"I have busted my ass for sixteen years for you people." is how Randy Orton would begin an incredible promo, perhaps the best of his entire career, about how he still feels disrespected by the fans despite years of hard work. The heel turn is clear as if it wasn't already and at the end the people... applauded and cheered for the most part. I'm K.C. of NoDQ and this is Planet Kayfabe where I will discuss Randy Orton's promo, but in addition to that I have much more to say about this odd reaction afterwards and are the fans, mainly the "smart" fans wrong for not playing along and giving Orton the type of heat he was trying to get.
We are in an era in professional wrestling where some would say everyone is a "smart fan" to a degree. I think it's often overstated, though. Being "smart" doesn't mean you know the business is a work. Everyone has always known. It didn't start with the Attitude Era. As a child I knew wrestling was a work (or "fake" as I would have said back then) and my grandmother knew it was all just an act, too. If that were the case, then 10 year old K.C. who thought Kane really did have a burnt face and really was Undertaker's brother would be considered "smart" to some people and as would my grandmother who probably hadn't seen a wrestling match since the 1950's. Everyone going to the show knows they are viewing a performance and its getting invested in the stories that really sucks us in as fans and toys with our emotions while we suspend our disbelief as we would for any great movie be it a standard drama or a science-fiction picture. In this day though and has been for the better part of a generation of fans, the best wrestling angles are the ones that tap into real-life and get people thinking what they are seeing is real because real issues in the fan's collective conscious are being addressed and that's what Randy Orton did on Smackdown this past Tuesday.
Now I'm going to pick at some of Orton's lines and see why fans would actually cheer because I think its more than just "smart fans" cheering a heel because a) they think its cool cheering the bad guy so the entire arena knows they arent a mark and b) it was indeed a great promo worthy of applause if this were a high school play, but its not.
"I don't get the respect I deserve. Is it because I don't paint my face and flail my arms like some kind of idiot when I come down the ramp?"
An obvious shot a Jeff Hardy, the target of his recent attacks. Standard stuff here.
"Is it because I don't change the color of my merch every other month to steal more money out of you people's pockets?"
Is this a heel line? When the Cenation was running wild I used to groan when Cena would come out with basically the same shirt in a different color seasonally it seemed. The marketing was as obvious as a clown promising toys with your fast food, but if you were a young kid it didn't matter if had Cena's green, red, purple, blue, black, and yellow wristbands and ball cap. If John came out on Raw one day wearing the same shit in orange that kid was going to bug their parents to order the new get ups.
"Is it because I compete all year round and don't just show up in the spring for Wrestlemania?"
Many fans have been frustrated with WWE's over use of nostalgia and part timers, especially on big shows like Wrestlemania. For years WWE fans have been almost begging for them to invest in the future and they have especially since NXT took off, but in the 2010's look at the Wrestlemania posters and cards. The top spots are dominated by stars of the past every year. That's not always a bad thing and in fact it's been a fine business move for WWE, but a lot of fans are tired of part timers and one timers. Your current Universal Champion included.
"Is it because I don't put my life on the line for your approval by diving off cages, ladders and turnbuckles?"
Orton has always been a reliable and safe worker. The only problem I have with this line is that it breaks kayfabe a little too much. High spots work when WWE builds up desperation in the story of the match. The problem today is now in the era where TLC and Hell in a Cell have their own events named after them it's pretty much promoted as the fans are going to see a bunch of car crashes and they just cheer the spots instead of getting invested in the story of the match.
"Is it because I'm not some indy darling that competed in run down bingo halls?"
The problem with this line is that your super hardcore WWE fans who only watch WWE kinda look down at the indys for some weird reason. They also look down at fans who follow the indys like they're super dorks for watching other forms of wrestling outside of WWE. So, when you trash the indy circle type fans, a lot of WWE fans will actually cheer that as if Vince McMahon is going to mail some 36 year old a "best WWE fan ever" ribbon who so much as looked at a .gif of a NJPW match and dismissed the match and the entire promotion as a "bunch of spot monkeys who don't know psychology". It is similar to the days of WCW. When the Invasion started every non-WWF guy who came from WCW was seen as a lesser talent by WWF fans because they were conditioned to think that for years. Today the WWE conditions fans to think that it doesn't get better than WWE because they're the major league and everything else out there is just bingo hall garbage and if were any good they'd already be in WWE where they'd be given a goofy name and doing 3 minute jobs on Raw.
For good measure he referenced the "too sweet" hand gesture being "stolen". Again, your super-duper WWE fan hates the Young Bucks and think Kenny Omega is overrated and that Cody Rhodes will come back on his hands and knees someday so those people aren't going to boo that line.
