WWE desperately wants Randy Orton to become the next anti-hero babyface a la Steve Austin; capturing that kind of Stone Cold magic is like capturing lightning in a beer bottle. It doesn’t come along every day, and it sure as hell won’t come with forced material from WWE TV writers who, while they have a general idea of what the Stone Cold character was about, they don’t understand is that Austin was a product of the territory days, when you were encouraged to speak your mind, say you want as an extension of yourself with the volume turned way the hell up. No one fed Austin that 3:16 line directed at Jake Roberts at King of the Ring, which ended up selling more T-shirts than Hulk Hogan ever dreamed and helped create a pop-culture phenomenon that made wrestling “cool” again.
Two years ago, Orton was a heel who was beginning to hear cheers despite his dirty deeds–once again, a classic case of the fans deciding whether a character is a babyface or a heel. WWE Creative thought they had the next Stone Cold. (Overheard at TV meetings: “First the Rattlesnake, now the Viper!” and “Orton wears black trunks and black boots too!”) But the execution of the Legacy breakup was pathetic, in part because Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes were never elevated past the level of Orton’s flunkies, and the storyline was convoluted, even by TNA standards. What should have been a slam-dunk scenario to turn Orton never had a chance because no cared about DiBiase or Rhodes, with the latter only now emerging as a character while the former is floundering to find his identity despite having one of the hottest Divas on his arm. The biggest problem is that Orton doesn’t resonate with the fans in the same vein as Stone Cold–his delivery during promos is the same as a face or a heel, and he simply doesn’t have that blue-collar connection with the crowd that the boss-beating, beer-drinking SOB did.
The recent feud with CM Punk reinvigorated Orton, as the best heel in wrestling brought out the best in “Randal,” giving his character a shot in the arm and much-needed momentum. With that feud’s inevitable end and Orton’s move to SMACKDOWN!, he’s poised to be the top dog on the lower-teir brand. Along with new surroundings and a rushed World title win over Christian, Orton’s beard is also finally coming into full bloom after a six-month process. A-ha! So that’s what he’s been missing all along. After all, the clean-shaven RIngmaster didn’t get over, but that goateed son of bitch Stone Cold sure as hell did! Look out, world. The era of Orton has truly finally arrived! (Or not.)