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Living on the Edge: The career of Adam Copeland

 

Long before he was an 11-time World Champion, before he shocked the world as The Rated-R Superstar, before he pushed the envelope in Tables, Ladders and Chairs Matches, Adam Copeland was just another wide-eyed kid in the Toronto SkyDome, cheering on Hulk Hogan in his battle against The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI.

The year was 1990 and Copeland was only seventeen. A die-hard WWE fan, he grew up reading comic books, listening to KISS and dreaming of one day making it as a Superstar. His classmates had even voted him “Most Likely to be WWE Champion” in the school yearbook. However, it would have been impossible for him to know then that he would be in the main event of The Show of Shows in 18 years. Even further from his mind was the idea that he would eventually win the World Tag Team Championships with his hero, The Hulkster.

On that April day, Copeland was still eight long years away from making his WWE debut. That journey would begin several months later, when the Orangeville-native won an essay contest that earned him free wrestling classes at Sully’s Gym under the tutelage of Canadian competitors Ron Hutchinson and Sweet Daddy Siki. Tough guys who had made their bones in the hardscrabble days of the territory system, they pushed the hopeful to quit, but this was his dream. He would not be deterred.

The early days were rough. It was only Copeland and his mother at home, and he had to work odd jobs at local factories to help keep them going. Still, he found the time to train and perform on local independent shows alongside his childhood friend Christian and his good buddy Rhyno. Competing under the name Sexton Hardcastle, he slowly found his way in the ring and began to overcome the shyness that plagued him as an awkward high schooler.

The more he performed, the better he got. There were shows in gymnasiums in Detroit and tours through frigid armories in Winnipeg. Sometimes he locked up with guys he’d seen on television, like Bad News Brown or Rick Martel. Other times, it was bouts with slobs who never made the big time and never would. There was even a one-night stint in WCW where he appeared under the name Damon Stryker. It was a tumultuous time in his life, yet through it all he stayed focused on one goal — making it to WWE.

Copeland got his first shot at his dream in 1996 when he battled Bob "Spark Plug" Holly in a tryout match. Another two years would pass before anything came of it, however. In the meantime, he pursued a college degree and continued competing on small shows throughout the Great Lakes area. Regularly teaming with Christian as The Suicide Blondes, the two lifelong pals were good together and soon caught the attention of Bret "Hit Man" Hart. The legendary competitor invited them to Calgary, helped them work on their skills (the closest Copeland would ever come to his dream match with Hart) and put in a good word for them with management.

The WWE Hall of Famer’s word caught the right ears, and Copeland was soon signed to a developmental contract. Months later, on June 22, 1998, Edge made his WWE debut. First presented to the WWE Universe through a series of vignettes in which he assaulted strangers on the street, the mysterious Superstar was described as tortured, stoic, an enigma. It was all a far cry from the brash, controversial figure Edge would become, but the young competitor clearly had something that interested the fans.

 

His first major bout came at SummerSlam in 1998, when he was revealed as Sable's mystery partner in her bout against Marc Mero & Jacqueline. However, Edge didn't truly take off until he became associated with his old friend Christian and Gangrel. A gruesome vampire who entered the arena through a ring of fire, Gangrel had recruited Christian to help him in his battle against Edge, but eventually the three formed an alliance known as The Brood. The gothic trio soon linked up with The Undertaker and his Ministry and had a hand in some dirty dealings in the spring of 1999, but the group’s dark charisma made them too entertaining to jeer.

Their popularity led to a split with The Deadman, which gave Edge the opportunity to experience his first major success when he defeated Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental Title in the Toronto SkyDome — the very place he watched WrestleMania VI nine years prior. Edge’s reign would only last for a single day, but it didn't matter. Just knowing that he held the same championship as his boyhood idols like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels meant everything to him.

It was a huge moment, but Edge’s amazing singles career did not truly begin there. First, he would redefine tag team wrestling with Christian and two daredevils from North Carolina called The Hardy Boyz.

Four lifelong fans of WWE, Edge, Christian, Jeff Hardy and Matt Hardy knew they had to do something special if they wanted to stand out from megastars like The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. They got their opportunity at No Mercy in October of 1999, when they met in the first-ever Tag Team Ladder Match. Fast-paced, hard-hitting and completely unique, the bout wowed the fans in Cleveland’s Gund Arena to the point that they gave the four young competitors a standing ovation when it was all over. Clearly, they had struck a nerve.

That match would by no means be a peak; in fact, it was only the beginning. Soon, the rough-and-tumble Dudley Boyz were added to the mix with the three teams battling in a Triangle Ladder Match at WrestleMania 2000. The stakes were even higher in this contest with the World Tag Team Championships on the line, and the six talented Superstars left it all in the ring. Again, the match was a show stealer with an unforgettable ending. After years of dreaming about it in their small Ontario town, Edge & Christian won the bout and captured the tag titles together.

