ViRTUE's RAGE: Randy Orton is Wrestler of the Year Submitted by Virtue on 08/16/2020 at 09:52 PM
August 16, 2020
I will begin this article by asking a simple question to all of you. Who has been the best overall professional wrestler during the pandemic? With no fans in attendance the past several months and TV ratings at an all-time low, this question is perhaps even more subjective than it would be otherwise. The two major wrestling companies that have their shows on mainstream networks are obviously WWE and AEW, so my answer to this question will not be anybody from outside of them because the main wrestling audience right now is the 1.5-2 million people that watch Raw on Monday nights, SmackDown on Friday nights, and NXT/Dynamite on Wednesday nights. With all due respect to wrestlers in other companies all around the globe, match quality is only a small portion of what it takes to be considered the best pro wrestler in the world today, especially during a time like we are in with the pandemic and no full live crowd shows. I assure you the best choice is not currently in New Japan Pro Wrestling or Ring of Honor.
Right off the bat I dismissed Cody Rhodes. Sure he has been booked to look good in the TNT Championship division by going over random opponents every week on Dynamite, but let’s face the facts, he has been delegated to the mid-card because of his loss to MJF last year which prevents him from being able to compete for the main title. Good ol’ Tony Khan and Cody booked a lot of AEW’s roster into dismissal of this topic. Kenny Omega was breaking out during the last couple of years he was in NJPW, but now he is in AEW’s mid-card as a tag team partner with Adam Page. Although Chris Jericho had one helluva 2019, him feuding with Orange Cassidy during the pandemic has dismissed him, too. Jon Moxley is probably AEW’s most likely candidate to be considered as best pro wrestler so far this year, and I tend to notice Dynamite’s ratings get a slight boost from when he is on the shows compared to when he is not, but his title defenses have been much too random with no meaningful long term feud up to this point. Perhaps the rest of this year will push Moxley to the top with his potential killer feud with MJF.
This discussion really comes down to two main candidates, in my opinion. They are Drew McIntyre and Randy Orton, who coincidentally will be facing each other for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam next weekend. In the current setting of having wrestling shows at the Performance Center with no legit fans in attendance (I do not count the staged developmental talents sprinkled behind the plexiglass as fans), Orton has clearly stood out the most to me. Sure, McIntyre has had solid matches against Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, and Dolph Ziggler this year, but other than Rollins, it was way too obvious that none of them were ever really a legitimate threat to taking the title from McIntyre. Although not his fault, having no fans to cheer for him during the pandemic and helping him count down 3-2-1 to the Claymore for each victory seemed to have lessened McIntyre’s run as champion. Like Moxley, perhaps McIntyre can win me over by the end of the year as the best of the best, which will be contingent to how strongly he is booked and how the feud with Orton evolves and/or concludes.
Now on to Randy Orton, who up to this point in 2020, is my obvious pick as the best professional wrestler (sports entertainer) during the pandemic. I really do not care what any of the so-called match “star rating” experts think, but Orton has just been leaps and bounds above the rest as a complete package in the ring and on the mic. Everything he has done has felt important. His feud with Edge caught my attention before the pandemic even began, as WWE was building it up for a match at WrestleMania. The promo and segment work Orton did with Christian and most recently Ric Flair have pulled me in emotionally by tugging on my nostalgia strings. Even if we are swerved at SummerSlam and Orton wins the title from McIntyre with help from Flair, I am perfectly fine with that. I want WWE to work me because I want to be genuinely entertained by not knowing who is most likely to go over and how they will go over. Likewise, even if McIntyre retains the title, at least now I cannot put my finger on an exact outcome of the match at SummerSlam. I realize not every match and feud outcome can be hidden and cryptic, but it is nice to know a match could potentially be booked to go either way. This in turn makes a feud and the matches it contains fun to watch. Orton Vs McIntyre has me just as intrigued as Orton Vs Edge had me intrigued earlier in the year. That is pretty much my checkmate for this article because a true pro can get fans hooked on not just wanting to see a wrestling match with a bunch of cool wrestling moves, but they can get fans hooked on the story, the feelings, and the emotions that go along with it.
Randy Orton has had a near twenty-year career in WWE with many championships and great feuds under his belt. But I want to be honest with all of you. I have never considered him with such high praise until this year, during this pandemic. I have never considered Orton a major ratings mover or top draw, but I have considered him a difference maker for quite some time. His work can influence many fans and how they perceive their own ability to suspend their disbelief when watching pro wrestling, especially on TV. That is because Orton has mastered wrestling psychology to near perfection. He obviously plays the villain role more naturally and comfortably than a face. He does it in the same vane that Jericho does, which probably explains why I have noticed how special his work has been during this pandemic. Just look back at both Orton’s and Jericho’s careers. They have been heels probably 60%+ of the time. No surprise as that is their comfort zone and what they are best at.
I do realize it has been alleged over the years that Orton has been a heel in the locker room and has done various ribs to others, some being unprofessional and inappropriate. So goes the life of working in the traveling carnival show business. To date, he has only been suspended by WWE for wellness policy violations and I don’t believe he has ever been fired or released. Call it nepotism and preferential treatment, but some talents are just too valuable to let walk away to any potential competition. I often hear opinions from others that Orton is great when he is motivated and borderline awful when he is bored. Keep in mind folks, this is his job and how he supports his family. When someone like Orton performs all over the world against many other wrestlers for damn near twenty years, like in any career or job, there are going to be great runs, good runs, and status quo runs. But I cannot recall Orton ever having a bad run during his career. Even if he did have a bad run, it has been masked by all the times he had good, compelling runs. What we are witnessing right now in 2020 (during a pandemic) is Randy Orton fulfilling his LEGACY as one of the all-time great wrestlers and performers in the business. If you think I am full of crap, you know how to reach out to me.
Thanks for reading Virtue’s Rage and I WILL BE BACK…