When Randy Orton hits his elevated DDT, even though he's no longer on Raw, I can still hear the voice of Michael Cole yelling, "Vintage Orton!" In actuality, what we saw Tuesday night on SmackDown Live was the true vintage Randy Orton.
After we got a little taste of this side of Orton when he attacked Jeff Hardy after his lightning-quick loss to Shinsuke Nakamura at Extreme Rule, we got the full meal on Tuesday.
Coming out to prevent Hardy from re-capturing the United States title from Nakamura, Orton didn't just break up the pin after a Swanton Bomb. Orton orchestrated a vicious and vile attack, going as far as to put his fingers in Hardy's earlobes, stretching the holes left by Hardy's gauge piercings. He also repeatedly slammed the back of Hardy's head into the ring steps and gave him the aforementioned elevated DDT off the announce table onto the floor.
Despite a run as WWE champion, Orton's character had grown stale recently. He felt unnatural and incredibly bland as a face. Now, he gets to go back to where he was at his prime as a character: as a borderline-sociopath type heel. We got a brief taste of it during his WrestleMania feud with Bray Wyatt, but it felt a little forced and led to one of the oddest WrestleMania matches, complete with worms projected onto the ring mat.
No, what we're setting the stage for is the Orton who vilely punted adversaries in the head and struck psychologically just as much as he struck physically. In case you missed his previous reign of terror, go back and watch some of his feuds with Triple H, John Cena, or his "Legend Killer" run with Mick Foley or The Undertaker.
But he isn't the only one who has benefited from the slight tweaks and adjustments to his character on SmackDown. The two members of Tuesday's main event have also found sweet spots for their personas.
Hardy, by adding a little twist of "broken" to his arsenal, has become a much stronger promo. His quirkiness and unpredictability now more accurately matches his in-ring style. Add in his facepaint and overall look, and he's unique and noticeable.
Nakamura, on the other hand, owns his heel turn, and it's only better now that he has the United States championship. He is sneaky, a physical force and delightfully disrespectful to his rivals. Now that he has a title to defend and protect, he can pull out all the stops to hold onto it.
It's hard to tell if this will turn into a non-title feud for Orton and Hardy. There's still a lot of storytelling to do for Orton to give his twisted reasoning for brutalizing Hardy. These two could carry a program all the way to SummerSlam. And since WWE has made it a point to show Nakamura on screen during Orton's attacks, both at Extreme Rules and on SmackDown, it could also turn into a triple threat for the U.S. title.
Whatever combination WWE chooses to use for these three at SummerSlam, they've done their part to set up for success. All three are in a spot where they can shine.
Hits and Misses
The Miz cut a heel eulogy on the end of Team Hell No a day after winning Celebrity Softball Game MVP? I don't know which was the greater accomplishment, but the biggest moment of the night came as Miz resumed his verbal assault on Daniel Bryan. It may be finally time for the long-established storyline we've waited for to finally take place and if the setup on SmackDown was the starting point, it was a perfect one. Bryan rushed the ring after Miz's words and got the best of his nemesis, ultimately staring Miz down while the crowd erupted in "Yes!" chants. If we finally get this match at SummerSlam, it will definitely be a treat.
AJ Styles doesn't have a path to SummerSlam right now, something that WWE said will be sorted out a bit next week. His character is so well-defined as of an elite in-ring competitor who has deserved self-confidence. Andrade "Cien" Almas was also put in a big spot with a match for Styles, and the two shined. It's clear Almas is ready for the big stage and while he probably won't be in a main event spot at SummerSlam versus Styles, Almas is a most definitely a future main eventer.
WWE is doing a better job of having women's programs outside of the title picture. Becky Lynch's redemption story has been a good one, and it seems to lead to Carmella at SummerSlam. We'll see the two of them in a non-title match next week. Lynch is as over as ever, and deserves the big spot.
I'm enjoying what SAnitY and New Day are doing. I've been clueless on what Sanity actually stands for. Are they anarchists, simply crazed or staunch anti-pancake advocates? However, you put them across from the pro-fun New Day, and the trio makes a little more sense as just a group who wants to take down others. Throw in that these teams have excelled at six-man tags, and I wouldn't mind seeing these matchups continue if they're not going to be in the title picture.
So...is Lana still Russian? Is it on a sentence-by-sentence basis?
Tye Dillinger got the commercial break entrance and was beaten quickly by Samoa Joe. But he got a backstage segment and some frenzied offense in before succumbing to the Coquina Clutch. Dillinger was at his best in NXT when he was fighting self-doubt and for his spot on the roster, and there are signs that he's going back there. As for Joe, if there isn't a firm storyline for him, I like keeping him an unbeatable force and on our minds.