Randy Orton: Which Side Is He On? by Chris Pilkington
The official formation of All Elite Wrestling on January 1st brought with it a sense of excitement and unpredictability that hasn’t really been felt since WCW closed their doors nineteen years ago. For the first time in a long time, wrestling feels like the wild west again, with cowboys switching allegiances more times than a ten minute game of Red Dead online.
Unlike those heady days at the turn of the millennium, when wrestling news was unfounded and based on rumours and whispers, today’s wrestling news is…mostly unfounded and based on rumours and whispers. As such, a lot of the stories swirling around about potential signings are nothing more than wild speculation. This doesn’t make them any any less interesting. In fact, the reactions and rebuttals to the rumours can tell us more about the current wrestling landscape than you might think.
Everybody from John Cena to the ghost of Randy Savage has been rumoured to be signing with AEW. There are constant suggestions of pay deals that blow WWE out of the water. Even career-long main eventer Chris Jericho sat in the back of a car and told the world he was rich beyond his wildest dreams. You could argue that this is a case of smoke and mirrors, but when you consider that the wealthy backers of AEW spent £15 million on a Swansea City centre-back, maybe there’s more to it.
One name that got people talking this week was Randy Orton, which is odd, considering most wrestling fans don’t talk about Randy Orton even when he’s headlining WrestleMania. That’s one of the great things about this new wrestling landscape; it’s made people like Randy Orton a little bit more interesting. Rumour has it that AEW made Orton an “outstanding” offer and that Orton is very open to the idea.
When asked about Orton potentially jumping ship, his long time colleague Mark Henry said, “He’s always been a good business man. So why wouldn’t he be a good business man and say “You know what? I need to entertain this conversation.”
I think the key words here are “business man.” Orton, for all his faults, has managed to stay relevant and heavily pushed despite a litany of past misdemeanours. He gets it. He knows what to do and what to say when the time comes. If Orton is being as openly vocal about listening to AEW as is rumoured, there’s a good chance that this is to give him leverage for a new deal with WWE. It’s a tactic that is often used in sports and shouldn’t be overlooked in this scenario.
Then again, Henry also stated; “ It’s not about the money, it’s about creative control. I think that it would be more creative control and time off with Randy.” So maybe Orton, along with Dean Ambrose,has had enough of the “hokey” WWE creative machine. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t too long ago that Orton infiltrated a cult and wrestled in a haunted house. Maybe Orton, 38, is at an age where the idea of spending more time with his young family is more appealing than an endless loop of TV tapings and house shows.
Let’s look at things from an AEW perspective. What would they gain from hiring Randy Orton? Orton, perhaps even more so than John Cena, has been the embodiment of the “WWE Style” for as long as he’s been on the roster. In the same way that Hulk Hogan was seen as the archetypal WWF wrestler when he joined WCW, Orton’s signature would be very telling of what kind of promotion AEW wants to be. All Elite’s signings so far have mostly fallen into the unexpected category. Guys like Jungle Boy, Jimmy Havoc and MJF are not household names but they all possess the talent and drive to make an impact. Signing a Randy Orton feels more like a statement of intent to the wider audience than a play to the hardcore.
Remember that AEW’s backers have a history of working in other sports. Sports like football, where clubs like Manchester City sign players not because they need them but because they can. Sports like American football, where the offensive and defensive pieces are chopped and changed but the franchise quarterback remains the same. The Khan family may see Randy Orton as their Riyad Mahrez or their Tom Brady. He would be a beacon to other wrestlers that AEW is legit, a shot fired to Stamford and a bloody good professional wrestler all rolled into one.
What if, as is entirely possible, AEW have no intention of signing Randy Orton? What if the wrestling news God’s picked a name out of a hat and fabricated this whole story? As I said earlier, Randy Orton benefits because he suddenly has more leverage than he had before in pursuing a new WWE deal. AEW benefits from being linked with a mainstream talent and the fact that it seems plausible that they could sign him. WWE suffers a slight blow to their public image because of the perception that one of their top stars in willing to leave.
When you look at things objectively, Orton doesn’t exactly feel like a fit for AEW’s current recruitment policy. They’ve insinuated that there’s only a couple of current WWE talents that they’d be interested in working with and I’d be sceptical that Orton is near the top of that list. I could, however, definitely see it working. The intrigue of seeing Randy wrestle outside of the WWE bubble would certainly be enough of a curiosity to attract viewers to the product. He’d likely slot straight into the main event without ever really being in the match of the night, much like the last decade of his WWE run.
There will be more stories like this in the coming months. Hundreds of them. Every time a wrestler posts something slightly cryptic, that’s them signing for All Elite. Every time a wrestler misses a house show, that’s them signing for All Elite. Every time a contract is coming to an end, you better believe that’s them signing for All Elite. It’s likely to get old quickly but, for now, let’s embrace the speculation. I think we lived with a monopoly for so long, we forgot how fun it is when wrestlers have choices. Maybe they forgot too.