Ranking Randy Orton's Best Rivals in His 20-Year WWE CareerApril 25, 2022
Ranking Randy Orton's Best Rivals in His 20-Year WWE Career
There's been no shortage of amazing matches and moments throughout Randy Orton's decorated 20-year career in WWE.
The second-generation star debuted on the April 25, 2002 edition of SmackDown. Over two decades later, he's evolved into one of the most well-rounded, world-renowned performers in WWE's history.
Along the way, Orton has been taken to his limit by countless competitors, including a litany of current and future WWE Hall of Famers. All of them have played a pivotal role in his rise to the top, regardless of whether it was early on in his run or as recently as a few years ago.
That said, only an elite few can lay claim to truly bringing the best out of The Viper in the ring, on the mic and in every other aspect. He has crossed paths with just about everyone at one point or another, but the rivals with whom he had the most run-ins are arguably his most prolific.
In honor of Orton's major milestone on Monday, let's look back at his greatest foes and attempt to rank them based on how crucial they were to his career, quality of matches, important promos, on-screen chemistry and more.
Few men know Orton better than Batista from their days in Evolution together. It wasn't until 2008 that they had their first full-fledged feud, and by that point, they were already established stars. The two had a handful of pay-per-view matches against each other from 2008 through 2010 and again in 2014 in the main event of WrestleMania 30.
Rollins seemed to follow in Orton's footsteps as soon as he joined The Authority in 2014, so it always more a matter of when and not if they'd collide. The long build to their bout culminated in an exciting encounter at WrestleMania 31 (which famously featured one of the best RKOs ever) and a series of other entertaining outings in the months that followed for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Orton costing Punk the World Heavyweight Championship with a swift kick in the head in 2008 was the genesis of their rivalry heading into WrestleMania 27. Their 'Mania bout is one of the more underrated in recent history, and their Last Man Standing rematch at Extreme Rules was even better.
From 2010 through 2015, Orton and Sheamus had many matches and every single one was well-wrestled. The Viper was instrumental in legitimizing the Irishman as a main event player and it was always a treat whenever they locked up.
The Heartbreak Kid was one of Orton's first victims as The Legend Killer in 2003. When they revisited their rivalry years later in 2007 for the WWE Championship, The Viper served as a fantastic foil for the beloved Michaels and found a way to escape with his title intact every time.
7. Jeff Hardy
At the onset of 2008, there was no one hotter in wrestling than Jeff Hardy.
He was riding a wave of momentum following his huge victory over Triple H at Armageddon in December 2007, earning him the opportunity to vie for Orton's WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble the following month. The WWE Universe was wildly behind him and wanted nothing more than to see him become champ.
All signs pointed to Orton walking into WrestleMania that year as WWE champion, but that didn't stop fans from holding out hope Hardy could win at the Rumble because of how fantastic the buildup to the bout was. Ultimately, The Viper reigned supreme, but it would be far from the last time they'd do battle.
Hardy left WWE a short while later and returned nearly a decade later, picking up where he left off with Orton in the fall of 2018. This was right around the time Orton was getting back into his heel groove and was doing excellent work, so both men were excelling in their roles and the matches felt must-see.
The big blow-off inside Hell in a Cell that September lived up to the hype and again ended with Orton securing the victory. All of their subsequent encounters on WWE TV were entertaining as well.
6. The Undertaker
Orton won his first World Heavyweight Championship in 2004, but it was evident even then that he wasn't remotely ready for the spotlight just yet.
He needed a truly defining feud in order to ascend to that level, and his rivalry with The Undertaker in 2005 was just that. It also served as a shining example of how much more natural of a heel he is than a babyface, a role he was struggling to adjust to prior to targeting The Deadman.
Their WrestleMania 21 match is widely regarded as one of Orton's best bouts. He gained plenty in defeat that night and used the loss as fuel to come back better in time for their SummerSlam rematch, which was won by Orton.
The up-and-coming loudmouth got the upper hand over Undertaker at every turn that followed before finally getting his comeuppance inside Hell in a Cell at Armageddon. It was a brilliantly crafted storyline that saw Orton emerge a much bigger star than before it started.
Other than two random Raw matches in 2009, they didn't cross paths in singles competition beyond that initial feud, making it that much more special.
Long before their battles in 2020 and even their time together as Rated-RKO, Orton and Edge started out as budding rivals on Raw in 2004. Both men were on the rise at the time and fighting to determine who would reach the top of the card first in the form of the Intercontinental Championship.
Edge ultimately bested Orton in an excellent outing for the title that year at Vengeance, freeing up The Viper to win the World Heavyweight Championship a month later.
Despite their differences at that time, they went on to form a seemingly unstoppable unit two years later and wreaked havoc over Raw's tag team division. Collectively known as Rated-RKO, they became a brilliant makeshift tandem, won the tag titles and ruled Raw.
