It’s a testament to how much I admire Orton’s current persona when all his work prior to 2007 seems mediocre in comparison. That’s but a mere impression however, as Orton was far from ?poor? at points during his initial push to stardom. ?At points? though is the key; from his face turns onwards everything seemed to fizz out for the ?Legend Killer?. Unfortunately that reality persisted into 2005, right up until he took time off to heal an injury.
2005 represents a ?rebuilding? of Randy Orton, with mixed results. Sent to SmackDown! and locked in an extensive feud with Undertaker, all intentions were set on returning Orton to the standing he had as the pet project of Evolution. Did it work? Not really ? But let’s explore what they achieved in 2005 nonetheless.
Randy Orton vs. Triple H ?, World Heavyweight Championship ? Royal Rumble 2005
What lingers from this encounter is Triple H’s dominant stance over his former ally. At its core this match was the culmination of Orton’s horrid face turn, granting him an opportunity to avenge his loss of the World Heavyweight Championship. The enforced absence of Evolution, and the narrative focusing on Orton’s desire to emerge from Triple H’s shadows (emphasised through a nice symbolic moment during the champion’s entrance), sets this battle up as a true ?testing of the waters? for the challenger both thematically and professionally with mixed results.
In all honesty what transpires has double-edged implications for the ?Legend Killer?. After an initial burst of offense, Orton is in large part dominated as ?The Game? exploits his left knee. Every twist applied, or as the champion increases pressure, Orton always responds with a pained cry and / or more frantic scrambling to evade his opponent’s clutches. His time spent in the Figure Four is especially impressive, as each aggressive tug by Triple H is visibly acknowledged in Orton’s portrayal of excruciating pain. For a while afterwards, as Orton regains momentum, he maintains the troubling nature of his injury. Most moves that in some form require his left knee usually are depicted as further doing damage. But Orton seems to oversell it, because he doesn?t consistently perform such selling. The contrast between moves earlier and those slightly later on, whereby he barely registers his knee, leaves a rather jarring flow in his performance.
This idea of ?double-edgedness? ? the initial impressiveness of Orton’s selling makes its absence later on conspicuous ? extends to the final chapter of the match, and Orton’s role within it. Surmounting a desperate fight back to safeguard his knee, an unfortunate counter to the DDT leaves the challenger concuss and incapacitated on the canvas. From this point on, it’s inevitable that Randy Orton’s finished. His depiction is convincing; from the unfocused / glazed look and seemingly frozen facial muscles; to the stiff, awkward manner in which he positions his arms and neck; to the stumbling about and incoherent exchange with the referee. One can?t fault Orton’s portrayal, but its effectiveness in declaring his (self-inflicted) downfall ? mainly a glaring problem with the narrative itself ? leaves Randy Orton a distinct second to Triple H. Nothing within the match implies that the challenger gave a tremendous challenge, or was hard done by. Ultimately it merely cements Randy Orton’s inferiority to Triple H.
Randy Orton vs. Undertaker ? Wrestlemania 21
I can?t shake the underwhelming impression, even despite having praised this encounter in the past. It seems that, for the most part, both performers settle with deploying their trademark material without actually layering any real meaning behind them. At least, that mostly applies to Undertaker. What’s baffling is the apparent indecision in the direction they wanted to take the Orton character. Six months prior, they had him defeat Chris Benoit cleanly to become the youngest World Heavyweight Champion. Even earlier they had the relatively un-established star compete with, and emerge victorious over, Cactus Jack in his specialty match. But all this investment in Randy Orton as a man who, when need be, can be as good as his arrogance and accomplishments suggests is dismissed here, as ?Taker makes him a human ragdoll.
At what point are we meant to buy into the hype that Orton presents an immense threat to the streak? Only one moment springs to mind, that being the RKO near-fall towards the end. For the remainder of the match, he was relegated to ?dead-weight? selling Undertaker’s offense. This in itself is an issue, as the limp and loose body language that connotes nigh unconsciousness is subsequently undermined by the effortless manner in which Orton executes counters, and the lack of fatigue he displays when immediately arguing with the official following a two count.
As Orton makes his entrance, it’s proposed that his exuded confidence hints at a game-plan. Unless that supposed strategy is to be pounded for ten minutes, until Bob Orton and his cast arrive to help, there’s nothing in the actual performance that resembles this. Only the ?Legend Killer’s? audacious arrogance remains intact (from the build), leaving no sign that this challenge could potentially end the streak, allowing for minimal excitement to generate around it.
Randy Orton vs. Undertaker ? Summerslam 2005
The sequel displays improvement in several areas, but most notably with Orton’s selling (as compared to its effect in his match with Triple H) and the amount of offense he receives. Orton’s never completely contained. He fights hard, keeping toe-to-toe with Undertaker. Witness his struggling as Taker first attempts ?Old School?, or his futile attempts to escape the choke-slam. The fact that Randy’s delegated more in-control offense than Undertaker here makes him appear competitive, with his neat touches when ?Taker ascertains momentum simply adding to that same effect. It’s what was missing from Wrestlemania.
Stringing together offense on Undertaker is presented as difficult i.e. he’s always moments away from breaking out another offensive flurry. This positions Orton’s vicious assault on ?Taker’s leg as remarkable, effectively grounding and containing the ?Dead Man? for an extended period of time. The urgency / focus displayed by the ?Legend Killer? when targeting the injured region makes the slow-paced limb work engaging to boot, not that it even approached plodding. The conclusion doesn?t compromise Orton’s credibility either. He got in enough offense to ?hang? with Undertaker, and there’s no guarantee ?Taker had it won as the choke-slam wasn?t his finisher at that point.
An interesting point in opposition to his showdown with Triple H, Orton portrays semi-consciousness (rather than unconsciousness) through his ?dead-weight? selling on this occasion. The result of which is Orton doesn?t seem to return from near death seemingly fresh as a daisy. Moreover he emphasises drained energy in these sequences to uphold consistency with the damage endured. As a result, this Summerslam re-match is superior to their first, and is easily the best matched Orton had on pay-per-view in 2005.
Randy Orton / Bob Orton Jr. vs. Undertaker, Handicap Casket Match ? No Mercy 2005
This was a fun battle, although a full review wouldn?t add much to what has already been written. They adequately present the mentality of the ?handicap? match, with Undertaker’s upped pace conveying his urgency whilst Team Orton kept a logical attack using their numbers advantage. Moreover the casket ‘symbolism? (i.e. the end) was displayed well, mostly via Bob and Randy Orton’s expressions of fear, panic and desperation.
Watching this match though, Orton deploys a form of selling that I can only describe as ?bobble-head? selling. It gets quite comical at points, though that’s obviously not the intention. And the aftermath is ridiculously stupid, ruining what was until that moment a completely acceptable feud. Seriously, why would they burn Undertaker in the casket?! Still ? it’s worth a viewing at least.
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