Exclusive interview: Randy Orton looks back on his 15-year career
Even Randy Orton can’t believe it’s been 15 years since he shocked Hardcore Holly on SmackDown, but this week officially marked a decade-and-a-half of The Apex Predator’s legendary in-ring career. From Legend Killing to winning 13 World Championships, Orton truly has done it all in WWE, and the reigning WWE Champion isn’t slowing down anytime soon. A House of Horrors Match against Bray Wyatt looms this Sunday at WWE Payback with Jinder Mahal on the horizon at WWE Backlash. But before Orton embarks on one of the most demanding months of his career, he sat down with WWE.com to discuss the highs, lows and lessons of the 15 preceding years, from knowing who he’s here to please to his single favorite RKO ever.
WWE.COM: How does it feel to be a 15-year veteran?
RANDY ORTON: How does it feel? It feels like, “Where did the time go?” to be honest. I’ve been around a long time, and it seemed for the longest time like I was the young guy. Now, all of a sudden, I’ve got fans with beards telling me, “I used to watch you when I was a kid.” So, I don’t know what happened to all those years, man, but the little bit I do remember? It was definitely a fun ride.
WWE.COM: Looking back on your debut match, what were your hopes and expectations going into it? What did you want to leave the audience with as a first impression?
ORTON: I was only 21 or 22 when I had my first match. It was mostly just nerves. I was a good enough athlete and had been trained by good enough people that I had a good sense of what I was doing, but I didn’t have any confidence in what I was doing yet. I was still very young. You’ve got new guys here now — Kevin Owens is “new,” but he’s been wrestling for 20 years. When I was new, I was a baby and hadn’t been wrestling long at all. Grew up in the business, but had only been in the ring a few years. So, I just wanted to get from bell to bell in one piece because I knew it was with Bob Holly and he was gonna beat the [crap] out of me. But other than that? What I wanted to leave the fans with? I just wanted to have a good match and not mess anything up.
WWE.COM: Do you remember what the reaction was when you got back through the curtain?
ORTON: Oh, God. No, I don’t. [Laughs]
WWE.COM: Coming from a sports-entertainment family, did you put pressure on yourself to achieve as much as you did as early as you did?
As long as the fans were happy, I knew I'd had a good night, and it didn't really matter what anyone else thought.
ORTON: The pressure was always there, but I feel like it was almost invisible to me. I had too much going on once I got rolling with Evolution and won my first title. They say the cream rises to the top, and I felt like the cream. I rose to the top real quick, and I was surrounded by Triple H, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, these guys who were very well respected in the profession, and they wanted to work with me, so I knew I was doing something right. There was never a point early on where I went, “Oh, God, they’re going to expect so much of me because my dad is who he is and my grandfather is who he is.” I never really felt that other than when I was in [then-WWE developmental organization] OVW because I didn’t know anything at all, and I was in there with other guys who were paying to train. I was being paid to learn the basics. So, that was when I felt [pressure]. But not up here.
WWE.COM: Did you ever feel like you got two different educations — one from your father and one from your time with Superstars like Triple H and Ric Flair?
ORTON: We had a bunch of people my dad used to work with, so he was kind of on the same page with his advice. But one of the things he always told me is, “The only guy you gotta make happy over there is Vince, so don’t have too many people telling you what they want to see from you because you can’t make everybody happy.” I’ve never been very tactful, but it was good to know who I’m here working for and who I need to please. And, as I grew, [it became] the fans. As long as the fans were happy, I knew I’d had a good night, and it didn’t really matter what anybody else thought.
WWE.COM: Going back to your early matches, do you ever watch them and critique yourself? Do you have a specific reaction to your debut after all this time?
ORTON: My stepsons watched it with me probably a year or two ago, and other than being a little more spry — I was obviously younger and not hurting as much — I moved a little better, but you could see the greenness and my inability to think on my feet out there. With the confidence growing throughout the years and working with different guys, now I’ve learned to go to the ring with a bare minimum [of a game plan] if the circumstances allow.
WWE.COM: You were the youngest World Heavyweight Champion of all time. What’s it like for a young man to reach that pinnacle so soon into his career?
When I was in Evolution I definitely learned ... how to be one of the boys and take care of them, and how much that comes full circle when you do take care of them. It just helps for a better locker room.
ORTON: Yeah, when I won the World Title at 24 and became the youngest, I knew that was huge. You ask me how I felt after that match, I’ll remember. I remember calling my grandfather and my dad on Stephanie McMahon’s phone. I teared up. I’ll never forget how I felt after that match. So many emotions. I might as well have won the World Series. That title means a lot to us. So, that first time winning it, especially making history like I did, will forever be one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, experiences I’ve ever had here.
WWE.COM: Were you nervous that you weren’t ready to be World Champion, or were you able to tell yourself, “I’m ready for this”?
ORTON: It wasn’t an “I’m ready for this,” but it wasn’t [nervousness] either. It was a healthy in-between.
WWE.COM: You’ve been The Legend Killer, The Viper and The Apex Predator. Do you find it difficult to reinvent yourself over the years?
ORTON: Not really, because I’ve always been kind of the same guy. Whether I was The Legend Killer, The Viper, The Apex Predator, nothing’s really changed. When I look at [Superstars] who’ve had 10 different personas … it’s amazing to me. These guys are very talented that they’re able to do that. Would I be able to do that? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But I think the fact that I’ve never really had to change is a testament to what my persona is on the show. Whether you’re sick of it or love it, you know what you’re gonna get with me.
WWE.COM: You have famously been part of a lot of groups in addition to your singles career. Was there a specific time when you felt like you learned the most?
ORTON: When I was in Evolution I definitely learned the most; I had Hunter and Ric. Those are two of the top-five ever, maybe three. Whether it was making my lockup better or locker-room etiquette. We flew into Alaska one time and there was no food, so Hunter ordered pizzas and hot dogs and the boys got to eat because he took the initiative. Learning locker-room leadership skills from these guys and learning how to be one of the boys and take care of them, and how much that comes full circle when you take care of them. It just helps for a better locker room. I learned that from them.
The fact that I've never really had to change is a testament to what my persona is on the show ... whether you're sick of it or you love it, you know what you're gonna get with me.
WWE.COM: With everything you’ve achieved, what do you consider to be the single greatest accomplishment of your career?
ORTON: There’s honestly not one thing. Youngest champ; I think I’ve won more Survivor Series Matches than anything else, maybe I’m tied with Ultimate Warrior; won two Royal Rumbles; won Money in the Bank; I’ve main-evented WrestleMania; I’ve wrestled in 13 WrestleManias — those are all up there. I’ve stolen the show numerous times. I’ve wrestled in Seoul, I’ve wrestled in Auckland, New Zealand. There’s not one thing, there’s a bunch of things.
WWE.COM: The RKO has taken on a life of its own within your career. As the man who performs the move, what is your single favorite RKO of all time?
ORTON: I would say probably the one with Evan Bourne. It just shows you how important timing is and I felt like the timing on that particular one was harder to achieve than any of the other ones. The one on Seth [Rollins] at WrestleMania was difficult, too. I’ve done some cool ones with Dolph [Ziggler] and Cesaro, too, and springboards in with Carlito and CM Punk. The timing is what makes that. But the hardest one, the highest-risk one to hit perfect was the Evan Bourne one, and that’d probably be why it’s my favorite.