Randall Keith Orton, popularly known as Randy Orton, is one of my favorite professional wrestlers of all time. As a kid I hated him, he was one of the top of the top “Heels” on the roster, (“Heels” in the world of World Wrestling Entertainment [WWE] are villains). Back then Randy went by the moniker; “Legend Killer” and he wreaked havoc by beating beloved WWE legends, such as Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, and the Undertaker. But as I grew up and began to understand the nature of professional wrestling, I started to respect Randy Orton. His value was like the value of art—Randy Orton wasn’t just an entertainer, or some kind of commodity, he was a piece of art, and I started to adore him.
It happened when I was nineteen. I dug deep into the history of my favorite performer, learning the path he took to become a modern-day WWE legend. On my phone I read that Randy Orton was signed by WWE in 1998, which is coincidentally my birth year. After signing at WWE, Randy was sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), a developmental brand for up and coming performers. Randy’s father, Bob Orton Junior, was his mentor and trainer at OVW. My hero was trained by his Dad, and I was excited.
Randy made his on-screen debut in 2000, when I was two, embarking on an incredible run spanning over twenty years. He became the youngest World Champion in WWE at age twenty-four, and went on to be a fourteen-time world champion, winning individual intercontinental championships and world tag team championships. Randy’s signature move was “the diamond cutter” (which he later renamed using his initials, “RKO”), a move which sees the wrestler jumps towards the opponent and grab the opponent’s head in a three-quarter face lock parallel to the ground before slamming the opponent’s face to the mat. It’s still one of my favorite moves in professional wrestling. Following his brilliant run as the “Legend Killer”, Randy Orton became “The Viper” in his veteran years, due to his unpredictable tactics on the wrestling mat.
Matt Riddle was one of the top “Faces” on NXT. Just as Heels are bad guys in WWE, a Face is a good guy. Riddle’s nickname was the “Original Bro.” In Matt Riddle’s career, NXT was the developmental brand for rising superstars in the same way OVW had been for Randy Orton. Following his success on NXT, Riddle was promoted to the main roster, and he was soon set to appear in the prestigious line-up of the premiere televised shows, WWE Raw and WWE Smackdown. In 2021 Riddle pitched an idea to form a tag team with the Viper, Randy Orton. Such a tag-team would bridge the Heel and the Face. Randy initially rejected it, then he warmed to it as he realized he could be seen in a different light—as a Face. Randy would become the good guy, yet still keep the viper elements of his character, which WWE fans adored. The tag team pair was named “RK-BRO,” a combination of Randy Orton’s initials RKO with Matt Riddle’s boast to be, “The Original Bro.”
In August 2021 RK-BRO challenged the reigning tag team champions, AJ Styles and Omos (a giant Nigerian named Tolulope “Jordan” Omogbehin), at the annual wrestling event, Summerslam. Summerslam is WWE’s second biggest event behind “Wrestlemania.” This was one of the matches I was looking forward to, and for fans of the WWE in sub-Saharan Africa, these events usually entail sleepless nights due to huge differences in time zones. In these parts of the world WWE has got a shallow fan base and the numbers are dwindling every day. Most adults associate it with child’s play, which I find in my own humble opinion as a huge misconception. The few who still enjoy the art and the creative storyline which comes with the WWE spend time on social media, particularly Twitter, discussing on the ins and outs of WWE events. So the event commenced around midnight and I had it streaming live on my cell-phone. I had a cup of coffee to keep me company. The match was fun and energetic as Riddle led an early onslaught frustrating AJ Styles. AJ Styles responded by working Riddle over in their corner. Riddle dramatically created a separation, escaping, and tagged-in his partner, unleashing “the Viper.” Randy Orton set up for an “RKO” and executed it perfectly, pinning AJ Styles. RK-BRO won, becoming the new Raw tag team champions. The pair went on a lengthy run that led them to an epic clash against the Bloodline.
The Bloodline was the top Heel team on the WWE roster, led by the undisputed champion, Roman Reigns, along with his twin cousins, Jimmie and Jey Uso. Jimmie and Jey Uso were the WWE Smackdown tag-team champions. RK-BRO were the Raw tag team champions. The Usos challenged Orton and Riddle in a winner-take-all title match—the Smackdown champs against the Raw champs. The Usos won and they became the undisputed tag team champions. It was a pulsating match-up as both teams were highly gifted technicians on the wrestling mat. The Usos proved to be superior with an array of tremendous moves that kept fans at the edge of their seat.
As always in WWE, nothing was settled by their victory. The feud between the two teams escalated, becoming more personal and culminating in a devastating injury to Randy Orton that followed from a beat-up at the hands of the Bloodline. It was a painful ordeal for staunch Orton fans like me. Randy was so badly hurt he would be off of WWE programming for about eight or nine months. In Randy’s absence, Matt Riddle tried to take revenge, but his attempts were futile. The Bloodline always came out on top.
In Randy Orton’s absence I always speculated, along with my fellow RKO followers, about how WWE would book his return to WWE events. And so I took my imaginary time machine and went to the 23rd of January 2023, which will be the 30th anniversary of Monday Night Raw. Guitar-playing wrestler Elias have temporarily aligned with Matt Riddle for a tag-team match against Damien Priest and Dominic Mysterio, a tag team known as the Judgement Day. The team of Riddle and Elias, manage to win, following Elias’s rollup-pin of Dominic Mysterio. After the match is over a beat down ensues when the Judgement Day attacks the victors. Randy Orton’s theme song, “Voices,” rings out loudly and fans expect the Viper to come and assist his tag team partner, Riddle. The Judgement Day quickly retreats, as Randy has finally made his long awaited return.
Riddle is delighted to see Randy, so he goes in for a hug…but receives an RKO! much to the shock of the live audience: Randy Orton seems to have reverted to his Heel ways. He gives Elias another RKO before leaving the ring.
The following Saturday would be the Royal Rumble, another annual wrestling event. The 30-men Royal Rumble is the most anticipated match on the card, in which two competitors start the match and the rest of the competitors join in the fray—individually, another one added every ninety seconds. Competitors are eliminated from the match when they’re tossed over the top rope to the floor. The last man standing wins, and he has the opportunity to face undisputed world champion, Roman Reigns, at Wrestlemania. In 2023 Riddle and Orton would be participants…and after it seemed they had made amends during the match, combining to eliminate four competitors, Orton eliminates Riddle, completing his turn from Face to Heel. Randy is eliminated soon after that by the eventual winner, Cody Rhodes. It leads to an intense brawl at ringside with Matt Riddle until they’re eventually separated by WWE officials.
Riddle, fed up with Randy Orton’s attitude towards him, challenges Randy to a match at Wrestlemania. Randy Orton accepts, citing how disappointed he was with Riddle when Riddle failed to take revenge on the Bloodline, after Randy’s injury. The match-up between the two former partners at Wrestlemania would be a hard-hitting instant classic. Randy gets the win with the help of a new NXT call-up, Grayson Waller…. And with that my “time machine” suddenly ran out of power and I snapped back to reality, continuing with my Christmas holiday preparations, still waiting for the actual return of the Viper. One thing is for certain, Randy in his veteran years has taken up the mentorship role like a duck to water. With Matt Riddle on the verge of becoming his first successful protégé, I would like to believe more will follow in Riddle’s footsteps, and looking at the current NXT roster, Grayson Waller seems to fit the bill. Watch the space!
24 December, 2022