Pro-Wrestling Orton: 'I am the future' Page
Last updated 26 November 2004
Wrestling's youngest champion ever welcomes pressure to revive the sport
When the topic of Randy Orton came up, Jonathan Coachman's snippy "Coach" character surfaced.
"He's a great young talent, he looks great, he's come a long way in a short time," the Coach barked. "But you can tell him I said this. He's too cocky, too soon . and Triple H is starting to teach him that on the show. As great as he is, and as great as he's going to be, he needs to start recognizing his place . and it's not as the heavyweight champion."
Orton took the comments in stride.
"Well, Coach takes the view of a lot of people who have never really stepped in the ring. I know he's had a match here and there, but he doesn't know what it's like to train, he doesn't know what it's like to recover from injury . he doesn't know what it's like being so young, and having a father in the business like I did . he just doesn't know."
If the Orton name rings a wrestling bell, it should. His father, "Cowboy" Bob Orton Jr., and grandfather Bob Orton, were born in Kansas City, Kan. The Cowboy wrestled in Kansas City and on early cable shows for Vince McMahon and the WWF.
The younger Orton, 24, was born in St. Louis, where he still lives. He grew up "kind of geek," he says, reading books and playing sports with friends. He had an early interest in reptiles and says he thought about studying them for a living, but he always wanted to be a wrestler.
"(My father) was gone a lot, and that's the bad part of wrestling is that you're away from your family so much," Orton said. "Me, I'm single and it's not hard on my wife and kids because I don't have any ... but his being gone as much as he was . wasn't cool.
"But I knew he was out there. I knew he was going to Japan, New Zealand, Australia ... and at 4, 5 years old, I thought just getting on the airplane would be cool."
The WWE is the biggest stage in wrestling, and it didn't take long for its brightest spotlight to shine on Orton. He wrestled his first untelevised match in October 2001. By April 2002 he was on UPN's "Smackdown!" and that May had his first title shot against the Undertaker. Orton had some bad luck - he missed several months between July 2002 and April 2003 with shoulder and foot injuries - but in May 2003 he was paired with two of the best, Triple H and Ric Flair, in a bad guy wrestling group called Evolution. That run didn't end until last month when, the day after Orton became the youngest champion in WWE history, a jealous Triple H had the rest of Evolution beat him up in the ring.
Orton lost the belt to Triple H on Sept. 12. As wrestling historians know, short title reigns are often interpreted as a sign that the promoter isn't comfortable with the guy on top. But Orton, who got a vote of confidence of sorts last Monday when Vince McMahon did a promo spot with him, says he has no problem with the change.
"I'm still the youngest champion in history," Orton said, "And there are not many guys my age that are up and coming. I think this is just what I needed. I'm chasing the title now, and it's a lot more fun."
In the ring, Orton affected the character of a cocky and arrogant guy "who has all the answers," he said. In truth, he still finds that selling himself is difficult.
"When I started wrestling we'd get on a mike once in a while (to practice), but it's hard without that audience. That's what I feed off of. I spoke last week at a high school about discipline ... and I was more nervous about that than I would be in front of 10,000 of our fans. I still get more nervous about the promo segments than I do for a 20-minute match."
Redefining his character is tough. When he was spit out of Evolution, Orton was on his own, having isolated the good guys, or babyfaces, through his previous actions. However, on the Sept. 13 Raw where he ruined Triple H's championship celebration by leaping out of a giant cake and attacking him, he escaped a beating with help from Shelton Benjamin and Chris Benoit, the man Orton had beaten for the title in August.
Associating with Benjamin and Benoit may help him get over as a good guy, but Orton said he doesn't plan to give up the persona he has already established.
"I want to have the same cocky, arrogant thing going that I did before ... I have to use what brought me to the dance," he said. "But now I have to use it against the (heels) and not for them. (How to do that) is a gray area, but each week it's getting a little better."
His patience may be greater than that of wrestling fans. Wrestling needs another star, and wrestling Web sites, of which there are many, watch Orton carefully because he's the youngest guy getting the biggest push right now.
