Randy Orton On the Inner Workings of a Wrestling Match

The Week in Wrestling: Randy Orton on finally appreciating promos, it's time for WWE to push Big E, Sasha Banks and Asuka delivered and more.
Author:
Publish date:

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Randy Orton: ‘I know there are fans out there that love seeing guys risk their neck every night, and I can appreciate the guys that do that for their fans, but there is no longevity in it.’

Randy Orton relishes the chance to play the villain.

The oldest of three siblings, the 40-year-old third-generation star is experiencing a career renaissance by tapping into his roots as an instigator and an agitator.

“When I was younger, I was bullied, I was picked on,” said Orton. “I know how that feels, so it’s just reversing that and being the bully, knowing what to do or say to get under somebody’s skin. Growing up, my younger sister just hated my guts. I took out being bullied at school on her. As far as where I get that motivation, I’m not sure there is just one explanation. I feel comfortable being the heel.”

Orton provided a clear direction of his future this past Monday on Raw when announcing his focus is WWE Champion Drew McIntyre. The show went off the air in familiar but compelling fashion, as McIntyre was given an RKO, and Orton briefly took hold of the WWE title.

Orton’s next world title reign will be No. 14. He was in a similar position a year ago when he challenged Kofi Kingston for the belt at SummerSlam, but Orton never built the momentum necessary to end Kingston’s title reign, instead adding some fuel to the champ’s six-month run. A year later, there is a different aura and air about Orton, as he continues to cut gripping promos and deliver in the ring.

“I’ve changed a lot,” said Orton. “In ’09, I had that good run with Triple H, and earlier in my career as ‘The Legend Killer,’ I was still feeling it out. My answer to everything was to have a very intense look on my face. Clench my jaw, and put it all in the look. I was never a promo guy. The past year, maybe two, I’ve looked at promos completely differently.

“A promo earlier in my career was something I had to get through so I could have that chance to kill it in the ring. I wish it didn’t take so long for me to figure out, but the promo, that’s where we tell the rest of the story. I look forward to continuing to concentrate on my promos. There was a lot there I was missing earlier in my career, and I don’t want to miss out on it anymore.”

A natural antagonist, Orton made headlines in the build to his Backlash match against Edge in June when criticizing Tommaso Ciampa and other NXT talents for slapping their legs when performing moves, taking away from the mystery of pro wrestling. He then defeated Edge at Backlash, living up to the outlandish hype of “The Greatest Wrestling March Ever,” which included a leg slap from Orton during his match-ending punt kick, playfully putting an exclamation point at the end of his debate with Ciampa.

“What we do in that ring is performance art,” said Orton. “There is an art form, and that’s lost on some guys. I’ve gone on record that a lot of our younger guys can be a little reckless. I’ve been around this long, and one of the reasons I’ve been around this long is my style. Although it might be a little slow and monotonous at times, when it comes to telling a story, you have to slow it down.”

A wealth of knowledge on wrestling, Orton touched on the qualities he believes are a necessity when building a wrestling match.

“If two guys are going 100 miles an hour, and they never slow down and they never sell, it’s a big fireworks show and I’m not getting any drama,” said Orton. “I’m not getting invested, and I’m not wanting to see more. When it’s over, it’s over, and onto the next train wreck. It’s too much. Less is more, sometimes. Sometimes you do need to slow it down.

“Sometimes you need to slow it down so the cameraman can find your face. When I’m watching the show on TV, there’s never a chance to get in and see what they’re feeling. See the color of their eyes and the small facial expressions that tell a huge part of the story. You don’t get that when it’s just physicality, physicality, physicality.”

Spoken like a true veteran, Orton is capitalizing in his current run on the lessons learned during an often tumultuous 20-year run in the business.

“I know there are fans out there that love seeing guys risk their neck every night, and I can appreciate the guys that do that for their fans, but there is no longevity in it,” said Orton. “You’re only as good as your last match. Getting a pat on your back from your peers because you had a good match is a huge thing, but then you’ve got another match the next night. And another match the next night. You can’t go off the top of a cage into a table from 30 feet every week.

“You can’t dive to the floor and put yourself in that high-risk scenario every week, but these guys are doing it and I feel they’re dropping like flies. They’re all tough, they all work hard, and they’re all talented, but I look forward to being able to get in the ring with a couple of these guys and slowing them down, showing them my opinion on what makes a good match a good match.”

Part of pro wrestling’s beauty is that there are many routes to success, and Orton was quick to caution that his philosophy may not be a fit for everyone.

