Prior to this Sunday’s WrestleMania, Yahoo Sports had a chance to speak with WWE Superstar Randy Orton, who will be headlining the event in Orlando, Florida when he takes on Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship.
Orton, who has been with the company since 2002, has been one of the most popular wrestlers on the WWE roster and has had one of the most decorated careers in the company’s history.
During our conversation, the third-generation star spoke about the differences between this WrestleMania and the previous 12 he has competed in, the Undertaker’s legacy at the event, and the evolution of the WWE throughout his career.
Heading into WrestleMania 33, you have been part of these for more than a decade now, how is this one different?
Randy Orton: This will be my 13th match at a WrestleMania, and I’d say one of the biggest differences for me going into this thing is how it came about. This storyline, being injured last year and coming back, having a little run with [Brock] Lesnar kind of put me back a few steps. I got a nasty concussion, got opened up, I had to get my feet back underneath me so to speak and get back used to the grind. [That opportunity] came with the Wyatt Family and what makes this WrestleMania different is that I’ve had five or six months, since October anyway, to let this story marinate.
At first I could tell peopled weren’t getting with the whole Wyatt Family thing where I became a part of their family because they knew I was going to turn and we knew that they knew that. To be able to pull those strings, make this thing go longer than expected, to win the [Smackdown] Tag Team Championships with Bray [Wyatt], and then next get [Luke Harper] kicked out of the family, get Bray alone, burn down his compound. All of that stuff that we had to do to get this storyline where it is, all of that helps it going into ‘Mania. Where we’re at in the story is the perfect culmination for WrestleMania. I think that’s what makes it different for me. I’ve had other very good angles going into ‘Mania, long storylines too, but this was different than normal from the way we do things, it wasn’t bad versus good. I infiltrated the Wyatt Family, I became close to Bray, I earned his trust and respect and to ultimately stab a knife into his back, turn on him, it was a very original thing that we did.
You mention the Wyatt Family. Being in a stable is something you’ve done at different parts of your career with Evolution and Legacy. Do you prefer when you’re working in a group or solo heading into an event like WrestleMania?
Randy Orton: I always prefer being by myself, but if you look at the teams I’ve been in, Evolution, I don’t even have to say who I was with [HHH, Ric Flair, Batista] then because everybody knows and I was around some great talent. Hunter, for instance, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him, in more ways than one. Being around those guys and learning from them that early in the business for me was great.
Rated RKO with Edge was another example of a guy who knows his craft. It was an awesome way for a guy – I was in my mid-20s then – to learn. Then I’m with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase in Legacy. These are both guys whose families were in the business just like me so I had this commonplace with them; we all grew up around the business. Cody’s brother [Dustin Runnels aka Goldust] had this bond the same way my father [“Cowboy” Bob Orton] and his brother [Barry Orton] had their bond in this business. To be able to have those similarities with your team is really good. You can do great things when you’re all on the same page and “get it” so to say.
Bray is third generation, might be through marriage, but he’s got a whole lot of wrestling greats in his family and again, another guy that I can see eye to eye with when it comes to psychology, when it comes to respect for the business and when it comes to not being selfish when it comes to the match and getting everybody over. Bray gets it. I think that being with these groups is great, I prefer being alone, but without these groups I wouldn’t be where I am.
Talking about guys who have had an impact on your career. You wrestled Undertaker at WrestleMania before. What was that like for you? How does he add to the allure of WrestleMania, especially as it seems more and more like it’s a year-by-year question of will he or won’t he?
Randy Orton: I think ‘Taker and ‘Mania go hand in hand. It’s unfortunate that he picked up a loss a few years back, I think that was wrong and I think everyone would agree with me for the most part with the exception of maybe Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar. I don’t believe that that loss tarnished his career, I just hate that his streak was tarnished.
You asked about me versus Taker, that was WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles, I was 25, my birthday always falls around the show, so I’m a kid, I’m a greenhorn, I grew up in the business but now I’m in a match in the biggest show you can be at, participate in as a professional wrestler, as a WWE Superstar, and I’m facing in a singles match the most legendary character that’s ever graced our presence – with maybe a few exceptions.
I was nervous, but I also knew I was in good hands. We went out there, we killed it, I reversed the chokeslam into the RKO, everybody bought it, he beat my ass and that was it. He picked up another win at ‘Mania and rightfully so because I think the WrestleMania brand and Undertaker go hand in hand. I think a lot of that had to do with the streak so I’ll never think that was the right thing to do, for him to pick up that loss, but that’s the past and we can only move on to the future here.
‘Taker is going to face Roman Reigns and that’s going to be a good one. I honestly believe that should be the last match on the card, I think that everybody will be happy with the outcome of the match. I expect the Undertaker to throw Roman Reigns around like a rag doll. Roman Reigns is going to get his, but at the same time, this is the Undertaker we’re talking about.
Will [Undertaker] be around after this? If this is his last one and there’s speculation, all I can say is I hope not. Whether it was twenty years ago or today, when he comes to the ring and the gong hits and the music plays, the energy in the arena, it’s not like that for anyone else. I don’t care if its [John] Cena, Shawn Michaels or whoever, it’s a different kind of energy and he’s got more respect from the fans than I think any character or superstar has ever had in our business.
How have the fans changed over your career? We’re at a point where thanks to social media and the Internet, professional wrestling is consumed on a daily basis and fans are starting to go against the grain, how do you see it?
