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[2008-01-27-WWE-Royal Rumble] Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy

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At MSG for the WWE Title between two guys who were genuinely hot at the time and this felt like a big deal. Orton came out of a HHH title feud with the title and his heat while Hardy had been getting a super push all through January, culminating with a huge dive off the Titan Tron that the company actually sold huge for a long time after this.

Anyway, I always feel that Orton's best run was in 2011 but I did enjoy his work through 07-08 up until his injury. He was working a slower style, he was busting out things like the Garvin Stomp, the punt and the apron DDT and when he did have to bump and sell (some of his best attributes in my opinion), his matches tended to bump up a notch. He was Cena's best opponent at this time and based on this, he would have been Hardy's had this become a series.

I remember reading a review of a Hardy match where someone (I forget who, sorry) brought up how Hardy's sloppiness used to result in self-harm but now he was using that sloppiness to hurt everyone else and that's really the case. And while I wouldn't call it sloppy as such, the way he throws himself at Orton, in the same way he used to throw himself at ladders, makes everything look incredibly painful. His dropkicks look like they could stop Orton's heart and Orton takes a nasty bump from a baseball slide, just throwing himself backwards into the apron, neck first that kicks the match into overdrive. Orton decides to bail and take the count out before Hardy interrupts and slams his head off the table as Orton adds a nice touch where he swings at nothing in his addled state. This time, Hardy takes a spill to the outside as Orton interrupts a springboard attempt with a great dropkick. From there, the pattern of the match unfolds with a lot of spots based around Hardy "putting his body on the line" to win the belt; there's a running clothesline to the floor, a big bump to the post sprinkled around Orton's attempts to keep him down, choking the energy out of him. Orton always used to get a lot of shit about the rest holds of doom but here, he has a lot of subtle touches like wrenching the neck, using a leg scissors, occasionally standing for more leverage and it really feels like a dude who is just desperately trying to stop his opponent from flying around and beating the shit out of him.

Hardy's comeback and the nearfalls begin with a nasty looking Whisper in the Wind that Orton decides to take on the back of his head, the corner dropkick which, again, looks like it could break a rib and another dive to the outside, this time a moonsault. Hardy rolls Orton back inside, goes for the Twist of Fate but Orton smoothly reverses into an RKO which puts Hardy down. At the time, it felt disappointing that Hardy lost but with the imminent return of Cena, along with HHH, you probably needed a heel champion going into Mania but I'll be damned if people weren't crying out for Hardy to get a run with the belt. I've always had a fondness for the match but you can definitely criticise Orton's control segment, even if I felt it fit the whole story and it did feel oddly truncated or like it was the first in a series, considering Orton gets the flash victory and barely escapes with the belt (note that Hardy doesn't hit the Twist of Fate or Swanton Bomb once). The whole thing felt like a champion who was always on the cusp of losing his belt, who had no answer to the guy in front of him and had to take his one shot when he got it. Unfortunately for Hardy, he did. Like I said, this would have been a fantastic series to run throughout the Autumn PPVs but it never happened and this, I believe, remains their one and only shot on PPV.

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