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From "Legend Killer" to Legend: A Look at the WWE Career of Randy Orton

The WWE career of Randy Orton serves as a blueprint for all prospective WWE Superstars to follow!

By Chris Phelan
Close up of Randy Orton

As one of the most decorated and beloved WWE Superstars of all time, Randy Orton has been conspicuous by his absence on Raw and SmackDown... Until now.

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Cody Rhodes revealed in spectacular fashion during a recent appearance on Monday Night RAW that, after months out of the ring, Orton will join him, Sami Zayn, Jey Uso and Seth Rollins in a bout against Drew McIntyre and The Judgment Day (Finn Bàlor, Dominik Mysterio, JD McDonagh and Damian Priest) at Survivor Series War Games. The crowd at Raw was hyped to hear about Orton's return with good reason. He's one of the most popular and interesting WWE Superstars to ever grace the ring.

As USA Insider takes you back for a brief look at the career of Randy Orton, the WWE Universe will find it easy to understand how effortlessly he climbed the ranks of WWE to become one of the best to ever step in the ring.

How Did Randy Orton Break Into WWE?

Randy Orton stands with his arms outstretched

In the early 2000s, rumors were flying that the son of legendary WWE Superstar "Cowboy" Bob Orton was training to follow in his father's footsteps. On September 23, 2002, the rumors turned out to be true. The WWE Universe laid their eyes on 22-year-old Randy Orton, a WWE Superstar making his debut to moderate fanfare. Up to that point, the WWE Universe had seen this before: A young up-and-comer pitched as "the future" of pro wrestling. They'd seen it with The RockBrock Lesnar, and countless other young Superstars, and at the time, the jury was still out on Randy Orton.

His debut match against Stevie Richards was a perfectly acceptable wrestling contest – Orton showed flashes of brilliance but almost none of the charisma that defined his legendary career. In retrospect, it's bizarre watching Orton win a match with a finishing move other than the RKO (he used a flying body press as a finishing move early in his career).

Still, WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross said it best during that night's telecast: 

"Win or lose, Randy Orton is going to have a heck of a career."

Truer words couldn't have been spoken. 

Why Was Randy Orton Called "The Legend Killer?"

Close up of Randy Orton

As Randy Orton found his footing in WWE, he fine-tuned his persona along the way. Soon after his debut, he caught the attention of Triple H and Ric Flair, the latter took him under his wing (along with Dave Bautista) as part of the faction known as Evolution. The group was presented as the past, present, and future of professional wrestling, and there wasn't a better way for young Randy to learn the ins and outs of the industry than by being around the likes of Triple H and Ric Flair. 

While his time with Evolution was memorable in its own right, Randy Orton came into his own when he adopted the "Legend Killer" persona. 

Orton's mission was straightforward at this point in his career: He was tired of living in the shadow of countless WWE legends. He was tired of waiting his turn to ascend to the top of the wrestling world. So, he decided to take those legends out, one by one. Established WWE Superstars like Mick Foley, Ric Flair, and even The Undertaker were targeted by this new, evil version of Randy Orton, leading to increasingly chaotic matches. In fact, many in the WWE Universe regard Orton's iconic hardcore match against Mick Foley at WrestleMania 21 as the precise time Orton officially "arrived" in WWE.

Competing for the World Heavyweight Championship, Intercontinental Championship, and Tag Team Titles on numerous occasions, Randy Orton proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belonged in the ring with the top talent of Raw and SmackDown. 

When Did Randy Orton Reach the Top of WWE?

Randy Orton stands on the top rope of the ring

It is evident that Orton reached new heights as "The Legend Killer," and like all top-tier Superstars, he didn't stop there. It became apparent that the WWE Universe had a newfound respect for Orton – having as many impressive wins under your belt does wonders for how you're perceived by the fans, after all. Before long, Orton began competing for the top championships in WWE. After defeating Triple H in an epic Last Man Standing Match at No Mercy 2007, he found himself holding the prestigious WWE Championship for the first time in his career.

Despite capturing the top prize in his industry, it took one man to finally take Orton from "Legend Killer" to legend in his own right. 

Enter John Cena. 

From the first time they met one-on-one on an episode of Raw in 2005 to the countless times they competed for the WWE Championship throughout their careers, Orton and Cena were a match made in heaven for fans worldwide. They brought out the best in each other, and the WWE Universe was treated to dozens of unforgettable matches over the years. Although titles were won and lost, neither man was ultimately able to gain the upper hand – any momentum gained would be given back on short notice. That's how equally matched they were.

The long-lasting rivalry between Randy Orton and John Cena could be best described as WWE's version of the NFL's Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Both men were in the conversation of being the greatest of all time despite their careers being nowhere close to being over. As a result, both Superstars' paths crossed quite often. Randy Orton versus John Cena was a rivalry that played out over several years, and as a result, the two men are intrinsically linked. You can't speak of either man's career without mentioning the other. 

John Cena brought out the best in Randy Orton and vice versa. Even in 2023, they are closely tied together. Cena famously co-holds the record for most world titles won in WWE history at 16, but Orton isn't far behind with 14.

Interestingly enough, despite their endless string of matches against each other, Randy Orton and John Cena have never met at WrestleMania.

When Was Randy Orton's Last WWE Match?

Randy Orton speaks while standing in the ring

The WWE Universe last saw Randy Orton compete in the ring in May 2022, when he and Matt Riddle failed to win the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championships. It was a pivotal moment in the vaunted Bloodline storyline that is still going strong today. 

Unfortunately, fans haven't seen Randy Orton appear on WWE television for over a year, but the 14-time WWE Champion will be back at Survivor Series 2023. 

What is Randy Orton Most Known For?

Randy Orton fights another wrestler in the ring

Without question, fans and non-fans are familiar with Orton's lasting legacy in the wrestling industry: the RKO. 

Orton's finishing move has become so iconic that there are thousands of memes based around the "out of nowhere" aspect of the move. People have performed the move to their friends and family as homage to one of the greatest WWE Superstars ever. Don't believe us? Do a quick search of "RKO outta nowhere" on your social media platform of choice, and you'll see what we mean.

(You know the RKO has become a permanent pop culture fixture when high school graduates are performing the move to each other during their graduation ceremonies!)

Like everyone, we're excited to see Orton's grand return to the ring. After all, there are still many more RKOs to deliver in the near future!

You can tune in to Peacock to watch WWE's Fastlane on October 7. In the meantime, catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock.

Originally published Oct 23, 2023.

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