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In last week's edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the most recent inductees to the WON Hall of Fame were announced as well as the results for every name on the ballot. The Hall of Fame is determined by a group of accredited journalists, historians, former wrestlers and active talent. To receive induction, you must appear on at least 60 percent of the ballots that you are eligible to appear on. To be listed on the ballot, a wrestler must have at least been wrestling for 15 years or be at least 35 years old and wrestling for 10 years.
Edge and Randy Orton both appeared on the ballot, but neither were able to get elected. Edge came much closer than Orton, garnering 50 percent of the vote to Orton's 35 percent, and to be fair, it takes a long time for a lot of wrestlers to be elected, and both wrestlers are on track to eventually gain enough support to be inducted. However, the vote got me thinking about two wrestlers who were big stars over the last 20 years, and wondering which one of them had a better overall career.
Edge and Orton each were top names for more than a decade in WWE, and both of them had runs as the top heel in the promotion, and were considered the #2 name behind John Cena. So who had a better career? Obviously Orton is still building his resume while Edge is retired, but let's just compare what each guy has done and see who comes out ahead.
What are we considering when we determine who had a better career? Everything; from in-ring ability, to memorable matches, promos, charisma, feuds, drawing power, all of that should be factored in as we determine who had a better career.
I did conduct a brief Twitter survey earlier this week, and Edge came out ahead, receiving 69 percent of the vote. Does that mean Edge had a better career, or do people just like Edge more as an individual? If I asked that same question about Shawn Michaels and John Cena, I wouldn't be surprised if Michaels got a greater percentage of the vote, even though it's obvious that Cena was a much bigger star than Michaels ever was.
Trying to set all biases aside, I'll examine the case for both Edge and Randy Orton, and hopefully arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Of course, determining something like this is always going to involve a certain level of subjectivity, so some people are going to disagree with whatever conclusion I come up with, and that's totally okay; this is just an exercise that will hopefully encourage an interesting debate.
The Case for Edge
The first thing that jumps out when it comes to Edge's career is his versatility. Edge was capable of being both the top babyface and the top heel in a company with relative ease. Not a lot of performers in history can make that claim, and he certainly has the edge over Orton in that department. Edge began his career as a cool, funny young guy, developed into a manipulative heel and eventually ended his career as a beloved, legendary babyface. If you were starting a promotion, you would want a performer like Edge because he could really do it all. If a top star got injured, Edge could flip roles and fill in without a problem.
Edge also has the benefit of wrestling during the end of the Attitude Era, and while he wasn't a main-event star, his tag team work with Christian during that time period has become legendary. Orton may have been a main event star for a longer period of time, but in the long run, what is more memorable; Edge and Christian's ladder matches with The Hardys and The Dudleys, or Orton's forgettable first World Heavyweight Championship reign? Even if he wasn't a main cog in the machine, Edge had a notable role during the WWE's most popular period, which helps his case.
Edge was not the natural athlete that Orton is, but he made up for it by taking a lot of risks in the ring and really putting in a ton of effort into his matches. The ladder matches speak for themselves, but Edge had great matches with Mick Foley, The Undertaker, John Cena, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and more. He had an unconventional wrestling style but made it work and really was a great worker for the duration of his career. I'd argue that he has a better collection of great matches than Orton; or in other words, his Top 10 matches are better than the Top 10 matches of Orton's career.
Edge's biggest advantage though is in his promo skills and charisma. Orton has been able to remain over for most of his career, but he was never the promo or the character that Edge was. Edge could be funny, he could be hyper-intelligent, he could be sadistic, he really was the total package as a character and that is a tremendous strength for him. Orton has plenty of talent but has always been somewhat one-dimensional in his presentation; Edge's versatility and character work helped craft tremendous feuds; throughout his entire career he was just more interesting and compelling than Orton.
The Case for Randy Orton
Based purely on numbers and longevity, Orton has a clear advantage. Orton has been a bigger name than Edge for a longer period of time, and is still going strong today. Orton has been in the main event of 48 different WWE PPVs, almost twice as many as Edge (26) and trailing only Cena, The Undertaker and Triple H in that category. Whether or not he was a better performer than Edge is subjective, but Orton has been positioned as a bigger star for a longer period of time than Edge.
