Has Orton's high-stakes gamble backfired?

Has Orton's high-stakes gamble backfired?

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- If Randy Orton thought his attack on Jeff Hardy's brother Matt last week would derail the "Rainbow-haired Warrior's" momentum before their showdown at Royal Rumble, he found out tonight at the Mohegan Sun Casino that his gamble may have backfired.

Sweat drenched Jeff's hair as he locked eyes with the WWE Champion. If looks could kill, he would have slain Orton with his own eyes before the sold-out Mohegan Sun Casino. Despite the self-proclaimed "one-man dynasty's" attempts at sabotage, Jeff survived a hard-hitting Steel Cage war with Umaga, an opponent he's very familiar with from their battles over the Intercontinental gold last year.

The Intercontinental Champion's face was still sore from absorbing a blast from the steel cage's door, courtesy of Orton, but that didn't stop him from sending the Legend Killer a simple message: You can attack me and my brother all you want. You can get in my head all you want. But nothing -- nothing -- will stop me from taking your WWE Championship away from you at Royal Rumble.

Orton must have been convinced Lady Luck was on his side when the "Raw Roulette" wheel for Jeff Hardy's match with Umaga stopped on a Steel Cage. When the WWE Champion caved in the skull of Jeff's brother Matt and set back his recovery from an emergency appendectomy, he thought he had broken him mentally. Orton attacked Jeff's big brother -- his best friend, his idol. For the first time in Jeff's career, an opponent had made a rivalry personal. Orton may have been convinced that he had crippled the Intercontinental Champion's momentum. He may have believed that he muddied Jeff's focus and defeated him long before they step inside the squared circle for the gold at Royal Rumble on Jan. 27. Orton believed he was in Jeff's head. (Watch Orton attack Matt Hardy)

As illustrated by the white hot fury in Jeff's eyes tonight, Orton was right about one thing -- he was in his Royal Rumble opponent's head. The only problem for the WWE Champion was that the Intercontinental Champion harnessed and channeled his anger inside the ring. Despite being abused with brutal blows to his back by steel chairs provided to Umaga by Orton, Jeff refused to lose. He stunned our fans -- as well as Orton and Umaga -- with a match-ending, death-defying Whisper in the Wind from the top of the steel cage. (Yes, you read that right.) (Watch Jeff's leap

What did the normally laid-back Jeff Hardy see when he was battling Umaga? Did he see Orton holding up his unconscious brother Matt by his hair and then punting him in the head? Did he see a snarling WWE Champion? Perhaps Orton should heed these words from Jeff, uttered before his victory over Umaga.

"Matt's been with me since the beginning. He was on this Earth before me. Every time I've fallen down, he's been there to pick me back up," he said. "Randy Orton, you wanted to kick Matt in the head? Well, I got a message back for you -- I'm taking your title at the Royal Rumble and before then, I'm taking you out."

Randy Orton resorted to head games with Jeff Hardy after the Intercontinental Champion pinned him in a tag team match on Raw. Now, after watching Jeff defeat the mighty Umaga against all odds and channel his own rage to his advantage, what must Orton be thinking? He may have tapped into a side of Jeff Hardy that neither he -- nor anyone else -- may want to see. Who's in whose head now?

Photos: Jeff Hardy vs. Umaga from "Raw Roulette"

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