Randy Orton is back: He’s back playing a bad guy, he’s back in World Wrestling Entertainment’s main event picture, and the WWE Championship belt is back around his waist.
“It feels really good,” says Orton, on the phone Monday from Toronto before going live on “Monday Night Raw” that night. “I’m glad I can get another shot. Not to harp on the past or anything, but I’ve made a few bad decisions here and there, and this is my chance to prove not only to the fans but to the company that I can carry the ball and represent the company.”
Among those bad decisions was a May 2012 violation of WWE’s Talent Wellness Program policy, which covers the company’s rules on substance abuse. Orton was suspended from WWE for 60 days, his second Talent Wellness Program violation.
Since his return, Orton — who had been cast in recent years in a good guy, or babyface, role — had been hanging around the company’s midcard in substandard storylines. But several variables, including an injury to one of WWE’s top guys, opened the door for Orton’s return to the top.
“I’m not saying that’s the sole reason, but it doesn’t hurt,” says Orton, referring to the sidelining of John Cena, who recently underwent surgery on his tricep and is out for four to six months. “They needed somebody, and they looked around and they go, ‘There’s our guy!’ It’s not like I said, ‘Hey guys, I got an idea. Help out.’ ”
Orton, a third-generation pro wrestler who calls St. Louis home, won a title shot by winning the main event at July’s Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View event. He cashed it in at last month’s Summerslam, when he turned heel — that’s wrestle-speak for bad guy — and took the title from beaten-down everyman Daniel Bryan. It’s Orton’s first championship reign since 2010, and he defends his title against Bryan at Sunday’s Night of Champions event at Joe Louis Arena.
“I don’t know what to tell you, I just know that Dan brings the best out of me,” Orton says about Sunday’s show. “So at Night of Champions, we’re gonna have a 20-, 30-, 40-minute knockdown, drag out fight and it’s gonna be good. The people are gonna be up, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to let the air out and pull that rug out from under him again.”
In his feud with Bryan, Orton is the evil oppressor, aligned with the corporate bullies while Bryan is the scrappy underdog with the fans on his side. For his part, Orton has no problem playing the role of villain.
“As a heel, I’m just better versed,” says Orton, 33. “I don’t know, it just comes more natural. I have no problem whatsoever with people booing me and hating me and (putting their) thumbs down. That just gives me goosebumps. When you get that crowd roaring because they despise you so, that’s a great feeling.”
Orton says 10 years ago he used to “walk around being a heel all day,” but he’s grown up and doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder anymore. He says now, with the proliferation of cellphone cameras and TMZ, he’s more protective of his image in public, especially for the sake of his 5-year-old daughter.
His daughter was on hand last month when he won the title, a proud moment for Orton.
“It’s really cool to be doing my thing and to be in my little world and to know, when that live camera is off me for a split second, I can look over at my daughter and crack a little smile or give her a wink or blow her a kiss,” Orton says. “Performing in front of her makes it even better.”
Hmm, maybe Orton’s not such a bad guy after all.