Whilst many are debating which match should go on last at tonight's Hell in a Cell PPV, (seriously, does it really matter?) what's piqued my interest with WWE is the rumoured Randy Orton babyface turn. That's because it wasn't too long ago that the wrestling community seemed to be chomping at the bit for an Orton heel turn, after what had turned into a rather dull and formulaic face run. So what exactly, if anything, went wrong with Orton's heel run? How did we end up at this point? Is it simply an effect of Orton's surge in online presence due to the "Outta Nowhere" Vines?
I think to truly understand where Orton's heel run took a wrong turn, you have to first look at the reasons many wanted to see him turn in first place. It was the Summer of 2013 and apart from a terrific four month feud with Christian in 2011, Orton's three year run as a babyface had failed to bear any creative fruit. Spells playing second fiddle to John Cena, stop-start feuds with the likes of Wade Barrett and Cody Rhodes, numerous injuries, a 60 day suspension for a Wellness Policy Violation, as well as being overtaken by CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in the babyface pecking order had left us with a clearly frustrated Orton, who would simply go through the motions in matches and do that weird awkward smile thing he used to do. It was clear that Orton needed a change in direction, both for himself and the audience.
Ever PPV of 2013 seemed to be rumoured to be the one where Orton would turn, firstly in his awkward pairing with Sheamus and in similar situation with Team Hell No, WWE quickly lost any element of surprise for the heel turn and it began to become even more frustrating waiting for WWE to pull the trigger than it really should of been. This was the slowest of slow burns, that had none of the subtleties that were needed to keep things interesting over such a prolonged period. This meant that when the turn came with Orton cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam, the impact of the turn was mediocre at best. To make matters even worse for The Viper, Triple H turned heel at the same time, taking the spotlight away from Orton in what would become a theme for the majority of Orton's heel run.
Now, before I get into breaking down Orton's heel run, I'd like to propose that Orton's in-ring work has been not only some of the most consistent of his career over this period, but also that he has been one of the most reliable performers in WWE over this period. Singles matches with Daniel Bryan (Night of Champions 2013, Hell in a Cell, episodes of Raw in December and February) John Cena (TLC, Royal Rumble, a February episode of Raw), Cesaro (Smackdown in February), Roman Reigns (SummerSlam) and Chris Jericho (Night of Champions 2014), a Triple Threat with Batista and Daniel Bryan (WrestleMania XXX), a pair of six man tags against The Shield (Extreme Rule and Payback), a Four Way bout with Cena, Reigns and Kane (Battleground) as well as strong showings in multi-man matches at Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank. You'll struggle to find a performer on WWE's roster who has delivered that many bouts of such quality over the same time period (Seriously, try it? John Cena and Cesaro are the only two to come close)
So why exactly hasn't Orton's heel run connected with a large cross-section of the audience? An audience which is adamant that it is all about work rate and match quality? Quite simply, booking. The way Orton has been portrayed on screen has rarely made him look like someone who should either be feared or despised for his action, or even look like he was supposed to be the main focus of our attention.
Take Orton's long series of matches with Daniel Bryan. Orton lost to Bryan at Night of Champions, only to have the title handed back to him because of referee Scott Armstrong's "fast count". At Battleground, the Big Show came out and punched everyone in the face. At Hell in a Cell, Orton won because referee Shawn Michaels superkicked Bryan in the face. Not exactly the booking you'd expect for "The Face of WWE". Throw into the mix Orton spending most of his on-screen time bickering with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon and more often than not coming off as a lackey for The Game, and you've got the makings of a boy bitch champion.
Despite numerous attempts to push a more aggressive side of Orton, more a kin to his Legend Killer gimmick or that time he had Intermittent Explosive Disorder for a bit, including beating The Miz up whilst Miz' Dad watched. The bastard. How could he do that to everyone's favourite babyface The Miz?! It would be forgotten about as quickly as it was brought up every time. That's before going into the time he lost to Kofi Kingston for no apparent reason.
So, whilst Orton's heel run has produced a fairly fruitful run in terms of in-ring performance, the lack of character development and what has been essentially a supporting role in The Authority storyline, Orton's heel run hasn't produced what those calling for it in the first place had wanted to see.
With Orton's becoming somewhat of a cross-over personality, with the help of Vine, and a depleted babyface roster thanks to the injuries to Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns and the departure of CM Punk, now would seem like a good time to turn Orton. If he remains fit and clean, and the same energy that was put into his feuds with Christian and Wade Barrett, then this could reignite Orton's spark character-wise. There's no real need to have him revert to the smiling babyface that sent the crowd to sleep in early 2013, as we've seen with Dean Ambrose the crowd will happily take to someone who plays something other than generic babyface and in fact they even seem more likely to do so. Orton could easily reproduce his more erratic self, RKO-ing every sumbitch in sight for a few months and it would be lapped up by the audience. If this is built towards a competitive feud with someone like Seth Rollins or Cesaro and you've got something that could be both extremely watchable storyline wise and produce quality matches that people want to see.
Or Orton could be fed to Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, which could potential crush his fledgling face run before it's even begun. Only time will tell, but I do hope I'm not sat here in 18 months writing a similar article about Orton's face run!