It’s honestly surprising that this topic hasn't generated more columns. The fact that Monday night’s episode of Raw (I believe it was No. 902 for those that are counting) ended with what may be (should be) foreshadowing one of the biggest showdowns of the last few years.
After Randy Orton dispatched Wade Barrett, Darren Young, Edge and Sheamus in that order, passing out RKOs like Tootsie Rolls on Halloween, the Viper turned to meet eye-to-eye with long-time foe John Cena clad in his new purple and gold digs.
It’s not something we haven’t seen before. If the first episode of Raw in September 2009 ended with Orton and Cena locked in a stare-down, we would have groaned about WWE’s stale product. That’s because, despite their birth certificates proving these two as a pair of the younger members of the roster, they have been pitted against one another enough times for the company’s top prize that nobody wanted to see it again.
In fact, WWE tried to remedy this situation when Orton and Cena agreed to a stipulation not to face each other for the championship again after battling one last time over the gold. Of course, we all know these types of agreements are hardly binding and are meant to be broken.
If this was 2009, the IWC would have grumbled to these sites and complained. Now, they are just as giddy about the potential matchup as any child or female at a WWE show is to hear John Cena’s theme blast from the sound system. It’s proof that WWE has been successful in its creation of Orton as a legitimate threat as a face and that his vicious style can draw a crowd reaction just as effectively as Cena cutting a boxed promo about hustle, loyalty and respect while dropping a few obscure 90s pop culture references.
At one time, it was well known that the few weeks after Wrestlemania involved Vince and his inner circle sitting around, discussing what they wanted to headline next year’s Grand Daddy of Them All. He named two wrestlers, handed that to his creative staff and said get them there.
The creative staff would work backwards to ensure that Vince’s main event would not only occur, but be as hotly anticipated as any Wrestlemania main event should be. This time of long-term planning and foresight hasn’t been apparent in recent years. Often it seems that Wrestlemania plans are still being formed up to a week in advance—something that would have been completely unacceptable in the past.
Monday’s closing, though, felt like Vince may have been back to his old tricks. While Orton has turned face and worked his way up the ladder, it’s been clear that Cena has been kept far away from the Viper. As Orton battled Sheamus, Cena has been too busy with The Nexus to pay attention to the man that could be competing with him for recognition as WWE’s top babyface. It hasn’t been until the last few weeks that both Cena and Orton were vying for Sheamus’ gold and would be involved in the same storyline.
It’s September, meaning that we are still 6 months away from Wrestlemania XXVII. It’s far too early to actually begin the “Road to Wrestlemania,” but good booking calls for hints at potential matchups and subtle references to what may come down the line. Staring one another down to close Raw is the type of clip that the production team loves to bring in when putting together their Wrestlemania hype packages—the stare down is ever better if one competitor just laid a number of other top challengers to waste. If WWE wants to play it right, Orton and Cena don’t face each other in a one-on-one contest until the night of Wrestlemania. We’ve seen their matches before and we have a general feel for how they may go, so to burn the anticipation on a TLC or three-hour Raw would be a waste.
The other obvious question is will one of these two turn heel? Considering Orton is in the infancy of his first face-run since his unfortunate first reign as champion, it would be foolish to turn WWE’s “apex predator” (thank you, Michael Cole) back to his heelish ways.
While I’m itching for a good, shocking heel turn and Cena is the one that can pull it off the best, thus resetting his character and giving us depth beyond his super hero tendencies, I doubt this is the time for it. WWE, and many pundits would agree, likely see this as the latest in a long line of uber face vs. face matchups in the same vein as Hogan vs. Warrior and Austin vs. Rock.
What goes along with each of these two legendary matches, though, is that they represented a passing of the torch, even if for just a short period of time. Hogan handed the ball to Warrior, who fumbled it before reaching the line of scrimmage. Austin did the same with the Rock, who did a great job for the short time he was still with the company.
If we were to apply the same format to this feud, Cena would begin to feel threatened by Orton’s presence, his pops from the crowd and his success. Orton would continue to gain momentum, even defeat Cena at Wrestlemania for the title, which could be the impetus for a Cena turn several months later as he finally snaps to no longer being “The Man.”
We’ll see where this storyline goes and if Orton vs. Cena truly is our next legendary Wrestlemania main event.
BONUS: My six-month-out Wrestlemania XVII Card
React as you wish. This is just for giggles and will not include extensive storyline explanation. I’m also figuring Jericho is gone and the Money in the Bank PPV is gone after flopping the buyrate, so we have the match back on the WM card. Fill in the blanks as you wish.
WWE Championship – John Cena (c) vs. Randy Orton
World Heavyweight Championship – CM Punk vs. The Undertaker (c)
The Miz vs. Triple H
Edge vs Christian
Sheamus vs. The Big Show
Rey Mysterio vs. Alberto Del Rio
WWE Tag Team Championship: The Hart Dynasty vs. Evan Bourne/Justin Gabriel
MITB – Daniel Bryan, John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, Drew McIntyre, Skip Sheffield, Wade Barrett, R-Truth