The Wrasslin’ Essay: Why Orton & Lesnar Don’t Belong

The Randy Orton vs. Brock Lesnar matchup may have worked in 2002, but it's counterproductive in 2016, writes David Gibb.

WWE is careening towards its (nominally) second biggest show of the year, and much like WrestleMania, this year’s SummerSlam is built around three top matches. There’s Finn Balor taking on Seth Rollins for the new WWE Universal Championship, Dean Ambrose defending the traditional WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Dolph Ziggler, and the big attraction of Randy Orton challenging Brock Lesnar. Two of those matches are perfect for the top of the card in this new era of the re-divided roster. The third, however, is a poor promotional choice that will leave wrestling fans dwelling on negatives rather than positives.

Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar are both wrestlers of great ability, but both of them are so flawed, so entrenched in the previous era, and so demonstrative of some of the worst stereotypes of professional wrestling that they should be watching SummerSlam from their couch at home, not participating in the show.

Orton embodies the worst feelings that wrestling fans have about the 2002 – 2015 era: he’s predictable in the ring, he’s been booked in a repetitive way, and neither he nor his handlers seem the least bit aware that either of those things are problems. Even though periodic injuries have freshened him up from time to time, Orton remains the second most over-exposed wrestler of the last 15 years behind only John Cena.

In spite of announcers’ claims that Orton is “unpredictable,” his mannerisms and moves in the ring are more repetitive than an animatronic character on a Disneyland ride, and far less interesting, since you only see those animatronics for a few days a year at most. WWE’s creative team has done him no favors either, as the best piece of development they ever came up with for him was being diagnosed as mentally ill, which apparently he has gotten over (or forgotten about).

While it is certainly important for stars of the previous era to in some way bless the next, Orton can’t do that as an opponent for Lesnar. At this point, his value is in being built up to face (and ultimately lose to) fresh faces, not gain credibility by taking a physical beating. Orton can still be high on cards, but if he’s not paired with a fresh face, he only represents the stale, flat era when he was on top.

Orton is a problematic figure heading into SummerSlam, but his opponent is an even worse fit to be a top promoted star on the first main pay-per-view card of WWE’s New Era. Lesnar isn’t overexposed like Orton – on the contrary, his lack of appearances have hurt storylines he’s been a part of – but he still carries plenty of baggage that WWE doesn’t need as they reform their identity as a company.

First, there’s the transparently mercenary approach to professional wrestling he has taken over his career. His exit in 2004 to attempt an NFL career, choice to pursue MMA in 2006 in lieu of a WWE return, and enthusiasm to be part of the UFC 200 card just reinforce the general public’s perception that “real” pro athletes can barely hold their noses long enough to cash wrestling paychecks.

Sure, Lesnar has a top athlete’s star power, but his career choices have consistently demonstrated that he would rather be doing anything (that paid millions of dollars) other than wrestling professionally. Promoting someone with such obvious disdain for the genre itself is a self-defeating move for WWE and takes the luster off what’s supposed to be an exciting new era that wrestlers from around the world are lining up to participate in.

Then, of course, there’s the steroid issue.

Lesnar’s inability to provide USADA with clean samples before and after UFC 200 is not just a black mark against him but yet another confirmation of the negatives everybody “knows” about wrestling. The idea that wrestlers need steroids to function as athletes and entertainers dates at least back to Rock ‘n’ Wrestling and has been a consistent thorn in the side of those trying to inch wrestling towards mainstream athletic acceptance. By even participating in a tested sport and failing, Lesnar simply confirmed that pro wrestlers are too talentless and dumb to attempt clean performance and too arrogant to think it matters to anyone.

Promoting Randy Orton versus Brock Lesnar as a top match at SummerSlam is the height of foolishness for WWE at this moment in history. Each man illustrates different glaring weaknesses of an era the company insists is over, and neither is riding a wave of organic fan support headed into the event. Their feud, straddling Raw and SmackDown Live at a time when they are supposed to be more distinct than ever, has been a counterproductive, undermining the foundation of WWE’s New Era.

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David Gibb

Contributor at Wrestledelphia
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