It has been 15 months since Randy Orton was last involved in a singles feud for a world title as he lost to Mark Henry at Hell in a Cell 2011. The Viper has been through many trials and tribulations since then, but Orton has been on the outs for long enough and is overdue to return to the main-event scene.
I've admittedly never been much of an Orton fan, but that has never prevented me from seeing his value. He has been over with the fans for a long time and consistently gets one of the biggest pops despite the fact that he hasn't really been relevant in more than a year.
If the fans are willing to continue standing by him, though, he obviously possesses an important intangible quality. If not for a wellness policy violation that led to a 60-day suspension this past summer, I have to believe that he would have recaptured the World Heavyweight Championship by now or at least been a contender for it at some point.
That hasn't come to fruition yet, but it finally seems as though Orton is gaining some traction. He has beaten midcard champions Antonio Cesaro and Wade Barrett as of late and that would seem to be a sign that he's ready to take the next step. With the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view coming up in two weeks, Orton now has a golden opportunity to relive his former glory.
A Chamber match will take place at the event involving the World Heavyweight Championship in some way. Whether the match is for the title or for the No. 1 contendership has yet to be announced, but Orton will almost certainly be involved regardless. Orton already has a ton of credibility as a nine-time world champion, so all the WWE has to do is give him the win and let him loose.
If Orton is going to be placed back in the main event, however, it would be wise on WWE's part to turn him heel. I realize turning a guy heel seems to be fans' answer to everything, but it's the honest truth in Orton's case. It made sense when he became a face initially, however, his character has run its course and he needs a big gimmick change in order shed the stale label.
There has been plenty of speculation regarding a potential Orton heel turn, but it has yet to actually happen. The obvious feud would be against Sheamus as he is currently the No. 2 face in the company behind John Cena and he has some history with Orton. They had some disagreements leading up to the Royal Rumble, and I'm sure most fans would love to see a rivalry between them.
Both Orton and Sheamus are underrated as in-ring workers as I count them among the best in the WWE. Also, they have feuded and had matches before, but the script was flipped with Sheamus as the heel and Orton as the face. Heel Orton vs. face Sheamus would be a totally different animal and it would be a great supporting match on the WrestleMania card.
The one potential pitfall, of course, is Dolph Ziggler holding the Money in the Bank briefcase. He's going to cash in at some point, and if he does it prior to WrestleMania, then Orton probably won't be vying for the title. If that is the case, then I would like to see Orton vs. Sheamus even if the title isn't on the line because it would still be a big-time match.
If Orton happens to go over in that match, then he'll be first in line for a world title shot whenever a face takes the belt. In fact, he could potentially challenge for the WWE Championship if John Cena wins it as expected. Orton vs. Cena is another feud that has been done before, but it has been a few years and it would unquestionably sell in the aftermath of WrestleMania.
Orton has essentially feuded with every top guy on the roster due to the fact that he has been with the company for so long, but a character change will keep things fresh and make all that is old feel new again. Orton hasn't exactly been brimming with personality since his Legend Killer days; however, he is simply more compelling as a heel because of his unpredictability.
There are actually a lot of superstars lined up and waiting their turn to enter the main-event fray, and that's a good thing. It truly speaks to the depth that the WWE has begun to develop. Even with a lot of younger talent knocking on the door, though, Orton should be on deck based on everything he has accomplished in the WWE.
If the WWE handles him correctly in the coming weeks and months, and turns him heel like it should, then he will once again be a believable main-eventer and a top star in the company.