Randy Orton would continue to talk about how he payed his dues, learned from the best and accomplished everything there is to accomplish in the WWE, which is true other than winning the fairly new Universal Championship. Even if you hate Orton you can't argue that because it is a fact, so its hard to boo a guy for being right and its also hard to boo a guy who talks about working hard and paying his dues. However, he closes his promo saying he's pretty much going to try and end Jeff Hardy's career.
As he dropped the mic, I don't mean to make it sound like he was met with overwhelming applause, but there were a significant amount of fans clapping in the air, cheering and a few trying to start an "RKO" chant. Shit, Randy got booed more as a f***ing babyface! There were some fans left silent and at first watching I rolled my eyes at the fans clapping and cheering, but that is the initial reaction. You cheer a good performance and since WWE has also conditioned their fans not to take any of the individuals seriously and only invest in the brand to a large degree, this is what you get. Fans clapping the person for their great heel promo in stead of booing the character for being an asshole villain.
The title of this edition of Planet Kayfabe is called "Smart Fans Play Along" and what I mean by that is, while I understand the reaction to Randy was natural and in the moment, I wish there was more effort by the so-called "smart fans" to play along with the characters and give them what they are trying to get. Now, hear me out. The wrestler should absolutely have to earn your heat. I'm not saying you should go to a show and cheer and boo who the WWE tells you to or give a guy like Curt Hawkins the same type of reaction you'd give a popular star like Daniel Bryan. However, this situation is different because the SAME EXACT fans who cheered Orton after this promo are the same fans who just a few months ago were calling him boring and bland. Orton has never been a great babyface and now he turned. We all got the turn we were waiting for so why not give the guy some heat?
However, as I noted I could see why many people cheered. Its hard to boo a guy who points out his near two decades of hard work and paying his dues. I think it would have been better if he said something like "I didn't need to prove myself in run down bingo halls because my father is a legend and I got to cut to the front of the line groomed to be a superstar from day one whether you like it or not" That would have made it sound more like he took shortcuts, which may not be entirely true, many sons-of-wrestlers failed to make the cut in WWE but it would be more heelish than talking about paying his dues and busting his ass.
This promo was fantastic for one key reason. That was Randy Orton pointing out his lack of respect. It's common for a heel to bitch about his or her perceived lack of respect from the audience but with Orton it was true. He's been on our television screens since 2002 and fans don't typically refer to him as a "legend" or one of the greats of all-time or of his generation. In fact many fans think he's overrated. Right or wrong, Orton bitching about not getting any respect flowed naturally for him. Do I think Orton is an all-time great? No, I don't. I think as a babyface he's as boring as they come. I think he is a good but not great promo despite this one on Smackdown being awesome. I think he's a sound worker who rarely ever makes mistakes but sometimes works too slow and pattern like. I think he sometimes gets bored himself when he goes extended periods outside of top programs and especially gets bored in the role of a babyface. I mean, listen to his interviews yourself. It doesn't matter if it's 10 years ago or a few months ago on Edge and Christian's podcast he flat out says he hates being a babyface and doesn't enjoy it and sometimes as a fan, especially if you're a long time watcher, it is obvious that at times he would go through the motions as a babyface which could make him come off as bland to some people. It was probably in his head the whole time that he better not get over huge as a babyface or else he'll be stuck doing it for the rest of his career.
As a heel Orton is hardly bland though. He plays a good, cocky douche who is also dangerous. He works with more enthusiasm as a heel. He wants people to hate him. He's not the type of heel that wants to be the leather jacket and sunglasses wearing school yard bad ass that all the nerds wish they were like. He wants to be the rich kid jock who is only there because his dad was a college football superstar and has no problem picking on the weak because he knows he is untouchable and the program needs him to make any money.
I just hope as someone who was sick of babyface Randy Orton that he doesn't come out next week to a pop and be turned back to babyface after a great promo similar to how Mark Henry was turned babyface after his incredible fake retirement speech. Unless you've always loved Orton in any role and can't bring yourself to boo someone you've always considered one of your favorites, there's no excuse to play along and give the guy the heat he deserves. You can't complain about his boring babyface run and then cheer him for being an entertaining heel and then complain again when the company turns him babyface because he sucks as one. Not to sound too much like I'm sitting on the fence but I also can't blame the fans (and again, it was not a majority but a significant portion nevertheless) for reacting the way they did because it was natural. The only problem I have is the natural reaction should be to boo the villain, but with WWE's efforts to blur fiction and reality they lost sight of essence of the tongue-in-cheek nature of pro-wrestling that fans of past generations got but still played along. When you watch old footage of a heel getting jazz from fans, it wasn't because the adults in the crowd were a bunch of marks. It was because it was a different time where "reality" didn't have to be referenced because they treated everything that happened in storyline on TV as if it was real. Now the biggest promotion in the world thinks kayfabe and the standard definition of good vs evil is "insulting our intelligence" when the true insult is trying to tell us "no things are REALLY real now" just because it is less cartoony and more backstage references that go over most of the fan's heads are used.
