Throughout the long history of WWE, there have been many great factions. Is it possible, all things considered, that Evolution is the greatest of them all?
Their original formation took place on the February 3rd, 2003 episode of Raw, when Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista stormed the ring and took out the unfortunate Tommy Dreamer. The Game then went onto discuss the purpose of and meaning behind the faction.
Flair represented the best of the past, Triple H the best of the present and Orton the best of the future. Triple H described Orton as the “coal that will be squeezed into the next diamond”.
Batista was also considered one for the future, but was initially mooted as “the muscle” of the group. Funnily, he is six months older than Triple H despite being cast as his protégé.
During this period, Triple H had changed his look, moving away from the double-denim and leather and into a suit and blow out hair style, very reminiscent of Flair in his Four Horsemen heyday. The group itself was a clear homage being paid to the Horsemen, both in numbers and general style.
The Game has made little denial of his idolisation of the Nature Boy, and on the other side Naitch credits Triple H with rebuilding his confidence and reminding him of who he was.
The faction got off to a rocky start when within weeks Batista tore his triceps, ruling him out for near-eight months. In his absence, Flair and Orton were tasked with helping Triple H hold onto his World Heavyweight Title, which was the true purpose of the group from The Game’s perspective.
Such was his stranglehold over The Big Gold Belt for the next two years, fans dubbing the era “The Reign of Terror”. His title defences included a Hell in The Cell battle with old Kliq buddy Kevin Nash and an Elimination Chamber victory, stopping Goldberg in his tracks with the help of his two fellow faction members and a sledgehammer.
Goldberg eventually got the better of Triple H at Unforgiven 2003, taking the World Title with him. At the same pay per view, Orton defeated Shawn Michaels, solidifying his new-found moniker of “The Legend Killer”. This would become a major part of his character for the next few years, and then brought back from time to time.
The loss of the World title called for a change in plan, which was aided by the return of Batista. The Animal would help his leader eventually regain the Championship at Armageddon, a night which was a defining moment in the group’s run. Batista and Flair captured the Tag belts while Orton won the first of his many Championships in the shape of Intercontinental gold.
The image of the four members holding all Raw’s male titles aloft is one of the most iconic of the “Ruthless Aggression” era.
Evolution entered the year 2004 riding high but problems would arise later in the year, eventually leading to the group’s demise. But before then, the four men starred at WrestleMania 20 – Triple H losing his World Title in a triple threat match, the other three members defeating “The Rock ‘n’ Sock connection” in a handicap match.
Orton then defeated Mick Foley in a hardcore match at Backlash, which can be seen as the moment he became a “made man” in the industry, despite being just 24 years of age.
Orton’s rise to prominence continued and despite losing the Intercontinental Championship to Edge, he soon was elevated into World Title contention. This came at a time when Triple H simply could not regain the belt, creating an interesting dynamic in the group.
Orton won the big one at Summerslam 2004, in the process becoming the youngest World Champion in WWE history. However, this is where the demise of Evolution began.
The night after his victory, Orton was treated to a Championship celebration by his group members, or so he thought. In one of the most memorable turns in recent times, Orton was given the thumbs up and then thumbs down by Triple H, and then dropped off the shoulders of Batista.
A beatdown then ensued, with The Game declaring to Orton that the title belonged to him and no one else, publicly confirming what everyone already knew about his motivations.
Orton’s reign did not even last a month, with Triple H, with obvious help from Flair and Batista, taking the title off him at Unforgiven 2004. The initial plan was for Orton to chase Triple H for the title all the way to WrestleMania 21 as a major babyface the fans could get behind. This failed due to Orton being more suited to the heel role, but a replacement was found in the form of Batista.
In storyline, Batista became wiser to his leader’s motivations, soon realising his fate would be the same as Orton’s if he ever pursued the big belt. This became even more obvious when The Animal won the 2005 Royal Rumble and Triple H and Flair attempted to convince him to move to Smackdown and challenge for the WWE title.
Presented as a way for Evolution to rule all of WWE, Batista knew it was just a way of keeping him away from Triple H at Mania.
This brilliantly executed slow build culminated in a payoff worthy of it, when Batista mimicked the thumbs up and down of Triple H just six months prior, declaring his intention to take the World Heavyweight Title from The Game. With this, Evolution was finished and The Animal went on to defeat his ex-mentor three consecutive times.
The success of this programme made Batista a true main-eventer and an all-round megastar in the company.
This was the overall lasting success of Evolution, as both Batista and Orton went from relative obscurity to main-event players for life because of their involvement with the group – both on and off-screen.
While other factions may have had a similar on-screen impact and maybe more popularity, like D-Generation X, The New World Order and now The Bloodline, none have come near the level of all-round success enjoyed by Evolution.
The group have a combined 50 World Championship reigns – Flair with a joint-record 16, Triple H and Orton on 14 and Batista on 6.
This, and everything else from their incredible entrance music to general style, lends serious weight to the argument that Evolution is the greatest faction in WWE history.