With a new era comes along new stars, but before they become stars, they must be molded to become one. In 2002, a class of developed superstars would rise to become the future of WWE.
These 4 men: Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Batista and John Cena came from WWE’s developmental territory at the time OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling) and within the next almost 2 decades, would become the biggest stars in the wrestling world.
Randy Orton, is a third generation wrestler who was born into the wrestling business. Throughout his life, he watched his dad, “Cowboy” Bob Orton Jr. main event the first WrestleMania with Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, and Paul Orndorff. Randy progressed and almost immediately made an impact leading towards his main roster debut in 2002.
Randy unfortunately suffered a shoulder injury in late 2002 and was out for a few months. However, he would return even better. Being on the Raw brand, he went under the wing of World Champion Triple H and legend Ric Flair forming the faction Evolution. Randy would create the “Legend Killer” character which really sparked his charisma and ability to connect with the crowd.
Being under the wing of two of the best in the business led him to become the youngest World Champion in history when he won the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam 2004, beating Chris Benoit.
He would then be betrayed by Triple H following the title win and kicked out of Evolution. Here he was forced to go it alone and moved to the SmackDown brand.
When Randy went on his own he really formed an identity and had legendary rivalries with some of the best in the business. His first big feud on SmackDown, The Undertaker, really helped Randy mold him into a big star. Their match at WrestleMania 21 nearly stole the show and was the first time The Undertaker’s undefeated streak was at risk.
Once Randy went back to Raw, he formed a new identity and a paranoid character. He completely changed his look, personality, theme and his character. He would become a multiple time World Champion in the Ruthless Aggression Era and had some of the most legendary rivalries in history with the likes of Triple H, John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Batista and many more.
Randy is still continuing to compete on the main roster on SmackDown. Recently becoming a grand slam champion, finally winning the United States Championship. Randy will be remembered as one of the greatest superstars to grace a WWE ring.
Brock Lesnar’s impact was made right away. The night after WrestleMania 18, Brock debuted on Raw and destroyed everything in his path. From that moment on it was time for the roster to feel the pain.
With manager Paul Heyman at his side, he guided Brock Lesnar to the King of the Ring and eventually the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2002 beating The Rock and becoming at the time, the youngest world champion in history.
Brock would become exclusive to the SmackDown brand where he had some of his biggest moments of his career. Within feuds with The Undertaker, Kurt Angle and The Big Show. Brock would wreak havoc on the entire roster on SmackDown and even grace the cover of the game, SmackDown: “Here Comes the Pain.”
Brock was a prevalent part of the first few years of the “Ruthless Aggression Era” leading SmackDown with the other main eventers to make SmackDown feel equal to (and sometimes even better than) Monday Night Raw.
In 2004, Brock Lesnar quit the WWE and would go on to do things in both the NFL (National Football League) and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). He became the first person to win the WWE Championship and the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
In 2012, Brock made his return back to the WWE, where he made an instant impact. He would go on to end The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania 30, and would go on to become WWE Champion and Universal Champion. Brock is currently still the Universal Champion and has been champion for nearly 500 days.
Batista did not have the instant impact as the Randy or Brock. However, he had a look unlike anyone else. He was a powerhouse and would clobber anyone put in front of him. However, he was put as the assistant to Reverend D-Von. He debuted as Deacon Batista.
Once he was able to split away from D-Von, Batista was able to show his true charisma and ability. He would go on to get put on the Raw brand, where like Randy Orton he would be put under the wing of Ric Flair and Triple H in Evolution.
He would win the World Tag Team Championships multiple times with Ric Flair and show the dominance of Evolution on Raw. He was the powerhouse the kept the strength of Evolution powerful.
Once he was able to split away from Evolution, he became one of the faces of the company. He won the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 21 against his mentor Triple H. He would go on to hold the Championship for almost a year, until he had to relinquish the title due to injury.
He came back however and became stronger than ever. He would go on to win multiple more World Championships in years to come. He also would have legendary feuds with The Undertaker, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Mark Henry and John Cena, among others.
Batista would quit WWE in 2010. He took his talents to Hollywood, starring in many movies and his most famous role in the Guardians of the Galaxy series.
Batista made his return in 2014 main eventing WrestleMania 30 with Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. He would then leave the company in June of the same year.
There is no arguing the impact Batista has made on the history of the WWE.
Now, the most famous name to come from the Class of 2002, John Cena. John debuted in one of the most famous debuts against Kurt Angle. For the first few months of his career, he had a hard time finding an identity to make him stand alone.
John would also sadly hit the injury bug. However, over that time, he finally found a character that works with his lifestyle. John Cena went to school to become the Doctor of Thuganomics.
In John’s most famous character of his career, the Doctor of Thuganomics would help him gain popularity and lead him to become the United States Champion, and eventually the WWE Champion.
At WrestleMania 21, John Cena would defeat John Bradshaw Layfield to win his first WWE Championship.
Like Batista, he would go on to hold the WWE Championship for rest of the year. John would go on to create a stat sheet that is incomparable to most of his colleagues.
John Cena in his career has: won 16 World Championships, won Money in the Bank, won 2 Royal Rumbles, won 5 United States Championships and main evented 5 WrestleManias.
John Cena has gone toe-to-toe with the who’s who of the WWE; having some of the most famous rivalries in WWE history. This included rivalries with the likes of: Booker T, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Batista, The Undertaker, CM Punk, Edge and many, many more.
John Cena will go down in history as arguably the greatest of all time. Not only as a competitor, but as a superstar outside of the ring. He is a movie star, a philanthropist and spokesperson for many advertisements. John Cena alone has granted over 500 wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, more than anyone in history.
WWE would be nothing without John Cena leading the company to the future and beyond. John is not the most liked, or most hated, but he is one of the most respected Superstars in history.
The Class of 2002 paved the way for WWE to groom the next generation of superstars. The transition from one era to the next was in many eyes the right move. In many ways, these four led the way for the “Ruthless Aggression Era.” Without the guidance and effort of these men, WWE would not be where it is at today.