Their breakup the subsequent spring was abrupt, but they did finally feud for a short time in 2010. The matches were solid, but their best work came in 2020 when Edge returned to the ring after almost a decade and was immediately betrayed by Orton in brutal fashion on Raw.
Even in empty venues, Orton and Edge captivated the viewing audience with their exceptional mic work and made matters more personal by the week. While their WrestleMania 36 affair wasn't what it could have been, their rematch at Backlash beautifully capped off their 15-plus-year history.
Christian may not measure up to other icons included on this list in terms of star power, but the matches he had with Orton throughout 2011 were some of the best of both men's careers.
The storyline started on a whim with Orton dethroning Christian as world heavyweight champion on SmackDown in May 2011 within days of Christian capturing the gold. The polarizing social media reaction to the title change likely was what caused WWE to continue on with Christian in chase mode that summer instead of moving on to other challengers.
They had no less than half-a-dozen matches from May through October and each of them was better than the last. Granted, it would have helped had Christian won more than he did, but his sheer desperation to get back what he barely had was what made the character work so stellar.
As previously noted, Orton has always been a better heel than a face, but there was no denying his immense popularity around this time. Crowds were consistently hot for their matches no matter how many times they faced off and everything they were doing in between the pay-per-views kept people interested.
Orton and Christian continued to cross paths on occasion all the way up until 2020 when the latter came out of retirement for one night only to be destroyed by the former.
The chemistry Orton had with Christian can't be beaten.
3. Mick Foley
Orton became a focal point of Raw in 2003 through his involvement with Evolution, but it was the Mick Foley rivalry that really caused him to be looked at in a different light by the fanbase.
After months of torment, The Viper bullied Foley off Raw in late 2003, only for him to return in the Royal Rumble that January and eliminate Orton. It was a smooth setup into a singles match at WrestleMania 20, except it turned into a three-on-two Handicap matchup instead.
Evolution's Orton, Batista and Ric Flair defeated Foley and The Rock in what turned out to be a fun affair, but Foley has famously never been proud of his performance that night. That led to Orton and Foley facing off one more time at Backlash in a hardcore-style, no-rules match.
The Intercontinental Championship was also on the line that night, and although that raised the stakes slightly, it wasn't what was important. It was all about Foley beating respect into Orton and forcing him to go to a place he had never been before.
It was a war that cemented Orton's status as someone to watch for. He withstood all the punishment Foley put him through and gave The Hardcore Legend the best swan song he could have asked for.
2. Triple H
Considering Triple H served as Orton's mentor in the embryonic stages of his main roster run, it shouldn't be surprising that the two would have a storied history dating back almost 20 years.
The Game was extremely influential in The Viper's initial rise to superstardom in the early 2000s, but he was also responsible for cutting his momentum short as a babyface in late 2004. He ended his reign as world champion quicker than it started and plans changing caused the remainder of their rivalry to be derailed.
Orton had to work his way back up the ranks through his aforementioned feud with The Undertaker before he could finish what he started with Triple H. He got that chance in late 2007 when he beat him in the main event of No Mercy to become the only man to win the WWE title twice in the same night.
The Age of Orton had officially begun, but HHH remained a major roadblock in his way. HHH was the one that took the title from him in 2008 before their series of grueling gimmick matches, so it was apparent Orton still wasn't being portrayed as an equal to Triple H until he beat him on back-to-back pay-per-views in 2009.
Their matches were always hard-hitting and had a big-fight feel to them, but the peak of their program occurred when Triple H threw Orton through the front window of his own home.
Orton besting Triple H in the latter's final televised match ever is also a nice feather in the cap for him.
1. John Cena
John Cena and Orton have had careers that have strongly paralleled each other, and thus an extensive feud playing off their similarities and vast differences was always going to make perfect sense.
At the height of their bad blood, Cena was being booked as the ultimate babyface while The Legend Killer was firing on all cylinders as a hated heel. It was the perfect dynamic, even though their matches were more focused on the storytelling aspect of it and not as much on the in-ring action itself.
When they first collided at SummerSlam 2007, both men had already been world champions but weren't household names quite yet. That changed when they resumed their rivalry in 2008 in the buildup to WrestleMania 24 and again in late 2009.
WWE decided to run back Orton against Cena one last time in 2013 when both world titles were on the line in a unification match. The Viper emerging victorious gave him one of his biggest wins ever as the inaugural WWE world heavyweight champion and resulted in him being able to defend the belt in the main event of WrestleMania 30.
Cena and Orton legitimately defined a generation with their unforgettable feud and competed in every gimmick match known to man from Iron Man, Hell in a Cell, "I Quit," TLC and more. Neither of them would be nearly as successful in wrestling today without the other.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.