WWE Payback 2014: Breaking Down the Rise, Fall and Reunion of Evolution
At WWE's 2014 Payback pay-per-view, The Shield will take on Evolution in a No Holds Barred Elimination match. This will mark only the second time in the last 10 years that Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton have teamed up.
Evolution is widely regarded among fans as one of the greatest factions in WWE history, having dominated the WWE landscape from 2003 to 2005. Now, nearly a decade after their initial demise, Evolution (sans Ric Flair) has reunited to take out a common enemy in The Shield.
From the luxurious limousines to the fancy suits, Evolution traveled in style everywhere they went. They were also a force to be reckoned with in the ring, racking up gold within months of their formation.
Back together and better than ever, Evolution looks to prove their dominance once again by targeting The Shield, Daniel Bryan and anyone else who gets in their way. Before they go to war with the black-clad trio on Sunday night, take a look back as to how Evolution came to be and the most pivotal points in the group's history.
Following 2002's SummerSlam event, Brock Lesnar jumped ship to SmackDown and took his WWE Championship with him, making the title property of the then-Thursday night show. Of course, this left the Raw brand without a world champion.
On the September 2 edition of Raw, the World Heavyweight Championship was created by then-general manager Eric Bischoff and awarded to Triple H. At that month's Unforgiven event, HHH was successful in defending the title against Rob Van Dam following help from an interfering Ric Flair.
From this point forward, HHH and Flair were basically inseparable for the next three years.
Flair continued to manage HHH in subsequent months, helping him retain his world championship at any cost. Flair soon began recruiting Batista, who had just moved to Raw from SmackDown.
On the January 20 Raw, Randy Orton aligned with the trio in their attack on Scott Steiner, completing the stable. The Game officially dubbed the group Evolution shortly thereafter.
"In life, everything happens for a reason. It's just the natural process of evolution," said Triple H.
Running Rampant on Raw
Shortly following the formation of Evolution, both Randy Orton and Batista suffered injuries and were put on the shelf for several months. Orton returned to the ring in May while Batista didn't make a comeback until October.
Throughout the year, Flair, Orton and Batista aided Triple H in his various feuds as World Heavyweight champion. Whether it was against Scott Steiner, Booker T or Shawn Michaels, Evolution always had The Game's back to ensure that he maintained possession of the prestigious prize.
Once Evolution was back in full form by October, each member began competing for championship gold. At December's Armageddon event, Triple H regained the world title, Randy Orton won the Intercontinental Championship and Batista and Ric Flair captured the World Tag Team Championships.
By the end of 2003, Evolution had held every male championship on the Monday night brand, ruling Raw with an iron fist. Very few factions had ever been this dominant, and Batista and Orton were also benefiting from Evolution's success in the process.
A Line in the Sand Is Drawn
Going into 2004, Evolution dominated Monday nights before Triple H dropped the World Heavyweight Championship to Chris Benoit at WrestleMania 20. After failing to win back the world title from Benoit in the months that followed, HHH entered a feud with Eugene.
Meanwhile, Randy Orton lost the Intercontinental Championship to Edge at July's Vengeance event and became the new No. 1 contender to the world title shortly thereafter. At SummerSlam, Orton was successful in beating Benoit for the strap, becoming the youngest World Heavyweight champion in WWE history.
One would think that Orton's stablemates in Evolution would have been happy for him for winning the world title. Instead, Triple H's mindset was that if he couldn't be champion, then no one could be.
The next night on Raw, Orton successfully retained his title against Benoit in a rematch. Triple H, Batista and Ric Flair came out afterward to celebrate his victory with Batista hoisting Orton up on his shoulders.
In one of Raw's most memorable moments, Triple H gave Orton the thumbs down, signaling Batista to dump him backward. The three men then proceeded to beat the living daylights out of Orton, marking his official expulsion from the group.
From there, Orton rebelled against the stable he was once a part of but ultimately lost the World Heavyweight Championship to HHH at Unforgiven. Orton continued to feud with Evolution for the remainder of the year but was unable to regain the gold.
Initially, Orton was seen as the breakout star in Evolution, with Triple H at one point referring to him as the "diamond in the rough." However, as time would soon tell, that would not be the case.
