When I began recapping this series, I stated that 2002-2007 was a bit of a blur for me. Sure I roughly know what happened during this time, but to an extent, the faction known as ‘Evolution’ was a bit of a mystery to me.
For a group that lasted for three years, it’s somewhat surprising this is the longest episode of Ruthless Aggression so far yet by the end it’s easy to see why. The episode begins with the one-night reunion of Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista on SmackDown in October 2018 to mark the show’s 1000th episode. I never understood why Evolution was put in this position; their reign of dominance happened on RAW.
The Champion and The Mentor
Early on we’re given a brief overview of when Hunter and Flair were at in 2002. Unarguably HHH is at the top of the food chain, and while some would soon tire with his dominance, he’s earned the spot after ascending to the main event at the turn of the millennium. For Flair, things aren’t going so well. After returning in late 2001 as an onscreen authority and in-ring talent, Flair admits he was struggling to the point he was getting anxiety attacks in the ring.
As we’ve been told plenty of times, HHH grew up idolising Flair and took it upon himself to rebuild his confidence. Towards the end of 2002, he’s accompanying the newly crowned World Heavyweight Champion, while behind the scenes the pair were discussing the idea of forming a faction. Former RAW head writer Brian Gewirtz states that “HHH wanted his own Four Horsemen”, and you have to agree they would eventually achieve that.
The prospect of a legend like Flair and a star such as HHH mentoring two emerging names makes sense, yet we learn it took some time to convince Vince McMahon. However, with the promise to create two future main eventers, he got the green light. But with a locker room thriving with up-and-coming talent, who would be chosen for the new group? Cue Randy Orton and Batista.
The Future and The Muscle
We’re shown Orton’s debut on SmackDown in the spring of 2002. He admits to being “excited but frightened” about being called up from Ohio Valley Wrestling. Although his career was soon halted after moving over to RAW. A shoulder injury would be a blessing in disguise. ‘Randy News Network’ (RNN) updates allowed Orton to develop a cocky persona. “They were cheesy and horrible but some of the best stuff we do is cheesy and horrible,” comments Orton.
Much like Orton, Batista would debut on SmackDown as Reverend D-Von’s right-hand man under the pseudonym of Deacon Batista. While the gimmick allowed him to stand at ringside and learn from D-Von, the future Drax the Destroyer is the first to admit it sucked; “I hated everything about it”. In a sea of a roster mixed with experience and promising youth, Batista was an afterthought to the point he thought he’d be released.
Nevertheless, Triple H had earmarked Orton and Batista as the chosen two join his new group. Hunter comments that Batista was “mouldable” after some expressed doubt about his inclusion.
“You’re Stars… Act Like It”
Under the tutelage of HHH and Flair, they were quick to warn them they would be on receiving end of jealous talent in the locker room. Ultimately, Orton and Batista had to prove themselves. It’s here where Hunter comments on telling Batista to forget everything he had learned in OVW, they had to “reboot” him. Although HHH was eager to teach the pair, he would lay down an ultimatum after a poor showing in a tag team match against Booker T and Scott Steiner.
After forming on TV in early 2003, with Arn Anderson credited with giving the group its name, a disastrous house show outing for Orton and Batista threatened the future of the group. In a match against the Dudley Boyz, Orton would injure his ankle and Batista tore his tricep which would lead to almost eight months out. The documentary goes into too much detail about the incident with the Dudleys with Bubba Ray stating he was irritated about the pair’s in-ring conduct. Batista counters by saying “he was always a dick to the both of us”.
By the spring of 2003, Orton would return yet Batista’s future in Evolution was in jeopardy. Having reinjured his tricep trying to return quicker than expected, Batista feared for his job as the other members of the group considered a replacement – Mark Jindrak. As a close friend of Orton’s and an up-and-coming talent, Jindrak was seen as an ideal fit by Vince McMahon but HHH didn’t agree. “He didn’t take the business seriously,” he comments. It’s a sentiment that Jindrak shares, saying he was immature and too young to understand what it really meant. We’re told about Orton and Jindrak always acting stupid together, to the point that HHH never wanted to drive with Jindrak again. Ultimately, Jindrak would end up teaming with Garrison Cade and Evolution would remain a trio until October 2003.
It’s here when Evolution’s catalyst truly ignites. By the end of the year, they would all be carrying gold with HHH’s reign of domination as World Heavyweight Champion would be accompanied by Orton’s Intercontinental title with Flair and Batista carrying the World Tag Team titles. Elevated by the trio defeating Mick Foley and The Rock at WrestleMania XX, the group thrived as Flair rediscovered his confidence, Batista came into his own and Orton embraced the “legend killer” gimmick.
Thumbs Up. Thumbs Down
As SummerSlam 2004 came around, Evolution was thriving with Orton having a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship. The documentary neatly avoids mentioning his opponent, Christ Benoit, as he’s briefly shown as Orton hits an RKO to capture the gold. The inevitable turn on Orton from his Evolution buddies has often been criticised in the past for happening too soon, yet we’re told it “made sense” for HHH to be angry.
Now out on his own, and as a babyface, success soon went to Orton’s head. Behind the scenes, he reinverted to his immature ways with Gewirtz calling Randy “a glorious prick”. On camera, he was not a natural babyface – a sentiment that has questionably carried on throughout Orton’s career. Overall, his title reign would be shortlived, dropping the title to HHH a month later.
In the later months of 2004, animosity between HHH and Batista was growing. With Vince recognising the potential of a slow build feud, Batista would win the 2005 Royal Rumble match. While Flair and HHH were confident that he’d choose SmackDown‘s JBL as his WrestleMania opponent. Batista would discover an attempt to be run over by JBL was faked by the Evolution pair. By the time he decides, Batista is over as a mega face.
WrestleMania 21 is shown to be substantial in the making of Orton and Batista. For the former, his match against The Undertaker would be a turning point as it allowed Orton to prove himself. While Batista credits HHH of making him who he was after coming out on top in the main event.
The Future Becomes Now
One of the main aims of Evolution was to create two new main event stars, and in Batista and Orton, they achieved just that. However, the group benefitted all four members. HHH would continue his reign at the top. As for Flair, he looks back on it fondly; “I had so much fun. I got it back.” It’s clear the impact the group left on WWE goes far beyond the period shown here.
Episode 3 of “Ruthless Aggression” does a fine job of telling Evolution’s story, albeit occasionally overdramatised. It thankfully puts emphasis on the rise of Orton and Batista, rather than focusing on HHH’s reign on top. The hour-long episode is well-balanced by not being too light, yet not too detailed.
All pics and videos courtesy of WWE