Is Randy Orton still a main event performer?
That question might seem crazy since he is clearly one of the top three superstars in the WWE along with John Cena and CM Punk. Perhaps the better question is why hasn't WWE been using Orton as a main event attraction on its pay shows over the last two years?
I wanted to find out some basic summary information about who has been participating in these WWE pay-per-view (PPV) main events during the Cena/Orton era, and I am beginning at August 2004 because that was Randy Orton's first PPV main event match. From August 2004 through today, WWE has scheduled 106 PPV events. That means there have been 106 main event matches spanning those shows. My definition of the term "main event" is the match that ends the show. The only exceptions to that would include any Money in the Bank cash-ins that occurred to close out a show, such as Alberto Del Rio's championship victory at SummerSlam 2011. I consider the main event of that PPV to be Cena vs Punk.
Here is a breakdown of what I found out about these main event matches and how Randy Orton compares to everyone else.
First I’ll look at the type of match that was placed in the main event spot during those 106 shows:
1 vs 1: 66 matches
Triple Threat: 9 matches
Elimination Chamber: 7 matches
Royal Rumble: 6 matches
2 vs 2 Tag Team: 6 matches
Fatal Four-Way: 5 matches
Large Tag Team Matches: 4 matches
Championship Scramble: 1 match
5-Pack Challenge: 1 match
6-Pack Challenge: 1 match
Initially, I am most interested in those 66 one-on-one main event matches. This is because I consider the one-on-one matches to generally be the much better indicator of who WWE is pushing the hardest. The multi-man main event matches (like the Elimination Chamber) will often find some midcard guys like John Morrison thrown into a main event match, but if WWE really thought he had drawing power, chances are he would find himself in an occasional one-on-one main event match on a PPV. Here is the breakdown of which wrestlers have appeared in these 66 one-on-one matches since August 2004:
26 Matches: John Cena,
12 Matches: Undertaker, HHH, Orton
11 Matches: Batista
9 Matches: Edge
6 Matches: CM Punk
5 Matches: JBL
4 Matches: HBK, Jeff Hardy
3 Matches: Barrett, Jericho, Angle
2 Matches: Miz, Mark Henry, Great Khali, Booker T, Mysterio
1 Match: ADR, R-Truth, Kane, Sheamus, Lashley, Umaga, RVD, Eddie Guerrero, Hogan, Big Show, Flair, Benoit
Most of WWE’s regular main event performers in this time are either out of the company now or are just part-time workers (Undertaker, HHH, Batista, Edge). Orton is clearly the most established active main-eventer after Cena. But three of Orton’s main event matches came in the second half of 2004 around the time of his initial title run, and six others came from August 2007 through October 2009 when he feuded with Cena and HHH. But things have been different for Orton since the start of November 2009. There have been 28 PPV events in that time with 15 one-on-one main event matches out of these 28 shows. Here is the number of times each superstar appeared in one of those 15 one-on-one main-event matches:
10 Matches: John Cena
3 Matches: CM Punk, Wade Barrett
2 Matches: Orton, Miz, Undertaker, Batista
1 Match: ADR, HHH, R-Truth, Kane, Sheamus, HBK
Things look even worse for Orton when some context is added here. Both of his main event matches came against Wade Barrett in October and Nov. 2010. And both times Randy Orton was playing second fiddle to John Cena in that feud. This was when Cena was forced to be a member of Nexus. Cena was in Barrett’s corner in one of these main event matches and Cena was the referee in the other main event match. Cena was risking being fired both times if Barrett lost to Orton. So those storylines and stipulations both revolved around how Cena would react to helping or hurting Barrett because Cena’s job was on the line. Randy Orton didn’t really matter too much in this feud even though Orton main-evented two PPV shows during that time. The main story was that Barrett needed Cena’s help to try to win the gold, and Orton just happened to be the guy holding the championship at the time.
So what about the other 40 PPV main events? 40 of the 106 PPV shows did not have a one-on-one match in the main event spot. I ignored these matches in the summaries above. But for the sake of thoroughness, here is how many times each superstar competed in one of these other main event matches. I am going to exclude the six Royal Rumble main event matches, so that leaves 34 other main event matches. These main events would include all Triple Threat Matches, Fatal 4-Ways, 5-Pack Challenges, 6-Pack Challenges, Championship Scrambles, Elimination Chambers, 2 vs 2 Tag Team Matches, and Large Tag Team Matches.
18 Matches: John Cena
10 Matches: HHH, HBK, Edge
9 Matches: Orton, Jericho
7 Matches: Batista
5 Matches: JBL, Booker T, CM Punk
4 Matches: Undertaker, Morrison, R-Truth, Big Show, Mysterio, Lashley
3 Matches: Kane, Sheamus
2 Matches: Miz, ADR, Barrett, Jeff Hardy, Angle, Benoit, Finlay, Carlito, Masters
1 Match: The Rock, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Daniel Bryan, 6 non-Barrett Nexus members who aren’t worth naming, Umaga, RVD, Eddie Guerrero, Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, Mike Knox, Spirit Squad, Test,
Chavo Guerrero, Hardcore Holly, Dvon Dudley, Bubba Ray Dudley, Tommy Dreamer, Sandman, Snitsky, Maven
Orton looks respectable on this list, but six of Orton’s nine main event matches here came prior to November 2009. So he hasn’t even been finding himself in too many group main events either over the last two years. His three most recent non-Rumble main event matches here would include Elimination Chamber in February 2011, a 6-Pack Challenge match in September 2010, and a Fatal 4-Way in June 2010.
