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Keith Lee Randy Orton

Pro Wrestling

The RKO is overrated, but it doesn’t have to be

The RKO often comes from outta nowhere — and that’s exactly the problem.

Finishing moves are a staple of any wrestler’s repertoire — more often than not, they are the big climax of the match, the big finish. Finishers need to look believable and like it would really be something that keeps someone down for the count. A finisher needs to be either the big finish or a big turning point for the match. It needs to have weight, both physically and narratively. Does the RKO have these things? R-K-NO it doesn’t! (Sorry, I just really had to get that pun in here somewhere.)

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OK, I know that this take may seem a bit contrarian, so I want to first establish what I like about it, as sort of a show of good faith. There are times where the RKO can be absolutely amazing, and that is when is momentum is conveyed properly; when it appears that Randy is actively pulling someone down with him. This, however, is more dependent on the person selling than the person administering it.

Hey, remember when Ali kept countering the RKO and then they never followed up on that? This is unrelated to the point at hand but I’m still mad about that.

The best example of what I mean can be found with Rob Van Dam’s sell of the RKO. He doesn’t just fall with Randy, but makes it seem like Randy really is yanking down on him. RVD makes it appear as if his body’s momentum is a direct result of Randy dragging him down.

We can see more recent examples do this as well, albeit with not as much gusto. Rusev sort of does it here and here. Meanwhile, Ricochet does an absolutely amazing job selling the RKO and I love it. All of these sells take the RKO and turn it into a variation of a DDT. This is when the RKO looks its strongest, and when I absolutely love it.

Most of the time however, the person taking the move usually just appears to bounce off of Randy’s arm or chest. Take a look at number 8 on WWE’s other list here, the one against Triple H or really any of the ones in any RKO compilation. It doesn’t look bad, but it just looks like a modified Stunner to the point where I think a Stunner would visually just be a lot more effective. It’s not a bad move, but for how amazing it is built up to be, it’s extremely underwhelming.

However, the worst variation of an RKO has to be the surprise RKO in the air. Take a look at the clip with Neville. It is hard to tell that Randy is actually contributing anything after pulling him off the ladder. It simply looks like Neville would have hit the canvas the same exact way if Orton had just stood that after yanking him off. Randy following up by falling down next to Neville is almost comical. It’s almost like he decided to just flop down with him for the fun of it.

And this is true for anytime Randy hits an RKO on someone who is already in the air. All Randy does is drop down next to them. It doesn’t feel like he has done anything. All he has done is flop down in their vicinity. It happens again, and again, and again, and again. That’s not a move. That’s pretending to be a fish.

I’ll even throw on a flame-resistant suit and say this is true for the WrestleMania 31 RKO against Seth. The setup for the RKO where he uses Seth’s curb stomp to spring him up in the air is amazing, and Randy’s reaction afterwards is a lot of fun. Both of these things disguises how blah the RKO actually is. The RKO itself isn’t cool — the bits before and after it are.

Randy Orton delivers an RKO to Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 31
This was the cool part. Not the RKO itself.

However, the issue with the RKO is not just the actual mechanics of the move, it’s also just how it’s used. There is no build up to the move. There is no tension, there is no anticipation. Most (not all, but most) of the most iconic finishers have a windup. The RKO is defined by its lack of wind up, that it can come out of absolutely nowhere. 

There are times when this surprise makes for a good twist to a match. A sudden, devastating move that shuts down everything can absolutely be amazing, however most of the time it never feels earned. It just feels like creative threw a dart at the wall to determine where the match should end and then just have Randy do an RKO to finish things. It’s extremely anticlimactic.

In short, the RKO is not just poorly used narratively, but overused as well. It’s built up as a great move when in all honestly it’s fairly underwhelming visually. However, this doesn’t mean it has to be. It can be amazing if it’s used appropriately and if its sold properly. Really the RKO just needs some new paint and fine tuning.

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