WWE Ruthless Aggression: Episode 3 Report by Josh Lopez
The following is a transcript of WWE Network’s newest series, “WWE Ruthless Aggression.” Please share some of your favorite Ruthless Aggression moments in the comment section. We’ll be highlighting the comments made by the superstars, producers, and executives from that era and fan perspective from the current members of the WWE Roster.
You can follow me on Twitter @TheHootsPodcast
Episode 3: Evolution Narrated by Michael Rapaport
Description: “As The Ruthless Aggression Era dawned, Triple H pushed forward the Evolution of sports-entertainment with Ric Flair, Randy Orton & Batista. Relive the formation and triumphs of the group that launched and revitalized the careers of its members and dominated WWE in the early-2000s.”
Michael Rapaport: In the haze of the post monday night war uncertainty emerged a coalition of four men. A perfect blend of experience and potential. They seemed destined for greatness. But behind the scenes, bad luck, poor decisions and internal conflicts nearly derailed the group before reaching its potential.
Ric Flair: I was lost. I couldn’t get out the curtain, man. I couldn’t do it.
Batista: Most of the guys who didn’t like me were shit anyway.
Triple H: I said, Randy, the only one that can stop you is you. And you are hell bent on doing it and I don’t know why.
Michael Rapaport: This is the story of Ruthless Aggression’s greatest faction.
Triple H Teaming Up With Ric Flair
Triple H: There is nobody that eats, sleeps, or breathes this business more than me. You guys talk about being students of the game. I am the fucking game.
Brian Gewirtz: The Triple H character has seen some shit, you know. He’s been around since like ’95 when he first debuted as the Greenwich Blue Blood. And in real life with The Kliq and the curtain call and all that and then in DX. By 2001, Triple H was in his prime then.
Bruce Prichard: Triple H was probably one of the top guys in the business, if not the top dog in the business. He was at the top of his game. He was our Ric Flair of that time.
Triple H: Ric, to me, was the ultimate showman. As a kid growing up, I loved him. He was just loud and could talk and was exciting. I was naturally drawn to him.
Michael Rapaport: For The Nature Boy, decades worth on unrivaled success led to a WCW stint in the 90s. It was a great run that ended not so great. Now by 2002, having returned to WWE in a part-time capacity, Flair staggered back and forth between on screen authority figure and in ring talent. He was clearly struggling to reignite the fire that made him great.
Triple H: When he came in the door here, it was a different Ric Flair. Very, very unsure of himself.
Ric Flair: I was lost. That’s the best way to put it.
Triple H: As I watched him, I realized even more so, like he’s playing Ric Flair now. He’s not Ric Flair. He’s not The Nature Boy. He’s kind of like, when the camera goes on, he can play the role. But outside of that, he is just like a beaten dog.
Ric Flair: When I came back here, number one, I didn’t think in my own mind that I cosmetically could pull it off. In terms of aches and pains, I hurt. That didn’t bother me at all. It was right here. It was here (head) affected here (in the heart).
Triple H: He had lost what Ric Flair was. I could see him losing more and more confidence.
Ric Flair: I was just devastated. What was something I could do like this blindfolded, I couldn’t get out the curtain, man. I couldn’t do it. I wrestled a couple of matches where I couldn’t feel my hands from anxiety. Had to pinch myself or had to pinch my skin. Had to wrestle like that for 45 minutes, the referee kept saying, are you okay? I’m having an anxiety attack while i’m wrestling.
Triple H: He still wanted to be on TV so bad. He still wanted to perform so bad, but he wasn’t doing it at a level to force Vince to go like I’ve got to use him and I got to put him where he needs to be. He’s just waisting away with what he’s doing on TV. He’s doing stuff that’s beneath him now. It was just kind of like a shell of Ric Flair. As I got to know him, I was like, man, I just wanted to help him and try to get him back to being what he could be, you know. We just started to form this friendship. And I got to love Ric as a person.