The Animal Is Unleashed
With the World Heavyweight Championship back in his possession, Triple H continued to rule Raw going in 2005. Evolution was still stronger than ever with Batista, Ric Flair and Triple H all being on the same page...or at least for the time being.
At the Royal Rumble event, Triple H successfully defended the title against familiar foe Randy Orton. Later in the night, Batista emerged victorious in the 2005 Royal Rumble match, earning a shot at a world championship of his choosing at WrestleMania 21.
Triple H saw this as an opportunity for Batista to switch over to SmackDown and win the WWE Championship from JBL so they could take complete control of the WWE. At the same time, he saw Batista as a growing threat to his title and didn't wish to face him at The Show of Shows.
Batista, after teasing tension with members of Evolution weeks removed from winning the Rumble, overheard a conversation between HHH and Flair backstage about how The Game orchestrated a plan to make The Animal think that JBL was trying to take him out when he really wasn't.
Later that night, in a symbolic turn of events, Batista gave the thumbs down to Triple H (before adopting it as a regular taunt from that point forward), put him through a table and signed a contract to stay on Raw. This made the match official for WrestleMania 21: Batista vs. Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship.
In the end, Batista defeated HHH to win the world title, but their feud was far from over. Their rivalry raged on for another two months, with The Animal beating Triple H another two times at Backlash and Vengeance, respectively.
Following their war inside Hell in a Cell at Vengeance that concluded with Batista getting his arm raised, the two buried the hatchet in a WWE.com exclusive. From there, Triple H took time off and Batista was drafted to SmackDown, becoming the new face of Friday nights.
An Act of Betrayal and End of Evolution
With Randy Orton and Batista breaking off on their own (and thus fulfilling the purpose of Evolution when they became the new faces of WWE), Evolution was down to the two members it initially started with: Triple H and Ric Flair. However, Evolution was put on the back burner for the summer of 2005 when HHH stepped away from the ring for a while, leaving Flair to fend for himself.
During Triple H's absence, Flair turned face and captured the Intercontinental Championship. It was announced that HHH would return on the October 3 edition of Raw to team with Flair against the duo of Carlito and Chris Masters, where Flair and The Game emerged victorious.
The Evolution reunion was short-lived, however, as HHH turned on his mentor following the bout. This marked the official end of Evolution as well as the end of the alliance between Flair and HHH.
The former friends feuded in the months that followed. Flair was successful in retaining his Intercontinental Championship against Triple H at Taboo Tuesday, but he lost a non-title Last Man Standing to The Cerebral Assassin at Survivor Series to conclude the rivalry.
It wasn't until two years later that HHH and Flair made amends and teamed with Batista for one night only at the 15th Anniversary of Raw show. They were originally supposed to be joined by Randy Orton, but The Legend Killer claimed he'd rather be remembered for his time with Edge as part of Rated-RKO.
Triple H, Flair and Batista won their six-man tag team battle against Orton, Edge and Umaga via disqualification and celebrated in the middle of the ring afterward. It was the first time since 2005 that these three members of Evolution had reunited and was the last time they'd all be seen together for several more years.
As a singles star, Randy Orton flourished and eventually rejoined the main event scene in late 2007 when he defeated his old Evolution stablemate when he won his first of many WWE Championships. He and HHH feuded several times in the year that followed, but things didn't get truly personal between the two until early 2009.
At this time, Orton had several run-ins with the McMahon family, specifically then-Raw general manager Stephanie McMahon. Before the returning Vince McMahon could fire Orton on the January 19 edition of Raw, Orton slapped him to the ground and proceeded to punt him in the skull.
Orton then made it is his goal to take out the entire McMahon family. As the husband of Stephanie, then-WWE champion Triple H soon got involved, putting his title on the line at WrestleMania 25 against Orton in a match that was won by The Game.
Despite this, Orton and the rest of his Legacy stable continued to make life miserable for the McMahons, taking out both Stephanie and Shane McMahon in February. In a six-man tag team match at Backlash, Orton punted Triple H in the skull for the three-count and the WWE title, completing his goal of winning of the gold and his rivalry with the McMahon family.
The Game took time off shortly thereafter but returned to resume his rivalry with Orton in June. Orton was successful in defending the strap against HHH at The Bash in a Three Stages of Hell match, proving to his former mentor that he could in fact thrive on his own.
