Ranking Randy Orton's 10 Greatest Moments 15 Years After Winning 1st WWE Title
Randy Orton was among the many stars who contended for a championship at Sunday's SummerSlam pay-per-view. Although he did not emerge victorious, his blatant disrespect for WWE champion Kofi Kingston was a major talking point coming out of the event.
The show emanated from Toronto, the same site of SummerSlam 15 years ago Thursday. Interestingly enough, it was at that installment that Orton became the youngest world champion in WWE history with his win over Chris Benoit in the night's main event.
It's been an incredible journey since then for WWE's Apex Predator, who has captured every championship the company has to offer several times over. As seen Sunday, he is still one of the most dangerous and unpredictable performers on the roster whose place toward the top of the card has never faltered.
Regardless of whether he's with the WWE Universe or against them, Orton always finds a way to make whatever he's involved in compelling. Some of his matches and feuds been more exciting than others, but either way, he's had an amazing career worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame.
In honor of this milestone, let's look back at Orton's greatest WWE moments from the past decade and a half and rank them in order of their overall impact and entertainment value.
Honorable Mentions: Orton's Greatest RKOs
While these remarkable RKOs also rank high among Orton's most memorable moments in WWE, they deserve recognition in a section of their own.
Evan Bourne (Raw, July 12, 2010): The Viper had no more momentum than anyone else ahead of Raw's Money in the Bank Ladder match in July 2010, at least until he hit an earth-shattering mid-air RKO on Evan Bourne days before the pay-per-view. The execution could not have been any more perfect.
The Undertaker (WrestleMania 21): Orton and Undertaker had a tremendous rivalry over the course of 2005 that helped to solidify the former as a main event player. During their heated clash at WrestleMania 21, Orton reversed The Deadman's signature chokeslam into a devastating RKO. It was the definition of a WrestleMania moment.
Christian (May 6, 2011): Before feuding for the entire summer, Orton and Christian first faced off on an episode of SmackDown, where Orton emerged as the new world heavyweight champion. As exciting of an outing as it was, it was Orton's RKO on Christian out of nowhere the had the entire wrestling world buzzing.
Jeff Hardy (Royal Rumble 2008): Fans wanted nothing more than for Jeff Hardy to knock off Orton for the WWE Championship at 2008's Royal Rumble event. Despite being on offense for a majority of the match, Hardy's Twist of Fate attempt was quickly countered into a creative RKO from Orton.
Seth Rollins (WrestleMania 31): Heading into 2015's Show of Shows, Orton was arguably in his element as a babyface and was firing on all cylinders. Thus, it should have come as no surprise that his WrestleMania match with Rollins was excellent and that the finish, with Orton turning Rollins' Curb Stomp into an RKO, was one for the ages.
10. Viciously Assaulting Jeff Hardy (SmackDown Live, July 17, 2018)
Randy Orton spent the first half of 2018 doing much of nothing. He held the United States Championship for a brief period ahead of WrestleMania 34 before disappearing for a few months in the spring.
Upon his return to WWE TV that July, Orton immediately cemented himself as a heel. The turn happened a little later than it should have, but fans were nonetheless happy to see him back in the role in which he had always thrived.
The Viper stayed silent soon after his return and instead let his actions do the talking. As repugnant as his low blow to Jeff Hardy was at Extreme Rules, it was nothing compared to what Orton had in store for him eight nights later on SmackDown Live.
Following Hardy's unsuccessful attempt to regain the United States Championship from Shinsuke Nakamura, he was viciously attacked by Orton. Not only did The Viper drag him all around ringside, but he also proceeded to tug away at the open hole in Hardy's earlobe.
Words don't do it justice. It was a sinister sight, to say the least—vile enough to elicit a deafening chorus of boos from an uncomfortable crowd in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
9. Cementing His Split from Evolution (Raw, August 23, 2004)
Randy Orton's World Heavyweight Championship victory at SummerSlam 2004 should have been a reason for Evolution to rejoice, as the group was now in possession of the top title on Raw. Instead, leader Triple H didn't take too kindly to being overshadowed and wasted no time in turning his back on his pupil the next night.
This was a crucial time in Orton's blossoming career. Was he going to give in to Triple H's mind games and willingly relinquish the prestigious prize to him, or would he choose to stand his ground and fight back?
The Legend Killer went with the latter, spitting in the face of The Game one week later on Raw when Triple H urged him to hand over the strap. It looked like he gave serious thought to Triple H's offer at first, only for it to become clear he knew what he wanted to do all along.
The smile on Orton's face when he defied his mentor immediately endeared him to the WWE Universe. Before Triple H could retaliate, Orton laid him out with a shot to the skull with the world title and darted out of the ring to escape Evolution's wrath.
Unfortunately, WWE failed to follow up on his moment properly. Orton lost the belt to Triple H at Unforgiven the following month and never got his revenge—at least not until years later. But his initial split from the faction proved he could flourish on his own.
