A few days ago, Randy Orton and Edge competed in “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.” Not my words, by the way, but the words of the WWE! Why promote anything as “the greatest ever?” It just places a huge burden on the participants to deliver something phenomenal. Regardless, it was a very good bout…even great…but the greatest ever? Questionable.
Randy Orton was the guest on Corey Graves’ ‘After The Bell’ podcast last week. He talked about how younger wrestlers/NXT wrestlers need to slow down in their matches. When a match consists of 50 high spots, Orton mused, there’s no time to appreciate everything as a viewer. Not only that, but there’s no opportunity for the wrestlers to properly sell each move if they are trying to pack in as many moves as possible. Later on, he talked about the immense pressure of competing in “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.” Was Orton attempting to downplay expectations for his forthcoming match with Edge?
As a WWE veteran of almost twenty years, Orton is perfectly placed to comment on the current state of wrestling. But what about his list of matches? A common complaint about Orton is that he is boring in the ring. He has competed in one of the most boring WrestleMania main events of all time (against HHH at WrestleMania 25). But there’s a difference between “boring” and “wrestling safe.” I believe, most of the time, Orton wrestles “safe.” But when the occasion demands a great performance, Orton certainly rises to it. Here are my Top 10 Greatest Randy Orton Matches.
Vs Ric Flair (Cage Match, Taboo Tuesday 2004)
“Nasty, brutish and short” may have been Thomas Hobbes description of life before laws/governments, but it aptly describes this violent but curt cage match. Flair bleeds mere minutes into the match; Orton not long after that. Not a fancy match by any means, this is a grudge match, pure and simple, where the two combatants want to pummel each other into unconsciousness. Just over ten minutes, this is one of the shorter main events of the 2010s, but they pack so much drama and emotion into it that it ranks as a cage match worthy of your time.
Vs Jeff Hardy (Hell in a Cell, Hell in A Cell 2018)
Over the past decade, the once-legendary ‘Hell in a Cell’ match has become sanitised, partly due to the PG rating, and partly due to the annual PPV called ‘Hell in a Cell,’ which forces matches to have the HIAC stipulation that don’t require it. ‘Hell in a Cell’ should be a feud-ending match full of brutality and ultraviolence. This match is one of the only Hell in a Cell matches in the past few years that reaches those requirements. Since Hardy returned to the WWE, he looks battered and bruised; he can barely walk. It’s sometimes difficult to watch him limp about in the ring. However, this is a fantastic match, encapsulating everything that a Hell in a Cell match is all about. There’s a particular moment when Orton uses a screwdriver in Hardy’s lower ear lobe that is sickening to watch (and I think it’s been edited on the WWE Network…). The two have fought before, but this is a high point in their ever-lasting feud.
Vs HHH (Last Man Standing Match for the WWE Championship, No Mercy 2007)
No, not THAT Last Man Standing Match between the two future Hall of Famers that ended in Orton breaking his collarbone…the other one! Yes, I believe these are the only two wrestlers in history to have two Last Man Standing matches. Their first one is a stunner, coming off the back of a PPV-long story involving Orton, HHH and the Championship. HHH had wrestled two matches before this main event, the first against Orton, the second against Umaga. Last Man Standing matches can be bogged down with odd pacing and stalling, but in this one, everything is paced just right. HHH suffered a rib injury at the hands of Umaga, thus the story is all about HHH’s injury (and the fact that it was his third match of the evening). One of the best examples of the Last Man Standing match.
Vs Shawn Michaels (WWE Championship, Survivor Series 2007)
Yes, this has the odd double stipulation of HBK not being allowed to use the Sweet Chin Music and Orton losing his title if he’s disqualified…but out of all the matches the two had together, this is the cream of the crop. HBK turns to submissions to attempt to beat Orton, knowing that he can’t utilise his usual finisher. Orton wants to put HBK out of commission, so it’s aggression vs technical ability in a showstopper. It’s a change for HBK, but a delightful one; he’s not flying around the ring but taking the action to the mat. From these two, you’d never expect anything less than “very good.” This is great.
