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Can John Cena and Daniel Bryan help Randy Orton become WWE's top heel?

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The conclusion of last night’s episode of WWE Raw beautifully accomplished two things. It laid the groundwork for a potential Triple Threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WWE’s Royal Rumble event, and it firmly established Randy Orton as the top heel in WWE heading into the Wrestlemania season.

Orton’s rise to this position has come as a complete surprise. For years, Randy Orton has existed in something of a state of limbo, rolling through the roster as a mediocre face while getting away from his roots as the arrogant and vicious heel which earned him the nickname of “The Viper.” It seemed just a year ago that Randy Orton was in something of the twilight of his career, with nowhere left to go and nothing left to do, and throughout 2013 Orton’s matches were received with chants of “boring” or chants directed at commentators or wrestlers long past.

Last night, with the help of a great opponent in Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton finally started drawing the sort of heat he is infamous for. When Orton had Bryan down, he wasted time and taunted the crowd, drawing tremendous heat. And when the match was out of his hands, he took the easy way out, delivering a low blow to Daniel Bryan and accepting a DQ loss rather than risk the more damaging pinfall or submission. Following the loss, Orton was attacked by John Cena, who, as a reward for trying to help Bryan, received an RKO for his troubles. As Raw closed, Orton stood over both John Cena and Daniel Bryan.

Orton and Bryan proved last night that they have tremendous chemistry together, a chemistry which helped Bryan on his road to Summerslam with a handful of great matches with Orton, and a chemistry which helps Orton now as he tries desperately to turn the tide on the “boring” chants and create real, sustained heat heading into Wrestlemania.

In one night, WWE planted the seeds for a bout between Orton and his two biggest rivals of late, John Cena and Daniel Bryan. This Triple Threat match will keep both Bryan and Cena out of the Royal Rumble itself, softening any potential disappointment that fans of either John Cena or Daniel Bryan would experience should either man not win the Rumble, and, if executed correctly, could gain monstrous heat on Orton on the Road to Wrestlemania. With a clean win over both men in one match, perhaps coming off a vicious Punt to Daniel Bryan or John Cena as they have their submission maneuver locked in and the match seemingly in hand, Orton would gain atomic heat. The only issue with such an ending would be the fact that without Cena or Bryan in the picture, Orton would not have a big enough opponent to face at Wrestlemania, a situation which would have to be rectified in the coming months.

Should events continue to unfold as they have in the past few weeks, Randy Orton looks to be the man who will be heading into Wrestlemania with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. While Orton has taken a giant step towards being a worthy main eventer at the Grandest Stage of Them All, he still has a ways to go to re-establish the credibility that has diminished over the past few years. Still, last night was a great start, and with a sufficiently heel-ish showing at Royal Rumble, Orton could become the most hated man in the industry heading into Wrestlemania.

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