8. Betraying The Wyatt Family (SmackDown Live, February 28, 2017)
Truth be told, Randy Orton's rivalry with Bray Wyatt wasn't anything to write home about when it started in the fall of 2016. Although their No Mercy match was a dud, it was the aftermath, with Orton betraying Kane and deciding to align with The Wyatt Family that caught fans' attention.
Orton as a member of The Wyatt Family was way better than anyone could have expected. He helped them win the main event of Survivor Series 2016, as well as the SmackDown Tag Team Championships, before reigning supreme in the 2017 Royal Rumble match in shocking fashion.
Things got interesting once Bray Wyatt became WWE champion at Elimination Chamber, setting the stage for an epic encounter between the two at WrestleMania 33. It was unknown how Orton would handle his Rumble win with Wyatt as champ until he revealed that he had been playing The Eater of Worlds from the beginning.
Wyatt was as stunned as everyone else that Orton's intentions the entire time were to destroy the group from within, which is exactly what he did. Better yet, he got into Wyatt's head by burning down The Wyatt Family compound with the spirit of Sister Abigail inside on the February 28 edition of SmackDown Live.
Similar to his split from Evolution, this was the peak of his program with Wyatt. Their WrestleMania matchup fell flat, and Orton beating Wyatt for the title wasn't exactly the outcome fans were hoping for.
If nothing else, it was an awesome angle that was worth it for the visual of Orton posing in front of the house on fire.
7. Turning on The Legacy (Raw, February 22, 2010)
After his original run as a babyface flopped in the fall of 2004, Randy Orton never seemed destined to be anything but a heel for the remainder of his career in WWE.
However, something changed during his heated rivalry with John Cena in 2009. Despite his despicable actions against the entire McMahon family, the audience started to embrace Orton as one of their own by cheering him more often than not.
By early 2010, the raucous ovations he was receiving from fans were too loud to ignore. It was around that time that he and his Legacy cohorts, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, began having problems that escalated when they inadvertently cost him the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble.
On the February 22 episode of Raw, the three teamed up to take on the trio of Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne and Yoshi Tatsu in an effort to get back on the same page. Orton made it clear he didn't trust his teammates—especially after DiBiase pinned him in an Elimination Chamber match the night prior—and cemented his split from his faction by planting DiBiase with an RKO at ringside.
The crowd went wild for Orton's sudden face turn, and from there, he became one of the biggest babyfaces in the company. He took to the role amazingly well and emerged from his win over DiBiase and Rhodes at WrestleMania XXVI a bigger star than he was before.
6. Defeating Christian for the World Heavyweight Championship (SummerSlam 2011)
Although John Cena vs. CM Punk in mid-2011 is widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestling rivalries of the modern era—and rightfully so—fans tend to forget about the fantastic feud Randy Orton and Christian had that same summer over the World Heavyweight Championship.
Christian couldn't handle losing his coveted title to Orton days after winning it that May. That led to a series of matches between the two wherein Christian went to great lengths to regain the gold before finally doing so, albeit in anticlimactic fashion, at Money in the Bank 2011.
Their bad blood came to a head at SummerSlam, when they clashed one final time in a No Holds Barred match. Their chemistry had been exceptional, and as expected, they delivered the goods on this evening as well.
With a variety of weapons at their disposal, Orton and Christian utilized everything they could find around ringside and endured unimaginable pain in an effort to solidify their superiority. Just as Christian was closing in on the win, Orton surprised him with a mid-air RKO on to the steel steps, a call-back to the ending of their original encounter months earlier.
This was less about Orton getting back the belt and more about blowing off their feud in sensational fashion. Considering these two never ceased to bring the best out of each other, an argument can be made that Christian is Orton's greatest in-ring rival of all time.
5. Winning the Royal Rumble (Royal Rumble 2009)
Randy Orton has been beloved at many points throughout his WWE career, but early 2009 was not among them.
The Viper was fresh off forming The Legacy and had his sights set on headlining WrestleMania XXV, but first, he had a score to settle with Mr. McMahon. The head honcho of WWE appeared on Raw six days before the pay-per-view to confront Orton for disrespecting his daughter, Stephanie McMahon.
Just as Vince was about to fire Orton in front of the whole world, Orton slapped him straight across the face and proceeded to punt him in the skull. That would have sealed Orton's fate as a WWE Superstar had he not gone on to win the Royal Rumble match that Sunday so that he couldn't be terminated without receiving his obligated title opportunity on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Despite entering at No. 8, Orton overcame the odds (with some help from his Legacy buddies) and eliminated Triple H to punch his ticket to the main event of WrestleMania. He had already won multiple world titles, yet it was this victory that put up him in the upper echelon of WWE's all-time greats.
His rivalry with The Game on the Road to WrestleMania was a ton of fun to follow, although the 'Mania matchup itself was wildly disappointing. History repeated itself eight years later when he became the seventh star to win the Rumble for a second time.
