Randy Orton was the winner of this year’s Royal Rumble, meaning that, barring any unforeseen swerves in the storyline, he will face the champion at Wrestlemania in a few months. I was at a party where we held a raffle, and I was fortunate enough to pull his number (23) and win 75 bucks. This all reminded me that I interviewed him once, a couple years ago, heading into Wrestlemania 30. I started off with 2 sets of questions: One for if he wanted to maintain kayfabe and another for if he wanted to do a shoot. He said “I don’t know what those words mean.” So kayfabe, it was…although by about the second question, we lost all sense of formality, and I felt I got some fairly candid stuff from him.
Current World Wrestling Entertainment Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton is one of the most accomplished performers in the ring today. The son of the distinguished Cowboy Bob Orton, Randy started his career back in 2000 at Louisville’s own Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) where, under a developmental contract with WWE, he bodyslammed and dropkicked his way to the top along with John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin, just to name a few. By the time he made his debut on WWE programming in 2002, he was a highly-polished wrestling machine and became one of their top superstars very quickly. He returns to Louisville for Wizard World on the eve of his title defense against former Evolution stable partner and fellow OVW alum Batista at the greatest event in all of sports entertainment, Wrestlemania XXX on April, 6. Here’s what he had to say about returning to his first wrestling home.
Louisville is certainly a great wrestling town, and it’s not unusual to spot wrestlers around town. How does it feel to come back to your former home?
My “college years” were basically spent in Louisville. That was my time to socialize and find myself and grow up and do like most people do when they’re going to school, or doing whatever they do after high school. I went into the Marine Corps, came out, and was lost. After a few short months, I found myself in Louisville, Ky. That’s where I met a lot of guys that I still know to this day. That’s when I found out that I had this underlying talent of being a pro wrestler, a WWE Superstar. I had never really been in the ring before that, other than just playing around with my dad when I was on the road with him as a child. I had no idea that this was something that I could excel in. So I found out a lot about myself in Louisville, and I’ll always remember that it happened there. I have my favorite places to eat, and there’s Powerhouse Gym off of Breckenridge. There’s a lot of spots I remember, and even when we go back there, I see fans that I still remember coming to our show every Sunday at the Davis Arena. Louisville will always hold that place in my heart.
How do you handle life on the road?
It’s just like anything once you get used to it. The human body is capable of many things. I’m reading Lone Survivor right now, and not to compare myself to a Navy SEAL, but they do a lot of things that we do, too. I don’t want to say they go unnoticed, but the year-long travel is hard on your body. It’s hard on you mentally. It’s hard to be away from your family so long, but it’s just something that is required of you to be a WWE Superstar.
How do you feel about defending the title against your old friend Batista going into Wrestlemania?
I think it’s great that here we are, a decade later, and even though Dave’s path led him elsewhere, he found his way back here. He’s saying on the show how he loves this business and that’s why he’s back, and I think a lot of the fans are rolling their eyes at him, but they don’t know all the reasons that he left this business. And I’m not saying I do, but I do know Dave. And I know no matter what happens at Wrestlemania between me and him or on the road to Wrestlemania, I’m glad that Dave and I are on top. It’s Evolution, over a decade in the making.
It’s very exciting to see OVW guys on top. Watching you guys in those days, there was no doubt as a fan that you guys were on your way up.
Well, we sure as hell had doubt. Or I tell you what, I did. (laughs) That first half a year down there, I didn’t know left from right. I didn’t know when I was running off the ropes to tackle a guy, if he was gonna tackle me or I was gonna tackle him, I didn’t know to grab a headlock. My first dropkick, it was in front of guys like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Dave Batista. These guys are All-Americans, NCAA division 1 champions, college athletes. Mark Henry and Big Show were down there. That ain’t funny to me. They’re big old behemoths, been in the business. I got nothing but respect for these guys, and I throw this dropkick, and damn near cleared the guy’s bellybutton! I landed on my ass, I just jumped up and put my legs out. People assumed that I had been in the ring with my dad for years, rolling around, learning the ropes, but that wasn’t the case. We wrestled in the pool during the summer, but he didn’t teach me wristlocks and top-headlock takedowns. It was a rude awakening, but I buckled down, got as good as I could, and six months later, I started to feel at home down there. Then I was one of the first guys up.
What message do you have for the fans in the WWE Universe coming to meet you at an event?
It’s been a long time since I did an autograph session, so bare with me! I’m looking forward to going back to my old stomping grounds, looking forward to seeing some familiar faces, all the friendly people I remember seeing. I’m sure not all of them will be friendly, given my current status in the WWE, but if they want the Viper’s autograph, I’m gonna give it to them.