Does it feel strange tuning into an episode of Raw and finding yourself cheering on Randy Orton? One year ago Orton was the hottest heel in professional wrestling. Today he is, aside from John Cena, the top baby face on Raw. How did it come to be that one of the creepiest, most vile wrestlers in the business has become a beloved baby face? It seems to be the way of things. A great heel will eventually begin to sway the fans to his/her side because they are just that good at what they do. Today Randy Orton is in that place, and this isn’t the first time he has found himself there. But we should have seen this coming. One of Orton’s most consistent rivals in his career saw has gone through the same changes Orton finds himself in now. That individual is Triple H. Looking back at the different stages of Triple H’s career may just give us valuable insight to where Orton is headed and how his current baby face run may pan out.
In late 1999 Triple H began his ascent to the main event. He spent the first half of 2000 in a great series with Mick Foley, a high level program with The Rock, had an incredible match with Chris Jericho, and began a slow build to a match with Kurt Angle. He was a fantastic heel. He was such a great part of the show that fans began to cheer him. He became a more likable character and was fighting villains on pay per views instead of baby faces. Just when it seemed like he was about to become a full-fledged baby face, he did a hard heel turn that re-solidified his place as one of the top antagonists in wrestling.
In 2004 Randy Orton found himself in a somewhat similar position. He had a spectacular program with Mick Foley that culminated in one of the best matches of both men’s careers. Orton went on to face the likes of Rob Van Dam, Shelton Benjamin, and Edge. His cockiness was vindicated when he remained a dominant Intercontinental champion before falling to Edge. The following night he won the right to face Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight Championship at Summerslam. When Summerslam came, Orton won the championship to the favor of the crowd. Being a good heel for several months had ultimately won the fans over. Things would change the next night on Raw when Randy Orton was betrayed by his fellow team members in Evolution. This would launch Orton into an all-out baby face role for the remainder of the year and into early 2005.
The problem was that Orton was not a great baby face, let alone ready to be the top baby face on the Raw brand. On top of that, he failed to regain the World Championship after losing it to Triple H. He no longer had any big wins. It seemed all that Orton had done over the course of his heel run meant nothing. Orton quickly reverted to his heelish ways in the buildup to his match at Wrestlemania 21 with The Undertaker. Orton was a heel again, but he was not a main event guy anymore. At the end of 2005 Orton stepped into a Hell in a Cell match with Undertaker in their blow off match. While Orton still enjoyed success in the ring he rarely stepped foot into one-on-one pay per view main events. It would take him nearly three years to recover from his fall from grace.
Orton’s setback was the fallout of his character’s regress in late 2004. During those three years, he slowly built himself back up. After his feud with Undertaker, Orton slid into a World Championship match at Wrestlemania 22 to provide a heel flavor for the triple threat recipe between himself, Kurt Angle, and Rey Mysterio. It was during this time Orton’s character began becoming a vile human being. He went on national TV just a few months after Eddie Guerrero’s death and said that Eddie was in hell. He then stole Rey Mysterio’s title match at Wrestlemania. He went back to his moniker of the Legend Killer by going after Dusty Rhodes and Hulk Hogan. Soon he found himself back on Raw teaming with Edge against Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Orton’s time with Edge helped each man push each other during a time when both of their careers needed rejuvenation. After they split up, Orton went on to take out Shawn Michaels and retire Rob Van Dam. By the time Summerslam 2007 rolled around. Orton was the best choice to face John Cena in the main event for the WWE Title. After a great program with Cena that was cut short by Cena suffering an injury, Orton went on to become the heel champion who fans wanted every baby face to beat. Shawn Michaels came after him first on the tenth anniversary of the Montreal Screw Job at Survivor Series 2007. Chris Jericho made is return to WWE to confront Orton. When Jericho and Michaels couldn’t get the job done, Jeff Hardy came after him. After dropping the title in April to Triple H, Orton would go on a campaign to win back the championship before suffering an injury. When he returned later on in the year, he had been supplanted as the best heel on Raw by Chris Jericho. Orton needed to do something major to come back. He began a stable of second-generation wrestlers known as Legacy. When 2009 came around, Orton entered one of the best built programs in several years when he punted Vince McMahon in the head and kissed a knocked out Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley. 2009 would only get better for Orton as he got the best of HHH, Batista, and John Cena. By the end of the year he was used to bring Kofi Kingston up the card, and in 2010, he found himself in the middle of a torn Legacy and challenging Sheamus for the WWE Title. It has just time. After having den so well for so long, fans began to take a liking to Orton once again, and over the past few months Orton has gone from heel to tweener to baby face.
Back in 2002 Triple H returned from a severe injury. By that time there was no way the fans would not cheer him. When he made his return he was not a great baby face, but he was what the fans wanted him to be, for a little while at least. After a few months of Triple H playing a baby face, he went back to the comfort of the heel ranks. Just as it had been time for him to be a baby face months earlier, it was just time for him to be a heel again at that point. That baby face push in 2002 is very similar to Orton’s position now. He really isn’t a great baby face, and neither was Triple H. It has become Orton’s time to be a bay face. People these days have their doubts about Orton’s baby face potential and that is understandable. He is a great heel and being a baby face seems out of place or him. When Triple H became a heel again in 2002, all he needed to do was go out and pedigree Shawn Michaels. Really, that is all Orton would have to do at this point to become a heel again.
Right now Orton is scheduled to face Wade Barrett for the WWE Title at Bragging Rights. Given the circumstances that John Cena is now a reluctant member of Nexus, he may have his hand forced and have to cost Orton the title to Barrett. That in itself could reignite the Orotn-Cena rivalry and either turn Orton back heel or turn Orton into a baby face on the rampage, which would probably be a more likable version of Orton than the current “Happy Orton.”
Getting back to the Triple H comparison, HHH is now a baby face. At this stage in his career people want to cheer him. He may have one good heel run left in him, but he may be content to remain a supporting baby face. Orton is only thirty years old. He has a number of years to go before he gets to the stage that Triple H is in now. When he does get there, fans will be more than happy to cheer him on out of respect. But that will only be because Orton spent years earning the respect of the crowd. In the meantime, he has plenty of time to refresh his character, with the seldom yet necessary baby face run here and there to let the character breathe a bit. If he stays healthy, there is unlimited dpotential for Randy Orton in the future.