The shadows of WrestleMania's greats obscure Randy Orton's excellence at WWE's premier event.
Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin deservedly garner a healthy share of adoration for their performances at The Showcase of the Immortals, but Orton's name doesn't come up often enough when reflecting on the pay-per-view's history. The Viper has contributed a number of standout bouts and has competed at WrestleMania for 11 straight years.
There has always been a bigger name to snatch up all the headlines.
Undertaker's undefeated streak, Michaels reputation as Mr. WrestleMania and John Cena's dominance of the main event in recent years have pushed Orton away from the forefront. Still, he has stepped up against a variety of opponents and delivered.
Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via ProFightDB.com, hasn't been extremely kind to Orton in terms of star ratings, but many of these matches thrilled.
|WrestleMania XX||(with Evolution) Mick Foley, The Rock||3.75|
|WrestleMania 22||Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio||3.5|
|WrestleMania 23||Mr. Kennedy, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Finlay, Edge, Booker T||4.25|
|WrestleMania XXIV||John Cena, Triple H||3.5|
|WrestleMania 25||Triple H||2.25|
|WrestleMania XXVI||Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase||2.75|
|WrestleMania XXVII||CM Punk||3|
|WrestleMania 29||(with Big Show, Sheamus) The Shield||2.5|
|WrestleMania XXX||Batista, Daniel Bryan||4.5|
Meltzer underrated Orton's bouts against Punk, Undertaker and his Triple Threat against Triple H and Cena. Few would count those as some of the event's all-time best, but they were all entertaining contributions to the WrestleMania library.
It's Undertaker's matches against Michaels and Triple H that have received the most attention during his illustrious run. That's understandable, as those battles overflowed with drama and were all classics.
His collision with Orton at WrestleMania 21, though, had plenty of excitement as well.
Orton was 25 at the time, a rising star taking on a man who had already amassed 12 consecutive wins at WrestleMania. Their battle began with a slow pace before becoming feverish, the cocky Orton and Undertaker trading a number of eye-catching counters.
John Canton of TJR Wrestling wrote of the performance, "Orton showed he could perform well against a veteran and Undertaker proved he still had gas in the tank."
The bigger story from WrestleMania 21, however, was Batista defeating Triple H. That victory anointed The Animal as a top star. It didn't help Orton that Kurt Angle and Michaels composed an absolute masterpiece that night as well.
Two years later, WWE placed Orton in a Money in the Bank Ladder match, which ended up being one of the best editions of that gimmick match ever. Most fans will remember it for Mr. Kennedy's win and Jeff Hardy diving onto Edge, but Orton flourished here as well.
His RKO rampage was one of the bout's many highlights.
His resume also boasts a fun match against Punk at WrestleMania XXVII. The Rock's influence on the main event and Triple H and Undertaker's hard-hitting No Holds Barred match overshadowed that effort, though.
At WrestleMania XXIV, Orton was in a far more prominent spot on the card. He won the WWE Championship in a Triple Threat bout against Cena and Triple H. Jason Powell of ProWrestling.net called the bout "very good," and Brett Mix of Wrestling DVD News described it as "another great match."
The lasting images of that night don't belong to Orton, though.
In Ric Flair's farewell match, Michaels whispered, "I'm sorry, I love you" before kicking him in the head to end his career. That heartrending moment combined with the buzz of Floyd Mayweather competing for WWE are the memories fans have of that event. They push aside Orton's quality contribution.
That's been the story of Orton's WrestleMania legacy for the most part.
At WrestleMania 22, his world title match centered around Mysterio's triumph. The beloved underdog followed a Royal Rumble win by capturing the world championship in honor of his fallen friend. Not surprisingly, it's not Orton people often think about when reflecting on that emotional turn of events.
That was true again this year, when Bryan's narrative became the centerpiece of WrestleMania 30.
Bryan's title win served as the culmination of a suffering-lined journey. He survived a tough battle against Triple H before walking out of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as world champ. Roaring, raucous fans celebrated, finally seeing the man they had been pulling for getting his day.
Orton wasn't dead weight in that match or the one against Mysterio and Angle. He wasn't the lead in either drama, but his in-ring excellence made each of the contests more compelling.
In a way, he's like a great NFL offensive lineman—crucial to success but constantly overlooked.
He's been doing it a long time as well. At only 34, Orton has already been in more WrestleManias than Angle, Christian, Austin and Andre the Giant.
Superstars who have competed in at least 10 WrestleManias, per ProFightDB.com, is a select list:
- Undertaker-22 appearances
- Triple H-18
- Shawn Michaels-17
- Big Show-14
- Bret Hart-14
- Chris Jericho-12
- Hulk Hogan-12
- John Cena-12
- Randy Orton-11
- Randy Savage-11
- Rey Mysterio-11
- The Rock-10
- John "Bradshaw" Layfield-10
That accomplishment is proof of Orton's longevity. In a business as physical as pro wrestling, avoiding career-threatening injuries after more than a decade of service is a major victory. To be relevant for that long deserves kudos as well.
It's not as if Orton is wrapping up his career, either.
His star power, mat skills and unique combination of youth and experience promise that he will compete in a number of future WrestleManias. Massive shadows will follow him there as well.
Cena, The Rock and Brock Lesnar are simply bigger stars than Orton.
Residing in the periphery of the spotlight hasn't kept Orton from succeeding. While few will be arguing that he wear the "Mr. WrestleMania" crown, he has been bettering the event since 2004.