Randy Orton's Face-Turn: The Risks and Rewards of De-venomizing The WWE's Viper
Excited about Randy Orton's "face-turn"?
I'll reiterate, tread softly.
On the heels of Orton's victory at Wrestlemania XXVI , the professional wrestling community has been abuzz over the potential, and later eventual, face-turn of the industry's top heel.
It's different, I'll give you that.
But nevertheless, as excited as you all might be, the WWE has every reason to be concerned during a time in which I imagine them to feel confident in their creative direction.
After all, it worked out splendidly as every person in the arena (both at Wrestlemania and Raw ) was excited to see Orton dominate, conquer, and pose.
Shades of 2004?
Let's hope not.
Not so much because I take issue with Orton's 2004 face-turn. It's more to do with the reality that the Randy Orton who stalks the WWE Universe today is ages different from the living-evolution who dominated all those years ago.
He's not the "Legend Killer," he doesn't smile, and until last Sunday, he didn't pose.
But there is potential to be had out of this new incarnation of Orton. With a performer as talented as he is, there always will be.
But the transition from being the industry's top heel over the past few years to being an overwhelming fan favorite is a process that should evolve with great precision and thoughtful creative direction.
It's not hard to get the fans to cheer for Orton.
The guy could beat their heroes into the ground, insult them, put senior citizens in the hospital, and take all of that negative emotion away with one pose.
That's real power, not corporately fabricated.
There are a number of reasons why the WWE would push for such a radical change in Orton's character, and I can only hope to God that their primary motivation is not financial.
A likable Orton will sell you T-shirts, DVDs, and PPVs, and as nice as that must be for those whose primary motivation is the all-American dollar, the temporary fix will not evolve into a permanent solution.
This business needs quality heels; perhaps now more than ever.
During an era in which the product often places a greater emphasis upon the performance of B-grade entertainers who know nothing about the industry's history than the actual performers themselves, we NEED to care about our Superstars.
I could care less about who is "hosting Raw" so long as there is a quality creative story to be told.
And to tell stories, you need great villains.
For fans of The Dark Knight , imagine how the film would have been if instead of watching Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker, Batman simply beat up one bank robber after the another with absolutely no quality means of antagonism.
The movie would s*ck, right?
That's how I feel watching the mighty John Cena conquer one random bad guy after another each and every week.
When was the time we saw Cena in actual danger?
Not the danger of being roughed up at a few worthless Raw events, only to stand triumphant at the next PPV, and not the danger of selling for someone beneath you with the knowledge that he will soon become irrelevant as your road to Wrestlemania will be laid out for you on a red carpet.
I want to see Cena (the character) hurt. I want to see Cena beaten so bad that he doesn't have the strength to win his next PPV match. I want to see Cena cry.
Who's going to do that?
It took Batista all of about one second to be done away with by the man whose position he inherited (that of the top heel).
And when Batista goes elsewhere, who's left?
The Big Show, and his great storytelling ability?
The Miz, with the fear and intimidation that he brings to the ring?
Ted DiBiase, who looks like Orton circa 2004, only without the ability to cut a quality promo, no singles experience, and no accomplishments to back him?
These "happy days" of seeing Orton team with his good friend Superman to take down whoever is assigned to be the bad guys in any particular week can last only so long.
But it might be, as they say, a necessary evil.
I do not think for one moment that having Orton turn face gives the WWE the best opportunity to utilize his character's full potential.
Orton has all of the potential to not only be the top heel in the industry today, but also become the greatest heel of all time.
Similar to how Triple H can be both marketable and entertaining as the fun-loving DX commander, yet can go years without truly being "The Game."
In Orton's case, it's a simple matter of necessary creative direction.
Much as was the case with The Rock years ago, the fans were waiting to be given any reason to cheer for him.
He was so talented, charismatic, and entertaining that the inevitable couldn't be avoided.
In The Rock's case, he became an entertainer so great that it was only logical to allow him to remain in the fans' good graces because it created a symbiotic relationship built to last for years.
Orton's abilities are different.
He is a much better in-ring performer; underrated despite continual positive recognition (most recently, winning PWI's 2009 "Wrestler of The Year" award).
He is also the best storyteller in the business today (especially given the retirement of Shawn Michaels), as his character can be used as a cocky blue-chipper, a Legend Killer, a crazed heel with the fixation of becoming champion, a viper, a destroyer of families, and now, a very likable "apex predator."
He can work with Triple H and make it look good, he can battle with Superman and make it look good, he can even work with Shane "kitten-punches" McMahon and make it look good.
The Rock came to the ring with a presence, whereas Orton is a viper-like force of nature with every bit of ability to end your career in the blink of an eye.
These qualities are best suited for what he has been (to a degree) and what he's destined to become.
That destiny being to become the greatest heel in the history of professional wrestling.
But before Orton will be given the opportunity to do that, he must give the fans what they want.
He must deliver that for which they have waited, begged, and pleaded for.
The fans can now have their wishes come true as they will be given every reason to cheer for Orton while he still maintains the semblance of a viper.
He might stalk and he might slither, but he will never truly be "The Viper" in the same way that, for years, Triple H has not truly been "The Game."
The good news for the WWE Universe is that most people won't notice the difference.
The same music and the same finisher will more than suffice.
This business has become more corporate, more marketable to people of all ages, and better suited for the Randy Orton the people want him to be.
Give it to them.
Allow Orton to thrill the fans with weekly exploits of his finest face-work, only to eventually tear their hearts out and deliver a true reason to be hated.
Sometimes things get worse before they get better.
To truly become the viper he is capable of being, his character needs to provide greater motivation to hate.
He's too likable to get away with simply defeating their heroes alone.
He's too likable to be loathed simply because he's been branded the bad guy.
Orton needs to make it personal.
Exactly when and how, I wouldn't be able to say because as of this moment, I've yet to see much of the new product delivered to us on Monday.
I'm excited for the potential of Orton's character benefiting from "babyface-favoritism," as it might be the only way to carry him to the top of the mountain where he belongs, anyway.
Heel or face, he's still the best in the industry.
He's great as a tweener.
He's great as a quasi-face.
But he's even greater as the villain.
So WWE, even though you've established an interesting creative direction, please don't forget exactly where your viper came from.
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