Ranking the Best and Worst Versions of Randy Orton over 18-Year WWE Career
On Monday's WWE Raw, Ric Flair anointed Randy Orton as the greatest wrestler in the history of the company.
Of course, this is only a subjective viewpoint on The Nature Boy's part, but it's inarguable that The Viper has had an impressive career.
For nearly 20 years, he's been at or around the top of the business no matter what tweaks he's made to his character.
Now, with his current storyline playing heavily into reminding everyone just how far he's come, let's look back and rank Orton's personas in WWE from worst to best.
9. Rookie Randy
While characters like The Undertaker debut with a gimmick already sorted out, most Superstars start off as generic wrestlers.
Such was the case in 2002 with Orton, who came in as just himself: a talented prospect and the son of Hall of Famer "Cowboy" Bob Orton.
However, The Viper wasn't anything in particular when he started. He was just a kid with potential who had yet to find himself.
Overall, that's on the bland side compared to his other personas, but it's expected that he wouldn't hit his peak with this lack of character.
8. Randy News Network
To get injured within weeks of debuting would normally be a disaster, but it was a blessing in disguise for Orton.
While out of action rehabbing his shoulder, he would continually give updates on his status with the Randy News Network, which transitioned him toward the role of a self-centered heel.
It was the first chance for him to show some actual character and tap into his villainous side that would carry him through most of his career.
For a temporary gimmick at the beginning of his run, this did its job and helped ease him into his future role as a member of Evolution and beyond.
7. A Member of The Wyatt Family
For a brief moment in late 2016, it was interesting to see Orton join The Wyatt Family. The cult-like stable had never had someone of his caliber in their ranks, and he was drastically different from everyone else.
Instead of just another giant wrestler with a big beard and sloppy gear, he was the same crisp, polished athlete as he ever was. That meant there was a chance he could provide something new to the group.
What happened, though, was nothing of the sort.
All this version of Orton did was act the same but this time while teaming with Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. He did Wyatt's bidding but never without the impression it was all a ruse.
That turned out to be true when he turned on Wyatt after winning the 2017 Royal Rumble and revealed what we all knew from the start: His plan was into get the group and destroy them from within.
This was largely just a regular storyline of a tag team split, but since it was hard to buy into Orton fully supporting Wyatt from the start, it never got the right traction with fans.
6. Standard Apex Predator
From 2010 to 2013, Orton had a rather uneventful stretch of his career.
For the most part, his character was so firmly established that fans knew what they were getting. If he was a heel, he was sadistic and cruel; if he was a babyface, he was a rogue badass who could turn at any moment.
There were plenty of ups and downs for The Apex Predator in this period.
Most of his feuds involving Sheamus, Big Show, Alberto Del Rio, Wade Barrett and others were forgettable, but he also had some of his best matches against Christian during this era.
While it didn't do much in terms of standout moments, it proved the longevity of his baseline persona and added several title reigns to his name.
In October 2006, Orton partnered up with Edge to form Rated-RKO to feud with D-Generation X.
It could have been just a short stint for one pay-per-view or so, but the story lasted well into 2007 and only truly ended once Edge moved to SmackDown.
During this time, The Viper and The Rated-R Superstar reestablished themselves as younger stars who should be taking the spotlight from veterans such as Shawn Michaels and Triple H.
They also managed to capture the World Tag Team Championship and were the antagonists in the final four of the 2007 Royal Rumble.
Parodying DX allowed Orton an opportunity to be humorous, which is rare for someone who is normally so stoic. He still kept his ferocious side, but he was able to tap into more layers of his persona.
This also served as the foundation for his current feud with Edge, meaning it was memorable enough to sustain a storyline 13 years later.
4. The Face of the Company with The Authority
After Daniel Bryan won the WWE Championship at SummerSlam in 2013, the fix was in. Special guest referee Triple H turned on him and paved the way for Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank contract to steal the title.
This kicked off the formation of The Authority, led by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Orton served as their top dog and was dubbed "the face of the company" and someone they could be proud to represent the WWE brand.
Orton went on to dethrone John Cena as world heavyweight champion and become the sole world-titleholder in WWE, further cementing his status at the top.
What hinders this persona from being higher up on the list is how Orton wasn't specifically needed for this position. He was more of a tool used to get The Game and the faction over, rather than being its focal point.
This was evidenced by Seth Rollins taking over his spot in the same stable and arguably doing a better job in the role, although Orton did come out of this with more accolades for his Hall of Fame career.
It was clear Orton had major potential during his early period in WWE, but it was only unlocked through his time with Evolution from 2003-04.
The core concept was simple: Ric Flair provided wisdom from the past, Triple H secured the focus as the present and both Batista and Orton represented the future.
It's unknown just how much working with Triple H and Flair led to Orton's growth as a performer, but it's likely that experience turned him from a rookie to a bonafade Superstar.
This led to his Intercontinental Championship reign, a history-making World Heavyweight Championship win and a career-long association with his stablemates.
WWE has continued to go back to this well for angles against The Shield, special appearances for SmackDown 1000 and Flair's continued endorsement of Orton.
As great as being in Evolution was for Orton, there were still some issues due to his involvement with the stable.
His world title reign was historic but not lengthy, the follow-up didn't lead to him being the breakout top babyface, and he struggled to find himself again outside the group.
When it came time for him to join another faction, things changed: This time, he was the leader and primary focal point.
Legacy capitalized on Orton's third-generation status, bringing other children of past Superstars like Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, Sim Snuka and Manu under his command.
There were some hiccups—primarily with Snuka and Manu being tossed aside—but the core group of Orton, Rhodes and DiBiase was dominant for two years from 2008-10.
During this era, Orton went on to win the 2009 Royal Rumble, main-event WrestleMania 25 against Triple H and capture several WWE titles.
Legacy came to an end when Orton defeated Rhodes and DiBiase in a Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 26, but it remains one of his best runs.
1. The Legend Killer
It should come to no surprise the best version of Orton was the one he's most recently come back to.
Joining Evolution gave him the framework to learn and grow, but The Legend Killer gimmick was what really put him on the map and allowed him to take off on his own beyond the shadows of Ric Flair and Triple H.
This was the biggest foundational block of his character, as it would go on to provide structure for The Apex Predator, The Viper and more.
Just as the fundamental essence of Kane is a tortured soul who inflicts pain on others, The Legend Killer is Orton's callous core.
His identity has tapped into this side consistently ever since 2003, including his current incarnation that also feels sorry for what he does to Edge, Christian and others.
That has brought about a new wrinkle to freshen things up for Orton in 2020.
Beating so many legends with this gimmick has given him an opportunity no one else has gotten, as he's taken out Superstars from seven decades while becoming a legend in his own right.
When its time for his career to end, this is the persona WWE will tap into. The best way to cap off The Legend Killer's run will be for a new one to rise and take him out, completing the circle of putting someone over on your way out.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.