I originally wrote this column one year ago. On this day, April 11, one year ago Edge retired from World Wrestling Entertainment. In tribute to him, here is that column one more time.
The John Report: On This Day Edge Retires a Champion
The in-ring career of Adam "Edge" Copeland ended this past Monday night on Raw at the age of 37. His last match happened on April 3rd at WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Seeing elite wrestlers retire at WrestleMania has become commonplace the last few years with Shawn Michaels calling it quits in 2010 and Ric Flair retiring in 2008 although in his case he retired from WWE only to move on to TNA. This one, much like Steve Austin's retirement in 2003, came out nowhere. Yes, there had been reports in recent months about how Edge had every intention to wind down his career in the next year. We just didn't know when that would be. It turns out that the neck injury he's been dealing with for eight years flared up to the point that doctors told him this was it. With little warning he walked out to the ring on Raw to say goodbye.
"In the last little while I've been in a lot of pain. I've been losing feeling in my arms. So I passed a strength test and all of those things. I made it through WrestleMania. But the WWE wanted me to get more tests. And thankfully I did because the MRI's showed that I have to retire. Trust me it's not my choice. The doctors have told me that I got no choice. And thankfully they found out because I'm not going to end up in a wheelchair now." - Edge 4/11/11
At this point it went from a wrestling promo to man speaking to the people that have paid to see him perform for 14 years in a WWE ring. It felt very real. The crowd in Bridgeport, Connecticut gave him a standing ovation and for the first time in his career Edge was in tears in the center of the ring. It was the kind of thing no wrestler ever wants to do and no fan ever wants to hear, but when you take some time to reflect there is that saving grace. There was one line that he said that said more than anything else: "Thankfully they found out because I'm not going to end up in a wheelchair now."
That sinks in doesn't it? That's the reality of the wrestling business. They are all one bad bump away from something like that. Just ask Darren Drozdov. (Google that name if you don't know.) The point is once you realize the seriousness of the situation you can't question what the doctors told him or what Edge himself has decided to do. When your body tells you that you can't do it anymore you have to listen. Too often in wrestling people don't listen and that's why far too many of them have left us too soon.
Wrestling fans know that the business is a work, but we also know that the performers in that ring go through a lot of pain. How much pain? We don't always know the details because as performers they are trained to tough it out. Along with the neck injury that sidelined him for a year in 2003, Edge suffered a torn Achilles tendon that sidelined him for most of 2009 and a torn pectoral muscle in 2007. Those are just the surgeries. There were other injuries too. Some would say he was injury prone. I guess because he missed time due to injuries you could say it, but that's a disservice to a guy who put his body on the line to entertain us. It's not like he got injured walking down the street. He got injured doing his job for us to the best of ability. And he came back time after time because he loved his job. For that he has earned the respect of his company, his peers and most importantly the fans all around the world. Edge is not going to be remembered as an injury prone performer. He's going to be remembered as a warrior who gutted it out year after year and absolutely loved everything about his job.
It wasn't always easy. In terms of paying dues, you can make a case that he paid them as much as anybody. He started from the bottom, worked his way up and reached legendary status by retiring as the World Heavyweight Champion. Not bad for a kid from outside Toronto, eh?* * * * *
"I'm still like all of you. I'm a huge fan of the WWE." - Edge 4/11/11
I can't recall the exact date I saw Edge wrestle in person for the first time. It was in 1997, though, before he ever appeared on television for what was then known as the World Wrestling Federation. I saw him wrestle at an indy show here in southern Ontario (I grew up about two hours from him). His name was Sexton Hardcastle. His best friend to this day, Christian (who he has known for 27 years as he stated on Raw), was with him at the show wrestling as Christian Cage. They were skinnier, they had really bad hair, bad outfits and were really unpolished as workers. If you have Edge's DVD that WWE put out a couple of years ago there's Christian's WWF tryout match on there with the two of them having a match. You'll see what I mean in terms of their look. A year later I was at the WWF's Break Down PPV in September of 1998 as Edge lost to Owen Hart. Edge had debuted a few months earlier and was getting pushed as a young babyface, but Christian showed up at that show. I knew who he was. Not a lot of others did. I remember thinking how cool it was to see two local guys make it to the big time.
Edge and Christian have always been two of my favorite wrestlers. It's easy to like them. Pro wrestling is all they ever wanted to do in their lives and they did it. They paid their dues before getting to WWE and when they finally got there they succeeded. I remember the early days of the Brood when they weren't allowed to talk until one time Ken Shamrock was looking for a captured Stephanie McMahon and Christian finally spoke for the first time. From there their talents started to shine through.
There are a lot of wrestlers in the business that can say they had a "breakout" match. For Randy Savage it was the Intercontinental Title match at WrestleMania III. For Bret Hart it was the Summerslam 1992 match in England. For Shawn Michaels it was the ladder match at WrestleMania X. For Steve Austin it was the Survivor Series 1996 match. For The Rock it was the Summerslam 1998 match. All of those were losses, by the way. Edge & Christian lost their breakthrough match too, at No Mercy 1999. It was a tag team ladder match against the Hardy Boys that featured four wrestlers all under the age of 26 allowed to perform for 17 minutes in front of a hot crowd in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the start of something big. They stole the show. They had the match of the year (one that I would rate ****1/2 out of five if you're into that sort of thing) and they proved that they could get the job done in the ring.
Over the course of the next eighteen months Edge & Christian became two of the most entertaining people in the WWE during its most productive time period. The Attitude Era may have been headlined by the likes of Austin, Rock, Triple H, Foley, Undertaker and others, but it was also the grooming period for younger talent like E&C. They entertained us with their five second poses for flash photography, their run as the Conquistadors ("Si!"), playing wrestler's entrance music with kazoos and using phrases like "totally reeking of awesomeness" in humorous ways. The most important thing was they were having memorable match after memorable match. Along with No Mercy 1999, they had standout matches with the Hardy's & Dudley's at WrestleMania 2000 (tables & ladders match), Summerslam 2000 (the first TLC), WrestleMania X-7 in 2001 (the best TLC at the best PPV ever) and a Smackdown event in May 2001 (a four team TLC). I still remember spots from those matches like Edge's spear on Jeff from the top of a ladder while Jim Ross talked about how they were career shortening matches. Ten years later guess what? He was right.
They had quality wrestling matches week after week, month after month and they were as consistent as anybody on the roster. They are my favorite tag team ever and I don't know if any team will ever top them for me. They grew up as wrestling fans like me, they grew up in the same province as me, they were entertaining as characters and they provided us with so many great moments inside the ring and out. They were everything that was right about tag team wrestling. The majority of their run was as a heel team, but I have no doubt that they would have succeeded as a babyface tag team too. They were good enough that they could work any style with any workers no matter who they were. They would make everybody else better. The best part? They had fun doing it. You could see it on their faces.
By the summer of 2001 the split of Edge & Christian was complete. Edge won the 2001 King of the Ring event (promising not to "Billy Gunn" the crown – still makes me laugh!) and Christian became jealous of his brother. In case you weren't watching back then, they liked to say that E&C were brothers. Later in the decade they only referred to them as friends. Was the breakup too soon? No. I think they were both ready. They cemented themselves as a great team, but they were more valuable long term as singles performers. The problem was the roster was so loaded with talent that it was hard for either of them to break through. It was clear that the company thought of Edge as the bigger star, though, because he was given singles gold first (his first IC title run happened for a day in 1999) while Christian took some time to get to that level. The cool thing is ten years later their careers are side by side once again except this time it was at a main event level.
You could tell that WWE was really getting behind Edge as a singles performer as early as 2001. Who knew that it would take nearly five full years for him to get that level as a top guy?* * * * *
"I would hope that through it all I've earned the respect of everybody in that locker room. And I hope that I've earned all of your respect. Because no matter what I came out here and I tried to give you guys as much as I had every single night. And in turn you guys gave it right back to me. So I'm going to miss all of this...all of it. I'm going to miss that reaction when I hear my music and I come out on the ramp - it's like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart from you guys and it's amazing. I can't describe it." - Edge 4/11/11
The hardest thing for a wrestling character to do might be to go from that midcard level to that main event level. A lot of things need to go your way. You need to elevate your game, you need to do something to help you stand out from the pack and you need the company to truly believe in you. Once you have all that you might get there…or you might crack your head against that proverbial glass ceiling we often hear about.
A turning point in his career happened in 2002 when he was moved to Smackdown where he was a part of a group known as the Smackdown Six: Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero and Edge. They put Edge into a singles feud with Kurt Angle that Edge ultimately won, cutting off Kurt's hair and also starting those legendary "You Suck" chants during Kurt's entrance. Later in the year with Paul Heyman booking the show they were able to put on some of the best matches in the history of WWE TV week after week. I can remember a No DQ match with Eddie Guerrero and Edge that was really special. I also recall the tag match at No Mercy 2002 as Angle & Benoit beat Mysterio & Edge in one of the best pure tag team wrestling matches I've ever seen. It's a five star match. A classic. I remember that time period very well and thinking that if Edge can hang with those guys he can become the top guy sooner or later.
I think the character of Edge was one that WWE always wanted to see break though to that World Title level because he was somebody the company groomed to be a champion from the moment they signed him. He was a company lifer. A guy that they signed when he was in his early 20s who had all the potential in the world to break through and carry the torch that others held before him. The neck injury that he suffered in 2003 sidelined him for over a year, so it took a while for him to bounce back. He bounced around between the role of babyface & heel a number of times in his early singles run. He'd come out to the ring cutting funny promos one week. Then a few months later he'd be a jerk.
To prove that I believed in him way back late in 2004, you can read this column I wrote talking about how bright his future was. I ended the column saying this: "Forget about the future. This guy is the future and it's his turn now. Next stop is 2005: The Year of Edge." I'm not saying I'm the only one that saw his potential. Everybody did. It seemed like all the face and heel turns taught him a few lessons. They allowed him to find himself as a performer. Sitting on the sidelines for a year probably helped too. The point is the light turned on at that point in his career and the cream was finally going to rise to the top.
That 2005 calendar year seemed to be the turning point for him. In late 2004 they found the role that was perfect for him: arrogant heel. Some can pull it off while others simply can't. Edge was able to do all the little things right from the cocky expressions to the cheap tactics to the use of weapons to benefit him. It was the natural role for him. He thrived as a team with Christian as a heel and he was going to be the most successful as a singles competitor in the same role. The company's faith in him showed the inaugural Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania 21 in 2005, which ultimately led to the WWE Title at the New Year's Resolution PPV in January of 2006.
By that time Edge's heel act had grown to that of a top level talent. He won Money in the Bank in the spring and then his real life relationship with Lita made it on camera after she turned on her on-screen "husband" Kane to join up with Edge. We found out that she had cheated on her then boyfriend Matt Hardy with Edge while they were on the road. It created a lot of buzz. Matt even got fired for a few months, but then he came back and had a feud with Edge, which Edge ultimately won. I'm sure a lot of people thought Edge was a jerk for sleeping with the girlfriend of somebody that was a friend. Guess what? It helped his on screen character more than any angle would have. Following the Hardy feud Edge ended up dubbing himself the "Rated R Superstar," which is a persona that fit his character because of all of his dastardly acts.
The title win at New Year's Resolution 2006 was a huge moment because he was finally able to capture the WWE Title. It followed the Elimination Chamber match that John Cena won, but it played up to Edge's persona as the "ultimate opportunist." What followed on Raw was the infamous "live sex celebration" that earned a 5.2 rating for the show, which was a huge number at the time (and would be today too). His first title reign didn't last too long, but he went on to have a great feud with Mick Foley that culminated in a memorable match at WrestleMania 22. The match was a Hardcore Match that ended when Edge speared Foley through a flaming table that was on the floor. Do you think that spot was good for the neck? Of course not. He also suffered second degree burns doing the spot. That's Edge, though. He was a master of the big spots and he didn't care what kind of risk it put his body in.
His feuds as a main event performer were usually great. The summer of 2006 feud with Cena over the WWE Title (Edge won it from Rob Van Dam) produced some great matches and a hot storyline that only enhanced Edge's character. During the feud Edge even got thrown into the Long Island Sound (the body of water he mentioned on Raw). The feud ended with a memorable TLC match at Unforgiven 2006 in Edge's hometown of Toronto. It's one of my favorite matches of Edge's career because the crowd's loving Edge in his hometown, he's getting the ovation he deserves and he worked his ass off to put on an amazing match. Cena did too, which is why it was such a memorable match to me. I can still remember cringing when I saw Edge take the FU (now known as the Attitude Adjustment) off the top of the ladder through two tables that were stacked nearby. Do you think that was good for his neck? Of course not. He did not care. Or maybe he did, but he wouldn't let us know he was in pain. I think that was the best feud in Cena's career and it might be the best of Edge's career although that might go to the Undertaker one, which we'll get to shortly.
