The term “anti-hero” has been used by fans as of late to describe the current WWE Champion, Randy “The Viper” Orton. The last superstar to earn such a moniker from the fans (and rightfully so) was the raging Texas Redneck Rattlesnake, Stone Cold “Be Good to your Wife” Steve Austin.
When applied properly, an anti-hero is an unlikely character who exhibits heroic or “like-able” qualities even though they may not be a “hero.”
In regards to pro wrestling, the anti-hero would be a fan favorite grappler—a “face”—that at the very core is a “heel.”
Stone Cold rose to anti-hero fame during his epic feud with Bret Hart. After rising to prominence by being crowned as the 1996 King of the Ring with his famous “Austin 3:16 says…” line, his transition into full anti-hero status came during his epic Submission Match against Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13.
With blood pouring down his face, writhing in agony while locked in the dreaded Sharpshooter submission, Stone Cold refused to give up. He ended up “passing out” from the intense pain, giving him a hard fought loss to Bret Hart.
Hart then continued his assault on Austin, which was broken up by special guest referee Ken Shamrock with an MMA-style take down. The result was a stare down between the two, which ended in Hart exiting the ring to a chorus of jeers from the live crowd.
This singular moment sparked the imagination and excitement of those able to witness it. It ignited within them an unquenchable flame that would engulf the entire WWE in a beer-swilling, boss-beating, middle finger-gesturing blaze of glory.
As a result, fans cheered religiously for a man whose motto was “Don’t trust anybody,” and who flashed everyone in the area his middle finger every time he stepped into the ring.
According to a great number of fans today, these are the same qualities currently exhibited by Randy Orton.
What most people won’t talk about, however, is the in-ring character responsible for Steve Austin’s transition into anti-heroism.
Bret Hart, up until that point the consummate professional and super-loveable baby face, had become despised by fans and was booed for two things: winning the match and attacking an incapacitated man.
The “never quit, never say die” attitude exhibited by Steve Austin spoke to the fans’ hearts that night, while the “I won the match” pompousness embraced by Bret Hart simply pissed people off.
But what wrong did Bret Hart do? In what way did he do anything wrong or “heel-like?” What did he do to warrant the fiery ire of fans that once cheered his name and allowed their children to receive his signature shades?
Absolutely nothing; Bret Hart was merely the catalyst needed in order to put Steve Austin over.
Even his unwarranted attack on Austin after winning the match would have elicited adulation from fans given normal circumstances. After all, Hart was a “face” exacting due justice on a “heel.”
However, the masterfully executed dance between Hart and Austin, coupled with the climate of the pro wrestling world at the given time, was the perfect storm for the birth of one of the most widely recognized anti-heroes in the business.
Hence the subject of this piece you have before you. If Randy Orton’s reign as an anti-heroic WWE Heavyweight champion is to be worth anything, then there must be a perfect foil to anything and everything he attempts to accomplish or retain.
Orton desperately needs a cunning antagonist that will irk the nerves of fans so much that no matter what Orton does, he will be cheered by mere comparison to the vile foe that opposes him.
Orton’s nemesis must be someone who can constantly cause him trouble and frustration; a pain-in-the-ass that he longs to rid his world of, but cannot do so for fear of losing his own sanity or relevance to his fans.
This foil must be the yin to Orton’s yang. He must be 18 percent gratuity that comes with a tasty $6 restaurant cheeseburger.
In simpler terms, there has to be a Joker to his Batman; a Lex Luthor to his Superman; a Sarah Palin to his common sense.
However, there is one glaring problem that must be acknowledged before unearthing Orton’s nemesis.
How do you create a “heel” for a man that is, at the core of his character, a “heel” in his own right?
What Randy Orton needs, ladies and gentlemen, is an “anti-villain.”
For all intents and purposes, an anti-villain would be the exact opposite of an anti-hero. The anti-villain would be an unlikely character whoe displays heel-like characteristics even though he is technically a “good guy.”
This anti-villain is needed to catapult Orton’s anti-hero character into the stratosphere of superstardom. He can only truly be the sadistic, maniacal, and mega-intense Viper that we long for him to be only if chased by a mongoose that has the potential to be as sadistic, maniacal, and mega-intense as Orton, if not more.
Without his anti-villain, Orton is honestly no more than a face with attitude. To be a true anti-hero, Orton has to be involved in a basic “good vs. bad” feud with an individual that he can push to stoop to his level, a level of decadence that they would not normally be associated with.
Once this occurs, Orton can take on a characteristic that is admired, revered, and embodied by his fans. The anti-villain, who once exemplified all that fans respected and adored, can then revel in his own pride and self-righteousness after resorting to uncharacteristic lows to obtain the upper hand in the feud.
This anti-villain also has to be someone who looks the part, who can stand toe-to-toe with Orton and engage in brutal wars without looking too powerful or too weak. Ideally, the anti-villain would be of similar build and stature to Orton.
