Randy Orton hasn’t been a real factor in the WWE Title picture in two and a half years now.
Once a consistent force in the fight for the WWE’s most prestigious championship, Orton has basically been completely absent from it for much of the last three years. He last held it in November 2010 and hasn’t even feuded over it since early 2011.
Orton did have a couple of World Heavyweight Championship reigns in 2011, but it’s been quite shocking to see him stay away from the WWE Championship for so long. Of course, this brings up an interesting question: Will he ever win the WWE title again?
There’s really no way of knowing the answer to that question, but given that he’s won seven WWE Championships in the past, the odds are pretty high that he wins at least one more WWE title at some point down the road.
How he gets there is a bit more of a mystery, though.
The WWE Championship picture has revolved largely around three superstars—John Cena, Ryback and CM Punk—essentially since the summer of 2011. Meanwhile, the World Heavyweight Championship picture has been dominated by Sheamus, Big Show and Alberto Del Rio for roughly a year now.
So, where does Orton fit into that equation?
It’s probably a little more logical to think that Orton would make the jump back to the World Heavyweight title picture first. He’s been considered a “SmackDown superstar” for the last two years, and the World Heavyweight title is generally associated with SmackDown.
Then again, you never really know what the WWE might be doing down the road. Superstars “swap” brands all the time without explanation, and as we saw with Daniel Bryan in 2012, a guy can easily go from competing for the World title one week to competing for the WWE title the next.
That’s why—despite the way things are currently shaping up—Orton could very well end up in the WWE Championship mix in the near future.
How does he get there? Well, that probably hinges on whether or not Ryback wins the WWE Championship from Cena anytime soon.
The WWE recently made the call to turn Ryback heel, and judging by the way things have played out over the last few weeks, it appears that he is going to be pushed as one of the WWE’s biggest heels going forward. His first opponent as a heel is a big one, too: John Cena.
Ryback is set to take on Cena in a Last Man Standing match at Extreme Rules, and if he can pull off the upset to become WWE Champion, that could be the catalyst to bring Orton back into the championship mix.
Of course, Cena’s history tells us that he’s likely going to finish his feud with Ryback as the WWE Champion. But if he doesn’t, then new WWE Champion Ryback will be looking for a fresh babyface opponent to feud with.
The options will certainly be limited, though. His choices? Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio or Orton—because there aren’t really any other main-event caliber babyfaces who are being pushed as such at the moment.
While Sheamus and ADR are both great performers, Orton is, far and away, the most over babyface not named Cena at the moment. It doesn’t even matter how poorly he’s been booked for the last year or so. The fans still love him and view him as a main-event caliber performer.
So, let’s say that Orton’s feud with Big Show concludes with Orton standing tall. Meanwhile, Ryback somehow ends his feud with Cena as the WWE Champion.
Wouldn’t it make sense for Orton to then feud with Ryback?
Truth be told, the WWE is so heel-heavy at the moment that any heel World champion is really only going to have a handful of potential opponents to feud with. That will certainly be true for Ryback if he becomes WWE Champion in the near future.
Ryback vs. Cena? We will have already seen it.
Ryback vs. Sheamus? That could work.
Ryback vs. Del Rio? Eh, that might be OK.
Ryback vs. Orton? Now, that’s a feud worth seeing.
While Ryback isn’t blowing everyone away with his performances as a heel so far, Orton could be the right guy to feud with him in the main-event picture. Orton, of course is over, but perhaps most importantly, he can get a good match out of just about anyone.
The WWE can’t keep Orton out of the title scene forever. It just doesn’t have enough big-time babyfaces to do that.
Perhaps if Ryback becomes the WWE Champion at some point this summer, the WWE will finally realize that and say, “Hey, you know what? I guess we should push this Orton guy again.”
After all, there are definitely worse options, aren’t there?
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!