As I started to get to know him more and more, I started to be like, man, I’ve got to get this guy out of this funk that he’s in and get him back to being the performer that he can be. He was a mess. I mean a mess. I used to say to him all the time, you’re the only guy here who doesn’t know, you are Ric Flair. What’s the matter with you? I started to try to think of ways like how can I get him to realize this and move forward. The only way to do it, it seemed like was to stand next to him. If he could just be out there with somebody that would help him get his mojo back, like it wouldn’t take long for him to start to feel it again. Then I came to the idea of like, what if we did this group?
The Creation Of Evolution
Brian Gewirtz: Hunter is an old school guy. He grew up idolizing Ric and The Four Horsemen. I think he wanted his own Four Horsemen. He wanted something different from DX in every way. DX wasn’t wearing cool expensive clothing and riding in limousines. If you are going to have Ric Flair in it, you need to have a certain part of that limousine riding, jet flying aspect to it.
Triple H: Ric can still talk and he can still be the performer. He’s got so much credibility, if we did this group, I can kind of anchor it. He’s kind of the mentor and the guider. I wanted there to be a guy that was sort of he’s the heir parent and then there would be the guy, like this is the big muscle behind the group. I kind of mentioned it to Ric Flair and of course, he was all into it. Then I just picked his brains on who we saw. What do you think about this kid? I like him a lot. What do you think about that guy? I like him a lot, so then I went to Vince. He’s really not big on factions, so it took me a few times and laid it out. I’m like, if you give me the two guys, I will make them main event players. And I will turn Flair back into Ric Flair. He was like, this could work. I think this could go.
JBL: You had Triple H, one of the greatest stars of all time. You had Ric Flair, who had the most championships of all time. That’s an incredible rub, but it’s also a lot of pressure.
Triple H: Stepping up with us was a pressure position. But if it works, you’re golden. But if it fails, that’s tough. You go back down to starting over. You know, they have to deliver.
Michael Rapaport: By April 2002, a new crop of superstars was making an impact in WWE. The competition to separate themselves from the pack was at an all-time high. And the doors of opportunity were wide open.
Young Randy Orton
Randy Orton: I had been down in OVW for about a year and a half. I had call with Jim Ross. And he said you know what, pack your shit up, we’re going to bring you up full time. I was ecstatic, but also it was frightening. I was a young kid and no one knows what the future holds. Eventually, I went from SmackDown to Raw and I was about to get going. My shoulder popped out of socket with Christian. Then i’m thinking like, this is it.
You know, i’m 22 or whatever I was and my career is over. All this hard work, all this potential and it’s gone. A couple of weeks after my surgery, I started doing the RNN Updates. So I came out my arm in a sling to inform the world that I was going to be okay. Supposed to be a babyface feel, type moment and that Montreal crowd was shitting all over me. And it was great.
Bruce Prichard: We didn’t want to have to reintroduce Randy to the audience. We got a bump in the road, but it’s not a stop. Let’s continue to tell the Randy Orton story and develop his personality throughout. And he gets a little more irritating, a little more annoying each and every week.
Brain Gewirtz: We came up with this idea of having some ridiculous random number attributed to how much he has recovered. The way Randy would deliver that line with this smirky confidence, just kind of made you get him a little bit.
Randy Orton: Oh, I look back and they were cheesy and horrible, but like some of the best stuff we do is cheesy and horrible.
Michael Rapaport: As Randy Orton gained traction, fellow OVW call up, Dave Batista was trying to get his WWE career out of first gear.
Batista: The first call I got that I was going to be on television, I didn’t quite understand what was going on. They told me to go buy a suit, and I didn’t know what that was about. I got this suit and it was like a $500 suit. To me, at that time, a $500 suit was like a $10,000 suit. Like it was a big deal. I didn’t have the money to spend. And they cut the sleeves off and put this big metal box around my neck and said okay, now your name is Deacon Batista.
Michael Rapaport: The Mammoth Mountain of muscle was loaded with potential. Deacon Batista was anointed as Reverend Dudley’s right hand man.
