Randy Orton talks facial hair, family and respect in the WWE locker room
The former WWE champion opens up about his life as a pro wrestler and what his future holds
As members of WWE's deranged Wyatt Family go, Randy Orton is atypical. To say he doesn't look the part is an understatement.
"I can't grow a beard for shit," Orton told CBS Sports. "And when I grow my hair out, it's always bad."
Orton is a perennial main eventer, a 15-year WWE veteran and a multi-time champion. He's an established uppercard solo act. Call him the "Apex Predator" or the "Viper" if you choose. The idea is that Orton strikes without warning and without the need for much backup.
In a creative twist, WWE has placed Orton as a subservient member of the Wyatt Family faction, led by Bray Wyatt. Until Orton joined the crew, all members adhered to a certain look -- long, unkempt beards; baggy jeans; stained shirts with creepy livestock masks optional.
Orton is willing to serve his grimey masters -- in storyline, of course -- but he draws the line at adopting their ring attire. He won't wrestle in a shirt, although he is starting to understand the advantages of doing so.
"The older I get and the harder it is to maintain a six pack, the more I wish I wore a tactical vest and cargo pants like Roman Reigns," Orton said with a laugh. "But you know, I gotta stay true to the old school wrestling garb and that's the trunks and the tights. I come out with the hoodie now. I feel a little less naked when I walk through the curtain, so that's a good thing."
Orton and Wyatt (real name Windham Rotunda) have a unique bond as third-generation WWE wrestlers. Orton's grandfather, Bob Orton Sr., was a successful grappler in the days of "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. His dad, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, Jr., was a well-known star in the 1980s, most famous for his time as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's right-hand man during the mid-80s wrestling boom.
Wyatt's family roots in pro wrestling begin with grandfather Bob Windham, a.k.a. the late Blackjack Mulligan. His father is Mike Rotunda, famous both under his real name and as the mid-90s WWE character Irwin R. Schyster, an evil tax collector. Wyatt's uncle Barry Windham is arguably one of the best in-ring wrestlers of the 1980s and 1990s, himself a former member of Ric Flair's revered Four Horsemen stable. Uncle Kendall Windham also wrestled, as does Wyatt's brother, Taylor (a.k.a. Bo Dallas).
Orton says he and Wyatt get along great due to how much they have in common.
"Bray [is a] good guy," Orton said. "Without talking out of character, I respect him as a father, too. He's a good father to his girls. Being a third-generation wrestler as well, there's a lot that we have to talk about, a lot that we have in common, and it's always nice. Like with [Orton's former faction] Legacy back in the day, [with fellow third-generation wrestlers] Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, we were just all kind of on the same level as far as that mentality, the respect of the business and the want to do everything we can for everyone in the ring. I think sometimes guys get a little selfish with that. But Bray's on the same page. He knows what needs to be done to make everyone in that ring shine."
Having gone through a recent babyface run that culminated in his one-sided loss to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, Orton welcomed the Wyatt Family storyline as a chance to turn heel again. As a bad guy, "The Viper" is back in his comfort zone.
"I'm enjoying being a heel," he said. "I'm enjoying being a bad guy again, not giving a crap about if the fans cheer me or not, not looking to them for approval before I set up for an RKO, but being able to be who I feel I am more naturally, and that's just kind of an a------."
Orton's finishing move, the RKO, took on a life of its own a couple years ago when it became the focus of a popular internet meme. If there was a GIF, Vine or video of someone eating it on a skateboard, falling off a roof or face-planting down a flight of stairs, it got the "RKO outta nowhere" treatment. Through creative editing, the memes were modified to make it look like Orton jumped into the scene and delivered an RKO to the victim at the point of collapse.
Orton enjoyed an uptick in popularity from the meme explosion and was entertained by the endless supply of fresh memes in tribute to the RKO.
