Randy Orton is the old-timer who is telling the NXT wrestlers to just slow things down.
The Viper explained this perspective on a media call while promoting The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever at Backlash 2020. He specifically addressed the recent issues that he’s had with Tommaso Ciampa:
“Whatever Vince gives me to do, whatever my job is on that particular situation, I’m gonna do it. If it’s working with Tommaso Ciampa, then I’d be all for it, because I think he’s very talented. I think that there’s a few things that I could help him with. Mainly, to help him get a little more out of his career. I know he’s been plagued with injuries, but I also know that he loves and respects this business.
The NXT guys worry me because I see them doing such highly physical things during their matches. They do so many physically impressive things, but those things are dangerous, and they wear and tear on your career. I’ve been doing this 20 years, and I’ll do it another decade. I just turned 40 [years old]. My plan would be to keep going until my 50th birthday. I think that I would be able to do that, and I would be able to support my family for 30 years of wrestling under Vince McMahon, because of the way that I tell stories in the ring. The facial expressions, the little transitional things that you do on the fly, or that you ad lib during a match, those are the things that people remember.”
I’ve already yawned and fallen asleep at the idea of watching 10 more years of Randy Orton chin locks. Joking aside, I think it’s worth remembering that Tommaso Ciampa is 35 years old. He’s not that much younger than Randy Orton, and his wrestling style has worked for a long time; it’s just not Randy Orton’s cup of tea, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with Ciampa for having a style that doesn’t mesh with Randy Orton’s preferences.
“I’m not gonna name names, but a lot of the NXT guys work like this. It was just train wreck after train wreck after train wreck. And it was all very impressive, but when it’s all said and done and the match is over, I couldn’t remember anything that happened because it was just movement...When you don’t see how that affected the talent, meaning they didn’t sell that move, or there wasn’t enough of a delay between high spots that I was able to see facial expressions...you don’t get to invest into these matches because they are just one thing after another...They’re gonna have very short careers...[Ciampa] needs to learn how to tell stories and slow it down and not think that the fans want to see him kill himself.”
I reject Orton’s notion that the style of wrestling that is seen in NXT lacks storytelling and is difficult to invest in. As far as I can tell, fans who watch NXT seem quite invested in the matches, moreso than a lot of the formulaic stuff we see on the main roster, and they love the storytelling. Once again, maybe it doesn’t strike a chord with Orton, but he just sounds more like the older guy from a slower era who isn’t caught up with current times.
Randy then talked about the importance of staying healthy in order to make money:
“The human body wasn’t designed to be able to withstand that type of abuse...If you only get three or four years of a career with the WWE because you did a lot of careless, reckless, dangerous moves, you would have to look back and kick yourself in the ass and wish that you didn’t. There’s a smarter way to do it. Smarter, not harder.”
“This is a business. We all love what we do, but you need to make money doing it. You can’t destroy your body and not make any money doing it, and then end up working at McDonald’s because you never went to college, and you destroyed your neck in the ring. There has to be a purpose, and the main purpose is getting paid. We love what we do, but you need to get paid for what you do.”
“That’s my biggest concern for those guys in NXT. I would love to go down there and share a little knowledge with them.”
Orton is no mark for the business, and he’s right when he says the main objective should be making money. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that the grueling touring schedule that Orton has worked for much of his WWE career is different from the kind of schedule the wrestlers in NXT have. I think it’s plausible that the NXT wrestlers can forge very long careers with their current style, as long as they aren’t working too many dates at that level.
Considering that WWE’s live events business has been trending in a downward direction for a long time prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it looks to me like the fans were telling Vince McMahon that his main roster presentation wasn’t captivating them enough to come out anymore for house shows. A good argument can be made that the main roster stars have been exposed to greater injury risk over the years due to working so many dates, and that it’s in the best interests of WWE to greatly reduce the touring schedule.
Randy Orton’s argument about the NXT style would be more convincing if there was proof that the main roster stars are healthier, on average, than the NXT stars. At this point it just seems like an assumption on Randy’s behalf, rather than something that is provable. In fact, the main roster’s injury list is often alarming to look at.
As far as making more money goes, it’s clear to me that the wrestlers in WWE are underpaid. The percentage of revenue generated by WWE that goes in the athletes’ pockets is far less than typical sports leagues, and it’s one of the obvious consequences of wrestlers having no union. Yes, staying healthy is critical to making money, but let’s not pretend that WWE is anything other than absurdly profitable. They can certainly afford to pay their wrestlers more money across the board.
What do you think of the way Randy Orton views the style of wrestling in NXT? Is he an out of touch aging wrestler, right on the money, or a little bit of both?