From 2006 to early 2010, Randy Orton spent much of his time battling it out with John Cena to see who truly was the WWE’s top star.
While most can agree that Cena developed into the guy during that span, Orton was undoubtedly the WWE’s “1B” so to speak. He was consistently involved in main event angles and found himself winning World title after World title.
As we all know, though, Orton simply hasn’t been the same over the course of the last year-plus.
Ever since he was suspended for 60 days for his second violation of the WWE’s Talent Wellness Program last May, Orton has slowly but surely fallen from the top of the card to No Man’s Land in the middle of it.
Once someone who rarely, if ever, left the main event picture, Orton hasn’t had a true main event- caliber or World title feud since his suspension. Instead, he’s been stuck in a directionless role as a star that the WWE isn’t quite willing to push but isn’t going to bury, either.
As we approach WrestleMania 29, Orton is clearly not in an ideal position on the WWE’s pecking order. Although it wasn’t all that long ago that we heard rumors of Orton turning heel and competing for the World Heavyweight Championship at Mania, it’s now apparent that Orton instead will be an afterthought on the undercard.
He just took the pin in that Fatal 4-Way main event on this week’s Raw, and it looks like he’ll be headed for some sort of match with The Shield at WrestleMania—not a terrible spot to be in, but not what a guy like Orton expects, either.
Then again, Orton really hasn’t gotten a substantial push since even before his suspension. It was way back in September 2011 that Orton last had a true main event-level feud when he dropped the World Heavyweight title to Mark Henry after holding it for a big chunk of the year.
You have to wonder just why the WWE has scaled back so much for so long on Orton’s push when he’s clearly still one of the WWE’s biggest stars, and as a top guy in the industry, that’s exactly where he should be: at the top.
Many say that Orton is still “paying for his sins” after failing a Wellness test for the second time, but that notion is absolutely ridiculous.
Back in March 2008, Jeff Hardy failed his second Wellness test, and by the end of the year, he had won his first WWE Championship. He’d even go on to win the World Heavyweight title the next year as well.
Hell, even today there’s a guy like Jack Swagger who’s getting a massive push despite a recent arrest on DUI and marijuana possession charges—which happened mere hours after he worked a SmackDown taping and just two days after he became the No. 1 contender for the World title.
Although Hardy did miss WrestleMania that year, it was only nine months later that he became WWE Champion. Meanwhile, Swagger has suffered absolutely no consequences whatsoever for what many, myself included, consider to be a far more serious offense.
Orton has had to suffer for his mistake for long enough. He hasn’t done a whole lot of note for almost a year now, which has turned him into arguably the most directionless major star in the WWE today.
What an absolutely incredible waste of talent.
When will Orton return to the top of the card?
While Orton is not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s hard to argue against him being one of the WWE’s best overall performers. Quite simply, he has “it,” and it’s almost criminal to see him continue to get lost in the shuffle while less talented guys get pushes.
Although it’s fair for Orton to “do the time” after committing “the crime,” the punishment should fit that crime. If Swagger can get arrested and not suffer from it at all, then why can’t Orton find his way back to the top of the card after a year-and-a-half away from it?
The WWE is clearly lacking confidence in Orton at the moment, but there comes a point when it has to feel like it can trust him again. That point has already come.
If the WWE can have enough faith in Swagger to compete for a World title on the biggest PPV of the year, then it should certainly feel comfortable with pushing Orton back to the place where he’s spent most of his career: the top of the card..
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!