Bruce Prichard: The idea behind it was to have Batista be in the corner of D-Von, so that he could be at ringside and watch D-Von wrestle every night and learn because Dave was still green and still learning at this time.
D-Von Dudley: The gimmick didn’t go well.
Batista: I hated it. I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever seen. I hated everything about it. I didn’t like the suit. I didn’t like the box. I didn’t like the nature. Sometimes it was fun. Working with D-Von was fun. But there was more than a few occasions where I thought I was going to lose my job. I just put all this pressure on myself and I just wasn’t performing well. I wasn’t progressing. I wasn’t becoming the guy that they needed me to be.
Michael Rapaport: By late 2002, Batista was getting lost in the mix in what had become a star studded WWE roster. And now featured an impressive mix of youth and experience. All who were making a huge impact. Randy Orton’s shoulder was finally 100% healed. He quickly reestablished himself as one of WWE’s top prospects. But Orton could not have imagined what lie ahead as Triple H’s idea of a faction began to materialize.
Choosing Randy Orton & Batista
Triple H: As we got closer to it being a reality, then it became the people we wanted to form this group. And it was very clear, Randy Orton. Randy have every tool in the world. Looks and every tool imaginable to be a success in this business.
Eric Bischoff: People often talk about the it factor and nobody can really define the it. But Randy had that characteristic that just when you walked in a room, you knew that he knew that he was going to be a star someday.
Ric Flair: He reminded me of myself. I was 23 and that guy was up until five years ago.
Randy Orton: I never asked why me, like why did Hunter or Ric see me as being part of evolution. It’s just common sense would tell me, they saw something in me.
Triple H: It was so obvious that Randy was the guy. But the shocking one, would really be Dave.
Michael Rapaport: Batista, who floundered as the deacon, had basically become an afterthought. Now stunningly, he was placed into a prime position to learn from Triple H and Ric Flair.
Triple H: I think there was a lot of people when we first started with Dave in the group were like, why is he in there? He hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to shine. He had been, in my opinion, trained a certain way. They didn’t want him to work like a wrestler. They wanted him to be this big giant monster and not fall down and not take bumps and just be a 1970s Big Guy 101, you know. But he was a sponge and he was hungry and he wanted it. I saw enough that he was moldable.
Batista: This would set us up with two of the greatest wrestlers that had ever lived. Randy and I were very giddy about the idea of us being paired with that.
Drake Maverick: Being able to get into a car with Triple H and Ric Flair and just ask questions and then go out there and put that into practice, probably sucking and then getting chewed out in the back, but learning from every mistake along the way, that’s the dream. You couldn’t ask for a better situation when you are those two.
Michael Rapaport: With its pieces now in place, the group was ready to be unveiled. The only thing it needed was a name.
Triple H: Arn Anderson and I was talking one day. He’s like, man, just stuck on this name for you guys, man. There’s never been a unit like this before. It’s almost like the chart with the neanderthal, it’s like the evolution of the business right there. And then he was like, maybe we should just call it, Evolution.
The Miz: You looked at them, the way they talked, the way they were, the way they were made men.
Bruce Prichard: The Nature Boy Ric Flair, who was now mentoring these guys. And then you’ve got essentially the enforcer and the muscle. Then you’ve got the future that’s Randy Orton. That’s your evolution as it progresses.
Handling Backstage Politics & Resentment
Triple H: Dave, Randy, I said let me to talk to you guys. Pull them in a room and I said, so you are about to hit the hate button from everybody. All right. Like you’re going to sit next to me and Ric and every single person in this room, they are going to tell you, man, what a great opportunity for you and all this stuff. They are going to bury you. They are going to bitch and complain. All of a sudden, everybody that you thought was your friend, you are going to find out they are not your friends. You have to make a decision today. I want you guys to tell me how you feel about this. Because if you come with us right now, i’m going to do everything and he’s going to do everything possible to make you guys successful. But if you are concerned with what everybody else is saying about you in the locker room or the way they feel about you, tell me now and i’ll pick somebody else.
