I can’t stop laughing at that picture. Only in WWE can a “wrestling match” be a special stipulation for a wrestling match.
Earlier this week, my colleague Geno touched on how preposterous it is that WWE is promoting the upcoming match between Edge and Randy Orton on June 14 at Backlash as “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.” I’d like to go into a deeper dive of that argument right here.
I have several friends and family members who watched WWE at some point during Edge and Orton’s earlier years. Some of these people are now completely checked out of wrestling, others loosely follow what’s going on via occasional clips on the internet, some only care when the Undertaker or Steve Austin show up, some have replaced WWE with AEW or New Japan, and others still keep a close eye on WWE’s product. Most of these people had the same response to me when I texted the above header picture to them, and that was either “lol” or “lmao.” And I am still laughing every time I see it, too.
My laughter is not meant to be a knock on Edge or Orton. I expect that these guys will have a very good wrestling match at Backlash, because they are both very good pro wrestlers.
Edge is one of my favorite pro wrestlers of all-time. My fandom of Edge was enough to get me to fall harder into the “John Cena is overrated” camp way back in 2006. Edge cashed in the first ever Money in the Bank contract and won the WWE championship from Cena at New Year’s Revolution 2006, which I was super excited about, only for John Cena to enter on a spaceship three weeks later and win the title back at Royal Rumble 2006, kicking Edge out of a potential WrestleMania main event. That was the final straw for me with Cena, because I was so invested in Edge.
Randy Orton is....fine. He’s above average at most pro wrestling skills. WWE has always tried to market him as the most talented wrestler who ever existed, or as the model wrestler you would create from the ground up, but it did get to the point where it was too much. In my view, Orton’s most interesting years were around that 2004 to 2006 period. His pushed reached an overkill moment in 2009 when he and John Cena fought on like 5 consecutive pay-per-views, including an Iron Man match. So yeah, I’m not even close to the biggest Randy Orton fan, and that plays a role in why I am laughing at the upcoming “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” promotional tactic for Backlash.
But the bigger reason why I can’t help but laugh at that slogan is because of Edge. Edge has been retired since 2011, and he’s now 46 years old. He’s wrestled two matches this year during his miraculous comeback. There’s no reason to think he is a credible candidate right now to compete in a match dubbed “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.”
In fact, that’s the crux of why Randy Orton requested this match against him; Randy Orton knows that he has the clear advantage, because Edge doesn’t compare to him as a wrestler. That’s the whole story here. You can’t have a match called “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” when the babyface has enough doubt about his current abilities that it takes him a week to respond to the challenge. You can’t have a match with that lofty moniker when it’s presented in the storyline as a lopsided contest.
Pick any sport and try to think of what theoretical combination of two teams would comprise the best possible game that you can witness. Both of those teams are going to be super badass teams relative to all other teams, and there won’t be an obvious favorite. The reason that it’s the best possible matchup is because both teams play at an elite level, and they are close to evenly matched. You don’t match up the best football team against the 7th best football team and market it as “The Best Football Game Ever.” That doesn’t make any sense, and the audience would wonder why it’s being billed as such. And yet, that’s the story WWE is presenting when Orton talks about how he has the obvious advantage over Edge in this wrestling match.
Randy Orton’s presence in “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” is also not viable. He is no longer a wrestler in his prime, whether you are sticking to kayfabe or not. In kayfabe, when is the last time Randy Orton won the top men’s title on either Raw or SmackDown? It was three years ago, when he defeated Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 33, and then lost the title a month later to Jinder Mahal. Before that, his last top title reign was the one from 2013 into 2014 that ended at WrestleMania 30. Randy Orton is past his prime in kayfabe, and he has rarely been the top champion over the last six years. Just like Edge, the 2020 iteration of Randy Orton has no business being in “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.”
The cherry on top is that there is no audience. It’s so much harder to put on a great wrestling match without an audience. Edge and Orton just beat the hell out of each other for nearly 40 minutes last month at WrestleMania 36, but without an audience, the match didn’t live up to the hype. This isn’t anybody’s fault; pro wrestling heavily depends on the audience, and without an audience, it’s going to be damn near impossible to put on “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever”, even if you took the two best workers on the roster. Edge and Orton in 2020 are not the two best wrestlers on the current roster, let alone the all-time roster, either in or out of kayfabe.
In hindsight, maybe I should have just started and ended my case with the “lol” and “lmao” responses that my fiends and family sent me when they saw the tagline to this match, because their mock laughter really says it all. It’s obvious that this match cannot live up to the billing, and WWE is making a mistake in promoting it this way. It’s treating your audience like idiots.
Yes, pro wrestling promoters have to try to hype and shine up whatever big match is planned, in order to get their audience to buy into the concept. But there comes a point where the marketing goes beyond what the audience is willing to believe can be delivered, and that’s just bad promoting.
That’s what’s happening here in this match between Edge and Orton at Backlash. And it’s a shame, because it’s probably going to be a very good wrestling match. But WWE is putting these guys at a severe disadvantage by placing impossible expectations on their shoulders.