Vs John Cena (‘I Quit’ Match for the WWE Championship, Breaking Point 2009)
Has anyone participated in more ‘I Quit’ matches than John Cena? He’s fought The Miz, Batista, JBL and Rusev in ‘I Quit’ matches. The one against JBL stands out for the amount of blood each wrestlers loses, and the one against Batista is very good. What they have in common is a silly ending. Cena’s ‘I Quit’ match against Orton includes a decent ending, something which ‘I Quit’ matches often lack (even those that Cena doesn’t wrestle in!). The two wrestles together about 1000 times, and this is the best match they fought. It’s brutal, involves a hard-to-watch kendo stick spot, and utilises Cena’s “superhero” comeback like no other match before or after it. In the Top 5 WWE ‘I Quit’ matches of all time.
Vs Edge (Intercontinental Championship Match, Vengeance 2004)
This exemplifies what an Intercontinental Championship match should contain. Fast-paced, back and forth action and a willingness to prove you belong in the main event. Orton, even a few years into his wrestling career, was already looking brilliant in the ring. Even as a heel, the crowd were edging towards supporting him (as evidenced by the frequent cheers of ‘Orton’ and the boos directed towards Edge). Edge was slowly proving himself to be a great singles wrestler as well as a great tag team wrestler. A showcase for two up-and-comers who wanted to outdo everything else on the card (and they did!).
Vs The Undertaker (WrestleMania 21)
This was where The Undertaker’s ‘Great ‘Mania match’ streak started. Well, he had to fight Mark Henry at ‘Mania 22, but I tend to ignore that! Apart from his match against HHH at ‘Mania 17, I’d never been impressed with a ‘Taker match at ‘Mania. More often than not, it was the opponent at fault, not ‘Taker. Who could have a half-decent match against Giant Gonzalez? Against Mark Henry? Against Sycho Sid? Here, against the still-young Randy Orton, they almost stole the show (but, of course, this was the Mania with Angle v HBK…). Orton looks ‘Taker’s equal throughout, managing to hang with the Deadman. The highlight is Orton’s reversal of the chokeslam into an RKO. I marked out for it on the night, and I still do to this day. They may have engaged in more violent and brutal matches later on that year, but for me, this remains their greatest match together.
Vs Daniel Bryan (Street Fight, WWE RAW 24/6/13)
This is a key match in the rise of Daniel Bryan…and it was on free TV! Surely this must rank as one of the best Raw main events of all time? It’s brutal, hard to watch at times, and exemplifies everything that’s great about both Bryan and Orton. There’s no one who quite looks like they enjoy doling out pain as Orton, and there’s no one quite like Bryan when it comes to absorbing punishment and making a huge comeback. I’m usually not a fan of kendo stick being used in matches, but here it’s used in innovative ways, especially during the finish. They’d go on to have a decent series of matches later on that year, but this is their best pairing.
Vs Cactus Jack (Hardcore Match, Backlash 2004)
Before this match, Orton was already looking to take his place in the main event within a few years of his debut. Here, he put his body on the line against the sadistic Cactus Jack. Barbed wire baseball bat? Of course? Barbed wire board? Why not? Thumbtacks? Oh, go on then…All and more are used in this wild, ultraviolent brawl that stamped Orton’s name as a future WWE Hall of Famer. Much like HHH’s bout with Cactus Jack at Royal Rumble 2000, this match made Randy Orton. It also showed that Orton was willing to do what only Jack was willing to do…allow himself to be dumped onto thumbtacks! It’s #23 on the WWE Network’s ‘Best 100 Matches To Watch Before You Die’ List for good reason.
Vs Christian (World Heavyweight Championship Match, Money in the Bank 2011)
Their following No Holds Barred match at Summerslam 2011 receives the most love out of their 2011 feud, but to me, this regular singles bout is the best bout between Orton and Christian. Here we have two wrestlers who are very smooth and fluid in the ring, and without the distractions of weapons/gimmicks, Orton and Christian put on a wrestling clinic. If you’re in any doubt that Christian isn’t a good singles wrestler, look no further than this bout. Crisp reversals, fast, flowing action and plenty of near-falls, this is all you want in a regular singles bout. The two had great match after great match with each other. They just had fantastic chemistry. But this bout is something else. My favourite Orton match, just slightly over his hellish match against Cactus Jack.