Batista: A lot of guys, they are going to hate you for it because they know where this is going. He said but do you want to make friends or you want to make money? If you want to make money, jump in this car and I jumped in the car.
Randy Orton: I got fucked with a little bit and I didn’t have many friends.
Batista: Oh, I felt a lot of animosity. Do I really deserve to be here? I know a lot of guys are saying I don’t. There’s got to be a part of me that’s going to listen to that and wonder. So I was. I was down on myself still a lot at that time.
Triple H: And they both came to me separately at various times, boy, you weren’t kidding, holy cow.
Brian Gewirtz: When two people are plucked and anointed in that position, especially at that point, it’s like, well, what have you done to quote-unquote earn that position? Everyone, there’s a little bit of them that’s like, that guy? That should be me.
Triple H: For the people that are angry about it, it’s just me. I go out of my way to make sure they are more angry about it. I’ll give them a reason to be angry. I will give them reason to think that cocky prick thinks he’s something special because he’s with them, yeah. You don’t like it, huh? Too bad. That’s the way it is.
Batista: At the same time where I wanted the people to like me, it’s like most of the guys who didn’t like me were fucking assholes anyway.
Triple H: I said, as of today, you are stars. Act like it.
Michael Rapaport: With an unprecedented amount of scrutiny coming from all directions, the time for Orton and Batista to prove themselves was now.
Triple H: One night it went horribly bad. Everything we had been working on they forgot. I said, Dave, you have to forget everything that everybody taught you up until this point. We’re going to reboot you from ground one. And Randy, this stuff is easy for you, but if I see you out there not taking this seriously like that again, we’re done. I remember having the title at the time because I came in the locker room and I threw it and I made a huge racket. I said that is the last fucking time that will ever happen. You guys got to get your shit together. We start over as of this moment or we’re done. Because i’m not going to have that happen again.
Michael Rapaport: Triple H’s ultimatum was loud and clear. Orton and Batista’s opportunity to respond came in a tag team match against veterans D-Von and Bubba Ray Dudley. Accounts of what occurred in the ring this night vary, depending on who you ask.
The Dudley Boyz Match
Batista: We just got in the ring and Bubba just came full on running at me. And he just smacked into my arm and my tricep just popped.
Bubba Ray Dudley: To my recollection, the way Dave got injured was actually really, really simple. I mushed him in the face. He mushed me back. He blew out his tricep.
Batista: And I went back and tagged Randy.
D-Von Dudley: Randy was in the ring with Bubba and I and we went to go lift him up. As we lift him up, I remember coming down nice and smooth.
Bubba Ray Dudley: The move was a double flapjack. I have a leg, D-Von has a leg. Somehow, Randy Orton’s other leg got underneath my back as I was falling.
D-Von Dudley: So when Bubba landed, he landed on Randy’s ankle. So that shattered his ankle.
Bubba Ray Dudley: The way I look at it, the three of us in that moment in time made a mistake.
Triple H: So then somebody comes running in the room and goes, oh my god, Randy Orton just got hurt. As I’m running down the hallway to see what’s happening, here comes Dave. And Dave is like pissed and holding his arm and he’s yelling. He’s like, I tore my tricep. And i’m like, oh, it was you. Like they told me it was Randy and it was his foot and it’s your arm and it’s Dave. He’s like no, Randy is in the ring. He broke his foot.
Batista: And after that what I remember the most is Bubba yelling at Randy about hurting his back when he fell on Randy’s foot.
Bubba Ray Dudley: I don’t remember tension. I do have a memory of me and Randy having a conversation. I might have been yelling. Bubba got injured, too, that night. Bubba sustained one of his worst injuries ever.
Batista: I think he was irritated with Randy and I to begin with. Just being that we were two big muscular guys who are now with Ric Flair and Triple H. And I think he just hated it. So he was just always a dick to both of us.