A big reason for that is that Edge dealt with a number of severe injuries throughout his career that ultimately ended it prematurely. Orton may have wrestled a safer, some would say more boring, style, but ultimately that has given him a much longer run than Edge, which is partially why he has been in more main events than Edge.
That durability and longevity has given Orton an advantage in drawing power. Maybe Edge was more popular at his peak, but the length of Orton's run as a main event star (14 years and counting) is staggering. In the modern era, where WWE draws mainly on the strength of the brand and not the strength of individual wrestlers, it's tough to decipher who is exactly a draw and who isn't, but the sheer length of Orton's run has got to give him a significant lead over Edge as a draw.
As a performer, few wrestlers have ever possessed the natural tools and skills that Orton has. Fundamentally Orton is a nearly flawless wrestler inside the ring, his timing and selling are among the best in the world and he is capable of having entertaining matches with any opponent if he wants to.
I wouldn't say that Orton is the most charismatic character in WWE history, but he's been over for more than a decade with his apex predator gimmick; which is backed up by his excellent timing in the ring and the popularity of the RKO. Orton did peak around 2008-2010 when he was punting people in the skull, which was arguably the best run a heel has had in WWE since the end of the Attitude Era. Edge may have been more compelling, but I don't know if he ever dominated WWE as a heel the way Orton did over that stretch.
The last thing I'll say about Orton is that I think in this kind of a comparison he may be unfairly penalized because outside of wrestling, Edge has a more likable persona. Everyone knows Edge as this funny guy that has a goofy show on the WWE Network with his lifelong friend; Orton seems like a very private and reserved guy, and isn't as outgoing as Edge. That's not really a knock against Orton, his performance in WWE isn't related to his personal life, but I think it might paint the contrasting image of Edge as this cool guy you'd want to grab a beer with, and Orton as this grouchy hardass, and that's not fair to Orton since we don't really know that much about his personal life or his personality outside of wrestling.
So who has had the better career? Orton has been a bigger star for a longer period of time; but Edge has been more entertaining and versatile. In the end, I think the answer comes back to Orton's natural talent and ability, and whether that has helped or hurt his career.
Before he even started training to be a wrestler, there were rumors about the son of Bob Orton being a great natural athlete and a tremendous prospect for WWE. As soon as he debuted in WWE, the company was interesting in promoting him as a big star, which means they protected him through booking and were always trying to get him over as a star, which they should have been doing because he was that good and throughout his career he has lived up to those lofty expectations.
While Orton has been a tremendous star in WWE, a lot of fans have criticized his work as boring or generic. This is a valid criticism; over the last several years Orton hasn't been involved in really any memorable angles or feuds, and his matches are almost always fundamentally sound, but rarely eye-catching. For a guy with so much natural ability, it's hard for me to put together a list of great Randy Orton matches off the top of my head. His character, even as a sadistic heel, has grown stale and he was never a great, consistent talker.
I think it's reasonable to suggest that since WWE has always been interested in making Orton a big star, he's never been tasked with getting himself over and evolving his character. Edge was certainly pushed by WWE, but he never was pushed as heavily as Orton was; and he started at the bottom of the card and had to work his way up to the main event. I think that helped instill a drive to be more creative, to take more risks and develop greater versatility to connect with the audience, while with Orton that was all taken care of because WWE always saw him as a major star. That isn't to say that Orton hasn't worked hard throughout his career because he certainly has, but he hasn't always been interesting, while Edge constantly evolved his persona to remain popular with the fans despite what WWE wanted to do with him.
In short, Orton is the more talented performer, but Edge just seemed to want it more, and was more creative throughout his career. It's funny, Edge is the one who had his career ended due to injuries, but do fans feel like we missed out on anything in his career? Orton on the other hand, has been healthy for most of his career and yet, there are a lot of PPVs, especially recently, where his performance is perfectly fine, but leaves fans wanting more out of him.
If I could pick any WWE wrestler to take part in the G1 Climax, I would pick Orton, just to see how he would fair outside of WWE's protected bubble. He has the ability to put on amazing matches and be the star of the tournament, but would he even want too? I have no doubt that if he were healthy, Edge would do great things in the G1. That's the major question that keeps coming up with Orton; that as remarkable as his career has been, he has left something on the table and you can't say that about Edge.
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