A Rivalry Renewed
After getting injured in a Last Man Standing match with Triple H in June 2008, Randy Orton took time off before returning to the ring in November. Upon coming back, Orton transitioned into a feud with an old flame from Evolution, Batista.
Orton claimed Batista was jealous of all the success he achieved on his own since breaking away from the group. In reality, Orton was still bitter after Batista and company had exiled him from Evolution four years prior.
At Survivor Series, Team Orton was victorious over Team Batista, but The Animal continued to target Orton and the rest of The Legacy in subsequent weeks. Batista finally scored a measure of revenge over Orton when he defeated him at Armageddon, but while he may have won the battle, The Legend Killer was determined on winning the war.
The next night on Raw, Orton punted Batista square in the skull, rendering him inactive for four months. It wasn't until the night after WrestleMania 25 that Batista finally returned, saving Triple H and Shane McMahon from an attack by The Legacy.
From there, Batista reunited with Triple H for the first time in four years along with Shane to feud with The Legacy. When The Game took time off after Backlash, Batista resumed his one-on-one rivalry with Orton and contended for the WWE Championship.
At Judgement Day, Batista faced off against Orton for the title but won via disqualification after The Legacy interfered. Before The Legacy could tame The Animal, Ric Flair made his return to aid Batista in his onslaught against his enemies.
Batista and Orton continued to feud going into Extreme Rules, with Flair confronting Orton on several occasions. Six days before the pay-per-view, Orton brawled with Flair all around the arena before leading him into a locked steel cage, where he punted him in the head as a helpless Batista looked on.
In their Steel Cage match, Batista defeated Orton for the WWE title, seemingly ending their rivalry once and for all. However, on the next night's Raw, The Legacy ambushed and injured Batista, forcing him to vacate the strap that Orton would soon win back.
In a matter of two months, Orton had taken out every other member of Evolution, proving himself to be superior than them all. The Age of Orton had officially been upon us.
A Reunion of the Running Mates
After 2009, the original four members of Evolution went years without encountering one another. Triple H became more of an on-air authority figure than an active competitor, Randy Orton turned babyface, Ric Flair jumped ship to TNA and Batista left the company to explore other endeavors.
At SummerSlam 2013, Triple H helped Randy Orton win the WWE Championship after he ambushed Daniel Bryan, allowing Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Their alliance was established the next night on Raw as they, along with Stephanie and Vince McMahon, stood above a fallen Bryan.
As The Authority, Orton and HHH ruled Raw with an iron fist, with The Game ensuring that Orton maintained possession of the WWE Championship at any cost. In December, Orton became the first-ever undisputed WWE World Heavyweight champion.
For the first time since returning to WWE at the 2012 Slammy Awards, Ric Flair confronted Orton at Old School Raw on January 6. The two briefly discussed their days in Evolution and how Orton had since become "the face of the WWE," but before things could get physical, John Cena came down on Flair's behalf.
On the January 20 Raw, Batista made his long-awaited comeback to the company, confronting Orton and announcing his intentions to become world champion. Batista was one step closer to accomplishing that goal when he won the 2014 Royal Rumble match a mere six days later.
Batista and Orton continued to show tension in the weeks that followed, with Triple H refusing to side with either individual. The one thing they all had in common? None of them wanted to see Bryan win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
At WrestleMania 30, Bryan was successful in defeating all three former members of Evolution to capture the prestigious prize. The next night on Raw, Orton, HHH and Batista showed unity against The Shield and Bryan, who teamed up to rebel against The Authority.
After a failed attack on The Shield on the April 14 Raw, Batista and Orton came to an agreement that they wouldn't be able take out the rogue trio on their own. Thus, they recruited Triple H, with all three decimating The Shield later that night after entering to the old Evolution theme music for the first time in nearly a decade.
Flair looked to rejoin his former stablemates on the April 28 Raw but instead endorsed The Shield. Evolution may be down to only three members, but they are still as powerful and every bit as intimating as they were 10 years ago.
Although they came up short against The Shield at Extreme Rules, the new and improved Evolution will look to prove themselves as the most dominant faction in modern WWE history at Payback when they clash in a No Holds Barred Elimination match.
With all the success they've garnered in the last year-and-a-half, could The Shield be on the verge of surpassing Evolution as the greatest faction of the new millennium? If the Hounds of Justice can defeat the three former world champions at Payback, they very well could be.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.