Evolution of a champion
Winning the WWE Championship wasn't just destiny to Randy Orton. It was evolution at work.
Orton could not hide his satisfaction at the end of No Mercy. There he stood, clutching the WWE Championship and looking down on the bloody carcass of Triple H, savoring every bit of a very sweet victory in their Last Man Standing Match.
In Orton's mind, he had not only won the WWE Title, but had finally surpassed his former mentor in Evolution. The Game had not passed the torch; Orton took it from him.
That remains to be seen: Triple H is still The King of Kings and an 11-time World Champion. But the arrogant Orton believes The Game's time is over, and that he has evolved into the top Superstar in the industry.
"My time is now. I'm in my prime," Orton said. "I'm in a state of mind I've never been in before. Everything around me is just right. I'm focused. I'm healthy. I'm on my game. And when I'm on my game, I beat The Game."
The animosity between Orton and Triple H didn't always exist. Once upon a time, they were teammates in the stable Evolution. The super-group, formed in 2002, was designed for the crÃƒÂ¨me de la crÃƒÂ¨me of sports-entertainment. It represented the best of sports-entertainment's past (legendary 16-time World Champion Ric Flair), present (Triple H) and future (then up-and-coming Orton and Batista). Flair and The Game mentored the Legend Killer and The Animal. Ultimately, the two Evolution alumni showed that they learned their lessons well, with a combined six world championships between them.
But early in his career, Orton may have been too successful -- and too brash -- for his own good. In 2004, shortly after he became the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history, he was unceremoniously booted out of Evolution. Triple H claimed Orton's time hadn't come yet and defeated the third-generation Superstar for the title. Orton never forgot that. The humiliation of that defeat haunted and fueled him for three years.
"I was young, and still new and inexperienced and unprepared," the Legend Killer said. "I am an entirely different person today. I see things a lot clearer now than I did back then."
Orton refused to rest until he was able to call himself a World Champion again. For a moment, he caught a glimpse of that redemption when Mr. McMahon awarded him the WWE Championship at the beginning of No Mercy.
When Triple H immediately challenged him and beat him for the WWE Championship on Sunday, Orton had to believe he was experiencing a bit of déjà vu. The Game had once again turned his dream into a nightmare. But then Orton showed how much he had evolved since his days in Evolution.
Triple H was battered and spent after he was forced to defend the WWE Title against the monstrous Umaga that same night at No Mercy. He stood little chance of surviving a Last Man Standing Match. And Orton knew this, opting to exercise his championship rematch clause immediately.
When the Legend Killer regained the WWE Championship, he showed that he learned the lessons taught by The King of Kings and the "Dirtiest Player in the Game" very well.
Orton not only outthought The Cerebral Assassin, but believed he had a physical advantage over Triple H at No Mercy.
"[Triple H] came out unannounced [in the first match]. I wasn't expecting a match with him," Orton said. "He didn't hit me with the Pedigree. He didn't hit me with a move out of nowhere."
"It was unfair," Orton continued. "And Mr. McMahon knows this. That's why we have rematch clauses. And in a Last Man Standing Match, I knew I would have the speed, agility and most importantly, the endurance that Triple H doesn't have. Triple H has two bad legs for chrissakes."
For now, Orton may have exorcised his Triple H demon. He is the WWE Champion and expects to hold the title for a long time. But a vengeance-minded Shawn Michaels -- who Orton sidelined for months with a severe concussion -- may have something to say about that if fans choose him to battle the Legend Killer for the WWE Championship at Cyber Sunday.
Orton can thank his father and grandfather for teaching him how to wrestle. But he can also thank his former Evolution mentors Ric Flair and Triple H for molding him into a World Champion. Right now, it appears the student has become stronger than his teachers.
But whether Orton continues to evolve and ultimately surpass the legacy of his former mentors depends entirely on the Legend Killer himself.