Many stars and storylines have grabbed the attention of the WWE Universe in 2014. Brock Lesnar snapping The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania and then defeating John Cena to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam likely qualifies as the top story this year. Daniel Bryan’s meteoric rise in the face of The Authority, culminating with a championship victory in the main event of WrestleMania, also made headlines. Likewise, the implosion of The Shield and the dubious return of Batista have been major themes in 2014.
Randy Orton has been overlooked and underappreciated, but continues to show his greatness, as he’s proven to be the WWE’s workhorse.
Orton has not received top billing over the past several months, but he’s been as big of a contributor as anyone else in the company. Now in his 12th year with the WWE, Orton began 2014 by successfully defending his WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Cena at the Royal Rumble. The Royal Rumble match itself, and the unpopular reaction to Batista winning the event, however, overshadowed Orton’s quality performance.
Over the next two months, Orton was the forgotten man in the storyline building up to the WrestleMania title match. Batista drew incredible heat for his unjustified shot at the championship, while Bryan elicited unparalleled reactions during his feud with Triple H and The Authority. As a result, Bryan was given a chance to also compete for the title in a triple threat match, and ultimately closed out WrestleMania with a dramatic victory.
After losing his title, Orton was removed for the championship picture and reunited with Batista and Triple H as Evolution to square off against The Shield in a pair of thrilling contests. Once that storyline concluded, Orton continued to work a rivalry with former Shield member Roman Reigns. Their bout at SummerSlam was arguably the best of the night, and ended with Reigns claiming the victory.
While Orton has spent most of this year putting over younger talent, at 33, he’s still in his prime. To that point, Orton has perhaps been the most consistently great in-ring performer in the WWE this year. Without a doubt, he’s proven to be the most reliable.
The current WWE World Heavyweight Champion and top villain in the company, Lesnar, works only a very limited schedule, and often goes months at a time without a television appearance. Some of the other top draws, such as the Undertaker, Triple H, Batista and Chris Jericho, work reduced schedules. Even Cena, also in his 12th year in the WWE, limits his television appearances to pay-per-view events or Raw, and frequently will go weeks at a time without competing in a match.
Conversely, Orton seemingly has been appearing and often competing on both Raw and Smackdown for nearly the entire year. This has actually been a trend for several years, though.
In 2013, Orton competed in 90 televised matches, tops in the WWE, even surpassing Bryan, who frequently wrestled two or three matches on a single episode of Raw. Additionally, Orton scored 56 televised victories, seven more than the closest individual, Alberto Del Rio. Bryan hasn’t wrestled in months, and may not return to the ring until 2015, while Del Rio was recently released.
When 2014 concludes, expect Randy Orton to once again be the pace-setter for these categories. Week in and week out, he delivers a top performance. That’s the definition of a workhorse.