A WrestleMania Preview THAT CAME FROM THE VAULT: Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins

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With WrestleMania Sunday, it's time for The Classical to present a WrestleMania Preview THAT CAME FROM THE VAULT. Today, it's Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins.

In a few days, sometime around 1:30 PM PST, Randy Orton is going to be sitting in his hotel room in Santa Clara, possibly enjoying an episode of Rick and Morty (as all good Christians do), and he will have two epiphanies. The first epiphany will likely move quickly out of his thoughts as his mind races to the second, which will cause him to pause the episode (probably Rick Potion No. 9), and chuckle to himself. A moment will pass, and he will resume the show.

The first epiphany will come from a realization that a solid few of us have come to understand: that he is truly a once in a lifetime performer, subtle in his greatness. Not just in the sense that it comes from the gradual accumulation of every tiny bit of business he has done to become a character entirely constructed out of professional wrestling, but in our inability to fully appreciate or comprehend these things while they are actual happening.

The other epiphany? That he’s been here before, albeit with the roles reversed.

He’ll think of how he found himself in the same place Seth Rollins is for their bout at WrestleMania 31, working a match with impossibly high narrative stakes built around the same seemingly insurmountable odds against an inarguably unique character, and more importantly, performer in the history of the business. Then he’ll remember that it was The Undertaker ten years ago in the space he occupies now. That’s when he’ll chuckle.

***

In 2005, The Streak as we now understand it had not yet become the focal point of The Undertaker’s story at WrestleMania. While the “trailer” -- for lack of a better terms -- for the match between Randy and Taker makes reference to it, and oh-so-cleverly turns the O in Orton into a 0, there are no comparisons to Joe DiMaggio or Cal Ripken clouding the story being told. The entire point of that match was to see how the golden boy, the chosen one, would fare after disrespecting a force of nature at its strongest.

The parallels between them at this juncture (meaning Taker in 2005 and Randy in 2015) in their respective careers are obvious: Cornerstones of the company in their respective eras who, in no uncertain terms, are KILLING guys with historically sadistic personas and methodical demeanors/finishers that are as over with the audience as they are themselves.

But they aren’t what make the match, or the comparison, work. It’s Seth Rollins doing his best Orton impression, both as a character and physical presence. They aren’t just “blue chippers” but prototypes where they accidentally lost the mold. Platonic ideals, carrying personas built with a perfect alchemy of heel tropes -- brash, cocky, young and disrespectful, branded as the future-of-the-company backed by the most powerful (and evil, always evil) people in the business -- who happen to have a federal reserve of talent to back up their spot on the card and prospects going forward.

What’s nearly as unnverving as an Undertaker entrance for the rest of the workers in the WWE is that Rollins has more going for him than did Randy back then. And Randy had a LOT going for him: A transcendent talent that was bred for the industry and from, a physical standpoint, everything anyone has ever wanted in a professional wrestler, he was (and is) LeBron is spandex.

But what made Orton the “Apex Predator” -- the WWE’s way of saying King Shit of Fuck Mountain-- came much later, during his transformation into the Viper. He began to piece everything together psychologically while maintaining the physical grace and body control of someone half his size. That’s something Seth has had in his back pocket since he was Tyler Black in an ROH ring, and probably since he was Colby Lopez growing up in Iowa.

Making matters worse (or better, if you’re in the Seth Rollins business) is that he knows there is something about his face that makes people want to see it get punched. And like Orton, he knows where he is in the ring at all times, while having enough patience and appreciation for his craft to, both, make himself and his opponent look strong. He GETS it. Seth Rollins is what you would get if you stacked Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler on top of each other, and gave them a comfortable presence on the mic.

That may sound like a dig, but it isn’t for the same reasons that saying a million 2 Chainz’ and Big Seans with a million typewriters could never write something as poignant and passionate and culturally relevant as Blacker the Berry by Kendrick Lamar doesn’t diminish the former rappers’ accomplishments. Like Bryan and Ziggler, 2 Chainz and Big Sean go hard and perform their specific craft better than nearly everyone in their same market space. But Kendrick, like Seth, manages to simultaneously function on every level that they do, along with a few that they seemingly never will (and certainly never as consistently.)

If you need proof of this, please refer to the segment on Raw a month or so ago where Seth Rollins verbally sparred with Paul Heyman. If I honestly believed that either Dolph or Daniel could stand in a ring with Paul and not use the words “…every damn night” or “do I think… (followed by a YES chant)” throughout the segment, then I would be writing a different article right now, as one of those guys would likely not be busy restoring prestige to the Intercontinental title.

The most delicious apples in the world will never become ambrosia. Knowing that and saying it out loud doesn’t mean you think the are apples bad, just that you appreciate that the Nectar of the Gods tastes better.

Seth is special in the same way that Randy, Taker and even Paul Heyman are. They feel as though they are a real person making decisions and saying things that come from their own hearts and minds instead of what was on the script or planned out in advance. There’s no uncanny valley with them, no moment that takes you out of the show to make you start thinking about “the show” and what it all means. You believe in what they are doing out of compulsion, not willful suspension of disbelief.

But, much in the same way that they confound expectations and classification as performers, the matches between these men were not and will not be passings of a torch. Both matches exist as a showcase for the kid that we all know is going to be a Big (read: Enormous) Deal, but will ultimately end (for my money) with the cornerstone sitting firmly in his place, uncompromised.

In recognizing all of this, Randy’s afternoon chuckle to himself won’t be rooted in self-aggrandizement or Horowitz-level back-pattery. It’ll be on an understanding that, like that night at the Staples Center ten years ago, Sunday’s match will go a long way in building the future. Not toward cementing the next Any Body -- be it Randy Orton, Paul Heyman, Undertaker or even Jeff Hardy -- but the first Seth Rollins.

Daron "Action" Jackson is a male possessing a number of toes on his feet largely equal to the number of fingers on his hands. He occasionally uses the latter to produce thoughts in the form of collections of words from which meaning can be derived.

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