"I'd hate to say some of the ones where they really looked like rough landings were my favorite, but there's a couple things where I'm pretty sure people had a hard time getting out of bed the next morning," Orton said. "But those are usually the best ones. A few of the weddings, where like the bride takes a bump, and I just sneak in there you hear Michael Cole, 'RKO OUTTA NOWHERE! OH MY GOD!' It's hilarious how they edit these things together."
Having grown up around wrestling and being involved himself for the past 15 years, Orton's perspective on the business is unique. Not only has WWE's product evolved, but the locker room atmosphere has, too. Orton says there are positives and negatives to the latter.
"I remember walking into our locker room [as a rookie] and there's a few guys I can't even name, but you had a crew of guys that were very intimidating and commanded respect," Orton explained. "You could also go to them and get advice, and you would get that advice. Nowadays, a lot of the younger guys, I find myself -- and I see other guys that have been around -- having to go to them with suggestions on how to make their 'product' better. Whether it's selling or facial expressions or just slowing down a little bit. But no, they're not coming to us. And I remember just years ago, you were always seeking out that advice. It's almost like some of these guys that have been in the indies 15 years think they know everything. That's probably the only negative difference that sticks out to me."
In fairness to the new wave of WWE superstars -- many of whom sharpened their skills on the independent wrestling circuit, or "the indies," for years before getting a WWE break -- Orton explained that some guys might not be aware of the traditions associated with respect among WWE performers.
"It's not that they don't respect the business," he said. "I think that they just don't understand what the respect for the business should be like backstage, if that even makes any sense. Let me backtrack a little bit. When I started I was very young, had no experience, came up and appreciated every breath I took in that locker room because I knew that I was very fortunate to be there.
"Some of the guys now [don't get that]," Orton continued, "whether it was a pro athlete that came in and thought like 'Oh, this is easy' and then they had a rude awakening and had a little bit of an attitude, too. Whether it's a guy that's been in the indies for 15 years, comes up and doesn't think he needs to go around and shake hands, you know, which sounds silly. But we're all traveling the world together, around each other more than we're with our families, and you know, you want to have that camaraderie."
Regardless, Orton says the current roster is full of talented, good people, and he's happy to work among them.
"There's competition, but it's a friendly competition," he said. "No one's looking to stab anyone in the back, especially on SmackDown Live. I can speak for our crew more than Raw, of course. But it's a really good group of guys and gals and everybody respects each other."
One of his favorite people on SmackDown Live happens to be a guy who made his name grinding through the indy circuit and headlining virtually everywhere but WWE. Reigning world champion A.J. Styles has had an amazing 2016, debuting at the Royal Rumble after an impressive stint in New Japan Pro Wrestling and many years as a top star for Impact Wrestling.
On a personal and professional level, Orton is very impressed with Styles.
"Being aware of who he was for so long and never really knowing who the man was, getting to know him especially on this European tour, he's a family man," Orton said. "Loves his kids. He's always FaceTiming the wife and kids, and I respect that. [I respect] guys that are able to do this but still stay grounded and gush about their kids and what they did with them on their off days. He's one of those guys."
Aside from being in the company of a swell guy, hanging out with Styles on the road has other advantages.
"I'm a big video game mark, too, and he's always got the XBox out with his little portable 19-inch screen," Orton said. "So we've got a lot in common, and he's just an all-around good guy. I can't wait to get in the ring and do some business with him."
While he feels it's a bit early to speculate on his plans for WrestleMania 33 on April 2, 2017, Orton is enthusiastic about working with Styles in the future. If that happened at a show the size of WrestleMania, all the better.
"He's at the top of my list, as far as guys that I look forward to working with that I haven't worked with before," Orton said. "Most definitely, 100 percent guaranteed, me and him would kill it every night. He's one of those guys that can do anything. I have certain things that I'm good at, too, and I feel like the mixture of both of our talents would really give the people something that they would never forget."
