This one's going to be tough folks, not because the subject matter is sensitive or the hate mail is primed and ready to roll in, but because this piece doesn't have an ending, or maybe even a salient point. What we may get is an interesting discussion about the subject, but truthfully, everything here is speculative. It plays into a "Coulda Been Betta," but seems to fit better outside that concept's confines.
Watching Kevin Owens and Randy Orton last night was interesting, because it was one of the many "firsts" that WWE ran down our collective throat as an audience. It's a big match, but it was given away on television. I'd have a bigger issue with that reality if it weren't accompanied with the knowledge that in the era of the WWE Network, PPV matches don't always have the same effect that they once did. That said; when you see various Match of the Year lists, you'll rarely find television matches that make the cut, although we've seen a few special ones in 2015.
My general complaint is a lack of novelty in this generation of pro wrestling. We far too often witness a promotion give away a large quantity of its new and make it old before it can be special. Orton may not be John Cena, but he's on the short list of WWE protected superstars. Kevin Owens is in the most precarious spot we've seen him in since, well since "Steen" fell by the wayside.
Articles here and elsewhere have emerged featuring reports of the political struggle backstage between two camps with diametrically opposed opinions on Owens and his future. His last few months have indicated the rocket has been taken off his back and he's in that enormous midcard pool, where it's extremely difficult to distinguish one from another. Even steven booking, champions who lose and lose and lose and then win, and the never-ending distraction finishes and poor afterbirths are the symptoms of systemic mediocrity. All of a sudden, Kevin Owens is firmly hanging out in the lobby, but he's not in the corner office anymore.
So, when Triple H announced Kevin Owens and Randy Orton for the first time ever, many were excited, and rightfully so. Here was a stage for KO to do his thing against one of the longest tenured vets and one of the best ring generals in the company. Even though we expected a Cesaro run-in or perhaps a Sheamus assault, what led up to it was a solid bet to be quite good.
Except it really wasn't.
A good friend of mine in sports media posited a question to me that I couldn't answer directly but certainly had an opinion on, and it's here that we carefully wade into the murky water. The journey comes complete with plenty of fog and extremely low visibility. He asked me whether Randy Orton was the kind of guy Vince McMahon could walk up to in the back and say, "Randy, we want a good match here, but maybe not a great one. We want maybe a 3.5 star match, not a five star."
On the surface, that appears ridiculous, because why would a promoter ever want anything but the best for every segment on his show? While that's certainly accurate to a point, it's also true that throughout history, promoters don't love having their main events upstaged and sometimes restrict what workers can do in undercard matches.
Here, the idea is even more intriguing because of the Owens reports. There's no official answer here, although I do think Randy absolutely would know how to accomplish it if it were asked of him. He knows what a B- match looks like and what an A+ looks like.
Watching the match itself, what stood out immediately was the lack of announcing interest in Owens as an individual competitor. Before going to the obvious "that's just WWE commentary," remember that since the night he debuted, he was treated differently on screen. Stephanie and Triple H talked about him being impressive in front of Seth Rollins in backstage segments. The announce team lost their minds when he pinned John Cena and pushed him as a monster on television.
Last night, they barely even talked about him at all. More time was spent on the condition and effectiveness of Sheamus' hair than on Owens, and for that matter on Orton. The match was simply not the focus of the proceedings. Sheamus himself spoke to the match much more than anyone else, but overall, it just wasn't that great of a bout. It got zero help, and it definitely could have used some emphasis or enthusiasm coming from somewhere.
I have always compared Randy Orton to Barry Windham, which dates back to a comment I heard from Arn Anderson in an off the cuff interview in the late 90s. He said that Barry was such a natural in the ring - which I completely agreed with – and sometimes he made it look too easy and as a result he could be overlooked.
Orton has been accused of laziness, which isn't wrong, but I've always watched his smooth manner and his in-ring demeanor and felt he was just going through the motions. He can sleepwalk through his spots and make them disappear or, when he's engaged, he can look like the most talented wrestler in America. Prior to the Owens match, I was most interested in seeing which Randy Orton showed up, because outside of matches with Sheamus on television, he's worked extremely hard and done some great things in the ring as of late.
On Monday, he seemed to be doing just enough to get logically from point A to point B.
He didn't sandbag Owens or no sell him, but he just seemed to float through his own offense and almost nothing that took place between the bells had any lasting impact at all. When you marry that fact to the truth of the atrocious work at the announce booth, you have a recipe for a forgotten Kevin Owens. Enough somewhat odd things were taking place during the bout that it was noticeably weak as a television segment.
That's where my friend's question came from, and it was impossible to deny that it COULD be true. Was it? I have no idea. I certainly hope not. I do know that when it was over, it was obvious Owens-Orton would not be the match of the night it could have been.
The fact is Randy Orton knows just how big the Cena-Owens feud was and he knows how well that trio of matches was received, regardless of anyone's feelings on finishes in any of the three. He knows what his dance partner last night was capable of and what he'd already illustrated in his brief time on the main roster.
Randy Orton loves to have a great match, but for some reason, he seemed relatively disinterested in this one. Maybe he knew the finish was a Brogue and a Cesaro run-in and maybe he too preferred to work Owens in the future on a larger stage and with plausible stakes. If you knew how that match would end, how much energy would you have had on the run-up to the disappointment?
But, because of what we know about Kevin Owens at this time and where it appears he will be for the foreseeable future, the question isn't outlandish at all. As a result of some of WWE's tactics and the petty way in which key scenarios have been handled in the past, sadly, it's worth mentioning.
It wasn't a bad wrestling match, but it was merely a wrestling match on a weekly product. Considering the parties involved, it was a surprising letdown, and asking why it was executed in such a flat fashion is the uncomfortable product of our own generated WWE skepticism.
Again, this isn't a condemnation, an accusation, or an attack. However, the question is thought provoking, it's layered, it has depth, and it's not egregiously unfair. I'm not saying it happened. I'd say it's far FAR more likely it didn't. However, with relative inspiration from Chris Rock, "I'm not saying he should have killed her...but I understand."
The bright side is because of the mundane nature of it all, Orton and Owens can eventually have their FIRST great match together when it might actually matter.