WWE Turning Point: Analyzing Historical Impact of Randy Orton's 2004 Title Win

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WWE Turning Point: Analyzing Historical Impact of Randy Orton's 2004 Title Win
Credit: WWE.com

This year's SummerSlam will mark 10 years since the annual event was held in Toronto.

On that night, Kurt Angle went one-on-one with Eddie Guerrero, and JBL tangled with The Undertaker. But no match was more important than the main event: Chris Benoit versus Randy Orton with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on the line.

Leading up to the match, Orton mentioned on multiple occasions that it was his "destiny" to win the title. But to do so, he would have to overcome Benoit, who, just five months earlier, had completed his career goal by winning the title at WrestleMania.

Orton was part of Evolution at the time, and not even the leader of the group. The man who was the top guy in the group, Triple H, had been beaten by Benoit several times prior to Orton's match at SummerSlam.

Surely Orton couldn't beat a guy who had Triple H's number, could he?

Once the match got underway, it was a true battle of grizzled veteran versus young up-and-comer.

Benoit hit Orton with everything, including seven consecutive German suplexes. Orton appeared to turn the tide of the match after putting his feet up when Benoit went for the diving headbutt off of the top rope, but the champion wouldn't stay down that easily.

Orton went for a cover, but Benoit pulled him into the Crippler Crossface. Fortunately for Orton, he was able to get free. Benoit stayed on the attack, but when he tried to grab Orton's free arm from a standing position, the challenger scored a beautiful counter, right into his vaunted RKO.

The referee registered a three-count, and a new champion was crowned.

This should be a defining moment not only in Orton's career, but also in the history of WWE. For a variety of reasons, it's not.

For Orton, he has now held that title multiple times. His first title reign was easily his worst. Just one month after his impressive victory at SummerSlam, Orton lost the title—to none other than Triple H.

The title change came after Evolution turned on Orton, kicking him out of the group. It was supposed to be a babyface turn for the new champion Orton, but it just did not work.

Was Orton given the title too soon? Was he not ready for the main stage? Did Brock Lesnar leaving earlier that year influence WWE's decision?

We can speculate on these questions all we want, but there could be some validity to the last one.

Lesnar decided to quit WWE following WrestleMania 20. In August 2002, he became the youngest WWE champion in history, winning the title at the age of 25.

Though Orton won a different title, it's hard to suggest that WWE's decision to put the title on him at the age of 24 had nothing to do with Lesnar quitting.

But then there is the biggest factor of all.

Tragic events surrounding the death of Benoit three years later have all but erased this match from memory. Sure, you can find the match on WWE Network. But WWE won't talk about it publicly. They won't show highlights.

What should have been perhaps the greatest achievement in Orton's life and career will never be that.

With hindsight being 20/20, you can easily say it wasn't the right time for Orton. But in 2004, it sure felt like it was. Orton had the look, he had the ability, and he had a great future in front of him.

Following the match, Orton and Benoit engage in a tense, but respectful handshake. It appeared even Benoit knew Orton was the right guy.

In the grand scheme of things, it didn't have much of an effect on Orton's career. He has still gone on to be one of the most decorated Superstars ever.

But winning his first major title is a moment that could have, and should have, meant so much more.

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