Wednesday 13 April 2011

Thank you, Edge

On the April 11th edition of Monday Night RAW professional wrestler Adam 'Edge' Copeland announced he would be retiring from active competition (in a speech you can watch here). He had been suffering from numbness and shaking in his hands stemming from a serious neck injury in 2003. On Monday April 4th 2011, he was informed by doctors that he would never be medically cleared to wrestle again.

I've been a fan of wrestling since I first saw one of the WWF's weekend catch-up shows in November 1998. One of the first guys I became a fan of was Edge. This was at a time when I didn't know anything about "pushes" or "earning a spot" or needing the WWF look. I've come across all that since and it's how I look at wrestling now. It's part of what makes wrestling fun for me. But back then I liked Edge just because I thought his matches were good. That's what it should always come down to anyway.

Edge became someone whose career I wanted to follow, hoping to see him become a champion. I remember the elation I felt watching Fully Loaded '99 the night after it was originally broadcast and discovering that Edge had beaten Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental title at a house show the night before the pay-per-view. I was desperately upset I hadn't been able to see that victory, but at the same time I was pleased "my guy" had the belt.

He lost it back to Jarrett at Fully Loaded and I was unhappy. Not only was the championship back with the deeply irritating 'Double J' but Edge’s reign as champion had lasted just one day. Naturally I see it differently now, and understand that untelevised match at the Toronto Sky Dome is probably a very special memory for Edge: winning his major title in his hometown.

It was clear Edge was going to be someone special at WrestleMania 2000. Alongside his tag team partner, and childhood friend, Christian, he faced the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz in a triangle ladder match that stole the show. Winning their first tag team championship at the promotion’s biggest annual event marked them out as stars on the rise.

In the following months Edge and Christian became a highlight of WWF programming as they entered the Era of Awesomeness. Using surfer slang, making up silly words (anyone remember the meaning of "steek"?), developing a fondness for lavish sunglasses and performing five second poses before their matches, they were a riot and different to anything else in the company. While their matches were always great it was in backstage vignettes that the duo really shone, sharing excellent comedy timing alongside top stars such as Mick Foley, Kurt Angle and Triple H.

More career highlights followed at that year's SummerSlam with a victory in the inaugural Tables, Ladders and Chairs match, WrestleMania X7 with TLCII, winning the 2001 King of the Ring tournament, and further Intercontinental title reigns. It was a golden age for the WWF’s tag team division, and a creatively rewarding time for Edge.

The neck injury suffered in February of 2003 was a big setback for the Canadian. There was talk he had been scheduled to challenge for, and possibly win, one of the company's world championships at that year's WrestleMania. The injury could not have come at a worse time. After a year spent rehabbing Edge returned and bagged himself more title reigns, holding the tag team titles alongside Chris Benoit and once again capturing the Intercontinental title. Frustratingly, he was sidelined by another injury over the summer. It didn't put him out of action for a year but it did deprive the company of one of its most promising acts from weekly television. It was a knock on Edge’s momentum too. Or so it seemed.

When Edge returned to television he had a new focus: winning a world title. Tapping into what were probably real feelings of frustration Edge cut promos blasting WWE management for his lack of world title opportunities, criticising them for using the same names at the top of the card without giving youngsters a chance, creating a glass ceiling in the company. It was around this time that the WWE product really was beginning to feel stale due to the same names being overused, lending credence and an air of believability to Edge's argument.

Edge quickly became the promotion's hottest heel. At WrestleMania 21 he won the first ever Money in the Bank ladder match. That win entitled him to a world title shot, whenever he wanted, at any point in the following twelve months. It was a simple and effective idea, and showed that the company were serious about Edge’s future by having him win the first ever match of its type.

Anticipation for the cash-in became a focal point of his matches. Having never seen a Money in the Bank winner before nobody knew how things would play out when the moment finally came. It wasn't like today, where over half a dozen winners have cashed in in mostly the same way. It was special, a truly memorable moment, when Edge did it, and he set the tone for all that would follow him.

Before Edge got his title shot a development outside the ring was going to change his career. In the summer of 2005 it was revealed Copeland had been having an affair with Amy 'Lita' Dumas. For years Dumas had been involved in an on- and off-screen relationship with Matt Hardy, and so it became one of those strange situations where real life influences wrestling booking. It ended up being good for Edge. Adding a valet to his act made for heat-garnering outside interference and another aspect of realism to his promos. It also gave rise to the moniker for which Edge will most fondly be remembered: the 'Rated R Superstar'.

Back in the ring Edge completed his eighteen month quest for a world championship when he beat John Cena for the WWE championship at the New Year's Revolution pay-per-view on January 8th 2006. Despite his status as a heel Edge was loudly cheered before, during and after the match, a sign that the audience respected him as a performer.

The next night RAW drew its best viewing figures in years. The main event segment saw Edge and Lita embark on a "live sex celebration" in a bed placed in the ring, providing another classic wrestling moment (well, a moment in wrestling, rather than a moment of wrestling). The shenanigans were interrupted by Ric Flair, leading to a TLC match the next week. Edge entered a Herculean effort in that match, and made Flair look like a contender. He bumped like a madman and did everything he could to make the match memorable. It was never going to be the greatest TLC match ever, but it did illustrate the faith the company had in the newly crowned champion by allowing him to defeat a legend like 'The Nature Boy' in his first televised defence.

Despite losing the belt back to Cena only three weeks after winning it Edge quickly went on to rack up multiple reigns with both the WWE and World Heavyweight championships. He retired as a seven time World Heavyweight champion (the most reigns anyone has ever had with the belt), former four time WWE champion, former fourteen time tag team champion, former United States champion, and former five time Intercontinental champion. Not only did he leave as a champion, he wrestled his last match at WrestleMania and won. There aren’t many people who have left the wrestling business in such spectacular fashion. There may be none at all.

Nothing I write can really do Edge's career the justice it deserves, it's been packed with so many highlights and unforgettable moments. He won the tag team titles with Christian, his childhood friend, and then with Hulk Hogan, his childhood hero. He main evented WrestleMania with the Undertaker in one of the greatest WWE matches ever. He won the 2010 Royal Rumble. He had a wild brawl with the 'Hardcore Legend' Mick Foley at WrestleMania. He wrestled dozens of matches at Madison Square Garden, one of the most prestigious wrestling venues on the planet. He pioneered the TLC format and reinvented the ladder match. These are my personal highlights. There are bound to be things I’ve overlooked that mean something to other fans. It was a phenomenal career.

Most importantly, Edge always worked hard in the ring, to please us fans. He was always willing to put over other wrestlers. And he always put in that extra bit of effort at WrestleMania, to make it the show it should be. His is a Hall of Fame career and hopefully we won't have to wait more than a few years to see him inducted, ideally by his friend and tag partner Jay ‘Christian’ Reso.

I'm sure he'll be back, as an on-screen character or commentator or for the odd special appearance. He may return to work behind the scenes, a role he seems to be perfectly cut out for. Whatever happens, we haven’t seen the last of Edge on WWE television. But his in-ring career is over, and the only thing left to do is to thank him and write what I've written above. I’ve meant every word. It will take a lot for any wrestler, in any company, to provide me and millions of other fans with the entertainment that Edge has over the years.

Thank you, Adam Copeland. Thank you for being one of my favourite wrestlers for over a decade. You will be missed.

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