WARNING: The following article contains SPOILERS from this week's SmackDown.
For the fourth straight year, Randy Orton will be somewhat of an afterthought at WrestleMania.
In 2010, he faced Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase in a Triple Threat match that was buried on the undercard. In 2011, he faced CM Punk in a match that didn’t quite live up to expectations, and in 2012 he took on Kane in a bout that was the “climax” of a really bad feud.
It doesn’t look like things will change for Orton in 2013, either. In a match that will be made official on this week's SmackDown, Orton is set to team up with Sheamus and Ryback (though that will likely change) to take on The Shield at WrestleMania 29.
Whether Orton wins or loses this match ultimately doesn’t matter much, unless the WWE finally decides to do what it should have done a long time ago: pull the trigger on an Orton heel turn.
“The Viper” has floated around in No Man’s Land for so long as a babyface that the only thing that can get him out of his rut at this point is a heel turn. But when and how that heel turn takes place will be more important than the heel turn itself.
Because Orton needs this turn so badly, it has to take place under the right circumstances. There’s no better time or place than the grand stage of WrestleMania.
With Orton participating in a six-man tag team match at the show, there are many ways to make it happen, too.
Perhaps the simplest way, however, would be for Orton to turn on the only other true babyface (assuming Ryback is eventually replaced by Show so he can face Mark Henry) in the match, Sheamus. Over the past several weeks, Sheamus and Orton have found themselves working together as allies, but, as we all know, that’s not really Orton’s style.
He’s a loner, rebel and anti-hero who doesn’t fit the cookie cutter babyface mold and shouldn’t be so friendly with a guy he’s feuded with on more than one occasion in the past. That’s another factor to consider here: the history between Sheamus and Orton.
Keep in mind that Sheamus and Orton found themselves feuding twice at major pay-per-views back in 2010, having faced each other at both The Royal Rumble and SummerSlam that year. Also remember what transpired between the two last year.
Prior to Orton’s suspension last spring, it looked like a feud between the two was in the making. Though it ultimately went nowhere, many of us remember when Orton RKO’d Sheamus on Raw in what looked like it would be the spark for an Orton heel turn. Even earlier this year, the WWE teased tension between Orton and Sheamus a few times before ultimately dropping it without anything substantial happening.
With all of the interaction between Sheamus and Orton over the last year, it’s been surprising to see that an actual rivalry between the two has yet to materialize. Then again, things have just always seemed to get in the way—Orton’s suspension, Sheamus’ rivalry with The Shield, Orton’s appearance inside the Elimination Chamber, etc.
Now, however, there is nothing in the way.
Sheamus and Orton will likely be teaming up with each other on wrestling’s biggest stage, and the stage is set for “The Viper” to do what so many have been begging to see him do for so long: turn heel.
All it takes is one mistake on the part of Sheamus to cause Orton to lose it and either attack Sheamus or walk out on the match, causing his team to lose to The Shield in the process. Because Orton is so over and is an anti-hero whether he’s face or heel, how he turns heel is going to be extremely important.
If he simply RKOs Sheamus or Big Show, that’s no different from anything he would do as a babyface. He has to do something truly evil or cowardly to make the fans hate him after they’ve spent three years going nuts anytime he enters the arena.
Although many think Orton should align with The Shield, that trio does not need a leader and works fine on its own. Orton would be best served turning heel in some other way—a way that makes it clear that he’s no longer a good guy.
Walking out on his team, costing them the match or bringing back his classic skull punt would accomplish that. Doing all three would guarantee it.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!