‘I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me’ (Neil McAuley (Robert de Niro) in ‘Heat’).
It’s all led to this. In one corner there is John Cena. A man who represents all that is good. He welcomes children, supports charities, he is ‘the face’ of the WWE. In the other is Randy Orton. A flawed beast who will take out anyone to reach the pinnacle of his business. On Sunday, they will enter the squared circle to cheers and boos. One will unwrap his T-Shirt, throw it into the crowd and then kiss the dog-tags he’s dedicated to his Grandfather. The other will not move. He will stare at his opponent ready for battle. No grand gestures. No interaction. No feeling. They will be called into the centre of the ring, both knowing that one full tirade of physical battling will engrave their name in history for sure, alongside Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels. It doesn’t matter how many titles they’ve won, how many opponents they’ve vanquished. This is the moment that will define them far more than defeating the Rock or cashing in a briefcase. Then, they will head back to their corners. Cena will continue to warm up, throwing rights and lefts into the air as he diffuses the adrenaline. Orton, still, complete motionless, allowing the adrenaline to course through him. Then...the bell will ring.
As we look at those two men though, it is impossible not to see the ties that bind them both. They are, to all intents and purposes, both the ‘faces’ of the WWE. Their careers have been so intertwined, not just through storied feuds but through their career trajectories, that it’s almost impossible to separate them. Orton officially debuted in the WWE on April 25th 2002, Cena seventy days later. Orton fought that notorious hazer Hardcore Holly whilst Cena answered an open challenge from Kurt Angle. Both shocked their opponents with their work-rate and desire. Even in those moments, before monikers of ‘Legend Killer’ and rapper gimmicks were bestowed upon them, they were different. They were not going to get beaten down by the champions and the legends. They were the same beast at this early point. One might even say they were the same coin.
Both embraced a dark side early on, often the best do. Hamlet has to descend before he can rise, morals tested. Bruce Wayne must welcome in the darkness. Same too Michael Corleone before he is justly punished by fate even though he has accepted his wrongs. Cena took on the persona of a rapper, a hard-faced youngster who would take it to anyone. His raps mocked his opponents and he would even go after Brock Lesnar. Orton submitted to his material desires and joined ‘Evolution’, a group that placed him front row centre as the future of the company. This is where the change began and the coin flipped, however. Cena soon began to chase the villains, the bullies and would become an individual after turning his back on his enforcer, Bull Buchanan. Cena realised that the only way he could get to the top was on his terms – Hustle, Loyalty and Respect.
For every Hamlet though, there is a Claudius. A person who will align themselves with a group and use them to heighten his own power. Orton, although quite often an individual in his career, has quite often aligned himself with others. First it was ‘Evolution’ before he became too big for them and was beaten down the audacity of succeeding. Secondly came ‘Legacy’, a stable made up of the prototypes. Toned wrestlers with family ties to the business. Cena never had this. He was an original. Orton was a type. Does that make one better than the other? No, but it highlights the growing differences.
They had met several times before 2007, their first bout in OVW in 2002, but it was the SummerSlam match that began the journey which is now reaching its conclusion. Orton had grown from the obnoxious youth who detailed his recovery from injury to an ‘adoring’ fan base and had become a cold, disciplined animal. He wasted no movement in the ring and would often not make a sound. Cena was already a machine who was defeating all-comers and displaying great feats of strength as he roared his way through bout after bout. It was Orton though who, although he lost the match, had constantly beaten Cena down in the run-in performing three separate RKO’s. Interestingly, it was obvious that Orton had begun to scrape-away at the paint of Cena and made him remember his rapper-ways as Cena was disqualified at their next match for refusing to stop beating Orton in the corner. Orton then beat down Cena and, eventually, the champ was stripped of the title and, although short-lived, Orton held the crown.
They would meet again in 2008. Orton had been taken to the brink by a Jeff Hardy determined to inflict severe physical damage on a man known for punting others in the head. Orton beat him but, later that night, John Cena arrived back from injury, months before schedule, and threw a shocked Triple H out of the ring to gain the championship match he desired. So much so in fact that he called in his shot six weeks early. Orton’s mind-games were working because no other Rumble winner had called in a shot so early and, at ‘No Way Out’ Orton returned the favour and got himself disqualified. To add salt to the wound, Orton retained at WrestleMania XXIV by pinning Cena (after a Triple H pedigree).
