It was never supposed to happen. Easily the most feel-good story in wrestling in a year rife with uncertainty and fear that was not supposed to happen.
Nine years ago, Adam Copeland, better known as Edge, walked to the ring, World Heavyweight Championship in tow, and announced his retirement. Years of neck issues and their lingering effects forced WWE’s hottest star into early retirement. Another wrestler walking away due to circumstances beyond their control. The history books are filled with them.
The Raw after WrestleMania is known for setting the tone for the next year. Surprise returns, title wins, and memorable moments aplenty to lay the groundwork for WWE’s creativity. However, this was different. Just 24 hours prior at WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta, Edge retained his World Heavyweight Championship in a grueling clash against Alberto Del Rio.
Edge, in one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the history of Monday Night Raw, got straight to the point. Lingering neck issues resulted in a declaration of non-clearance by WWE’s medical staff, effectively forcing his retirement and ending his career.Embed from Getty Images
Like that, wrestling fans, myself included, were gutted. This was the Rated R Superstar, the tag team aficionado turned singles star. 11 World Heavyweight Championship reigns. The first person to win King of the Ring, Royal Rumble, and Money in the Bank accolades. Edge’s Hall of Fame case was made well before this moment. Never in a million years did we think his retirement would happen so soon.
Edge’s encore retirement speech on Smackdown days later was one I won’t soon forget. Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment was asking us fans if he could walk back up the ramp and make his full entrance a second time, believing it would be the last time that he would get to do it.
Edge took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame a year later. While Edge would return to television for special occasions over the years, fans always wondered, “what if?” Edge had literally done it all by the time he retired, yet as fans, we felt robbed of potential clashes with the likes of CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Finn Bálor, and others.
Copeland occupied his time post-retirement by acting, podcasting with his best friend (and fellow WWE Legend), Jay “Christian” Reso, and acting as a brand ambassador for the company he called home for over 12 years. By all accounts, Edge was content in retirement. He and his wife, fellow WWE Hall of Famer, Beth Phoenix, keep busy raising two beautiful daughters.
Rumor Had It
Then, something changed. Edge would begin to voice in various interviews that he was in the best shape of his life. In wrestling, that one comment (or its equivalent) is all that it takes to set the wrestling rumor mill ablaze. Never mind the fact that he suffers from the same medical condition (spinal stenosis) that ended the careers of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Paige. All we heard was, “Edge says he feels great. Maybe we’ll get one more match!”Embed from Getty Images
The wrestling rumor mill picked up steam when Edge returned to SummerSlam 2019 and delivered his patented spear to Elias. The first physical contact we’d seen by Edge since his last match 8 years prior. Us “smarks” lost it and immediately began to investigate. WWE values the safety of its performers and obviously we knew something must have transpired if Edge was allowed to take place in a physical angle. From that point on, a Rated R return seemed like a real possibility.
Fast forward to December and the rumor mill again began to swirl with reports that Edge would be a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble. The Royal Rumble is known for these types of feel-good moments: a one-off return of a beloved legend, nothing more. But, again, this just felt different.
Edge, being the consummate professional he is, denied reports that he’d signed a (hefty) new deal with WWE that includes matches, and was adamant that we would not see him in the Royal Rumble. Our hopes were (somewhat) dashed.
As we enjoyed the Royal Rumble and the countdown timer began, signaling the appearance of the 21st participant, we speculated as to who it would be. And then, the roof came off of Minute Maid Park. I re-watched this moment as I wrote this article, simple to feel the goosebumps one more time.
The words, “You think you know me,” the signature phrase that kicks off Edge’s theme then filled the arena.
Just like that, 40,000 people lost their collective s*** as we saw Edge, our hero, a guy we grew up with, make his walk to enter the match. A moment in time we thought we’d be deprived of forever, was suddenly right in front of us.
Edge striking is his signature pose of the rocker horns in the air backlit by his trademark pyrotechnics display went off sent chills through every inch of my body. Seeing Edge so overwhelmed with emotion brought tears to my eyes. On the same day that we lost Kobe Bryant, we were suddenly filled with optimism and hope.
His face said it all:
“This was never supposed to happen.”
Edge not only made his triumphant Rumble return but ended up being one of the final three participants in the over-the-top-rope battle royal. While we certainly did not expect Edge to win this match, we fans were encouraged about the possibility of having an all-time great back in the ranks to enjoy on TV semi-regularly.
Edge vs. Orton
Following Edge’s appearance in the Royal Rumble, it was confirmed that Edge signed a new 3-year deal with WWE, with the promise of additional matches. Everything suddenly seemed possible. Another world title run. Epic clashes with some of the best talent in the world. A new lease on life. Much like Shawn Michaels, Edge had an opportunity to rewrite history. All eyes were, deservedly so, on his second act.
After seeing how effortless Edge looked in his performance at the Rumble, fans were dying to know who he would challenge at WrestleMania. Enter Randy Orton. Once former tag team champions, Randy Orton greeted his returning friend with a devastating RKO, prompting one simple question:
The intense, personal rivalry culminated in a Last Man Standing match at the Show of Shows. While the match itself left much to be desired, we knew that there was more to this story.
After both men proved their ability to be hardcore in the LMS match, Orton made a bold proclamation: They would put on the greatest wrestling match ever at Backlash. This match was stuffed to the gills with nostalgia. From Charles Robinson wearing a retro, long-sleeved referee uniform to a recording of the late, great Howard Finkel announcing each competitor’s entrance, both men set out to prove who was the best between the ropes.
That they did. Edge and Orton tore the house down in a 30-plus minute encounter. During that match, the unthinkable happened. Edge tore his triceps. Edge, being the warrior he is, finished the match, but would be sidelined indefinitely. Once again, we were gutted. Edge seemed to be embarking on the back nine of a career that was the stuff pipe dreams were made of. It couldn’t possibly end this way.
Edge remains optimistic. He’s rehabbing hard, but there is no definitive timetable for a return. He’s still under contract, and it’s a matter of when, not if, he will return to the ring. Casual fans and die-hards alike hope that come January, that Royal Rumble counter will hit zero, and “You Think You Know Me” will fill an arena again. Regardless of when Edge returns to the ring, few can deny that his once-improbable return was the feel-good moment of 2020.