Where does WWE Superstar Randy Orton go from here?
Randy Orton finds himself in a rather unique situation. His existing WWE deal reportedly runs until January next year and the 13-time world champion is one of the roster's highest-paid superstars. He enjoys the well-earned perquisites of being the most accomplished superstar still active full-time, like having a light live event and house show schedule, while being a constantly-present threat on Tuesday nights with his trademark RKO finisher.
He has been praised by stars like Daniel Bryan and Chris Jericho as one of the best ever to lace up a pair of boots. During interviews from 2017, he expressed his desire to continue wrestling for another decade - tentatively making himself available for WrestleMania 43.
Orton's last major match occurred at Elimination Chamber earlier this year, where he was never favored to win the WWE Title. The last time he held a Championship was at WrestleMania 34, where he lost the US strap to Jinder Mahal. Since then, he's been collecting victims - feuding with Shinsuke Nakamura, Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio and Tye Dillinger after embracing his heel persona once more.
Now, he seems embroiled in a rivalry with AJ Styles, which will pave the way for an encounter at WrestleMania. Many fans have been clamoring for this match ever since Styles' arrival on SmackDown, but herein lies the real question: where does a 13-time champion go from this point in his career going forward?
Orton's impressive legacy sees him with a decision to make
Orton is a bona fide legend with plenty of time remaining in his career and he possesses the most marketable finishing maneuver on the entire roster. It's not as though he has nothing left to offer - his feud with Rey Mysterio displayed his cruel villainous persona, while his use of violent imagery was effective against Jeff Hardy last year. His character had plenty of momentum but has since dropped off, making his upcoming match against Styles a product of the two wrestlers just being there at the right time, as opposed to a well-hyped, built-up storyline that the pair deserved.
Being the last of his generation - including John Cena, Batista and Brock Lesner - who is still wrestling on a full-time basis, his recent booking indicates laziness and highlights just how an elite-level superstar still in his prime can be under-utilized.
The 38-year-old is not at the point where his only function is to put over youngster stars, especially at a time where the younger crop of superstars originates from grizzled indie veterans, most of whom are merely a handful of years younger than him. His in-ring ability remains intact; his star power is undiminished - and it's due to this bulletproof nature of his character that it's easy for him to stagnate, reliant on just his gimmick and accolades.
Could a brand shakeup prove beneficial?
One thing is clear: Orton needs a change of scenery. The match between himself and Styles does not affect the legacy of either superstar beyond some short-term momentum and with Styles seemingly set for new challenges on Raw, it seems more logical for Orton to follow suit and test the red brand's top stars.
Fresh match-ups with the likes of Seth Rollins, Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley, Elias and Finn Balor among others could benefit all parties concerned, while revitalizing Orton's career once more. He doesn't need smaller wrestlers to produce an exciting match, having previously delivered good-to-great matches against Kane, Undertaker and the Big Show.
What Orton's booking has lacked for a long time though, is direction. His "hunt for victims" was an arc which kept him busy, dolling out those crowd-pleasing RKOs and participating in matches that benefited from having his name value, rather than any long-term consideration.
If he's to be utilized in a meaningful manner, it's time for him to unleash his sadism on the red brand with his typical "take no prisoners" attitude, ala 2008/09. He could find himself involved in a serious feud with another babyface superstar in the mid or lowercard - the intention behind the Dillinger angle.
Another alternative could be for Orton to lead a heel stable, where a lengthy storyline would be ideal. It seems tailor-made for him at this stage of his career, able to participate in major matches and lead the faction while mentoring younger talent at the same time - although he's not always been very personable.
Simply put, Orton should be in the championship hunt. He has spent quite some time on the sidelines and still has plenty of gas left in the tank to add to his resumé without taking someone else's spot, while challenging the hauls of Ric Flair, Cena (both 16) and Triple H (14).
There are some who believe that despite being one of the most decorated champions of the last 15 years, Orton's career has been underwhelming. If done right, The Viper will be let loose for many years to come and make up for lost time and opportunities.