While he may describe himself as "kind of an a------," Orton clearly values family these days. He likes and appreciates Styles and Wyatt for being good fathers. Orton's appreciation for family came through in an unexpected moment at November's Survivor Series event when, during a match, Shane McMahon (son of WWE honcho Vince McMahon) appeared to be knocked out during a match in which Orton was one of his partners. Breaking character during a live broadcast, Orton approached McMahon's children at ringside to comfort them.
"I know what it's like to be in his position and I know what it's like to be in his family's position, because I've been on both sides growing up in the business," Orton explained. "Especially having my kids ringside when I've been hit a little too hard, maybe, if you know what I mean, or got a gash across the top of my head in a ladder match. I know that the kids worry. And I knew where they were sitting and I also knew that the match was gonna slow down to tend to Shane and make sure he was alright. So I just thought you know what? What better use of my time for the next 15 seconds than to go over there and talk to his kids and make sure they're cool?"
Orton had a brief chat with McMahon's children at ringside and told them not to worry.
"I told them their dad was a champ and he was a tough dude, and he's fine, and it's just part of what we're doing right now, kids. Don't worry about it. And they smiled and the wife was happy, and everything was cool," he explained.
After the fact, it dawned on Orton that he may have been caught on camera breaking character.
"At first I was like 'Oh man, I'm blowing my gig, I can't be that guy,'" he said. "But at the same time, that's who I am. The people got to see a little side of me and that's the nurturing father figure that I am for my kids."
Two days after Survivor Series, Orton and his wife Kimberly welcomed a daughter into the world. He said everyone in the family, including mom and baby, are healthy and doing great. The Orton clan remains close knit. Even the once-sinister "Cowboy" Bob Orton has adapted well to being a grandfather.
"He's got eight grandbabies, so he's got plenty of ways to keep busy," Orton said. "He's good, man. He picks me up from the airport every Wednesday morning when I fly home from SmackDown, takes me home, hangs out a little bit. And then my mom, sister, brother, my dad, they'll come over and we'll barbecue, you know, whenever the weather is good. So I get to see [dad] quite a bit. He's doing great."
During his time as a WWE superstar, Orton has seen former wrestlers like The Rock and Batista branch out into acting for TV and film, sometimes with smashing success. Having started out together on WWE's main roster in 2002, Orton and John Cena are forever joined at the hip by wrestling history. Over the years, they've feuded, they've carried the company, and they've come to define their era of sports entertainment.
Like The Rock before him, Cena is popping up in movies and on non-wrestling TV, recently hosting "Saturday Night Live." Orton thinks Cena is the perfect guy to visit a place like SNL and help shatter any misconceptions about pro wrestlers among cast members.
"I don't know what they think about professional wrestlers or WWE superstars, if they've ever met any of us, because usually that dispels the myth of the pro wrestler right away," Orton said. "John is one of the smartest guys in the world. Even if they've never met any of us and don't really have an idea of who we are, he's gonna be one of the best representatives to represent our locker room. One of the wittiest people I've ever known."
Orton himself has enjoyed some acting gigs outside of WWE. His most recent project is a guest starring role on USA Network series "Shooter," in which Orton plays a former Navy SEAL in charge of a militia group. The episode airs Tuesday, Dec. 19, immediately after SmackDown Live.
Despite having little preparation time before shooting the episode, Orton says he had a great time and credits the show's cast and crew for helping him maximize his acting performance.
"Normally, I would have had an acting coach for a week or two," Orton said. "I didn't have that opportunity [this time] but I think the final product, you're not gonna tell the difference, and that's because of the cast and crew. Omar Epps, Ryan [Phillippe] were great. John Hlavin, [executive producer Mark] Wahlberg, everybody worked together to make sure that they got the best out of me that they could, and I think everyone's going to be happy."
That said, don't look for Orton to pursue a career trajectory similar to The Rock's anytime soon. Acting is cool, but WWE is his home.
"One day, when I'm unable to physically perform, would I want to pursue more of an acting career? Eh, maybe," Orton said. "But I think my home is with the WWE, being on the road and wrestling in front of a live audience."
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