Years after breaking apart and impacting WWE history, Evolution has reformed.
The once-dominant stable mirrored the best groups of the past while creating two new stars. It is set to elevate emerging talent once more. Only this time, Evolution will transform its opponents into marquee names.
Randy Orton, Batista and Triple H reunited on April 14, more than a decade after they first formed Evolution.
Rivals rallied around a common hatred of The Shield. They put personal goals and championship pursuits on hold to cut down Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.
Living up to its name, Evolution has changed, growing into another beast entirely.
There is no Ric Flair this time, and the level of star power has shifted. All three members of Evolution 2.0 have been world champs, won the Royal Rumble and headlined WrestleMania. That wasn't the case before Evolution's genesis.
On Jan. 20, 2003, the legendary Flair and then-champion Triple H officially joined forces with two emerging talents in Orton and Batista.
As much promise as Orton and Batista showed early on, they would both likely have had success without this alliance. Standing alongside two Hall of Fame wrestlers catapulted them further and faster.
While Triple H was the captain of this crew, the spotlight was often equally divvied out.
Triple H benefited from having folks to protect him, and the group resurrected Flair's career, placing him in a headlining position that he would've struggled to get at such a late stage in his career on his own. Evolution's legacy, though, is that two headliners emerged from it.
After Evolution, Orton went on to face The Undertaker at WrestleMania and won a stockpile of world titles. Batista ended WrestleMania 21's main event as world champ, having bested Triple H.
Those were direct results of their time in Evolution.
Orton's first feud as world champ came against Triple H himself. Batista breaking away from the group led to a fight against his old leader as well. As much as many fans charge Triple H with "burying" talent, he was the man Batista toppled to usher in his time as a top guy.
It was Triple H who lost the WWE title to Orton before "The Viper" held it for over 200 days.
WWE has since realized how effective having prospects come up in a group can be. The company has turned so often to this method when introducing new talent.
Wade Barrett, Ryback and Daniel Bryan were all a part of Nexus when it stormed onto the scene. Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase benefited from Orton's star power as members of Legacy.
More recently, WWE has plucked The Shield and The Wyatt Family from NXT. Luke Harper may eventually become a huge component for the company, something that would have been less likely had he debuted alone. The same is true for Reigns, whom WWE could ease into the spotlight with two more experienced wrestlers at his side.
The dynamics of those squads are of course different, as they didn't have the established names that Evolution boasted. Still, the parallels are clear.
At Armageddon 2003, every member of Evolution came away with a championship to show off.
A decade later, Reigns and Rollins won the Tag Team titles and Ambrose defeated Kofi Kingston for the United States Championship at Extreme Rules 2013. Their celebration looked a lot like Evolution's.
As much as Evolution inspired future groups, it also served as a bridge from wrestling's past. The quartet built on tradition and reestablished the bar for wrestling stables long after four other men set it.
Evolving from Horsemen
Aaron Oster is not alone in his thinking when he wrote of Evolution in The Baltimore Sun, "Despite many factions trying, it's the closest to being the Four Horsemen."
Evolution, like The Four Horsemen, had four members. Flair, Triple H, Batista and Orton wore suits and lived lavishly. They were intimidating badasses, each with a startling, cold demeanor.
The comparisons were sure to come with Flair having been a member of both groups.
What made Evolution most like Flair, Tully Blanchard, Ole and Arn Anderson was that they were the best around. WWE.com says of The Four Horsemen: "no other group was ever as talented."
Evolution didn't surpass that supergroup when it took hold of WWE from 2003 to 2005, but it provided a new generation with a collection of greats. While some fans experienced The Horsemen's prime firsthand and others take the effort to learn about their historic efforts, some only know that foursome as another era's relic.
When Evolution arrived, it had been more than 15 years since The Four Horsemen were at their best.
It was time for a new group to make the conversation of the greatest stables in wrestling history a more difficult one. It was time for a new generation to see a cohesive alliance of villains capture championships and headlines. The present deserved another top-notch team.