For some time after that, Orton tried to embrace the fans but, whereas Cena enjoyed the boos and the cheers, the handshakes and head shakes, Orton tried his best, smiling at the crowd and bizarre star jumps of excitement, but it all felt false. Like he was biding his time as he reeled in another unsuspecting victim. Cena, on the other side of the coin, was simply building up his own individualistic legacy. Beating opponent after opponent with a genuine smile on his face. It was clear he wasn’t going anywhere and, even after an injury this year, he still returned early to defeat Albert del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship. Orton, meanwhile, had won the Money in the Bank briefcase, perhaps the most dangerous person since Edge to hold it, and cashed it in at SummerSlam on the true people’s champ, Daniel Bryan.
Which leads us to this Sunday. Yes, Chris Jericho was there before them, Mr. McMahon and Booker T behind him, but this weekend will define one of these two men. Both embraced ‘hate’ early on but Cena soon dismissed it, Orton revelled in it. A lot is made about the fact that no-one comes out to help Cena when he’s getting beaten down but surely this is because he is a loner. Yes, he’s won tag-team championships but these have usually been almost mistakes (with Michaels and Otunga for instance). Orton quite often keeps a group around him, hence his current anger at The Authority for not backing him up. He needs those around him to massage his ego and distract the opponent.
They are two men though who debuted within weeks of each other, born within years of each other and with a comparable amount of championships. They are the two men who have led the WWE through both good times and bad. What is clear though is that Cena and Orton both started off on the same ‘side’. Taking on locker-room leaders. Something changed though. Orton felt, due to his legacy, that he was ‘owed’ by the company. Cena has never felt that. It’s at that point that Cena and Orton began to distance themselves. They have become two very different men.
On Sunday, the crowd will be mixed. Yes, we’ve seen it all before. Cena versus Orton. Yes, they’ve been at the top for years. It’s more than that though. It is two men who were both pronounced as the future, fighting for the ‘legend’ status they crave. Children cheer Cena and adults boo him. Given a choice between the two, most adults choose Orton. The latter detests the PG-Cena environment. The world of talking to the cameraman on the ramp, of throwing T-Shirts to fans and diving into the crowd when winning a championship. Ironically, although Orton needs a group around him, he never seeks their approval. Cena always needs it. If the children stop believing in Cena, he might well become like Orton. Bitter. Angry. Detested.
If Orton wins, ironically, the status quo is set with The Authority. If Cena wins though, Triple H and Stephanie will back him to the hilt. They will make sure he can’t be beaten and that he won’t be beaten. Basically, they will ‘cheat’ to make him win. He Cena turns with them, embraces The Authority, where does that leave Orton? A forgotten viper left to coil in the darkness? Or a man who will seek revenge? A man who will cost The Authority their chance of dominance at the biggest stage of them all? If Orton doesn’t win this weekend, he will get his revenge on all those who didn’t support him.
On Monday, the ramifications of the bout were set. Twenty ex-champions all standing tall. Orton disrespected many of them and yet Cena embraced them. Suddenly the coin was flipped and the tables were turned. Orton was the loner and Cena was the member of a group. When the final WWE ident appeared, Orton was shocked, on the floor and alone...and Cena? Well, Cena stood tall with The Authority. Does this mean anything? Maybe not, but in the story of the loner and the legacy, all of a sudden, the loner needs to be shoulder to shoulder with his adversaries and Orton needs to figure this one out alone.
These two wrestlers, these two men, are now two sides of the same coin. Similar to Harvey Dent’s, one is clean, brushed silver whereas the other is burned dark and damaged. On Sunday evening, that coin will be flipped into the air and the only people who will catch it will be The Authority. You can bet though that two former independent wrestlers that have battled the ego of Triple H will be watching very carefully from backstage though as the story moves on to even bigger things.
‘It’s like you said. All I am is what I’m going after.’ (Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) in ‘Heat’).
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.