Bubba Ray Dudley: I moved on past that night thinking to myself it was a bad night at the office. An unlucky night. A night where four athletes just didn’t gel well together. It’s not ballet. Accidents happen and I think there was an accident.
Triple H: At this point, these guys are just two young green guys. Like I felt so bad for them. As much as I’m like, oh, this sucks, imagine them. They get the opportunity of a lifetime and pow. I imagine they were crapping themselves thinking this whole thing is doomed.
Batista: It was horrible. I was continuously afraid for my job. My job wasn’t secure at that point by any means. I was just another big meat head.
Randy Orton: Here I am again, a couple weeks ago I heal up from my four month hiatus with my shoulder and oh my god.
Brian Gewirtz: And for us, it was a gut blow. It’s really tough to start something so huge and then you have to stop it. I mean you have this group that arrive with a lot of importance behind it. Yeah, there was like a what do we now kind of aspect to it.
Mark Jindrak & Batista’s Recovery
Michael Rapaport: Just one month after Evolution’s debut, Triple H’s goal of elevating two young stars seemed destined for failure. Triple H and Ric Flair were left to fend for themselves. But a surprise return gave the group a glimmer of hope. Orton’s returned created a sense of urgency in Batista.
Batista: I was so anxious to get back. I wanted to get back as fast as possible. And before my tricep had healed, I started. I wanted to go back and impress everybody and be in great shape. And I actually ended up re-injuring my tricep. I tore it right back off the bone because it wasn’t healed. And it just popped right back off. So I had to go and get it reattached, which would set me back another few months.
Michael Rapaport: Time was of the essence. By mid 2003, Ruthless Aggression was in full swing and young talent were exploding towards stardom. To keep pace, Evolution would consider evolving without Batista.
Batista: I started hearing rumors that they might replace me and they were looking at Mark Jindrak.
Mark Jindrak: So when I heard about this evolution thing, where I was going to be partnered up with Randy Orton, who off camera were boys, being in a group with Ric Flair and Triple H, I mean that was crazy.
Randy Orton: The fact me and him were tight and we rode together and always were having a good time on the road and Hunter and Ric knew that and he was a hell of an athlete, too. More athletic than me. He had like a 50 inch vertical, like he could do some really crazy shit with his athletic ability.
Mark Jindrak: I remember one time in the Staples Center, we had measured it. Like Shane McMahon asked me if I could touch that thing on the ceiling. I touched it and they measured it. It was 12 feet, 2 inches. But I was a little immature, I think. I knew I was receiving an opportunity, but I didn’t know how to immense it or I was too young or too stupid understand what it really meant.
Triple H: What I did see of his personality backstage, he didn’t take the business seriously.
Mark Jindrak: Triple H wanted us to travel together to kind of start forming that bond on the road, you know. Just talk wrestling, talking x’s and o’s. Serious talks turned into like goofy times between me and Orton goofing around and stuff.
Triple H: I think we were in the car together for two hours. It was like being in the car and it’s not offense, but it was like being in a car with a third grader. I’m not kidding. At one point in time, they had one of those wheels that you push the button and it makes animal noises. Like the thing spins around and whatever animal it lands on, it would make the noise. And the two of them were in the back of the car making animal noises. I look at Ric at one point. I was like, did you do this with Harley? And he just laughed. I’m like, i’m going to pull over and throw both of them out of this car in a second. Like I can’t take this.
Mark Jindrak: Because Orton and I were always goofing around and stuff, maybe him and I were bad together. Like a bad — us together immaturity, I don’t know.
