John Cena and Randy Orton weren't strangers to competition before their Tables, Ladders and Chairs match in Houston, Texas. Fourteen times they've laced their boots or high top sneaks. Fourteen times Cena has put on his now iconic jorts and, never one to miss a marketing opportunity, his gaudy t-shirt dujour. Fourteen times Orton has sauntered to the ring with a languor that makes you wonder whether he's even really awake, whether he cares at all.
Fourteen times they've met on WWE television, either cable or pay-per-view. But none of them were quite like this one. This time they were fighting for more than the championship of the world, a title Orton won after climbing a ladder to retrieve two shiny gold title belts.
They alone weren't what drove Vince and Stephanie McMahon down the aisle to shake his hand. After all, in today's WWE, anyone can be a world champion. They are littered up and down the card, from the top stars to the opening match job guys. Everyone has been champion at some point—even the perennial loser Dolph Ziggler.
When I was a kid, you could count the living NWA or WWF champions on two hands. Now it takes that many to count the former champions on the current roster. So not even WWE can sell fans on the idea that the belt means anything at all.
It's the man who makes the championship in today's wrestling. If the champion is a top star, the belt matters. If he's not, it doesn't. It's that simple. And it's that simple stature Cena and Orton were competing for at TLC.
Not to be champion—to be the man. Who will be the face of WWE, and thus the face of an entire sport? That's something worth fighting for. For Orton, it was something worth winning. This is now part of his legacy. He wasn't just a champion. He was a top guy.
That's a distinction worth noting.
Orton and Cena, of course, weren't the only wrestlers on the card. Bleacher Report has results, instant analysis and letter grades for every match on the card. Disagree with our take? Let's hear yours in the comments.