Summer in WWE is often a time of experimentation with large storylines and potential first-time matches that raise the stakes of every show. This all culminates in the second-largest event of the year for WWE, SummerSlam, a show where WWE brings out its biggest stars to compete.
This year, the money match of SummerSlam is the clash between Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton. On the surface, this is a dream match. Two of the most accomplished performers to debut in the Ruthless Aggression Era, there are few active veterans who have affected the landscape of WWE as dramatically as Lesnar and Orton. Plus, this is a fresh encounter, as there is little history between the two.
However, since the big announcement of the match, Lesnar and Orton's upcoming contest has felt underwhelming. The usual amount of excitement generated by the build of a SummerSlam main event has been lacking, with this clash of titans feeling inevitable rather than anticipated.
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There are several potential reasons this could be true. The mystique of Brock Lesnar took a hit due to two failed drug tests following his fight at UFC 200. Randy Orton's shoulder issues have kept him on the outside looking in for a while now, even before his nine-month hiatus due to his most recent shoulder surgery. Prior to Battleground, both had been off WWE TV for months, they were then drafted to separate brands and they have only had one physical encounter up to this point.
Still, the biggest problem that is keeping Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton from creating the anticipation expected of such a high-profile match is the story. For almost four weeks, since the announcement of this match on SmackDown, there has been almost no development of the match's story. All that Orton has said was that he wanted to fight Lesnar in his return match to WWE as a statement.
With both Lesnar and Orton losing a bit of their luster in their time away, WWE cannot just rest on the idea of a dream match between the two. In order for this match to be worthy of its spot near the top of the SummerSlam card, both men must begin to sell us on their conflict, and it shouldn't be just about Suplex City vs. Viperville.
There are a number of potential angles WWE can develop, each playing on the two veterans' strengths and career histories. WWE needs to hit on just one angle to add depth to the story. Here are three potential stories the WWE could latch onto to make Orton and Lesnar's match feel more personal.
In 2001, WWE's developmental brand, Ohio Valley Wrestling, was home to one of the greatest classes in WWE history, headlined by the Big Three of Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and John Cena. All three men would debut in quick succession in 2002, each blazing his own trail. Of the three, WWE sent Lesnar straight to the top.
Between 2002 and 2004, The Beast Incarnate won the WWE Championship three times and was in the main event of WrestleMania XIX with Kurt Angle. However, he quickly grew tired of WWE and decided to leave to pursue other challenges. This left a void in WWE near the top of the roster.
At the same time, Orton was being slowly groomed as a top star, working as a member of the heel stable Evolution. Shortly after Lesnar's departure, Orton won the World Heavyweight Championship and, at the age of 24, became the youngest wrestler to ever hold a world title in WWE, eclipsing the mark set by Lesnar at 25 just two years prior.
Both men won their first world championships at SummerSlam, becoming the youngest wrestlers to hold their respective titles. Lesnar went on to become one of the biggest draws in UFC history, while Orton became a 12-time world champion.
Orton's career only took off once Lesnar left, and The Beast Incarnate's return to WWE in 2012 has seemed to correspond with a decline in Orton's star status in WWE. The parallels in their careers could make for an intriguing hook that would make this match feel like it's been a long time coming.
Returning from Injury
Since his return in 2012, Lesnar has dominated WWE. While he has lost a few matches along the way, he has defeated everyone in his path—from John Cena to Triple H to The Undertaker. In that same time, Orton has drifted in and out of relevance, with Lesnar being one of the biggest stars to outshine him.
It's easy to imagine how demoralizing it can be to spend nine months on the shelf and watch other wrestlers succeed. Orton's shoulder injury forced him to watch WrestleMania 32 from the comfort of his own home as Lesnar destroyed Dean Ambrose, who is now the WWE champion. It couldn't have been easy for Orton to witness such dominance while he felt so weak.
Challenging Lesnar could have easily been Orton's attempt to overcome his own feelings of inadequacy. He wants to be as dominant as Lesnar and destroy everyone in his path as he once did. Thus, it makes sense he wants to defeat the nearly unstoppable beast in his return match to prove to himself he still has the ability to be a star in WWE. This would give Orton a sympathetic edge that can be played up as the two fight.
Randy Orton's track record in WWE is far from spotless. He has been suspended twice for violations of WWE's wellness policy, with his second offense coming in 2012. Despite his success, Orton has had to work hard to regain the trust of those backstage. Luckily, he has seemingly gotten his act together and become a consummate professional since his second suspension.
Recently, Lesnar convinced WWE to let him fight once more in the UFC, a bout that was supposed to help generate publicity for both WWE and the UFC. While Lesnar's win over Mark Hunt brought in PPV buys, it was later revealed he had failed multiple drug tests, hurting the image of both companies. Still, Lesnar has faced no discipline from WWE for his actions and is still set to main event SummerSlam.
Lesnar has always been treated with special care by WWE, which pays him huge money for a paltry schedule of appearances, and the company refuses to even consider reprimanding him for his missteps due to his role as a part-time performer. Many wrestlers in WWE have to feel this inconsistent treatment is unfair to them as performers, particularly a man like Orton, who has worked so hard to overcome his own issues.
Even as a character, the writers have mistreated Orton over the past few years, with his title reigns being plagued by The Authority verbally beating him down for just being a heel. Lesnar is praised and lauded by that same power structure in WWE, which fuels this idea of imbalance.
Challenging Lesnar could be about proving to the WWE Universe that The Beast Incarnate is just like everyone else in WWE and should be treated as such. Allowing Orton to use relevant current events as ammo would make Lesnar the true heel in the rivalry.
A Variety of Possibilities
These are only a few options of countless ways these two men can progress, especially if WWE allows them to physically interact more often before SummerSlam. What matters most is that Orton and Lesnar move beyond the catchphrases and isolated promos. What they need is a real driving angle that will make fans excited to see these two beat each other down.
There is no doubt that Lesnar and Orton are two of the best in the business. Their legacies in the company speak for themselves. However, rarely does a match work just because it is between two great performers. The story of a match is just as important as the athletic showcase, and Orton and Lesnar shouldn't just be forced to start telling the story at SummerSlam.
With two title matches just beginning to develop in Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor and Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler, SummerSlam needs a true hook. Lesnar vs. Orton can be that hook, but it has not been so far. Until we get a real reason for these two men to fight, all that we'll have here is a potential dream match lacking in heat.