4. Regaining the WWE Championship (Night of Champions 2010)
Randy Orton was at his best as a babyface in 2010 when he broke away from The Legacy and burst back on to the WWE Championship scene. Obviously, it would be a stretch to say he was anywhere near "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's level during that period, but similar to The Texas Rattlesnake, all audience demographics were digging him and giving him thunderous ovations week after week.
By late 2010, John Cena's time in the title picture was up, and Orton was ready to replace him as Raw's top dog. No one was hotter than him heading into the WWE Championship Six-Pack Challenge at Night of Champions, and with the crowd solidly behind him, The Viper winning was the only outcome that made sense.
The event emanated from Chicago, yet it was clear from the moment he made his entrance that everyone in that arena wanted Orton to become champion. There is virtually no chance you will ever see something like that today for him, but he was wildly popular.
One by one, Superstars were eliminated from the match until just Orton and Sheamus remained. With their bad blood from SummerSlam still simmering, the two rivals battled back and forth and had the crowd with them every step of the way.
Sheamus' Brogue Kick to Orton had fans worried that he was done for, but Orton kicked out and responded with an RKO for the three-count. Allstate Arena exploded with excitement as Orton celebrated his history-making title win and came across as a true megastar for the first time in his career.
3. Becoming a 2-Time WWE Champion in 1 Night (No Mercy 2007)
No one knew for sure whether Randy Orton would ever recover from the damage done to him during his initial rivalry with Triple H in the fall of 2004. He waged war with The Undertaker in 2005 before floundering in 2006. And although his alliance with Edge was entertaining, the main event scene was where Orton belonged.
It took him longer than it arguably should have to get back there, but he finally returned to the top of the mountain at the end of 2007 while feuding with WWE champion John Cena. They were supposed to face off in a Last Man Standing match at No Mercy before Cena suffered an injury at the last minute, sending WWE's plans for the pay-per-view into complete disarray.
Instead, Orton opened the event with Mr. McMahon, who awarded the title to him apparently for injuring Cena. It was a fairly lame way for Orton to be crowned the new WWE champion, and it was even lamer for Triple H to then immediately beat him for the belt in an impromptu bout.
That led to them clashing in a Last Man Standing matchup in the main event of the show, which should have been their only encounter that night. Nevertheless, the violence and sheer brutality both men brought to the table made it a total gem and one of the best of Orton's career.
They brawled all around ringside, but thanks to one last RKO on the announcers' booth, Orton was the last star standing. This was a star-making performance if fans had ever seen one.
2. Winning Money in the Bank and Turning Heel (SummerSlam 2013)
Despite competing in the annual ladder match on a few occasions, Randy Orton never struck fans as a potential Money in the Bank winner. In fact, he was hardly considered a favorite to capture the contract in the main event of the 2013 Money in the Bank pay-per-view.
He was one of seven former world champions fighting for the chance to walk out as Mr. Money in the Bank, and after flooring the returning Rob Van Dam with an RKO, Orton unhooked the briefcase and secured himself a future shot at the WWE Championship at any time of his choosing over the next year.
It was an intriguing outcome, especially since Orton had been on the creative back-burner for nearly two years. Now, he was one of the most talked-about talents in WWE with everyone wondering when he would decide to cash in his contact.
Orton promised viewers he would trade in his title shot when they least expected, and sure enough, he was telling the truth. He crashed Daniel Bryan's grand WWE title celebration at SummerSlam and stormed down to the ring before realizing Bryan was more prepared for him than he thought.
As he made his way back up the ramp, he slowly turned around and watched as Triple H (who served as the special guest referee for Bryan vs. John Cena) blindsided Bryan with a Pedigree. The Game motioned for Orton to return to the ring, and seconds after handing his briefcase over to The Game, Orton pinned Bryan to win the WWE Championship.
Within a matter of minutes, both Orton and Triple H turned heel and formed the foundation for what The Authority would become. Needless to say, that stable ran its course long before it disbanded, but its debut resulted in an unbelievable ending to SummerSlam.
1. Successfully Retaining the WWE Championship at WrestleMania (WrestleMania 24)
The Age of Orton kicked off in a major way at No Mercy 2007. Over the next six months, he dominated the Raw roster as WWE champion and fended off challenges from the illustrious likes of Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy.
By the time WrestleMania XXIV rolled around, he found himself in a precarious position, with John Cena and Triple H both gunning for his gold. Once their Triple Threat match was made official for the Grandest Stage of Them All, few fans thought he would emerge with his title reign intact.
To his credit, Orton weathered the storm to the best of his ability in the weeks preceding the pay-per-view and even attempted turn Triple H and Cena against each other. Despite his best efforts, his chances of coming on top at WrestleMania, which is known to feature happy endings, were slim.
While not an instant classic, their WrestleMania matchup was well wrestled and saw all three men shine at one point or another. Orton was determined to prove the world wrong, and by pinning Cena to retain his title, he did just that and lived to fight another day as WWE champion.
Only an elite few can claim they have successfully defended the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, and although he lost the title to Triple H the following month, it was on this night in Orlando, Florida, that Orton's legacy as a perennial main event player was officially cemented.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.