
But if the WWE finally pulls the trigger on the long-rumored heel turn, “The Viper” is going make a lot of noise in 2013.
He’ll be the Orton of old—a main eventer and a World champion.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!