When it became apparent that Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt would be engaging in a rivalry on SmackDown Live after SummerSlam, a lot of fans were interested in seeing what kind of magic the two extremely charismatic individuals would be able to conjure up, both in and out of the ring.
Even before Orton had his brutal encounter with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, WWE planted the seeds that “The Viper” and “The Eater of Worlds” would be coming to blows at some stage or another. It was so subtle that it felt like the calm before an inevitable storm that would heighten SmackDown’s excitement levels tremendously going forward from Brooklyn.
Their impeccable mic skills and predator-like in-ring techniques had all the potential to complement one another very nicely, and the psychology would have almost guaranteed that this story would make for some of the most anticipated moments and match-ups on weekly television.
Unfortunately, however, the most eye-catching of stories can turn out poorly under the most untimely circumstances, and this has forced the ongoing rivalry between Orton and Wyatt to fall way below its rightful spot in the pecking order on Tuesday nights.
Granted, the biggest problem here was out of WWE’s control. It went without saying that Orton was going to get the beating of a lifetime at SummerSlam against “The Beast Incarnate”. Sure, Orton is no stranger to competition, but when a WWE Superstar steps foot in the ring against Lesnar, he puts his career in jeopardy, especially if the match is booked in the way Orton’s was.
Orton took some heavy hooks and elbows to the temple toward the finish of the match, leaving him bloodied way beyond anything we’ve seen in a long time on WWE programming, not to mention the devastating succession of German suplexes that preceded them.
It’s no surprise that he suffered a concussion during the exchange, but it was WWE’s decision to keep this under wraps all the way into Backlash that sent this feud in a dangerous direction.
Up until that Pay-Per-View, things were actually alright. The story of the feud up to that point could’ve been slightly better, but the interaction itself was enjoyable, particularly Orton’s promo about a snake waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
But having Wyatt take Orton out just moments before the scheduled match really just took the life out of the feud. The No DQ match that followed with Kane was far beyond expectations, but it still lacked the build and narrative that a Wyatt match requires to leave a lasting impact.
Knowing that Orton had been cleared to compete less than a week later, WWE could have put this rivalry back on the right track to relevancy by having Orton and Wyatt get right back in each other’s face and show some real intensity with “The Apex Predator” vowing to get revenge after Wyatt’s pre-match attack. However, they missed the mark and resorted to old tactics by having Erick Rowan come back to do Wyatt’s bidding for him.
The booking mechanic of having Orton and Wyatt stay away from each other physically until the eventual match at No Mercy is appreciated, because it increases the appeal for when they do eventually step in the ring. However, that’s the only thing the feud has going for it at this point.
SmackDown is such an in-depth brand right now that essentially every feud needs to strike home with the audience for the integrity of the show to stay intact. While Wyatt and Orton have every ability to meet that quota and even weave together a series of moments that take the blue brand by storm, they’re starting to lose steam pretty fast at this rate.
There are two episodes of SmackDown left until No Mercy, so there is still a chance for Orton and Wyatt to send fans into Sacramento on the edge of their seats, but the way they’re going they’ll have to rely solely on their in-ring chemistry to sway the story of the match.
That’s good to a point, because they are by no means weak when it comes to in-ring storytelling, but given the collective talents of both men, the fans wanted as much effort as possible placed into the actual build-up to truly cement this as one of the best rivalries of the brand extension era.
It feels like WWE is banking on Wyatt/Orton being a top draw at No Mercy without putting the work in to make it so. If they keep booking the feud the way they are – seemingly on the fly – it might actually be counterproductive and deflate the hype beyond repair.