To me, this is the best rivalry in pro wrestling today. The two best young Superstars; the babyface who many hate, and the heel that many people love. The dynamic is electrifying... sorry Rock.
Since 2002, I have seen Orton and Cena from the very beginning. I was front row ringside at the New Haven Coliseum in August of 2002 when both men were on Smackdown, both men were rookies, and both men were, even at that point, the future of the WWE.
Every now and then I've seen Superstars who I have felt had the potential to make it big. Even back in 2002, I saw the potential these two had. John Cena was not a rapper or a soldier, he was in tights. Orton was not a One Man Dynasty or a Legend Killer, he was an enthusiastic rookie. I'd love to say I told you so, because I was bragging about these two way before anyone knew who they were.
Here we stand in the year 2008. Opinions will vary, but I for one feel that Randy Orton and John Cena are the present and future of the industry. Both men have main-evented many major events. Both men have had WWE Title Reigns. And both men have made a major impact on the industry.
So who's better?
I'll shed some light on that complicated question. So I'll first take a look at the career of John Cena. He's a three time WWE Champion, three time United States Champion, two time World Tag Team Champion, and a former Royal Rumble Winner. He's main-evented four Wrestlemanias (21-24), and had the longest WWE Title reign this decade. Certainly, John Cena is both an accomplished and dedicated Superstar.
He's been the face of the WWE for so many years; many might feel that he should win this debate in a landslide. But look deeper into the discussion, because it's closer than you'd think.
Next we have Randy Orton. A third-generation Superstar, a two time WWE Champion (only person in WWE history to win the Title twice in the same night), the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history, a former Intercontinental Champion, the longest title run in the past seven years at that point, and a former World Tag Team Champion. He's been the "Sole Survivor" or three consecutive Survivor Series tournaments. He has also main-evented Wrestlemania twice (22 and 24). Certainly Orton has a great deal of accomplishments under his belt as well.
While Cena had been the face of the WWE for the longest time, you could consider Orton to be the backbone.
Cena was indeed main-eventing and carrying the WWE Championship around his shoulder. But during that time span Randy Orton was being held back-in part because of his outside-the-ring behavior- and taking the fall in many key matches. Orton was the Superstar who had a character of huge magnitude, and was in the place of taking losses at his expense in order to "get-over" other Superstars.
Of course, winning is better than losing, but at this point in time John Cena received Vince McMahon's excessive favoritism that led to him holding the championship for almost two full years while Orton received the brunt of being held back. This is a situation very difficult to judge but should at least be considered when comparing these two Superstars.
As time went on, it was Randy Orton who got pushed to the top of the industry. Pro Wrestling Illustrated had ranked John Cena number one in 2006 and 2007. That spot was finally taken by Randy Orton this year in 2008. John Cena was the highest rated Superstar in the videogame Smackdown vs. Raw 2008. This year, it's Randy Orton who became the highest rated Superstar in Smackdown vs. Raw 2009.
There was a time when Randy Orton did not beat Cena when he was at the top of his game- Summerslam 2007 comes to mind. But after a real-life pectoral injury that saw Cena vacate the WWE Championship, Randy Orton won that title and continued to Main-Event every pay-per-view until Cena returned.
When Cena did return, he failed to capture the WWE Championship at No Way Out, and was then pinned in clean fashion by Orton at Wrestlemania 24 and Backlash. A shift of power had certainly taken place.
As we stand here today however, neither Superstar is the champion. Both have been seriously injured. Randy has just made his way back into the ring and Cena comes back at Survivor Series.
Both wrestlers have two very different characters. John Cena is the most hated babyface in the industry. Randy Orton is the most loved heel in the industry. I say that their accomplishments when put into perspective are near-equal. Cena has won a few more titles and certainly carried the championship longer, but heels usually have a harder time succeeding then babyfaces.
John Cena's ability to sell merchandise was a key factor in his push to the top in my opinion. He was and is a big-draw and makes the company a lot of money. Orton playing the role of the remorseless heel, has never had that luxury and therefore, did not receive the same treatment as Cena did. After all, business is business. Allow me to quite Vince McMahon "It's all about the money!".
So basically, what I'm saying is that if Randy Orton pins John Cena- especially in clean fashion- that is more significant than if John Cena pins Orton in clean fashion. Thus, is the nature of the business. So due to the various reasons explained, I would consider Orton's accomplishments to be on-par with Cena's.
If you want to talk about "wrestling-ability" you have to give the edge- no pun intended- to Orton. He has the perfect combination of speed, strength, and technicality. I've always felt that Cena has gotten a bad rep for his in-ring abilities. He's certainly far better then people give him credit for. Even so, Randy Orton is as good in the ring as they come, and you'll never hear another Superstar say anything negative about his in-ring performance.
The one thing he's been criticized for he has used to his advantage. Some people have said that he only has "three-moves", which is an absurd exaggeration. Think about it: the RKO, The Punt, inverted back-breaker, The Orton Stomps, the best headlock in the business, the best drop kick in the business, the power-slam, and the DDT with the feet on the ropes just to name a few.
Orton has said that when people chant the "same old you know what", it scares many wrestlers into trying to do more then they're capable of. He said he uses it to his advantage and milks more of the same move to infuriate the crowd. Certainly marks of a great heel.
Speaking of Orton as a heel, he is the only person in the business to go as low as he has. I'll name some of the things that Orton has done that really have made people disgusted with him:
Saying that Eddie Guerrero was in hell, coming out in his low-rider. RKO'ing the Fabulous Moolah on her birthday, spitting in the face of Harley Race, intentionally trying to end the careers of countless legends with his patented "Orton Boot", RKO'ing his then girlfriend Stacy Keibler, setting the Undertaker on fire in a casket, verbally attacking the values of ECW fans, pretending to make out with Hulk Hogan's daughter, etc.
No one in the business has ever gone as low as Orton which is what makes him such a great heel. Just being booed like JBL or Vickie Guerrero does not make you a great heel.
But back to the topic of discussion. Who is better, Randy Orton or John Cena? My feeling on the matter is that they are both the future of the business. I have a lot of respect for both superstars but if I had to chose one?
It would be Randy Orton. The combination of his heritage, his accomplishments, his character, his in-ring ability, and his age make him "the most valuable commodity in the WWE", just like he proclaims himself to be.
Those are just my thoughts and I know there are a lot of Cena fans out there so let the debate rage on and let me know what you think!