The old adage dictates that opposites attract, and on the face of it that certainly seems true of RK-Bro. The team of Randy Orton and Riddle seem like polar opposites, despite the fact they have united to clinch the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship. But as The Sportsman found out while speaking to this seemingly diametrically-opposed combination, the villainous and sadistic ‘Viper’ we see on-screen has more in common with the fun-loving, flip-flop throwing ‘Bro’ than it appears. We caught up with Orton and Riddle ahead of their clash with WWE SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos at the O2 Arena last week to find out what makes their partnership work, on-screen and off.
“We've got a lot in common. I think it works so well because on-screen we don't have anything in common. It's so yin and yang. But in real life we're into the same video games, we are fathers, we love our children.” says Orton, the veteran of the team. The 14-time world champion puts his bond with Riddle down to shared experiences. “We have a lot in common on the outside, and I think it kind of just spills over. There's that connection in real life. There's that comfortability, on screen it just comes across more natural.”
Transitioning as smoothly as they do in the ring while delivering a double-team manoeuvre, Orton throws the question over to his partner, asking of their chemistry, “But why is there so much?” Riddle, a former UFC fighter turned wrestling phenomenon, pulls the curtain back on their mutual appreciation. “I think it's because even though we come across so different, we have a lot of similarities. Even though I might do a couple things differently, I do it my way and Randy does it his way. We have the same thought process when we go into a match. What do we want out of this match? What are we going to get out of this match? How do we get longevity out of this match?”
Switching gears from their in-ring chemistry to their behind the scenes friendship, Riddle continues, “When you work with somebody that's on the same page as you, and then you realise, ‘Oh wow, half the stuff you do outside of here is just like me’. And then, ‘Oh, you got a family too.’ I feel like me and Randy have just really connected as friends because he's helped me out a lot in life.”
In amongst the immense positivity of enjoying their second tag team title reign together, their kinship has been forged by how they handle the bad times in each other’s lives. “I went through a divorce, I'm on the road all the time and stuff. Randy's been through it unfortunately himself. So he's kind of helping me with that while I'm also trying to keep a straight face on TV every night. Trying to be RK-Bro. So it’s a lot to juggle, but I think he's just been there for me, just like I've been there for him. I think the biggest thing is I think we connect so well. If anything, we're like each other's therapists”.
The Sportsman met up with RK-Bro during a press junket where the amiable superstars were willing to tackle every topic. High on the agenda was WWE’s impending return to the UK for Clash At The Castle, the first stadium show on these shores for three decades. The master of the RKO was full of anticipation for the Cardiff Principality Stadium extravaganza.
“It's over here, which is badass. I think it's been 30 years, right? Actually 30 to the year because it was 92 Wembley, right? Bulldog!” Orton recalled, evoking the memory of Davey Boy Smith’s classic Intercontinental title victory over Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart at SummerSlam 1992 inside Wembley Stadium. “I hope I'm booked on that show. I hope we're there. 76,000 people and I heard something about when they opened up those tickets, they went away like that, right? Really quick. That's just a testament to the WWE and how much interest is out there. And I feel like being able to come over here and have a stadium show, especially after COVID and everything like that. All these shows have just had a little bit extra something special to them.”
While no matches have been officially announced for the Clash show, rumours abound that WBC heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury will return to face Drew McIntyre. Fury competed in his first wrestling match against Braun Strowman in 2019, and has opened the door for a return. You can count Randy Orton among those who want to see the match. “As soon as that fight was over, and he was doing the press conference he couldn't wait to say Drew McIntyre's name. I got on the phone right away to Drew, he had already tweeted it. Pushing it and replying and getting it out there. Drew's great. He's a smart guy too. He sees that opportunity and knows that that would be huge for not only himself, but the WWE.”
Orton was also full of praise for the way Fury conducted himself during his last foray into the world of professional wrestling. “I've met Tyson, he was great. He's a fan. So when these guys that are out of our industry come over, and they're fans and there's that mutual respect, you can’t go wrong. Look at Logan Paul, look at Bad Bunny. There's nothing better than an outsider coming in and having a little heart. Tyson is just like that.”
Riddle is an athlete who made a similar transition, but on a permanent basis. An 8-3-2 MMA star and Ultimate Fighter alumni, the 36-year-old made the shift in 2014. It took the cross-codes superstar a little time to find his feet. “I feel like when I first started, a lot of people were telling me to be yourself, but turn it up a little bit. I didn't know what it meant. I was just like, ‘Oh, just be me”. Like a little more audible, a little more in your face.’”
Riddle has honed this part of his game, and the easy charm and charisma he exudes has made him a hit with the WWE Universe. It is a role Riddle takes seriously, “There's at least one part of me that relates to every single person. I don't know what it is yet. But eventually I'll find out and I'll connect with you. Because I know when I walk through that curtain and I'm fist bumping kids and adults I'm looking at them dead in the face and I'm like ‘I'm having the time of my life, aren't you?’. I know I bring that energy out of them.”
