Evolution was far more than just a faction or storyline. We’ve seen many great stables in the past, but in WWE, Evolution was the first of its kind to have the impact that it did. When Triple H introduced the four-man faction in January 2003, expectations were naturally high. After all, he was the man who led DX and would propel himself to main event status.
But when the faction was introduced on WWE television, we didn’t know just how much of an impact it had. Triple H leading the faction had Ric Flair by his side and took the fresher superstars Randy Orton and Batista under his wing. The latter two hadn’t been on the main roster for too long, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
The two OVW graduates had only begun to find their footing in WWE. Batista had a failed opening gimmick where he was known as “Deacon” Batista, while Randy Orton too was just getting started. However, you might be interested to know that Batista was originally not even going to be a part of the faction.
For two years, Batista was the muscle of Evolution, but it was actually Mark Jindrak who was supposed to take that role. While we can never know or say how it would have turned out for him had he taken the role, it’s safe to say that Batista turned out to be a better fit. With that, the ideal faction was formed with the ideal name. It was somewhat of a throwback to the Four Horsemen, but with a different twist. Ric Flair was the past, Triple H, then-reigning World Champion was the present and Randy Orton and Batista were the future.
What often goes overlooked is the fact that Evolution was plagued by injury for a while in the start. In fact, Batista was out for a good part of 2003 because of a torn tricep that happened during a live event. On his road to recovery, he had re-torn his tricep, causing him to return only around October of that year.
Even Orton had suffered an injury soon after his debut, and it was only after he returned that Evolution had formed. Interestingly enough, Triple H had assured both Orton and Batista that they wouldn’t lose their spot, and he was true to his word about it. Once the injuries were all behind them, the dominance had begun. At Armageddon in December 2003, Triple H regained the World Heavyweight Championship from Goldberg, Randy Orton had won the Intercontinental Championship, while Batista and Ric Flair became Tag Team Champions.
By the end of the night, all four members of Evolution held championships, proving that they were there to make a statement. It’s believed that of the two, Randy Orton was supposed to be the breakout star and not Batista. After all, Orton was the third generation star and much younger as well.
As we would later find out, the audience felt differently. But much prior to that, they would begin feuds with many top stars, including Orton, Batista and Ric Flair beating The Rock and Mick Foley in a 3-on-2 handicap match at WrestleMania XX. That would turn out to be The Rock’s final WWE match for over seven and a half years.
Triple H lost his World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XX to Chris Benoit, and it was four months later when Randy Orton beat Benoit at SummerSlam for the title, becoming the youngest World Champion in WWE history in the process (At 24 years old, that record still stands to date).
This was when the cracks of Evolution slowly began to show. Triple H couldn’t stand the fact that Orton was World Champion and not him. He expected Orton to lay down for him and just hand it back. This would mark Randy Orton’s face turn, as Evolution would turn on him with Triple H’s famous “Thumbs down” signal.
After turning on Orton, it was set to kickstart Orton’s great babyface run. However, things didn’t work out as expected and Orton didn’t fare well as a babyface, not necessarily getting the desired reactions. What did happen, however, was the crowd started focusing on Batista. Soon enough, the cracks started showing there as well.
Batista gave looks of disapproval when Triple H showed his ruthlessness but continued to help him anyway. By the turn of 2005, WWE began to tease the idea of Batista as a legitimate contender for the World Heavyweight Championship. Despite protests from Triple H, Batista entered the Royal Rumble match and ended up winning it.
One thing led to another and after Batista managed to see through Triple H’s nefarious schemes, he finally turned face and signed a contract to face Triple H for the World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania 21. But the build-up to the moment is something that we hardly ever see today. It was organic and the crowd wanted it bad.
When Batista was given the choice to sign one of two contracts, Triple H was visibly trying to manipulate him, unaware that Batista was very much on to him. The subtle dialogues such as Batista saying “Hunter, I’ve known what I was going to do for a long time” made it storytelling at its very finest, and the crowd reaction only proved it.
The moment when Batista turned the thumbs up into the thumbs down was one of, if not the greatest moment of the Ruthless Aggression Era. Fans desperately wanted to see The Animal decimate The Game and that’s exactly what happened. From Batista’s desire for revenge to Triple H’s raging insecurity, they really couldn’t have played it out any better than what had happened.
Could the WrestleMania match have been better? Sure. But in the grander scheme of things, it would launch Batista and even Randy Orton to a main event status, reaching new heights that they had never seen before. Batista would be a main eventer until his departure in 2010, winning multiple World titles.
Orton would stay around longer and get even more accolades. He still remains a main eventer to this day, and a legend and future Hall Of Famer. There are few factions that made an impact in WWE the way Evolution did, and there are few storylines that played out as organically and brilliantly.
With the payoff being Batista ending Triple H’s “reign of terror”, it was, in our opinion, the very best of the Ruthless Aggression Era.