Now it's The Shield's turn to force us to rearrange the list of wrestling's best groups.
Evolution, like The Shield does today and The Four Horsemen did in the past, consistently produced in the ring. Gathering an all-star squad and strutting around is not enough. Fans expect the kind of classics that Evolution delivered.
WWE's collection of stellar matches grew thanks to Evolution. The group's heinous acts led to teams of fan favorites storming at them with great passion.
On a regular basis, the result was thrilling action.
Raw was often home to memorable matches when Evolution stepped between the ropes. Flair and Triple H's star power merged perfectly with Orton and Batista trying to prove themselves. In 2004 alone, Evolution inspired Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via ProFightDB.com, to hand out ratings of 3.75 stars or higher seven times.
|Evolution's Highest-Rated Matches in 2004|
|WrestleMania XX||Batista, Randy Orton and Ric Flair vs. Mick Foley and The Rock||3.75|
|Raw-April 12||Evolution vs. Shelton Benjamin, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit||4|
|Raw-April 26||Ric Flair and Batista vs. Chris Benoit and Edge||3.75|
|Raw-May 17||Randy Orton and Batista vs. Chris Benoit and Edge||4|
|Raw-August 2||Randy Orton, Batista and Ric Flair vs. Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit and Edge||4.25|
|Raw-September 20||Triple H, Ric Flair and Batista vs. Chris Benoit, Randy Orton and Shelton Benjamin||3.75|
|Raw-December 13||Batista and Triple H vs. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho||3.75|
|Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via ProFightDB|
It's a run that The Shield has mirrored.
Ever-shifting sets of opponents have stepped up to "The Hounds of Justice" just as a team that featured Shawn Michaels, Sheldon Benjamin, Mick Foley and Chris Benoit did back in 2004. Evolution's stature gave bouts like these higher stakes than some random eight-man contest.
WWE's best formed partnerships in an attempt to fell the dominant force that was Evolution. Fans see that same storyline play out today when Superstars unite against The Wyatt Family and The Shield.
The talk of Evolution's star-making ability so often centers around Orton and Batista, but Benoit and Edge benefited from their battles with Triple H and company.
That's set to be the case for Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose at Extreme Rules 2014.
The Future of Evolution
As that pay-per-view approaches, it's clear that WWE is setting up a six-man war between The Shield and Evolution. There's no way the black-clad trio takes a beating like they did on April 14 and not strike back.
Ending that night's Raw with The Shield on their backs and Evolution towering over them is heavy-handed foreshadowing at their impending collision.
Don't expect it to end after one round, though. This feud will be the latest catalyst in Reigns' transformation into a headliner.
He is so often booked as The Shield's most powerful member and will be against his new set of enemies as well. After historic performances at Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble, he needs another conquest to thrust him forward. Count on that involving him earning the decisive pin at Extreme Rules.
Being the one to get a three-count on Batista, Orton or Triple H will have the spotlight zero in on Reigns.
That spotlight will stay on him as the feud continues, leading to a showdown between Reigns and the COO. F4WOnline, via PWMania, reports that WWE has Reigns and Triple H penciled in for SummerSlam.
As Bryan found out at WrestleMania 30, pinning Triple H has a huge impact on one's career. That's a lesson Batista knows very well, too, as defeating "The Game'' after the split from Evolution helped him ascend the WWE ladder.
When Evolution breaks up this time, it won't be as a means to push its own members but to make Reigns a world title contender.
This incarnation of Evolution won't last until the end of the year. Batista and Orton have too much desire to be WWE champion again. There has been a bevy of betrayals since the group originally formed. Their bond is not as solid.
The stress and chaos that will come with tangling with Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose will break them apart as well as end The Shield. When Reigns emerges from this feud, ready to headline, ready for his coronation, he will be the latest beneficiary of Evolution's impact.