This would give fans the impression that a match between the two could go either way, with a strong emphasis on the idea that each man desires to prove that he is the better athlete than the other. This is extremely necessary to Orton’s development, as his character is not one that has to overcome the odds (i.e., Super-Cena).
If the WWE chooses to go this route, they’re faced with good news and bad news.
The good news is that the company already employs individuals who fit the aforementioned bill perfectly.
The bad news is that they’re faced with developing a character that has to realistically be in opposition to the skull-punting Viper.
Let’s look at a few candidates:
The Miz was an obvious first choice as Orton’s anti-villain, but a second glance at the rising main event star gives us a clearer picture on the situation with the WWE’s poster boy for awesomeness.
For starters, The Miz’s rise to fame in the WWE actually resonates with most fans more than we would like to let on. From his “humble” beginnings with several MTV series, The Miz has literally worked his way up from nothing to something.
When fans boo The Miz, they’re actually booing the “American Dream.” Here was a young man from Ohio, made his break into the entertainment industry via MTV, joined a pro wrestling organization, started at the very bottom and did terribly, and eventually worked his way up to being decent on the microphone and in the ring.
The Miz takes his all-American story and uses it to become a condescending, arrogant, annoying little loud mouth that is, at best, okay when it comes to wrist locks and hip tosses. This is why fans dislike The Miz and why he makes a semi-perfect candidate as Orton’s anti-villain.
Unfortunately The Miz is already a heel. Fans do not care for him, have never really cared for him, and really have no reason to care for him at this point in his career outside of their hatred of him.
He cannot function as Orton’s anti-villain because he’s a full-fledged heel. He has yet to show any redeeming qualities as a character that suggests he is capable of doing “good.”
This would negate Orton’s rise as the WWE’s anti-hero as The Miz’s heel persona would inevitably force him to be the face in the situation.
That within itself is not a bad thing, but it would definitely not give Orton the nudge he needs to reach the anti-hero status we’ve given him.
Please keep in mind that the anti-hero comes to power by rebelling against all conventional methods of operation. In this situation, Orton would have to become an unlikely hero in the midst of battling with a true hero.
The Miz, in his current status as a heel, cannot be that hero.
I place Chris Jericho in the same league as Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, Chavo Guerrero, William Regal, and Goldust.
While it sounds strange at first, these men are in an elite corps of pro wrestlers that can put on five-star matches with anyone.
Chris Jericho’s recent final match in the WWE (for the time being) against Randy Orton is proof that his claims of being “the best in the world at what he does” are not too far from being the honest truth.
With this apropos moniker, Jericho would have also been a great candidate to be Orton’s anti-villain. The thing that works against Jericho is the same thing that works against The Miz; he’s already a heel.
The interesting thing about Jericho is even as the crowd booed him, he remained very popular due to his status within the company and within the fans’ hearts. The fans recognized that even in his status as a heel, he put on excellent matches with anyone in the ring that faced him.
Jericho has put over numerous stars in his return to the WWE, and he did so as one of the better heels in the company. He would definitely put over Orton in a feud, but not as an anti-hero.
This is why the skull punt delivered to him by Orton was somewhat somber and anti-climatic. Regardless of how you felt about Jericho, the bottom line is that he was a heel. While fans are emotional because he’s been written off of television, he was still a bad guy who got put out of action.
If anything, the situation turned Jericho into the anti-heel of the WWE. The fans would have felt sympathy for an “injured” man who refers to them as gelatinous, parasitic, and mucilaginous hypocrites.
I guess it’s a good thing that he’s taking some time off from the company.
This former ECW Champion would actually fit perfectly as Orton’s anti-hero for numerous reasons.
Tons of fans are frustrated with Morrison’s lack of a decent push given his abilities and talents. It’s arguable whether or not he should have been in the title hunt by now.
Whatever the case may be, Morrison could be thrust into the race for the WWE Championship via a tournament or what have you. It creates a new feud and places a new face in the hunt for RAW’s top prize.
Morrison also has the look to become Orton’s anti-villain. While Orton has a slight height and weight advantage (6’4, 245 lbs. vs. 6’1, 223 lbs. respectively), Morrison has a lean and toned physique that would give the appearance that the match could go either way between two equally skilled opponents.
Try this analogy: think of how you felt as a fan when John Cena faced Umaga as opposed to when he faced Sheamus or Bobby Lashley. Or, think of howyou felt when Steve Austin faced Vince McMahon as opposed to Bret Hart.
The latter situations were more of “man vs. man” scenario, while the former feuds were more of “man vs. insurmountable odds” situation. To become a perfect anti-hero, Orton would have to be involved in a rivalry with someone who could stand to go toe-to-toe with him, causing him relentless frustration at every turn.
Morrison would definitely work well as an “equal” to Orton.
Morrison’s unique offense, which is an odd combination of chaos, finesse, high-risk and speed, would actually bring great life to the feud as well. Orton’s more methodical pace would look interesting in dismantling Morrison.
