Randy Orton ready for ‘Greatest Match Ever,’ pulls no punches with concerns for NXT

Randy Orton believes he’s capable of having a great match with Edge at WWE Backlash.

The two ring veterans will meet again at the Backlash pay-per-view Sunday, continuing a feud that WrestleMania 36’s “Falls Count Anywhere” match couldn’t settle. Their battle has been promoted as “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever,” which is a level of hubristic overstatement that’s impressive even by WWE standards.

“We’ve had several great matches,” Orton said. “But to label a match as the greatest one ever, before it happens? That’s a little different.”

“Vince [McMahon] is a promoter, and he’s promoting, but it’s like hyperbole. I mean, to me [the greatest match is] not possible. So that takes that pressure out of my mind immediately,” Edge told ESPN recently.

While Orton understands that viewpoint, he disagreed slightly with that assessment.

“When we were first told that they were going to dub this match ‘The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever,’ we both felt the exact same way, which was to say, ‘No … don’t do that. Don’t paint us in that corner,'” Orton said. “But I understand where he’s coming from. It’s almost ridiculous, to a point. But now, I certainly feel the pressure myself, and I believe that he does too.”

Orton hasn’t wrestled much since the WWE shifted away from holding events in front of fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I was very fortunate that the only match I’ve had at the [Performance Center] was WrestleMania, and we were only really in the ring for a minute,” he said. “The empty arena … it’s even hard to watch. My heart hurts for the guys that had to work matches. Those fans make the bumps not hurt until you walk back through the curtain a lot of times. The adrenaline level rises. But we adapted.”

While Backlash will be held in that vacuum, albeit with some of the Performance Center trainees and NXT roster filling out the crowd, Orton said he is eager to show he and Edge can live up to their bout’s moniker.

“How cool would it be if me and him tore it up at Backlash and went an hour and had a match that people could consider great?” Orton said. “Even in this day and age, with all the talent in NXT and the main roster, there’s a lot of great matches every week. There are some guys that can do some amazing things and tell stories very well. The pressure was going to be there regardless of what you called the match.”

Orton has had an interesting relationship with “the talent in NXT” recently. He sent a tweet of damning praise about the recent “NXT TakeOver: In Your House” event, hashtagging it “legslap,” a reference to criticism NXT performers have received for slapping their legs for added effect during in-ring maneuvers (and perhaps a subtle nod to his former tag team partners FTR, known as The Revival during their time in WWE).

NXT star Tommaso Ciampa shot back at Orton.

Never one to back down, Orton responded by calling Ciampa “the self-appointed locker room leader of a wrestling school”:

Orton has been openly critical of the style of wrestling found in NXT.

“My biggest concern is that these guys are killing themselves,” Orton said. “Listen, if Shawn Michaels and Triple H were in charge of my developmental, I would go out there every night and try kill myself to get a pat on the back. But that pat on the back doesn’t pay the bills. That pat on the back isn’t going to prolong your career. That pat on the back isn’t going to give them that big paycheck at WrestleMania. I would think coming up to the main roster — to Raw or SmackDown — would be the goal.

“But because NXT has really taken over — and it’s this huge brand, and Hunter’s done so well with it — I think a lot of those guys are content down there. But it’s like, man, you don’t know what you’re missing. They’re all talented. They all work very hard. I’m just worried that I won’t get a chance to work with some of them.”

Orton, 40, acknowledges that the veteran-sage dynamic with an NXT talent like Ciampa, 35, is odd “because a lot of the [NXT] guys have wrestled as damn near long as I have, if not longer in some cases, in the indies.” But Orton had his mentors when he entered the WWE, and said he feels a need to serve the same role.

“Earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have cared about other talent. I would have just been selfishly thinking of myself and whoever I was in the ring with at that point,” said Orton, who was just 19 when he signed his first WWE developmental deal. “It’s a competitive business. But at this point in my career, I’ve done so much now and I’ve been so blessed with so many opportunities that it comes full circle.

“I remember when I was young, there were guys like Triple H and Ric Flair and Undertaker that helped me in ways where I wouldn’t be here in this position if it wasn’t for the feedback and the knowledge that I got in the ring, the locker room and the road. I remember that. And I want to be that for these other guys.”

Orton is unapologetically straightforward, but he acknowledges there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how to find success in the ring.

“My opinions on how a wrestling match should go are just my opinions. The things that have helped me get to my point in my career might not help other people,” Orton said. “Everyone’s different. But I see guys like Matt Riddle, Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole, Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic … there’s a large amount of talent down there and Triple H has done a fantastic job.

“But you can’t do that [style of wrestling] every week or every night. I remember having over 200 matches a year, and there was no one doing that kind of stuff. You had Jeff Hardy, who was a little crazy with his physical aspects. There are certain guys where you don’t know how they get back up after those car crashes [during matches]. Now everyone’s doing it and not everybody is that durable. Injuries pile up, and the next thing you know, you’re in your mid-30s and you never ‘made it’ because you’ve been killing yourself for the NXT brand. And I don’t want [NXT] to be where I go to watch guys shorten their careers by killing each other, by taking power-bombs on the apron when they’ve already had neck surgery, you know? I see a lot of that. It’s my main concern.”

It’s a concern that Orton said he’s tried to share with NXT talent, including Ciampa.

“My back-and-forth with some of those guys … I’ve met them all. With Ciampa, I got his number maybe a year ago from Kevin Owens. We’ve talked back and forth. Six months ago, I ended up giving him a bunch of advice. I don’t think he took it, because I see his style is similar. But I like reaching out to these guys. I like developing relationships with them, because those guys hopefully — if they’re healthy enough — are going to make it to the main roster one day.”

Orton laughed. “And then I’ll be able to have the ‘Second-Greatest Wrestling Match Ever’ with them.”