Triple H: When I put Randy in the car with just because Jindrak wasn’t on the tour, he’s great when he’s not with the other guy. When he was with Jindrak, i’m going to throw them both off a bridge. So I told Ric, I was like, never put the two of those two together in a car with us again. I mean ever. I don’t want to ever be in the car with Jindrak again. They sent us to go shoot the very first vignette we did which was literally just us in suits walking over a hill. Like they told everybody bring a black suit. So Jindrak shows up to TV, he’s like I’ve got my black suit. I’m like, why did they tell him to bring a black suit? He’s not shooting this with us. Like I don’t want him in the group. Like we have all decided. Me and Ric have decided this and he doesn’t fit. I go to Vince. He’s like he fits. I’m like he doesn’t fit. And he’s like just shoot the vignettes with him.
Randy Orton: It got all the way to the point where they had him wear a black suit and we were the reservoir dogs walking down the street with the heat coming off the pavement.
Mark Jindrak: I see that picture of us walking over the horizon. It was Flair, Orton, myself, and Triple H.
Randy Orton: We filmed a bunch of stuff with Mark, with the intention that he was going to be in Evolution. But we also filmed stuff without Mark. I remember thing like, oh, man, like is he seeing what’s happening here? Like they are doing this because they are not sure yet.
Mark Jindrak: My worst fear came true when we were in Madison Square Garden. It was Raw. Vince McMahon called me in his office. He said I think at this time it might be a better move for you, not putting you in that group. But we think we’re going to put you with Garrison Cade in a tag team.
Randy Orton: It was tough because we were close. Shit, he was my best friend at that point in my career. Spent a lot of time together. To see him upset about that, anybody would be upset. That’s a shit thing to have to go through.
Mark Jindrak: Triple H I think was the final guy who said he’s out. I can honestly say he was right. Whoever made that decision to take me out of it was correct in doing so.
Triple H: If he would have asked me, like, hey, why am I not in the group, did you not want me in there? I would have said yeah, Mark, I’ll be dead out honest with you. This is a business thing, it’s not a personal thing. I like you. I think you’re a good worker. Don’t fit the group.
Mark Jindrak: It was tough to handle. It was tough to grasp because what could have been a multi-million dollar position turned into like I end up having a mediocre run in WWE.
Batista: Some people thought that he had been replaced with me, which irked the shit out of me because that was always my spot. They held up and passed up on Mark Jindrak to wait for me to come back and take that spot.
Evolution Is A Mystery
Michael Rapaport: It took a lot of guts, but Triple H’s patience finally paid off. After waiting seven long months, which felt like an eternity in this era of rapid change, this time Batista was ready to man up to the hype.
Batista: It meant a lot to me. It was a personal thing. I was proud I earned the right to be there. But not only that, they wanted me there.
Randy Orton: Hindsight is 20/20, but I think we did the right thing. Batista was the man.
Batista: And they believed in me enough that they would wait. They knew that I was the guy that belonged in that position and they waited for me to come back. That’s when Evolution really got strong.
Michael Rapaport: Now at full strength, Evolution became a tightly bonded band of brothers, poised to run roughshod through the entire WWE. And by year’s end, history would be at their fingertips as not one, not two, but all members of the group would walk away from Armageddon, reigning supreme.
Triple H: That night, the night everybody has a title around their waist, storyline wise or not, it’s kind of that stamp of like this is going to work.
Batista: It felt right for us to all be holding titles. It felt right and it looked cool as hell. We were the antiheroes. We were supposed to be the heels, but people loved us.
Adam Cole: Me and all my high school buddies would walk around and we so badly wanted to be Evolution because we thought they were so cool and they were so cocky.
Batista: We were very much a rebirth of the four horsemen. But we modernized it. We made it suit the times.
Michael Rapaport: Collectively, Evolution was now atop at the WWE food chain. Individually, all four superstars were thriving because of it.
Bruce Prichard: Triple H at the time, who else could touch him?
Triple H: And Ric Flair is back to being Ric Flair.
The Miz: Everybody wants the Ric Flair we know and love. The jet flying, limousine riding, that’s who we want and that’s who we were getting with Evolution.
Bruce Prichard: Ric was part of something that was the top of the business. So Ric felt big. Ric felt like, okay, this is on me. I’m the top dog again.
