At WWE Backlash 2017 on May 21, Randy Orton will defend his WWE Championship against Jinder Mahal. So far, the feud has received mixed reviews from fans. Above all else, however, it has exposed Orton as being a weak WWE champion.
Mahal's shoehorning into the title picture after losing almost every match he had been involved in for months on end hasn't helped matters, but in his defense, he has done a decent job of reinventing himself and coming across like a legitimate threat to the champion.
Orton, on the other hand, has been far from compelling since capturing the title from Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 33. That rivalry had run its course after eight long months, and this feud with Mahal hasn't been much better.
Having recently celebrated 15 years on WWE's main roster, Orton remains a cornerstone of the company and can lend credibility to those he works with. Unfortunately, he just isn't at all interesting as a babyface world champion regardless of the Superstar he's facing.
Although he has yet to do well in the role, taking the title off Orton at Backlash would be premature considering Mahal isn't ready for such a spot. There are ways he can freshen up his stagnant character to ensure the rest of his reign as champ isn't as lifeless.
In 2010, Orton embarked on the hottest babyface run of his career shortly following the dissolution of The Legacy. It wasn't long before he was contending for the WWE Championship, eventually winning it to a raucous reaction in Chicago at that year's Night of Champions event.
At that point, he was exciting to watch in the ring and largely let his actions do the talking. Somewhere along the way, he lost that edge and has been reduced to a boring shell of his former self.
It's no secret Orton is significantly more comfortable as a heel than he is as a babyface, but he doesn't have to turn in order to thrive as a titleholder. Rather, he needs to return to being that laid-back babyface we saw in the summers of 2015 and 2016, when he was more focused on having fun and entertaining the audience.
We also saw shades of that side of Orton during his time with The Wyatt Family. Granted, he held the SmackDown Tag Team Championships for a total of two weeks, but it was the most captivating his character has ever been, so holding gold is not what makes him feel uninspiring.
If Orton can tap back into what made him a fan favorite to begin with, his title reign could be as enthralling as it has the potential to be, especially with the slew of stars he is bound to do battle with in the coming months.
AJ Styles is an obvious opponent for Orton, and their matches are guaranteed to be good. That feud may not take place until SummerSlam, and in the meantime, The Viper will need to prove himself as a credible champion.
Since beating Wyatt for the belt at 'Mania, Orton hasn't been the focal point of SmackDown Live. Instead, a majority of the focus has been on Styles and Kevin Owens' pursuit of the United States Championship.