As a duo, the tandem would win those championships a total of seven times over the next decade. Edge, himself, held the World Tag Team Titles twelve times in his career — a WWE record. But in 2000, they were just getting started. Confident after their WrestleMania victory, Edge & Christian began showing a little personality. No longer were they stoic goth kids. Instead, they became sarcastic punks — the kind of guys who exclaimed things like “Sodas rule!” and did five-second ring poses before matches “for the benefit of those with flash photography.” They were obnoxious, irritating ... and entertaining as hell.

In August of that year, The Dudleys, The Hardys and Edge & Christian would meet again in the bout that came to define all of their careers — a contest that shortly became known as the Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match. Somehow, the three teams managed to raise the bar again, pushing each other to do things that had never been seen in a WWE ring before. They flung each other off the tops of 20-foot ladders, smashed their bodies through solid tables. What's truly amazing about this contest, though, is that they topped themselves at WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001 when they did it all over again. By all accounts, the second match was even better than the first, with Edge & Christian winning their seventh tag titles. It was their final reign, but a record-setting accomplishment. No other team ever won those championships as many times.

 

Having dominated the tag division for years, Edge began establishing himself as a singles competitor, winning the 2001 King of the Ring tournament in June and his second Intercontinental Championship in August. These major victories led to dissension between Edge and Christian, which eventually turned into a full-blown rivalry. The former friends battled multiple times that year, trading the Intercontinental Title and damaging a partnership that had lasted since childhood. It was a heartbreaking turn of events for Edge, but he persevered. That same year, he defeated Kurt Angle for the United States Championship and then beat Test at Survivor Series to unify the United States Title with the Intercontinental Championship.

Edge's steady rise to the top continued unabated in 2002. After being drafted to SmackDown early that year, he waged a memorable rivalry with Angle, which resulted in Edge shaving the gold medalist's head after winning a Hair vs. Hair Match. Another career highlight followed in July when he teamed with his childhood hero, Hulk Hogan, to defeat Billy & Chuck for the World Tag Team Championships. Standing in the middle of the ring with a title over his shoulder and his arm around The Hulkster, the kid from Canada looked as happy as he had ever been. "Years from now, I will watch that and still have a smile on my face," he later wrote.

Soon after, Edge formed another dream team with Rey Mysterio and won the newly introduced WWE Tag Team Championships in November of 2002. The awesome duo had memorable matches against Los Guerreros and made it even clearer that Edge was a guy the WWE Universe could always depend on to have an outstanding match.

There would soon be a setback, though. In February of 2003, Edge suffered a neck injury that would put him out of action for the better part of a year. It wasn’t the first time he had these sorts of problems. As a child, he had injured his neck multiple times, doing everything from jumping off his kitchen table to falling face first down a hill. It was a serious problem that would always trouble him and eventually end his career, but he was not yet ready to go down. 

After a difficult period of rehab, Edge returned to Raw and had another reign as both a World Tag Team Champion and an Intercontinental Champion, but a groin injury stopped his progress for a time. Clearly, that setback had an effect on him. When he returned to the ring again, he was a changed man. More calculating. More desperate. Apparently, his injuries had taught him that he didn't have all the time in the world. He wanted to be a World Heavyweight Champion before the opportunity passed him by, and he was prepared to do whatever he could to get it.

 

That journey began at WrestleMania 21, when he won the first-ever Money in the Bank Ladder Match (another landmark for Edge). This victory guaranteed him a match for the World Title any time within the next calendar year. It was the perfect opportunity, but he didn’t squander it. He waited, bided his time.

It was at this point that the real drama started. During this period, Edge began a romantic relationship with the WWE Diva, Lita. The only problem was, Lita was already in a relationship with Edge’s old rival, Matt Hardy. The affair exploded into one of the most heated rivalries ever witnessed in WWE, with Edge and Hardy brutalizing one another at every turn. Their matches were even more vicious, but in the end it was Edge who stood supreme. He defeated Hardy in a Loser Leaves Raw Ladder Match in October of 2005, winning both the rivalry and the girl.

The determination Edge displayed during his battles with Matt Hardy demonstrated that he had the guts it takes to be a champion. He made good on this at New Year's Revolution on Jan. 8, 2006. Moments  after John Cena successfully defended his WWE Championship in a grueling Elimination Chamber Match, The Rated-R Superstar cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and beat the big man in the center of the ring. It was shocking, underhanded and effective. On that night, Edge won the WWE Title, and The Ultimate Opportunist was born.

With Lita by his side and the WWE Championship around his waist, The Rated-R Superstar demanded attention. He was lewd on the microphone, destructive in the ring. When he lost the title back to Cena, Edge immediately picked a fight with the bout's official, Mick Foley. A dangerous rivalry was born that day, culminating at WrestleMania 22 in a Hardcore Match so brutal that both men left the ring with third-degree burns. The Hardcore Legend may have intimidated a lesser man, but Edge beat him at his own game and continued on his crazed path to reclaim the WWE Championship.

He would do so in July when he defeated Rob Van Dam on Raw to win his second WWE Title. Another serious rivalry with John Cena followed, resulting in some of the greatest bouts of Edge's career. Eventually, he would drop the championship back to Cena, though his position as a top Superstar was firmly cemented that year.

