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'I Was in Tears' – Randy Orton Reveals How Close He Was to Retirement Due to Injury

The WWE Universe was close to never seeing Randy Orton compete again.

By Chris Phelan
Close up of Randy Orton

Ever since Randy Orton made his return to WWE at Survivor Series 2023 after a prolonged hiatus, it's been business as usual for The Viper. He's firmly reestablished himself as one of the elite Superstars in the locker room as he rides a wave of momentum to WrestleMania.

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But the WWE Universe has no idea how close Orton was to retirement due to a catastrophic injury he kept out of the public eye.

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Ahead of the upcoming men's Elimination Chamber match on Saturday, February 24, Randy Orton spoke to the New York Post and revealed his mindset about the injury that sidelined him for 18 months – as he grappled with the very real possibility that his in-ring career was over for good.

How Close Was Randy Orton to Retirement?

Randy Orton speaks while standing in the ring

Never one to be overly emotional on WWE television, Randy Orton revealed that the back injury that put him out of action in 2022 was initially diagnosed as career-ending. 

"I was in tears," Orton confessed. "I think it's OK for grown men to f–king cry and I was a little baby. I was so sad that it was being taken away from me."

Orton admitted his back had been an issue physically for years – the result of decades of wear and tear from competing in WWE. While he got used to working through the pain, it became too much to bear after a May 2022 match on SmackDown. Orton had no choice but to consider his options – and was faced with life-changing news

"I was with my wife," he remembered. "I was with a couple doctors. I was with a couple top-of-their-class neurosurgeons and they had looked at the MRI," Orton recalled. "And based on my symptoms and how bad my lower spine was, based on the MRIs they were like, 'You know what, you've had a great career. You got to start thinking about your life past wrestling and being there for your kids. This surgery isn't the type of surgery you come back from and remain an athlete from.'"

The WWE Universe knows Randy Orton has been defiant throughout his illustrious career – and he was determined to prove his doctors wrong. He scheduled the surgery – an intensive spinal procedure that carried significant risk. 

Fortunately, the surgery was a success, thanks to doctors avoiding cutting through vital muscles during the procedure. Once the operation was complete, the path to his WWE return was clear – all Orton had to do was be mindful of his rehabilitation and avoid setbacks, and he'd be back dishing out RKOs like candy on Halloween.

And that's exactly what happened.

Since his return at Survivor Series, Randy Orton has been looking better than ever. 

Randy Orton On Life After Spinal Surgery

Randy Orton stands on the top rope of the ring

It sounds like someone's been practicing gratitude lately, because Randy Orton is all about acknowledging the beauty of continuing his in-ring career

"To be given that second chance was all the more important to me and motivating for me to be able to do it as long as I could and not take second for granted," he told the Post

Although he's tantalizingly close to beating the world championship record currently held by Ric Flair and John Cena (both Superstars sit tied at 16 titles), Orton confessed that his current accolade of 14 World Championships isn't necessarily a priority these days.

"In my 30s, my back was killing me and I had to work around it," Orton revealed. "Now I'm pain-free more so than I've ever been. I'm not so worried about number 15. Now don't get me wrong, I want number 15, but my number one priority is just being able to do this at this level for as long as I can and not pulling back on the reins."

Of course, that doesn't mean title number 15 is out of reach – Orton can secure his spot against Seth Rollins at WrestleMania for the World Heavyweight Championship with a win at Elimination Chamber 2024. After all, Orton is viewed as one of the favorites to win the men's Elimination Chamber match, meaning he could be closer than he thinks to breaking Cena and Flair's record despite him not prioritizing it!

Randy Orton on His Future in WWE

Randy Orton stands with his arms outstretched

The WWE landscape has changed since Orton's debut in 2002. He's no longer the upstart 20-something who was anointed as the "next big thing" in professional wrestling. However, even in 2024, The Viper is keeping an optimistic mindset – he's focusing on something that he arguably has ignored throughout his career: having fun. 

"Longevity is my number one priority and having fun and enjoying every moment that I'm doing it, knowing that after the injury I sustained and the surgery that I had a year and a half ago," Orton said. 

As Orton embarks on the twilight of his career, the WWE locker room has officially been put on notice – The Viper isn't slowing down anytime soon, making him an extremely dangerous adversary for anyone who dares step into the ring with him.

"For about six months I was under the impression that that was it. So getting that second chance at my career and in this business with how I feel, you can say I'm still in my f–king prime."

If those aren't fighting words, we don't know what is.

You can tune in to Peacock to watch WWE's Elimination Chamber on February 24 and WrestleMania on April 6 and 7. In the meantime, catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock.