Orton comes of age

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August 26, 2007

Aug. 15, 2004 wasn't supposed to be Randy Orton's time -- at least, not according to his opponent, the capacity crowd filling Toronto's Air Canada Centre, or the millions of our fans around the world watching on pay-per-view. Yet time came to a complete standstill when a lightning-fast RKO struck from nowhere, then restarted with Orton as the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history, and the focal point of WWE.com's No. 7 Greatest SummerSlam Moment.

Sure, it had already been an amazing year for Orton prior to his participation in the Biggest Party of the Summer. In addition to enjoying seven months as Intercontinental Champion -- the longest such reign for that particular title in about 13 years -- he was a proud member of Triple H's apt-named faction, Evolution. He was also well on his way to making a name for himself as WWE's Legend Killer, having spent the previous 12 months picking up victories over the likes of icons like Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley.

For one to definitively predict, however, that Orton would capture sports-entertainment's most coveted championship a mere 24 years, 136 days into his existence…well, they'd probably also have a bridge to sell you. It wasn't that Orton had absolutely no chance of winning World Heavyweight gold -- sooner or later. After all, he had triumphed in a Raw Battle Royal to grab the No. 1 Contender's spot; besides, on any given day, especially in sports-entertainment, even the greatest underdog can overcome the largest obstacles.

Those facts not withstanding, consider why Orton's SummerSlam win was especially impressive. Nearly 100 percent of the Canadian crowd was firmly against him. And the experience factor? Forget it. Orton was barely two years in WWE, so there should have been near-zero possibility of him obtaining a title that had eluded countless other ring greats throughout their entire careers.

Yet the facts are immutable. Say what you will about Orton, but on this August night, he immortalized himself in the annals of sports-entertainment. Withstanding everything the then-World Heavyweight Champion could throw at him, then beat him. And he didn't achieve victory by resorting to some cheap low blow or rely on outside interference. He simply found his opening, drove his adversary face-first into the canvas with the front-facelock bulldog named with his own initials (Randall Keith Orton), and pinned him.

Admittedly, Orton's championship reign in 2004 was brief; as a result of his unlikely victory at SummerSlam, he'd immediately fall out of favor with Evolution, and lose the World Heavyweight Title to Triple H at Unforgiven the following month. But the history he left behind remains intact; no one at that age has even come close to winning a World Championship, and it doesn't look like there's anyone on the verge of breaking such hallowed ground any time soon. But one needn't tell that to Randy Orton. He no longer reflects on past history. These days, he looks forward to claiming a WWE Championship…no matter how many legends he has to destroy this time.

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