“I’m not saying that my opinion is the only way to go,” said Orton. “It’s worked for me, but it might not work for them. Any advice that I give guys might not work for them.

“When you have A-Z memorized, it becomes a choreographed, physical, brutal, violent dance. It can be smooth, and it can look rough, and things can look hard-hitting, but when it comes down to it, slowing down and letting people see what you’re feeling–like someone getting dropkicked in the knee earlier in the match, and then 10 minutes later, you know why he’s limping across the ring. Selling, selling, selling. All those guys sell, but they need to turn up the selling meter and take a page out of some of these old-school guys’ books. You need to sell.

“I can’t stand when I see 10 false finishes in a row, where a guy takes a powerbomb and then he’s up and then he’s delivering a knee, and then the other guy ducks, and then it’s boom, boom, boom, boom. It’s too much. But because these guys are capable of doing it, because the fans are going to chant ‘Fight For-Ev-Er!’ and all that crap, they’re going to keep doing it because they think that’s what they’ve got to do to get that reaction. But sometimes the fans don’t need to make noise to be reacting. Sometimes they’re sitting and they’re watching with their mouths open, not saying a word, and they’re invested and paying attention. They want to see what you’re going to do or say next. That’s the disconnect between a lot of the main roster guys and the younger guys in NXT. They’re just hungry, they’re addicted to that chant from the crowd. They want the roof to come off the top of that building every single spot that they do. There’s no build to that

“You’ve got to build to that. There’s a crescendo. You’ve got to start slower and then pick up the pace, then settle back down. It’s like a director of a symphony. It’s an art. We do it so much, and guys get injured so much, there’s a smarter way to do business. That’s my main concern.”

Despite flourishing as a villain and embracing his role as a disruptive force, Orton was quick to acknowledge that his success is not a solo act.

“You hear this a lot, and it’s very true, because without my fans, I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” said Orton. “No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I respected the business, no matter how many nights I was away from my wife and my kids, none of that matters. It’s all about how those fans perceive me, and I’m very fortunate to have the fans that I have.

“I’ve had many ups and downs, some especially high highs and especially low lows, but there are a lot of people that have stuck with me. I never forget that.”

The (Online) Week in Wrestling

• Sasha Banks and Asuka delivered another outstanding performance this Monday on Raw. The finish left something to be desired, but it allows Banks and Bayley to both be double champions, which should lead to some great content. 

• WWE needs another top-tier star, and Big E is ready to seize that spot. He is one of the most talented, charismatic people in all of wrestling, which is even more impressive in this era considering he is a babyface. I would love to see Big E headline WrestleMania.

• Condolences to the family and friends of Regis Philbin, who passed away this past weekend at the age of 88. Philbin gave wrestling mainstream coverage in an era where that was not the case, and viewers could tell his joy on-screen with the wrestlers was genuine.

• AEW and NXT both have big shows this week.

NXT has a triple threat match where we’ll see Finn Balor lock up with Timothy Thatcher and Dexter Lumis, a starring role for Mercedes Martinez, as well as Roderick Strong-Johnny Gargano.

AEW also has a loaded card, including Hikaru Shida defending her belt against Diamante, Hangman Page and Kenny Omega putting the tag titles on the line against Dark Order, a 10-man tag pitting the Inner Circle against the Jurassic Express and Best Friends, Mox teaming with Darby Allin against Ricky Starks and Brian Cage, and Cody Rhodes defending the TNT Championship against Warhorse.

• New Japan Pro Wrestling announced the creation of its newest title, the King of Pro Wrestling Championship, which has some unique rules. Instead of a belt, the champion will be given a trophy–and, at the end of each year, the championship is vacated.

• GCW’s show this past weekend from Atlantic City was a reminder of the beauty of independent wrestling, and a big surprise was an appearance from Lio Rush. 

GCW returns this weekend with a show that includes rising star Ace Austin. Gallows and Anderson have their own show this weekend… the first-ever Talk ‘N Shop A Mania.

• Gallows and Anderson have their own show this weekend… the first-ever Talk ‘N Shop A Mania.

• If you are a fan of Orange Cassidy, you are going to thoroughly enjoy this piece on ESPN.

• Mick Foley is right–Mustafa Ali should have been treated much differently upon his return to Raw. He has every quality to be a massive star for WWE. It’s great that Bobby Lashley is being protected, but he needed a different opponent in this match.

• Matt Cordona and Brian Myers did a tremendous job with their Figure Wrestling Federation draft, which was a very entertaining watch.

Tweet of the Week

I am looking forward to seeing what happens next for Kairi Sane.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.