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The Next Iteration of the Next Generation
July 16, 2004

by Erin Anderson
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


Think back: just over a year ago, a heel John Cena delivered a promo so good that the live crowd in Halifax couldn't help but cheer him. There was a spark that night, and fans predicted his face turn months before it finally came to pass. A World Title reign loomed on the horizon, and most of the IWC (myself included) touted him as the second coming of the Rock.

Around the same time, vanilla babyface Randy Orton turned himself heel with amusing RNN Update vignettes before becoming the Legend Killer and a member of Evolution. The IWC initially praised the young wrestler until all the hype wore thin. Orton blew spots. He got victories over established stars that he probably didn't deserve at the time. His promos were stilted and cringe-worthy. A large portion of the fans rejected Orton's blue-chipper status (especially us here on OO), and one Jeb Lund delivered a memorable trio of columns devoted to Randy's ineptitude.

But perhaps our initial comparisons between Cena and the Rock were inaccurate. Cena has lost all of his edge since turning face, pandering annoyingly to the crowd and using his razor-sharp wit to tell poop jokes in his raps. Cena remains stagnant in his actions, his promos, and his limited moveset; where is the growth that we would expect to see from such a young and promising star? As much as JBL didn't deserve the WWE title, he is, by all accounts, working his ass off in both the ring and with his promos to earn it.

Cena has had several good matches, but against whom? Kurt Angle and the vastly underrated Undertaker. Typically, working against an experienced veteran makes the younger opponent a better wrestler after the fact; Edge is a testament to this. Cena, however, is still wrestling the same matches we saw from him last year. The only addition he has made to his repertoire is the Five Knuckle Shuffle: not exactly a devastating finisher.

Moveset is obviously not everything, but psychology and pacing can easily mask such deficiencies. Cena has yet to use those tools to his advantage, and at this point is no better than Rob Van Dam: he pops the crowd with a few signature moves, but can't put a compelling match together without a technical wizard like Angle or a veteran like Taker to lead the way. I suspect that management knows Cena's limitations and doesn't push him too far up the card for fear of exposing them. In the ring, Cena is no better than Billy Gunn.

While Cena is going nowhere, Randy has -- it hurts me to admit this -- gotten pretty good in the meantime and become one of the cornerstones of RAW. Maybe we were all comparing The People's Champ to the wrong wrestler.

I did not see Vengeance, but all of the reports contained one rather surprising element: Orton was cheered during his match. For the love of God, how in the hell could that happen?

His opponent, Edge, hasn't been an exceptionally strong babyface since his return, save for when he tagged with the red-hot, newly-crowned World Champ Chris Benoit. But Edge's mediocre heat is no reason for the fans to cheer his über-heel of a nemesis.

Part of the cheers may have come from the crowd's acknowledgement of Randy's vast improvement since his program with Mick Foley. WWE's audience is a lot savvier than we often give credit for; they have a history of responding favorably to strong ringwork, promos, or charisma, whether the performer is a heel or not. It happened with Austin. It happened with the Rock. It happened with Eddie Guerrero, and it happened last year with John Cena. It was the crowd's way of saying, "We've given you a lot of shit, but we can tell you've worked hard." Orton has done what Cena has so far been unable to accomplish: come out of a feud with an all-time great not just with a great match under his belt, but as a better wrestler because of it. The casual audience, conscious of it or not, appreciates that. That sort of appreciation isn't limited to Orton's ability to put together a solid match, either.

Look at his recent promo excursion with the Rock. Nobody, save Austin, Foley, or Jericho can match the Great One when it comes to promo ability, but Orton set himself up quite nicely as the whipping boy to Rocky's verbal lashings. He came out of the promo looking like an idiot, but only because he meant to do so: "But it was my sister's!" was a perfect comic response to one of the Rock's insults, and a far cry from the "I'll start what I finished" debacle just six months earlier. Orton may not even be at Triple H's level when it comes to mic work, but he has improved dramatically.

And unlike Cena getting stripped of the U.S. Title, Orton's loss of his Intercontinental belt doesn't seem like a demotion. It instead feels like the next step in the grooming of a main eventer.

But the most likely reason Orton was cheered is the faction to which he belongs. Evolution is just plain cool, and Randy absorbs some of this attitude by default. Do I personally think Randy is cool? No. But his faction is. They wear expensive clothes, hang out with hot babes, ride around in limos, and generally act like they own the place wherever they go. And with Ric Flair as the elder statesman of the group? Occasional cheers and guaranteed. Sure, we boo Evolution because of this pompousness, but at the same time, it's a pretty badass way to live. We envy that and latch onto it: by cheering these guys (yes, even Randy), we turn them face and can live through them vicariously. We did the same thing to Stone Cold almost a decade ago for the same reasons; why wouldn't we love someone who beats the shit out of his boss and flips middle fingers like there's no tomorrow?

Both Orton and Cena were Internet Golden Boys at some point last year, but it is Orton who has flourished while Cena has floundered. Both get legitimate heat, but I fear that Cena may never grow out of his RVD-like upper-midcard status. A year ago, I would have pegged Cena to be the better and more promising of the two. Call it a misdiagnosis of potential.

Congratulations, Randy. I no longer think that you suck.


Erin Anderson is an Atlanta native and a student at Georgia State University. Since writing about wrestling didn't go over too well with her English professors, she vents here at Online Onslaught.

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