Finally, to get a better idea on the more recent main event landscape, here is a summary of how many times each superstar competed in any PPV main event match (excluding Royal Rumbles) since November 2009, regardless of match type. There have been 28 such main events in that time:
18 Matches: John Cena
7 Matches: CM Punk
5 Matches: Barrett, R-Truth, Orton, Miz
4 Matches: Sheamus, Jericho, Morrison
3 Matches: HBK, Undertaker, HHH, Edge, ADR
2 Matches: Batista
1 Match: The Rock, Bret Hart, Daniel Bryan, 6 non-Barrett Nexus members who still aren’t worth naming, Big Show, Mysterio, Kane
0 Matches: Chavo Guerrero
Randy Orton wrestled on every single one of these 28 shows, which is something even John Cena couldn’t manage to accomplish. But this list shows that when it comes to main-eventing PPV’s in the last 2 years, Orton is no longer a cut above the rest. He is just another name in the cluttered group of wrestlers way below John Cena. Would you consider any of these other active guys like Barrett, Truth, or Miz to be main-eventers? If not, then is it fair to say that Randy Orton is no longer a main-eventer? Orton has only competed in 5 of these main event matches in the last 28 PPV shows since November 2009 (excluding Royal Rumbles). So is Randy Orton still a main-eventer? If so, why has WWE rarely focused on him as the focal point for any pay show over the last two years? Is it simply a matter of being in Cena’s huge shadow as well as being stuck on Smackdown without any other comparable stars of Orton’s magnitude? Or does WWE think that Orton isn’t that great of a draw in a one-on-one feud with anybody besides HHH or Cena? Has Orton’s run as a face produced any memorable storylines or feuds worth focusing a pay show on? Would Orton be more likely to grab back some of the spotlight if he went back to being a heel? Or does he just need John Cena to get injured again so that WWE is forced to put the spotlight on other stars?
Finally, here are some miscellaneous tidbits that caught my attention.
- It seems that Cena’s percentages of PPV main event matches has risen over these last two years as the other regular main eventers (HBK, Taker, HHH, Edge, etc) have fallen off the map and Cena has remained healthy. I think you really can argue that Cena is the only regular main eventer WWE has right now.
- Chris Jericho only had 3 one-on-one main event matches in this time span, and they occurred consecutively on the three PPV’s in October and November 2008. The first two matches occurred when John Cena was out with an injury, and the third match was Cena’s return match where Cena immediately won the championship from Jericho. I expected a higher number of these PPV main events from Jericho, but it seems that the overwhelming majority of his PPV main event matches have been matches involving more than two performers.
- Of the 12 wrestlers with exactly one PPV main event one-on-one match since August 2004, 6 of them came against John Cena (Umaga, Lashley, R-Truth, ADR, Sheamus, RVD).
Since the beginning of 2009 there have been 24 main event one-on-one matches out of 40 PPV shows. Only 6 of these 24 matches did not include Cena, Undertaker, or HHH as one of the two participants, although Cena was involved in the Barrett/Orton matches in other ways. These matches include the following:
Barrett vs Orton (November 2010)
Barrett vs Orton (October 2010)
Hardy vs Punk (August 2009)
Hardy vs Punk (July 2009)
Hardy vs Edge (June 2009)
Hardy vs Edge (May 2009)
- Doesn’t it seem like 40 out of 106 is an awfully high percentage of non one-on-one main event matches for the pay shows? If so, is this because WWE generally sucks at creating interesting one-on-one programs and so they often just throw in a bunch of top stars with John Cena in a group match and expect people to buy it? I think WWE has been at its best in this time span when there are interesting one-on-one championship feuds, such as Punk/Cena, HHH/Batista, HBK/Jericho, Punk/Hardy, Edge/Taker, Cena/Batista, etc. But it seems that WWE has trouble creating or sustaining these interesting stories and so there are way too many group main event matches. But then again 13 of those 40 matches are either Elimination Chamber Matches or Royal Rumble Matches, which I almost always enjoy. So if those matches are excluded, that leaves 27 out of 93 total main event matches on PPV that were not non one-on-one matches. Is that percentage still too high?
- Even though I started in August 2004, John Cena’s first one-on-one main event PPV match came in May 2005. Starting with that show, WWE has scheduled 95 PPV events. Cena has wrestled on 77 of these shows (he’s missed several shows due to injuries and brand-specific PPV cards). Cena wrestled in the main event of 47 of these 77 shows.
- Cena and Orton fought each other on 5 consecutive pay shows from July through October 2009 (including 4 one-on-one matches), but only one of these matches was the main event. Randy Orton even has trouble getting the main event spot when he is feuding with Cena.