Advice to WWE Creative: Keep Up the Great Work with Riddle and Randy Orton
While all previous editions of this column have been dedicated to fixing problems, correcting mistakes and avoiding disasters, not all advice is about pointing out the negatives. Sometimes, it's about accentuating the positives.
This time around, it's worth patting WWE Creative on the back for one of the best things going on in the promotion today: RK-Bro.
Since the onset of their pairing in early spring, Riddle and Randy Orton have consistently had fun segments, character growth and entertaining moments. It seems to only get better every week.
With that in mind, let's give credit where it's due and talk about this gem of an angle.
Expanding on Riddle's Personality
Riddle has never suffered from a lack of personality. While he's laid back and not the most bombastic, hyperactive person, he has a swagger that stands out from the pack.
At times, WWE has taken someone more relaxed like that and mistaken them as being boring. Practically every wrestler from prior eras used to shout every word of their promos just to prove they had more energy.
But instead of forcing him into a role he's not comfortable with, WWE is allowing him to play more into his goofier side. Rather than cutting this off when he botched his backstage promo with Asuka and forgot his lines, everyone has turned into the skid.
It's working. He's flourishing in this role.
There are tons of great wrestlers on the roster who have no character other than "a great wrestler," while Riddle is both a tough former MMA fighter and a silly, kindhearted, sensitive, friendly, fun-loving airhead.
He's good for being the butt of the joke or setting up someone else for a punchline, but he's not being made to look like an idiot who can't be taken seriously, which is what WWE has done with a lot of the more comedic characters.
This is a rare example of not crossing the line from funny into ridiculous, as Riddle isn't being humiliated any step of the way. Instead, he fools around one minute and wins a Battle Royal the next.
Showing Another Side of Randy Orton
Much of comedy is about juxtaposition. Often, the best way for a joke to land is to have a "straight man" to sell it for the audience.
After 20 years of portraying a predominantly vicious, mean-spirited character, Randy Orton has taken a backseat from pure evil to become that guy for Riddle.
A few months ago, he was burning The Fiend alive. Now he's pretending to lock Riddle's mouth shut and throw away the key.
On paper, that sounds absurd, but it works!
It's refreshing to see this side of The Viper, who can still be himself when he decides to hit Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston with RKOs for the sake of anarchy but manages to play around backstage with his new friend in other segments.
If not just for the sake of variety, this has breathed new life into Orton in the same way Billy Gunn went from a rootin', tootin', pistol-shootin' cowboy in The Smoking Gunns to Mr. Ass of D-Generation X.
It's doubtful this will carry on for years, but we will look back on this period of Orton's career as a great example of how he had more range than simply gritting his teeth and looking menacing.
Chemistry Cannot Be Manufactured
All of these elements could have been too jarring to work. Finding the proper synergy for two opponents in a match is hard enough, but doing the same with tag team partners is significantly more difficult.
The New Day work as a unit because they are friends. The Undisputed Era were all buddies who were cut from the same cloth. The IIconics are a package deal, but Peyton Royce had no connection with Lacey Evans like she did with Billie Kay.
Strangely, Riddle and Orton have great chemistry together, which allows for this all to work.
They bounce off each other's timing well to land their jokes.
The act is believable since Riddle is more of a rookie who would be looking up to Orton, while The Apex Predator sees some of himself in The Original Bro with how they have rubbed some people the wrong way in the locker room.
In all likelihood, if this same storyline were Riddle and anyone else as his mentor or Orton with an annoying protege, it probably wouldn't work well and would be dropped in a few weeks.
The more they work together, the more legs this seems to have, meaning it could last well throughout the rest of the year, if not into 2022.
There Are Clear Directions to Head Toward
One of the biggest problems in WWE these past few years has been a lack of planning ahead. Rarely does it seem angles have defined endgames, as concepts get changed from week to week or dropped altogether.
That is infuriating every time it happens, which applies to nearly everything these days based on the constant repetition of matches to signify an "epic rivalry" with no story or how Superstars like Aleister Black can be released days after returning to action after months on hiatus.
With RK-Bro, this doesn't seem to be heading nowhere, as the Raw Tag Team Championship is the goal.
The combined efforts of Riddle and Orton—an NXT tag team and United States champion alongside a future Hall of Famer who is tied with Triple H for winning more world titles than anyone in the company save for John Cena and Ric Flair—means they are a legitimate threat to AJ Styles and Omos.
This is a match that must happen at SummerSlam once the champions overcome the current No. 1 contenders, The Viking Raiders.
Having that on the horizon has given RK-Bro something to work toward. Once they get that match, their success or failure will dictate the next chapter of the story.
Setting Up the Eventual Split
Eventually, Riddle and Orton will reach the two final chapters of this angle: the split and the consequent feud.
At some point—be it after a failed attempt to capture the tag titles at SummerSlam or far down the line following a run with the belts—one of them will turn on the other. More predictably, Orton will turn on Riddle.
That then opens up a new story to be told, with the protege against the mentor as two former friends become bitter enemies. It's simple but effective and has been told a million times because it works when it's been properly set up.
Showing their camaraderie now and building that friendship means when that trigger is pulled, fans will want to see them fight each other rather than feel like it wasn't earned, such as when The Hype Bros ceased to exist, if you can even remember that team.
If this trajectory of great storytelling continues, like Riddle fighting on Orton's behalf recently on Raw, this team will have transcended from a random pairing of two singles guys into a legitimate duo by the time they have called it quits.
Fulfilling a story like that is hard, but RK-Bro is nearing the halfway point and has the ability to complete the arc.