Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan fight for position on WWE's mountain, two top stars who are as unalike as a viper and a goat.
The last two WWE champs are such dissimilar wrestlers one has to wonder what the formula to becoming a leading Superstar is comprised of. What qualities do they share and how can WWE go about creating more guys in these two distinct molds?
Orton is 6’5", a chiseled, third-generation wrestler who moves as slickly in the ring as anyone in the business today.
Bryan is 5'10'', a scraggly dynamo and grappling specialist who first cut his teeth on the independent circuit.
What ingredients blend together to make these two men Superstars? Let's pick apart what makes both great to gain insight into what separates a top WWE Superstar from a guy who can't make his way off the bench.
Compelling in the Ring
Their approach may be different, but the end result is the same—great matches.
John Cena's ring work doesn't look anything like CM Punk's and Orton and Bryan's wrestling styles are worlds apart in terms of style. Each of these Superstars offers something unique in the ring.
Not only are their moves distinct, but their strategy, gait and general movement stands out. However, it takes more than being different—one must also be interesting.
Orton's ring work is marked by slickness.
He lives up to his nickname by slithering around the ring, stalking his prey and striking fast. Not only is a move like his rapid-fire powerslam unique to him, but it's exciting to watch.
On the other hand, Bryan's attack style is more akin to the Tasmanian Devil.
He darts around the ring, bellowing as he leaps into the air to land a stiff dropkick on whoever is unlucky enough to be standing in the corner.
Both men piece moves like these together to create in-ring action that grabs the audience's attention. There is a fieriness and energy to how both Bryan and Orton attack their foes, a trait that gives WWE confidence in putting them in main event matches.
All of this is true for Punk as well. As for Cena, he is often maligned for his ring work, but he has a style of his own that ends in dramatic, captivating matches. That's not enough to make a top guy though or there would be more main event guys than there are main event spots.
It's hard to define, but "it factor" is a must-have for a top wrestling star.
Pure in-ring ability doesn't create a connection with the crowd that is required to be a marquee name. If the fans aren't invested in you, it doesn't matter what kind of moves and offense you have.
"It factor" is the difference between a guy few remember like Sam Houston and John "Bradshaw" Layfield, who held the WWE title for 280 days. It's why WWE chose Wade Barrett to lead Nexus and not Michael Tarver and why Mark Henry has been a success while Vladimir Kozlov wasn't.
Both Orton and Bryan have this trait, though in different ways.
Orton is no Jake Roberts on the mic, but he's intimidating, brooding and possesses whatever it is that makes a wrestler hard to look away from. This is especially true when he plays a heel.
If Orton walked into a room along with Braden Walker and Mark Jindrak, chances are a non-wrestling fan would guess that Orton was the biggest star among them. He exudes star power.
Bryan does as well, but in a "compelling underdog" way. Whether he is joking around with Kane or insulting Cena for the world to see, there is something inherently appealing about him.
The best test to whether a Superstar has this elusive characteristic is to put him in a main event and see if it still feels like a main event.
When Bryan challenged Cena for the WWE title at SummerSlam, it felt like a huge match because both men belonged in that situation. Replace Bryan with Walker or Kozlov and it just wouldn't feel like a match worthy of that spot.
Some wrestlers only excel as dominant monsters tearing through the bottom feeders. Some only excel as comedy characters.
These are important pieces of the booking puzzle, but they just aren't versatile enough to be top stars.
Both Orton and Bryan can excel as either fan favorites or heels and thrive in a variety of different stories. This is a trait shared by Ric Flair, Eddie Guerrero, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Triple H, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels who were all at the top at some point.
For those wondering how Cena skirts around this, he was indeed a fine heel at the beginning of his career.
Kofi Kingston may forever be a midcard guy because he hasn't proved to be anything beyond an exciting high-flyer with an infectious smile. Should he show us that he can play a variety of roles, we can expect him to climb the WWE ladder.
Bryan is currently the lovable underdog, the wrestler proud of his independent background whose focus and passion is pointed right at the WWE title.
He has previously been a man suffering from a Napoleon complex, a man struggling with his anger and at one point a spiteful, cowardly champion.
WWE can confidently slide him into his new role as a rebel battling an oppressive regime or have him hug it out with Kane.
Orton isn't as versatile as Bryan, but he was extremely popular as a good guy and one of the better villains we've had in recent memory.
Orton has recently played a "lone wolf" character.
He joined forces with Sheamus and Big Show trying to knock down The Shield at WrestleMania. He evoked images of an action hero who doesn't trust anyone, but someone the audience roots for.
That's a far cry from his days of knocking Stephanie McMahon out and kissing her while she was unconscious.
Being adaptable in terms of character allows WWE to place Orton and Bryan into a variety of roles, in a variety of stories. The company knows that once the narrative is rolling, both men will connect with the audience and deliver in the ring.
That's just as true for Punk, Cena and the other upper-echelon stars in the company.
Stirring those ingredients together may get a different-looking end product each time, but they wield the same power.