Batista: At that time, I was floating on a cloud a little bit. But I knew what I wanted to be. I knew what I wanted my matches to be, my career to be, my programs to be, my storylines to be. I just came into my own.
Bruce Prichard: The Legend Killer gave Randy a moniker.
Mick Foley: He spit in my face and then he kicked me down that flight of stairs.
Randy Orton: That’s really where my career took off.
Bruce Prichard: For Evolution, everybody is at the top of their game. This is the future. You took notice.
Michael Rapaport: Now clicking on all cylinders, the grand stage would be the next stage in the tag team evolution of Batista and Orton. By 2004, The Rock’s Hollywood career was on fire. But the great one returned home to help an old friend handle some unfinished business.
Mick Foley: I said to Brain Gewirtz, I was told The Rock would only come back for something big. Brian said, Rock thinks this is big.
Batista: It was electric. Being in there with The Rock was crazy to me.
Bruce Prichard: And that decision by The Rock to come back and be part of WrestleMania and to be part of the show and to elevate everyone in that match, it was huge.
JBL: For those guys to get a win over The Rock is something that you will always put on your resume.
Michael Rapaport: After WrestleMania, Evolution continued its reign of dominance in the era of ruthless aggression. But who would emerge as the top dog within the top faction?
Randy Orton Being World Heavyweight Champion & Departure From The Group
Bruce Prichard: Randy Orton, no one questioned whether or not he would be the future. The only question was, how long is it going to take before he just takes over from everybody. Randy was ready to rule the world.
Michael Rapaport: In less than two years, empowered by Evolution, Randy Orton turned all that unrealized potential into reality. Triple H had delivered on his promise to make Orton a breakout star. But what happened next caught everyone off guard.
Brian Gewirtz: If you are Triple H in that position, you are not going to be happy if Randy is the champion and you’re going to turn on him. And you’re going to make a de facto babyface out of Randy. I think that came out of the blue. I think that was kind of an impetus decision. I remember getting the call, because I was in a vitamin shop at the time in union square. And me being in a vitamin shop is more natural than Randy being a babyface champion. The fans were not clamoring for Randy to become a babyface champion to them. And it was an unnatural position for Randy to be in — to be suddenly beloved after playing this cocky prick since his existence in the company pretty much.
Jim Cornette: Randy is not a natural babyface because he doesn’t give a piss about most of those people and they can tell it. Sometimes a guy is a natural babyface. Randy is on the other side of the fence. He’s like I don’t want to be around you people. You piss me off, get away from me.
Michael Rapaport: With Evolution, Orton had the protection, the guidance and the tutelage of two of the greatest of all time. But now on his own as the youngest champion in WWE history, he reverted to the immature ways that held him back earlier in his career.
Randy Orton: At 24, I became the youngest world heavyweight champion and I don’t think I was ready. I was young and I didn’t know what it was to be champion. You know, it got thrusted upon me and I had a lot of learning on the job.
Batista: He was a kid. Go out there and represent us. Randy wasn’t ready for that.
Mark Henry: Hell no. No, he was not ready because it kind of went to his head at first. Like, i’m good. I’m the champ. I’m going to main event tonight. He became a monster. And not everybody does, but he did.
Brain Gewirtz: Randy is a glorious prick. I mean he is just outstanding son of a bitch. He was never one to keep his feelings inward to himself. If he didn’t like something, he would let you know.
Triple H: We had a long talk and I said, Randy, you have every gift imaginable to be the biggest star this business has ever seen and the only one that could stop you is you and you are hell bent on doing it and I don’t know why.
Michael Rapaport: Orton’s disastrous title reign ended just one month after it began.
Brian Gewirtz: From a this is going to be the next big thing that’s going to launch a thousand Triple H vs. Randy Orton matches for the rest of time, yeah, it just sucked because it didn’t work out that way. So all right, let’s move on to to the next thing
Batista Winning The Royal Rumble & Evolution Legacy
Michael Rapaport: And the next thing was right in front of them. Batista was poised and prepared to seize the opportunity staring him in the face.