Given Morrison’s agility, resilience, fearlessness and flexibility, Orton would really have to work feverishly hard to catch Morrison and incapacitate him so he can’t continue with his type of offense.
This would also force Orton to add depth to his move set; perhaps a submission hold designed to wear down an opponent and not necessarily to win a match?
Morrison, on the other hand, would have to avoid being caught by Orton and rely on assaulting him continuously with unpredictable offense.
In a perfect world, Morrison would always fall short in his quest to beat Orton for the WWE Championship, which would elude him constantly despite his best efforts. During each and every battle, Orton would ideally dominate Morrison during the match.
Chair shots, curb stomps, anything brutal the Viper could employ to deflate Morrison’s hopes and aspirations of becoming a champion. This would guarantee that Orton maintains his “edge” as an anti-hero, but also ensure that the notion of respect for Morrison on his part is dispelled.
The end result would be a final match that would carry one of the more gruesome stipulations in the WWE’s PG era. This match would very much need blood to pull off the desired effect of making Orton an anti-heroic star.
In the middle of the match, Orton would bust his opponent open. Morrison would don the crimson mask and struggle to survive Orton’s relentless offense. Morrison would show glimpses of hope, but it would not be enough to keep Orton away from him.
At that point, fans would slowly begin to rally behind Morrison. At the most pivotal moment of the match, Morrison would work up enough steam to get the crowd on their edge of their seats. Orton would be knocked down to the mat, set up for the Starship Pain.
Morrison would slowly make his way to the turnbuckle, the crowd at a fevered pitch ready for the underdog to take his rightful place in hall of main event stars. He would look back at Orton, gingerly make his way to the ropes, and execute his finishing maneuver.
Orton would roll out of the way. Morrison would wisely land on his feet and walk smack dab into an RKO. Orton would retain his title and the crowd would be hot with excitement at a brilliant match.
Orton would rest in the corner, staring at his vanquished foe with a newfound respect for the man who endured his onslaught. The crowd would be eating the moment up, waiting to see what happens next with two men who gave it their all in the ring.
Orton would drape his championship across his shoulder after allowing the referee to raise his arm in victory. He would help Morrison to his feet and raise his arm to celebrate the star’s tenacity (BTW, Morrison is older than Orton, how weird is that).
Orton would release Morrison’s arm, and reach to shake his hand. Morrison would do so and the crowd would cheer.
Out of nowhere, Morrison gives Orton a swift kick to the gut and DDTs him in the middle of the ring.
He would then mount Orton and lay into his skull one blow after another. The referee would attempt to break up Morrison’s attack, only to succumb to Morrison’s wrath as well.
Orton would try to stand to defend himself, mounting a comeback, but fall victim to the vintage Morrison Moonlight Drive finisher.
Morrison would then drag Orton’s lifeless body to the corner and connect with the Starship Pain. By now the crowd is violently against Morrison, who screams at Orton’s lifeless body “This isn’t over!” Morrison would then proceed to launch a snot rocket at the “unconscious” champion, and leave the ring while other officials and referees attend to the fallen Viper.
There, ladies and gentlemen, is your anti-hero and his anti-villain.
Not only have you marketed Orton as the star of your brand and company, but you have also breathed new life into John Morrison’s career by turning him into a heel that is at his very core a face.
Morrison would then cut promos about how Orton is a one-trick pony who weasels his way into victories with “a lucky move.” He can go on and on about how he survived everything Orton gave him during the match, which he should have won in the first place.
He can even acknowledge Orton’s anti-hero status by degrading him to the live crowd. A Titan Tron video of Orton’s attacks on different legends and superstars can be shown, particularly his punts to various people that are now heels in the WWE.
Morrison would then address the crowd by insulting them for being dumb enough to support such a mean, vicious, and unworthy man as their champion. Orton would appear at the ring entrance to address the situation, a brawl between the two would ensue, and a pull apart would lead to another development in the saga.
And that is where you have your anti-hero and your anti-villain.
With the proper build up, this feud (a) cements Orton as an anti-heroic character and as the new “face” of the company, (b) gives fans something new and fresh with the main event scene that they have been asking for, (c) creates a new main event star in Morrison, something the company and fans desperately need at this time, and (d) gives Orton a credible foe to further elevate the status of the WWE Championship but also Orton’s stock as a superstar.
Both men would essentially put the other man over. We would have our Steve Austin and Bret Hart for this PG and/or post-PG era.
There are a few other superstars who I can add to this discussion (Seth Rollins, Lucky Cannon, Daniel Bryan), but for the sake of brevity, I will conclude by reiterating the initial point of this particular piece.
In order for Orton to truly be an anti-hero, he will absolutely need a foe who can serve as his anti-villain; a foe who can he cannot exist without out but strives to incapacitate for the duration of their rivalry.
Now having said all of that, what do you think?