Orton said he doesn't pay much attention to the Internet chatter about him, saying he concerns himself only with what the fans in the arena on any given night think of his work. But the talk is out there, and Orton knows there's something extra riding on him right now.
"If you look at all the guys around my age ... really, I kind of stand alone," he said. "What I see is a big group of generic wrestlers who need to break into the top tier somehow. We all draw money together, but . we need to get a lot of guys to break out so we can start selling out house shows again.
"(So) it is a pressure on me, but it's not a bad pressure that's going to hurt me in any way. It's only going to push me to become better and help make this business better. I wrestle 20-25 minutes a night. I never get a night off. I keep going. I do the appearances, I do the interviews, Yeah ... I am the future."
Randy Orton's rise coincided with his being paired with some of the greats in the game, at least one of whom, Ric Flair, is more than twice his age.
"I'd say that's probably half the reason why I've come along this fast," Orton said. His comments on some of them:
MANKIND (Mick Foley) (For the first half of this year, Orton declared himself the legend killer and set out to destroy Mick. It culminated in April's "Backlash" pay-per-view where they fought with thumbtacks and barbed wire.)
"That was one of my favorite matches . and I learned that in a hardcore match anything can happen. I did lose a lot of blood ... but I have a newfound respect for what he put himself through in his career."
SHAWN MICHAELS: "When I wrestled him I was a heel, and he taught me when to stay on the babyface and when to have the babyface fight back."
TRIPLE H: "He's the best there is. Being in the ring with him, and now against him, it's amazing (how great) the difference is between him and someone else. I'd like one day to say I'm that good . and he's a stand-up guy, very funny, great sense of humor. I've learned a lot from him, and I've got a lot to learn from him still."
RIC FLAIR: "I was friends with his son, David, before I knew Ric. . But being on the road with his dad is awesome. In the ring and out, he is wrestling. When he's around, people always have a smile on their faces. Money is no object to him, and no matter what he'll make sure everybody is having a good time. What I learned from him in the ring is that everything we do ... is really easy. It's hard to explain, but for him and a handful of guys it really is easy. Once you get to that point, it's 'Oh, wow, why didn't I think of that?' I'm getting there..."
If you've bothered to read this much into a wrestling story, it's unlikely you need this glossary of terms. But just in case you're new to all this.
Babyface: A wrestling good guy, for whom the crowd is supposed to cheer.
Heel: A wrestling bad guy, the one the crowd is supposed to hate.
Austin 3:16: Steve Austin's most famous tag line, which translates to "I just kicked your ." More than anyone else, Austin forced the business to reconsider the whole babyface/heel thing. He was such a popular figure that even when he did bad things he was still drawing cheers. Now it's not uncommon for a few wrestlers to operate in a "gray" area where they could be perceived as negative or positive depending on that night's crowd.
Heat: Negative cheers, which a heel hopes to generate.
Pop: Positive cheers.
Spot: A planned wrestling move; a match may be set up to make sure each wrestler hits his "spots."
Finishing move: A slam, kick, punch or other maneuver that is usually a wrestler's signature spot and also the way his victorious matches end. They usually have names, such as the Stone Cold Stunner (Austin), the Rock Bottom (The Rock), Stratisfaction (Trish Stratus) and RKO (Randy Orton, who said the name is no big stretch . it's simply his initials, Randy Keith Orton).
Wrestling stiff: This is when a wrestler does things in a ring that others feel could result in real injuries. It's not a good thing.
Shoot: The term used when wrestlers break character and speak as themselves.
Promo: Still the generic term used whenever a wrestler is on a microphone. The idea is that he's promoting himself or his upcoming battle.
Evolution: One of wrestling's trends in the '80s was the emergence of the wrestling faction, four or more guys who watched one another's backs and collectively caused mayhem in the company. It began with the Four Horseman in the old WCW, Ric Flair, Arn and Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard. The WWF produced The Hart Foundation, then D-Generation X. Today's reigning group is Evolution, led by Triple H.