Batista: Our program itself had a very slow build. I remember Hunter having a lot of disagreements with Vince because Vince wanted to capitalize on this. When you saw it and heard the audience, like dollar signs. But Hunter was just very adamant about stretching this out and making a slow build. So when we got to WrestleMania, it would just erupt.
Triple H: When people started to see like, hey, something is going on with you and Dave, like where this could be really big, then it became the slow it down. Let this draw out. Let’s let them be begging for this guy to turn around and punch me in the face, before we let him turn around and punch me in the face.
Michael Rapaport: Simmering tensions had heated to a full boil. By winning the 2005 Royal Rumble, it became Batista’s choice. Challenge SmackDown’s WWE Champion or challenge for Triple H’s Heavyweight Championship on Raw.
Brian Gewirtz: When they pulled out and showed that Batista overhead all this, there was a rumbling of, oh shit, this is what we want. This is going to be good.
Triple H: Everybody knew he heard this conversation. They knew he was on to us. They are just begging for Dave to turn around and PowerBomb me.
Brian Gewirtz: And then it’s one of those things where you know it’s coming and the characters don’t know it’s coming. In this case, Triple H and Ric. Then when it happens, it’s just this huge release of tension that’s been building with the audience wanting Dave to finally do what he did to Triple H.
Triple H: It’s hard not to take so much pride in seeing that come, especially for somebody that you like so much and that you think so much of. And that you know has worked so hard to get there.
Brian Gewirtz: It’s one of those great feelings backstage where you go like, wow, this paid off huge. This investment paid off huge, the storytelling, the performances. Everything came together and clicked. And now we knew, it was money.
Bruce Prichard: That was the moment of, all right kid, we’re gonna go with you.
Michael Rapaport: Batista earned his shot at championship glory. But first — Randy Orton had a shot at redemption against the most highly respected superstar in WWE history.
Brian Gewirtz: You are not being put in a WrestleMania match with The Undertaker unless you are really talented at the company’s investment in you.
Randy Orton: I think there was definitely some pressure because the one guy you kind of respect, just because it’s The Undertaker. It was like, i’m going to make this kid look as good as I can and that’s what he did.
Brain Gewirtz: That was the turning point because now he knows exactly who he is.
Michael Rapaport: Orton needed to prove himself and he did. There was dignity in this defeat.
Batista: The crowd was like so weird. It was like an eerie silence. Not like a silence. There was rumblings, but you could tell they were just waiting for this to just pop off.
Bruce Prichard: Could the emerging star in Batista, overcome the mentor in Triple H? And a lot of people didn’t think that Dave would make it.
Batista: It was definitely special. I legit broke down when that match was over. Like broke down. I think I cried for three days. And Triple H, he made me a star. He made me a star. Single handedly, he just — I don’t know what would I have done without that kind of dude. I mean he made me who I was.
Triple H: The intent is we start this group, we let it run for as long as we possibly can. And then you hope that Dave becomes a star, Randy becomes a star. As the group implodes upon itself, it is then getting them to be bonafide WrestleMania main event stars. And, you know, it worked.
Michael Rapaport: It began as an idea inside the mind of a visionary. It took shape when the past was made present and the future became now. It overcame injury and uncertainty. And it was Ruthless Aggression personified. In the end, Evolution changed the legacies of four men, forever.
Batista: This was my opportunity in life that I had been looking for.
Randy Orton: I’ve been given so many opportunities because of my stint in evolution, because the right people saw there was something special about Randy Orton.
Ric Flair: I had serious self confidence issues. But gradually with them, I just had so much fun and I got it back.
Triple H: One of the big key flagpoles in the ground of the ruthless aggression era is Evolution. You can argue about who was the most beneficial and you can make an argument for every single of us. It was about all of us. It wasn’t about one. It wasn’t about two. It was about all of us and it was successful for everybody.
Checkout Episode 193 of The Hoots Podcast