Following the Cena feud, which he lost, Edge moved on without Lita (who retired) and teamed with Randy Orton to form the team known as Rated RKO. Following WrestleMania in 2007, an injury to Ken Kennedy meant that he had to relinquish the Money in the Bank briefcase, so WWE had Edge defeat him for it and he was walking around with that briefcase for the second year in a row. This time Edge capitalized by attacking The Undertaker and he won the World Heavyweight Title with a Spear in another "ultimate opportunist" attack. After winning a feud over the title with Batista, a torn pectoral injury caused Edge to relinquish the belt in the summer of 2007. It was another obstacle that he had to overcome. Would he be able to do it? Of course.
Edge's return to action in late 2007 led to a huge year for him as he formed a relationship with Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero (they had great chemistry that resulted in massive heat for both of them), re-captured the World Heavyweight Title and led his own stable with Chavo Guerrero, Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder as part of the group that would be known as La Familia. Edge had a lot of momentum going into the main event of WrestleMania 24 as he defended the World Heavyweight Title against The Undertaker. A fantastic match. You could make a case that this was the career highlight of Edge as he got to defend the title against The Undertaker in the last match at a WrestleMania. It doesn't get any bigger than that. He lost the belt there, but soon after he got married to Vickie Guerrero (even though he got caught making out with the wedding planner because he's that much of a jerk) and then she drove him nuts. That led to paranoia Edge as he they built him up for another huge match with Undertaker: Hell in a Cell. That was at Summerslam 2008, which was just a month after WWE had declared itself a PG company. It was unlike the other HIAC matches we had seen because there was no blood, but they made it work. Another four star plus match. The feud with Undertaker solidified Edge's spot as an elite talent who could have memorable matches with anybody on the roster.
He took some time off after Summerslam and when he returned he was part of a period in WWE where they moved the titles around, both the WWE and World Titles, on a monthly basis. I'm not going to even try to count all the title switches, but let's just say that Edge was a title winning whore. Over the course of about seven months he had won (and lost) both titles a combined five times. Needless to say all those wins added to his credentials as a top guy. Then he suffered another devastating injury after winning the tag titles with Chris Jericho. It was a torn Achilles tendon. He was going to be out at least six months.
That brings us to the last chapter of Edge's career. He returned to win the Royal Rumble in 2010 as a surprise. A lot of people didn't know if he'd be back by then. It was a genuine surprise to me. He might have rushed it a bit because you could tell he was rusty and seeing him as a babyface was different for a lot of fans. He feuded with Chris Jericho for several months, but he was unable to win the World Title from him. He would turn heel briefly while he was on the Raw brand although he went back to the babyface role after beating up the laptop that received messages from the Raw GM. Yes, I really wrote that sentence. It's part of the story! Anyway, he ended up winning the World Title in what would turn out to be his last TLC match in December 2010. The feud with Kane that followed was very poor with the ridiculousness of Paul Bearer being kidnapped by Edge, so let's just move away from that one. He ended up losing the belt briefly to Dolph Ziggler (another silly title change) before getting it back for his 11th and final title reign.
His last great match happened at the 2011 Elimination Chamber as he successfully retained the World Title in a ****1/2 match where he did not look like a man that was close to retirement. The performance he had in that match is even greater now in my eyes. That brings us to WrestleMania 27 where he successfully defeated Alberto Del Rio to open the show in what ended up being his last match. Now the booking makes sense!* * * * *
"If you asked me if I'd do all of this again - all the way back from getting hired by JR - if you asked me if I'd travel all the roads, log all the miles, hop on all the flights, all the sleepless nights, all the surgeries, all the injuries - the metal rods in my teeth - all of it. If you asked me if I'd do it again...in a heartbeat. So thank you. Thank you very much." - Edge 4/11/11
That's the Edge I will remember. No regrets. No limits. Whatever he was asked to do, he did it to the best of his ability. Was it smart for him to wrestle dozens of matches involving tables, ladders and chairs even after neck fusion surgery? It probably wasn't. In fact, I'm sure the people around him told him he was crazy for doing it. But you know what? It's his life. It's him living his dream the same way each and every one of us wish we could live our dream. Some of us get to live it every day. Some of us may never come close to it. Adam Copeland lived his dream. And he did it in front of us. For that we should be thankful because he was damn good at it.
What is the lasting effect of Edge's career? He's not the best draw ever like an Austin, Hogan or Rock (he was certainly credible as a draw, though) and he's not the worker that Michaels, Angle or Hart are (he was always very good and often times great), but he was consistently good at a lot of things for a long time and did it at a high level. As a talker he showed a lot of range. He was able to convey his emotions in a serious manner and he was also able to convey it through his sense of humor. It's a personal choice where you want to rank him. The bottom line is he is one of the best ever. There's no denying that.