Randy Orton: It’s an ongoing evolution with social media and everything. Doing interviews with media is something we’ve always done, but there are so many different aspects to the social media life that WWE is a part of. Our social media team, they make sure we’re everywhere, so we are like a daily thing for fans, especially the kids.
I’ve got five children and my three boys, they live and breathe WWE, this is what they love. It’s amazing to go out there and be a role model for them as well as other children. When a kid smiles because you take an extra 30 seconds, minute, minute and a half to go over and ask them what their name is, give them the shirt you just wore to the ring, you just see them light up. We’ve all been kids before, we’ve all had our heroes, been fans of somebody and needed that autograph. It’s good to know that they’re going to remember that for the rest of their life. It’s a pretty special thing. I’m big with the kids, you have to start early with them and you can just tell that with this new generation of kids, not all hope is lost. I love doing what I do because I get to meet so many children, all over the world and this company does a great job catering to them and making sure that when they leave that show or turn off the TV after “Raw” or “Smackdown” that they have a smile on their face.
You’ve been part of two brand splits now. Where it used to be that every wrestler was available for every pay-per-view, we now only get that at the Big Four [Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Summerslam, Suvivor Series]. How do you think having separate brands helps elevate the kind of event that WrestleMania is, if that’s even possible?
Randy Orton: I think that it’s kind of obvious that separating the wrestlers onto different shows, it makes the competition between the brands more healthy.
I remember Survivor Series that it was Team Raw versus Team Smackdown, so there were a lot of matches that no one had seen before because of the brand split. I think the longer we’re able to stick with this brand split and not get cold feet and say “Oh crap we’ve got to combine it again,” it’s good, because there’s a lot of back and for the with that. I think what we have now is best for business so to speak.
I think that it helps WrestleMania because you have some people who like to watch “Raw,” some people who like to watch “Smackdown,” but no matter what they get to see their guy at the Big Four. You get to see interaction between the two brands and we’re not overdoing it. They get to see it in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale, the Royal Rumble, Survivor Series, you get Raw versus “Smackdown” in some regard.
I think that’s healthy competition for both brands. It’s the first time in my career, I can tell, that in my locker room – the “Smackdown” locker room – is very proud of the guys and gals and how we work hard, get along, and want to be on “Smackdown” and make it great. I know “Raw” probably feels the same way, but I can’t speak to it. There’s that competition there and that’s what’s going to make these pay-per-views mean more and more. You also get a pay-per-view for each brand each month. It’s more wrestling, more product and for the people who want more it’s right there at their fingertips.
You’ve been with the company for a long time now, have you ever considered doing what some other wrestlers are doing and working a part-time schedule, or even retiring? You also mentioned your children, do you think we’ll see another Orton in the WWE down the line?
Randy Orton: I’ve got three boys and two girls so if I were a gambling man I’d bet at least one of them would be following in my footsteps and I would help them just like my father helped me. I’m very fortunate; I was around a lot of guys [who helped me]. A lot of the guys now that are getting over now that the fans are responding to, they were unheard of other than the Internet wrestling community or that underground wrestling – Ring of Honor – that’s not mainstream I don’t think, and when these guys that all of these underground fans are watching and loving for over a decade come up in our product, that just helps WWE.
As far as retiring, I’m still young in this business. I’m 36 and I feel – I’ve been saying this for five years – I feel like I’ve got another 10 years in me. I’ve never felt this good with my body health-wise. It took me a while to get there but I’ve got a good team of people back in St. Louis that kind of put me together again each week if I need it. When you take that powerbomb through the table and the spinal stenosis in your lower back and causing impingement on a nerve and you can’t walk with out a limp, now I’ve got a guy in St. Louis where five minutes with him, a massage and I see my trainer and I’m back to 100 percent. I’ve gotten to a point where longevity is key. With injuries earlier in my career, it’s kind of always been key for me. I was fortunate to have these old timers tell me “Don’t go out there every night and do all this crazy stuff because you don’t need it.” It’s not being lazy, but in order to tell a story, these fans need to digest what’s happening. At times I’ll watch a cruiserweight match and I’m very impressed at how they limit themselves with all of the acrobatics but every once in a while you’ll see a match where they’re doing things I couldn’t dream of doing, but you get lost because there’s so much. There’s a lost art nowadays that sometimes I think guys need to slow down a bit.
To be honest, I don’t see myself retiring anytime soon. The last few years with my family getting bigger and bigger, a lighter schedule, a gradually lighter schedule is nice. I’ll get a weekend off a month, sometimes two – which is by no means a light schedule, wrestling 160, 170 nights a year isn’t a light schedule – but by the time I’m 40, I’d like to see that number get a little lower. I like doing this. I want to be like an Undertaker and be around so when your music hits people go crazy because of that respect that you’ve earned over 20, 25 years of going on the ride for them. I don’t see myself leaving and I think it’s easier to talk about leaving when you’re not enjoying what you’re doing currently or having a hard time with some character development or storyline.
Talking to me right now, a couple of weeks before WrestleMania when I’m going to headline with Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship, life’s good, business is good. From that standpoint I’ll wrestle for another 10 or 20 years. I’ll always be around. WWE has given me everything, it really has. My kids will go to college because of them, I don’t have to worry about finances because of them. I was smart with my money because they have people who come and talk to us about how to not screw yourself moneywise. They’ve been a good company for taking care of us with the wellness policy. They’ve got a lot of things in effect that make sure the talent can live long and prosper as long as they give their heart and soul. I want to be part of this company for that reason. It’s a great place to work.
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