Where do you go from there? If you're Edge, you set more records. Teaming with Randy Orton in a controversial duo known as Rated-RKO, The Ultimate Opportunist won his eleventh World Tag Team Championship — yet another WWE record.

 

Rated-RKO was dominant, but Edge was too good on his own to hang around with a partner for long. In May of 2007, he spotted opportunity again when he challenged and defeated Mr. Kennedy for his Money in the Bank briefcase. With another contract for a World Championship Match in his possession, he waited for the right moment, this time striking 24 hours later. After Undertaker had drawn with Batista inside a Steel Cage Match and was subsequently beaten down by Mark Henry on SmackDown, Edge cashed in and pinned the World Heavyweight Champion, winning that title for the first time.

With that victory, Edge became an integral part of SmackDown, even after he was forced to relinquish his title in July upon suffering a pectoral injury. He returned at November's Survivor Series — disguised as a cameraman and interrupting Undertaker's clash with then-champion Batista — and aligned himself with Vickie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero and a pair of flunkies known as Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder. Collectively called La Familia, the group helped Edge regain the championship from The Animal in an Armageddon Triple Threat Match.

From there, they spent the next few months clashing with The Deadman, leading up to another huge moment in Edge's career. At WrestleMania XXIV, he battled The Undertaker in the main event of The Show of Shows, in front of nearly 75,000 fans. He lost the match and the title that evening, but the significance of that night was so important that his defeat hardly mattered. Eighteen years ago, he was watching the main event of WrestleMania from the crowd. On this night, he was the man in the center of the ring, standing where his heroes had stood.

Even though he’d lost the World Heavyweight Title, Edge continued turning things in his favor. Knowing he could get anything he wanted if he was in good with SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero, he proposed to her. With the boss on his arm, The Ultimate Opportunist was free to do what he wished. Guerrero wielded her power to give Edge title bouts again and again and he continued to rack up World Championship reigns. In total, he would carry 31 titles in WWE — the most out of any Superstar in history. 

When his relationship with Vickie finally fell apart, Edge sought new alliances that could improve his career. Seeing a kindred spirit in the underhanded Chris Jericho, The Rated-R Superstar linked up with the veteran and together they captured the Unified WWE Tag Team Championships at The Bash in June of 2009. The two greats made a dangerous alliance, though it would not last long. In July, Edge tore his Achilles tendon during a match and was again put out of action for six months.

 

Edge's final run in WWE would begin in grand fashion at the 2010 Royal Rumble, when he made a shocking return to the ring. That night, he won the 30-Superstar Rumble contest, making him the only Superstar to win the King of the Ring, the Royal Rumble Match and the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. The victory earned him a one-way ticket to WrestleMania where he would face his former ally Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship, but The Ultimate Opportunist came up short in their match.

From there, he returned to Raw and battled rivals like Randy Orton and The Nexus. His most memorable confrontation during this time wasn't with a human, though. In October, Edge became so irritated with the anonymous Raw GM's computer that he smashed it in the center of the ring. It was something every member of the WWE Universe wished they could have done, but the brash act resulted in The Rated-R Superstar being traded back to SmackDown.

The final months of Edge's career were great ones. He won his tenth World Championship at WWE TLC in December and successfully defended it against opponents like Kane and Dolph Ziggler. After being wrongfully stripped of his title by Vickie Guerrero, Edge beat Dolph Ziggler to win the World Heavyweight Championship for a seventh time — his eleventh World Title overall.

He took on Alberto Del Rio after that, fending off The Mexican Aristocrat and his cronies with the help of his best friend, Christian. At the time, Edge did not know his days in the ring were numbered. However, it is appropriate that many of his final bouts were tag matches alongside the Superstar with whom he first made his mark in WWE.

Edge's last big match was at WrestleMania XXVII against Del Rio. Many thought the brash millionaire would win the bout. It was his destiny, after all. But The Rated-R Superstar defeated him that night, then destroyed Del Rio's prized Rolls Royce after the match for good measure. Raising havoc with Christian with the World Heavyweight Championship in his hands, it was the perfect way for him to go out.

Then, during Raw on April 11, 2011, Edge announced his retirement. His spine had suffered too much damage, and he would never be medically cleared to compete again. It was a sudden announcement. Up until that night, he was still scheduled to face Alberto Del Rio in a Ladder Match at Extreme Rules. But there it was. The career of one of the greatest Superstars in WWE history was over.

It was a depressing moment, but there was no reason to feel bad. Edge had done it all in sports-entertainment — maybe more than any other Superstar. Classic matches. Unforgettable rivalries. Endless title reigns. Dream come true? He accomplished more than he ever dreamed possible.

Whether the WWE Universe never sees Edge again or if he returns every week is unclear. Perhaps he will step into a General Manager role and wage war with Mr. McMahon. He could easily open up a school for aspiring WWE Superstars and craft the next generation of talent. Or maybe he'll just quietly go back to being a fan, watching the action from the crowd with the same wonder he had on that perfect night in Toronto when he saw Hogan and Warrior clash at WrestleMania VI.

Whatever happens, there's only one thing left to say: Thank you, Edge.

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