Edge made being Mr. Money in the Bank matter. We forget this now, but I remember watching WWE New Year's Revolution in 2006 and being stunned by the very idea that Edge would cash in the opportunity for a title shot immediately after a hard fought match by the current champion. Now, it's the expected norm for the briefcase holder to follow that same path, with the exceptions being the men who set a specific date for cashing in their title shot. Now, the briefcase is a gateway to stardom, a sign of a superstar being someone we should be watching, but before that night, it was an undefined concept that we hadn't seen or imagined being put into practice, at least not in such a radical way.
Edge took what couldn't be more rote, a "promised title shot", and gave it a sense of urgency. After he shocked the audience by cashing in on John Cena, his actions earlier in the night, getting disqualified in an Intercontinental Title match with Ric Flair and declaring he had "more important things to worry about" made sense. Edge made the whole evening, and indeed the Money in the Bank briefcase, make sense by virtue of giving them a sense of immediate significance. This gift, this ability to make moments matter by virtue of his presence and the sense that these moments mattered to him, compelled us to watch him and care as well. The fact that he did all of this as a villain we despised only made it more remarkable.
Brandon Stroud, who writes the excellent Best and Worst of WWE Raw (and WWE NXT) columns over at WithLeather, is fond of saying that Edge spoke and acted with a sense of urgency. He's absolutely right, and nowhere is this urgency more apparent than in Edge's work as a conniving, plotting heel. His work at New Year's Revolution in 2006 obviously conveyed this, but it really was a theme throughout Edge's run as a main event heel. His work against Cena, who is similarly gifted regarding this "urgency" as a face, always seemed to bring out the best in both competitors, and made the buildup to their TLC match at Unforgiven in 2006 particularly memorable.
On the one hand, you had Cena, playing the unstoppable force (a role that he does well, but one that has, admittedly, become grating with poor booking and a lack of adequate heels), and on the other, there's Edge, whose work as the antithesis of "Hustle, Loyalty, Respect" made the feud work. Edge looked for every advantage, setting the match up in his hometown, with the stipulations geared toward his specialty; if Cena's trademark has been (somewhat derisively, now) "overcoming the odds", then Edge's best work was as a man hell bent on tipping those same odds in his favor. The dichotomy gave the two a chemistry that Cena struggled to find again for several years after their feud.
None of this is to say that Edge was booked to be weak. On the contrary, the character worked specifically because Edge had built credibility as a quality performer in the ring. More importantly, it was how Edge had built that credibility that made his "Ultimate Opportunist" heel so damn detestable. Edge was, in fairness, nothing remarkable in terms of innovative offense, but what he was always willing to do was necessary, to put his body on the line in any way that would give him the advantage over his competitor. He only became a villain when he brought the same "by any means necessary" mentality to his plots and dealings outside of the ring. Still, his matches all carried that weight of a willingness to do whatever it took to win.
Edge's work against Mick Foley leading up to their show-stopping hardcore match at WrestleMania 22 was anchored by this feverish desire to maintain his reputation as a winner, as one of the greats. The look on Edge's face after that match, after having slammed his opponent through a flaming table, was one of shock and horror, as if he had only realized at that moment just what it meant to do "whatever it takes" to win, as if the very thing that made him who he was as a villain had finally been exposed in all of its violent ugliness.
Still, that look of horror was usually replaced with the same toothy, maniacal grin built on confidence combined with a lack of scruples. Edge was, in some small way, the original "against the grain" superstar. He had been around for a long time as a tag team star, and didn't have the same "larger than life" physical presence that typical top WWE main eventers of his day had (Cena and HHH spring to mind, here), but Edge managed to leverage his counterculture (within the WWE, anyway) status and make it into a trademark, a sort of disrespect for "the way things are done" that the smark crowd loved and the rest of the WWE Universe reviled. Nowhere was this on display more than in his feud against the Undertaker leading up to WrestleMania 24. Honestly, it was the last time I remember genuinely believing that someone could break the Undertaker's streak, and the credit for this goes to the work of both men, as well as some well played booking, but it was Edge who made the proceedings sizzle. Edge, coming into the match as champion, spent the buildup to the match detailing all of the reasons why it was he, and not the Undertaker, who should be the favorite. After all, he was the World Heavyweight Champion, he was undefeated at WrestleMania, and he was the younger, more recently successful star. For the man who had spent his entire career climbing over fallen opponents who had long been considered higher up in the "pecking order", who had turned craft into as violent a force as combat, the Undertaker wasn't something to be feared; he was another opportunity to be seized. The fact that we knew just how far Edge was willing to go, and just how much success that mentality had brought him in the past, gave the match the uncertainty that made if fascinating.
Edge as the Ultimate Opportunist was a testament to how seductive that thin line between our ideals and our desires can be. He was, in many ways, the ideal villain, a type that hasn't been seen in the era of unsympathetic supermen as heroes and cowards as their foes. Edge had the ability to win with honor; he just understood he could achieve more with greater ease if he was willing to win without honor. It was proof that what makes our heroes who they are isn't their strength of might or mind, but the strength of character that dictates how they will use those talents.
Edge's willingness to cross that line between honor and infamy, in spite of his proven ability, made him the perfect foil to the heroes of his day, the rigid moral code of Cena, the timeless dignity of the Undertaker, the legacy of respect of Mick Foley. Edge knew the force of his opponents, knew what it would take to defeat them, and understood that when an opportunity to gain the upper hand on your opponent presents itself, letting it pass by carries consequences, sometimes consequences that can't be overcome. That was the source of the urgency, the knowledge that it could all end at any moment, and that because of this each moment, and each decision made in those moments, mattered.
What decisions our heroes and villains are willing to make in those moments makes them who they are. In the end, Edge was more willing to be hated than he was willing to watch his window of greatness close, and by virtue of his making decisions that we would never make to achieve goals we will never achieve, he became hated, but he became a legend.