After a four-month hiatus courtesy of a Curb Stomp from Seth Rollins, Randy Orton’s triumphant return at WWE Fastlane last month was well received despite what many perceived to be a rather lackluster crowd. There were many ways to build on Orton’s momentum, but the storyline that has panned out has left a wealth of missed opportunities in its wake.
It wasn’t so long ago that Randy Orton was on the receiving end of harsh receptions around the country. During the oppression of Daniel Bryan in the buildup to WrestleMania 30, Orton was positioned alongside Batista as The Authority’s very own yes-man (no pun intended).
One year later, the tables have turned. Having become increasingly disillusioned with the supposed face of the WWE, cracks began to show in the relationship of The Authority and Randy Orton, eventually resulting in Seth Rollins attacking Orton and placing him on the shelf for the best part of four months.
Upon his return, Randy Orton’s character could have gone in many directions. As it were, it was decided that he would sneak back into the good graces of The Authority as a ruse to get back at Rollins. Pretty basic stuff and a viable option for the most part. The problem lay in the hurried execution, which left much to be desired and ruined the chance of some more stimulating plot twists.
On the episode of Monday Night Raw immediately after Fastlane, Orton announced his decision to return to The Authority and so began his ploy to lure them into a false sense of security. Although it was always obvious Orton would turn against them at some point, it seemed a strange decision for Orton to renege on his plan just a fortnight later. In an incredibly thinly veiled attack on The Authority, Orton made personal attacks on each member one-by-one before dismissing his comments as a joke. Later in the night, Orton would refuse to let Rollins tag him in and went on to deliver a severe beatdown and gain some retribution.
Although it was only natural for Orton to turn on Rollins, the manner in which it was done only served to diffuse The Viper’s momentum. One way in which this tepid storyline could have maintained allure is if Orton upheld the facade all the way to WrestleMania 31. Going into the main event with a strong suspicion that Orton still had an agenda against Rollins would throw up all kinds of questions about what might happen should Rollins cash in his Money in the Bank contract.
The Championship match between Lesnar and Reigns, which once looked a foregone conclusion, has recently become more open given the increased speculation linking Brock Lesnar to a new contract, as reported in legendary commentator J.R.’s blog. This would have been yet another welcome question mark lingering over the main event, reducing the kind of predictability which has ruined the last two Royal Rumbles.
Alternatively, Orton needn’t have pretended to appease The Authority at all. These past weeks could have been a chance to build up tension between the two, with Orton’s attempts to get his hands on his attacker repeatedly quashed by The Authority’s lackeys. The payoff would have come as things finally boiled over at WrestleMania 31. This format would have been similar to Rollins’ clash with Dean Ambrose at 2014’s WWE Hell in a Cell pay-per-view.
Keeping two fierce rivals apart for a prolonged period is a recipe for success and leaves the fans hankering for a match; something the WWE seems to have forgotten recently. Look at John Cena’s recent scrap with Rusev, forcing him to tap out for the first time just weeks before the biggest event of the year. Surely the only viable options for the WWE United States Championship match were for Rusev to tap out to John Cena—and therefore America—or continue on his relentless rampage. Instead, everybody has seen him submit, which massively detracts from the potential payoff at WrestleMania 31.
The interaction doesn’t reflect well on Rollins’ character, either. Ever since his introduction to WWE Raw as The Architect of The Shield, Rollins has been billed as a master manipulator capable of exploiting friends and foes alike to his benefit.
One would suspect that even the youngest members of the WWE Universe, clad in fluorescent Never Give Up memorabilia and fully convinced that The Undertaker legitimately hails from Death Valley, would have been able to see through Orton’s pitiful smokescreen. Rollins fell for it hook, line and sinker. Not a big deal in the world of scripted storylines, perhaps, but yet another indication of how ill-conceived Orton’s return has been.
The road to WrestleMania is always open to change. After Lesnar stormed out of Raw three weeks ago following a purported spat with Vince McMahon, WWE Creative were on the verge of writing an alternative main event that didn't include the Beast Incarnate, as per inquisitr.com. The storyline between Goldust and his increasingly erratic brother Stardust has also—disappointingly—been sidelined after seemingly building toward a WrestleMania showdown.
Whether Orton’s storyline was pre-planned or underwent a last-minute change of plan, the result was an unsatisfying delivery that failed to capitalise on suspense or indeed entertainment. Instead, WWE has left itself just two episodes of Raw—one already having passed—for the two to build up momentum heading into WrestleMania. Orton could have concealed his true intentions for longer or emerged as an enemy of The Authority earlier, but this half-baked story has delivered the worst of both worlds.