As I noted I have mixed feelings because I want fans to react naturally. I'm not one of these guys who shits on the fans when they shit on a match because its up the the wrestlers and the promotion to earn a good reaction. It's not disrespectful if the fans are bored during a match and start trolling to entertain themselves. If the match and storyline was really that great, the fans would give a shit. If they don't, don't go on Twitter and cry because you feel you took a few bumps for nothing. Welcome to the world of live entertainment. Things aren't always going to go the way you want when a key part of your performance is based on crowd reaction. Just like how some comedians, even good ones, can get booed off stage, wrestlers are no different even if its not fully their fault as was the case with Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler at Extreme Rules when the fans had to sit through 3 and a half hours of lame finishes and almost nothing "extreme" happening just to end the show with a boring Iron Man match that they know has a good chance in ending in a draw and they don't have to pay any attention to until the final 5 minutes. Yes, the countdowns were annoying to the workers and much of the home audience, but f*** it. That's the business you're in. Work with it and don't complain about it.
After picking apart the promo I also feel it could have been more heelish. I hope in the future Orton shows this same energy and enthusiasm towards playing a bad-guy again, but cut out all the stuff about working hard and these straight up facts about paying your dues and accomplishing a lot. That isn't going to get anyone booed because there's nothing to hate. WWE also likes to take shots at indy workers and fans in the indy circle thinking the "smarks" will boo. As I noted, they wont boo. In fact, the hardcore WWE consumer LOVES it... do you hear me, WWE? I said they L-O-V-E it when superstars and commentators take shots at indy fans. Maybe an NXT crowd would boo that sort of thing... MAYBE. A WWE crowd on Raw or Smackdown? Hell f***ing no. Those fans could not give a rat's flying ass hole about the indys and could care even f***ing less about fans of these so-called "bingo hall" darlings the company constantly shits on before hiring them and then expecting fans to suddenly take them seriously because now they have a shitty new name and are dubbed "superstars" like everyone else on the damn roster.
There's my thoughts on Randy Orton's promo on Smackdown that got the wrestling world buzzing and the subsequent reaction. On Twitter I think my initial reaction was a massive eye roll at the older smart fans applauding Orton after his promo, but after further thought I think the problem is more in WWE presentation and also the fact that half the promo, while great, like I said perhaps Orton's best, wasn't entirely 100% heelish. Yes, he pointed out his lack of respect, which is true, but he also backed it up with undeniable facts like working yard all year around for 16 years and paying his dues and accomplishing everything you pretty much can in WWE. Orton should be slimy, unpredictable and also have a heightened sense of self-importance. All qualities he's projected well on TV and even did in this promo. However talking about hard work is going to get no one booed. Even when presented like an asshole it's hard to boo a guy for pointing out that he works harder than guys like Brock Lesnar who WWE wants you to hate and doesn't rip you off by creating cheap palette swaps of his merch just to make you feel like you're buying something different. What's so heelish about that?
As for you new found Orton fans, do us all a favor and please boo the living steaming piss out Orton because none of us want to sit through another dull, mundane babyface run with generic cookie cut promos and midcard throw-away bullshit. This is the Orton we want. Animated, passionate, in top programs, being a great heel. So boo the guy next time he's out there because trust me, the awesome Orton you saw last Tuesday is not coming back if you cheer the guy and make WWE turn him back after this run with Jeff Hardy he's having. You want to be part of the show? Here's your real chance. Not by coming up with a new chant that has nothing to do with anything happening on the show, but by cooperating with a guy that seemingly you all do respect as a good heel. He's out there trying to get booed, not cheered which ironically enough he didn't get much of as a babyface until he hit his finish. I just hope next time he takes the mic, the material they lay out for him makes him come off as a bigger dick. Yes an amazing promo, but a true heel shouldn't have redeeming qualities like being a hard worker and not wanting to rip off the fans or working safe instead of doing high risk stunts. A babyface could have easily made those same points only cutting out the bits about the fans not respecting him.
That's all for this edition of Planet Kayfabe. Thank you for reading. I hope you have a great weekend. Contact me on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe. Leave a comment below. Go to www.nodq.com/shirts to support NoDQ and yours truly by picking up a shirt and I will see you here next time. For NoDQ, this is Planet Kayfabe and I'm K.C. Paul Matthews. Thanks for reading. Take care.