His partnership with Orton has helped build Riddle’s skill-set even further. Orton has just celebrated his 20th anniversary in the company, and his vast experience is something Riddle often taps into. “I feel like I've learned a lot about the business side of things and handling myself. Not just in the world of wrestling but in the world of WWE. Because I feel like each promotion, each company I've worked for, kinda has a different landscape from the UFC to WWE to the independent scene. I feel like he's really helped guide me through the waters as smoothly as possible. He's kind of ruffled feathers all the time and he's been helping me out a lot with that.”
When it was put to ‘The Viper’ that this mentorship could blossom into a future role as a coach, Orton distanced himself from the assertion. “I don't think I'm coaching him at all. When you look at what he can do in the ring, it's stuff that I never did or wasn't capable of doing or it's not my style. But he's constantly impressing me with that kind of stuff. So there's no coaching needed there. As far as the other stuff where I'm in his ear, the little things, the in and out of the ring stuff. That's just more of the fact that we're friends and I want to see him succeed.”
Orton’s admiration for his partner’s capabilities certainly shines through. As Riddle’s tag team partner, he has the best seat in the house to watch the ‘Bro’ in action. “He's one of the hardest working guys in the ring. Even when I'm on the apron watching him. You know, he's a goofball. But he's also one of the most intelligent guys I've ever met so he's got a little bit of everything. And when it comes to the stuff he does in the ring, he doesn't hold back.”
From the mouth of such a tenured and respected member of the WWE locker room, these are not just platitudes. Orton elaborated on how other up-and-coming talents differ to Riddle, “Sometimes you know that any advice or time spent on a certain talent could be wasting your time. Not everybody that comes to you and asks, ‘Hey, will you watch my match tonight?’... They don't all really give a f*ck what my critique’s gonna be. Because they just know that it looks good to say it. Over the years, you figure out who's full of sh*t and who's not. And, you know, he obviously wasn't full of sh*t.”
Orton’s selective nature over which young wrestlers deserve his backing has seen him unfairly received at times. Speaking to the former world champion, you realise that he is far from a gatekeeper. He simply wants to see talent giving themselves every opportunity to succeed, and being given those same opportunities by management when the time is right. This does not always happen, as Orton explains. “I got to realise that some of these guys have really just come into this business. They're thrown on live television, maybe been in NXT three months, but they haven't learned. They haven't had enough time to learn. I've given NXT a lot of sh*t over the years, because their guys aren't ready. That's not a knock on the coaching or anything. It's just the system.”
Sensing the gravitas his word’s carry, and perhaps visualising a hysterical reaction from sections of the wrestling media, Orton course-corrected. “God this will be the headline. ‘The system's flawed’. It's not. It's flawed only in the sense that you don't have a certain amount of time it takes for a guy to graduate. You've got the possibility that some guy with an amazing look, but who's green and dangerous as hell, someone up there in Stanford might see him and go, ‘I want him on TV in three weeks’. You can't give a guy 500 matches worth of experience in front of a live crowd in three weeks.”
As the ‘Legend Killer’ explains though, it is less an issue of gatekeeping than it is of safety. “You've got a guy on Raw, being told by a higher up, ‘Hey, red light’s on tonight, live TV. I know this is your first night. You got to make it look good. You got to lay that stuff in’. Now I don't know that my opponent who's green, and only been doing it three weeks and is five times as tall as me has been told to beat the sh*t out of me. So then I go out there in the ring. Work, then it's like boom, boom, whoa! ‘What the f*ck are they teaching you down there?’”
Having reached his 20-year milestone, Orton is taking time to reflect on his own time as a young upstart. His evolving relationship with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is an effective barometer for the changes in his life and career over the course of two decades. “It's totally changed over the years. Early on I was getting in trouble a lot and there were a lot of times I had to go to the principal's office, and I used to dread it. But for some reason, I'd always leave that office and go back to the locker room, and I'd be on the show that night. He had no reason to keep me around.”
McMahon’s persistence has certainly paid off. Not only has Orton gone on to become one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time, but he has matured into a considered, thoughtful family man. “From an early age, when I was f*cking up like that, I think it almost made him want to nurture that part of me. We've grown together in that regard. Now our conversations are a lot different. And if I knock on his door, pop my head in, nine out of 10 times, no matter who's in there, he'll tell them to f*ck off so that I can come in and talk to him, which is pretty cool.”
Now Orton gets a front seat for another such journey, as he helps Riddle navigate the turbulent waters of a career in WWE. Opposites on-screen, blood brothers off it; RK-Bro just works. The villainous ‘Viper’ and the docile ‘Bro’ are a match made in wrestling heaven.