Let's take a look at all of his accomplishments. He's one of the few people in the history of WWE that can say he's done it all:
- * World Heavyweight Title - 7 times
- * WWE Title - 4 times (He's ultimately recognized as an 11 time World Champion)
- * World/WWE Tag Titles - 14 times (7 of those are with Christian and 1 time famously with Hulk Hogan)
- * Intercontinental Title - 5 times
- * US Title - 1 time
- * Royal Rumble Winner in 2010
- * Money in the Bank Winner in 2005 (also cashed in 2007 although he didn't win the match)
- * King of the Ring Winner in 2001
That is an amazing resume in terms of accomplishments. It's a total of 31 different titles. He won everything there is to win. Of course there is one more place that awaits him: The WWE Hall of Fame. It's not a question of if; it's a question of when. If The Rock decides to go in there in 2012 then Edge will probably wait a year until WrestleMania 29, which might be in his hometown of Toronto. That would be a special night. Either way you know he's going in with his best friend Christian doing the inducting.
I consider myself lucky because I saw him before his legendary career began and I also saw his last match in person. I wish I knew it was his last match. He was able to put on a show even if his body didn't want him to. That's greatness. The best wrestlers make it seem real in good times and bad. I can only imagine how much pain he was in on April 3 as he defeated Alberto Del Rio to retain his World Heavyweight Championship. It's amazing that he was able to block out that pain and perform at a high level one last time in what would be his last match. That's Edge's legacy: the ability to keep going no matter what.
There are a lot of things about the Edge persona that I'm going to miss. That theme song? Truthfully, it's been my favorite song in the WWE since it debuted. I'll miss that song. I'll admit that I didn't always love the Spear as a finisher especially for a guy that isn't that bulky, but hey, it worked. It's wrestling. If it gets a pop you have to keep doing the move. That's how the business is. He always had that sarcastic smirk on his face that made you want to see him get his ass kicked. I guess that's why he worked so well as a heel, huh? I've read and heard enough comments from his peers to know that he is considered one of the smartest wrestlers in the business too. It's not a surprise because that's what he loved to do. The selfish fan of me is sad that we won't get one last Edge vs. Christian feud done the right way at the top of the card, but I'd rather see him walk away healthy than risk his body one more time…for the benefit of those with flash photography.
To Adam Copeland the person I say enjoy the rest of your life in the mountains of North Carolina. I read an interview with him recently where he spoke about how comfortable he will be spending time with his girlfriend and his dogs while hiking in peace. Good for you. You earned it. I hope you can find some way to channel the creative juices that will never leave you. Speaking on behalf of wrestling (yes, I said the cursed word) fans the world over I hope that you can return to WWE in some way. Whether it's as an on screen character, an announcer or even backstage in a creative role the business is better for having you in it. Take all the time you need to get away from it all, but when you want to come back the business you love will be waiting with open arms.
To Edge the performer I say thanks for all the blood baths, the poses for flash photography, the conchairtos with Christian, those unforgettable TLC & Money in the Bank matches, the phrase "reeking of awesomeness" that did exactly that, the 31 total title reigns (eleven as a World Champion), the pure emotion you showed when you cashed in Money in the Bank for the first World Title, the one man conchairtos, the live sex celebration, main eventing WrestleMania 24 with The Undertaker and ending your career by retaining the World Title at WrestleMania 27. You accomplished everything there is in the sports entertainment business and you did it the hard way. You rose through the ranks as a tag wrestler, a midcarder, a World Champion, a WrestleMania Main Eventer and ultimately a legitimate WWE Hall of Famer. On the "to do list" of goals you have a checkmark beside everything. There is nothing left to do. Nobody gave it to you. You went after it and you earned it all for 19 years. That, my friend, earns you a tremendous amount of respect in my book.
"On this day I see clearly everything has come to life
A bitter place and a broken dream
And we'll leave it all behind
On this day it's so real to me
Everything has come to life
Another chance to chase a dream
Another chance to feel
Chance to feel alive"
His song says it all. Edge chased his dream and it allowed him the chance to live his life to the fullest. His career as an active performer may be over, but his healthy life continues and his legacy will live on forever.
Now, how about one final pose for the benefit of those with flash photography?
Happy retirement to you, Edge. Your place in history will live forever and you will be remembered by one word…
John Canton - firstname.lastname@example.org