You go out looking up at the lights.
If you’re leaving a wrestling company, by way of retirement or other means, it’s generally understood that you lose in your last match. It’s a rite of passage in the professional wrestling business that you go out, laying flat on the mat, looking up at the lights above you.
It didn’t go that way for Edge.
Adam Copeland, born in Orangeville, Ont., was victorious on April 3, 2011 at WrestleMania 27, retaining the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in a match against Alberto Del Rio. This was not supposed to be the final match of Edge’s career, so there was no reason to think he should have been looking up at the lights.
Just over a week later, though, Edge stood in the middle of the ring on Monday Night Raw and announced his retirement due to cervical spinal stenosis, a condition which also contributed to the end of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s career. There was no build to the announcement, no promotion to try and pop a television rating, but that’s because there was just no time.
Ahead of WrestleMania 27, Copeland had been pondering retirement and had planned to do so in the not-too-distant future. In fact, Edge had reportedly mapped out a scenario where he would indeed retire with a loss to Christian, his former tag team partner and real-life best friend. However, doctors soon made it very clear that Edge wouldn’t get the chance to go out looking up at the lights.
For Copeland, the capability to mull over retirement wasn’t suggested. Instead, it was forced.
"I had to very quickly wrap my mind around the idea that WWE and wrestling was not for me in 2011," Copeland recently said. "If I didn’t wrap my mind around that, if I didn’t accept what everyone told me, (which) is that you can’t do this, I think it would have been very unhealthy."
"The book was still continuing, but that chapter was done."
Fast forward nine years to where Copeland has begun work on another chapter. Pen first hit paper in August 2019 at SummerSlam in Toronto. Edge strode to the ring in front of his hometown crowd, climbed through the ropes, and then delivered a spear to Elias.
It was like a padlocked door that suddenly showed a little bit of light through a crack you didn’t think was there before. Copeland stood on one side of the door, while the other side housed millions of wrestling fans waiting to see if Edge would burst through.
"To go through the whole process of coming back and getting clearance to come back, that was all so, it was such a challenge for me, (but) I thrive on challenges," Edge notes. "Then it became the challenge to get back and do something that no one has ever done before, in any sport or any form of entertainment, and that’s come back from triple fusion neck surgery."
A plan was set in motion to have Edge re-debut at the Royal Rumble in January 2020. He was flown to Houston on a private plane, then shuttled around the city under cover so as not to reveal his presence. Copeland would eventually emerge from secrecy, ready to make his way up a set of stairs which led out of the dugout at Minute Maid Park, and into the epicentre of more than 40,000 wrestling fans.
Waiting with Copeland was Beth Phoenix, Jay "Christian" Reso, Lance Storm and Shane "Hurricane" Helms. His wife, his best friend, and two close friends and now WWE personnel provided some motivation and wished him luck before Copeland finally emerged once again as Edge.
"Once the music hit, it was just…" Edge trails off a little. "You can’t explain it, you can’t do it justice, you can’t put your finger on it. There is no way to explain this melting pot of things that all came together for this perfect storm. Nine years off, after being forced to retire. It’s just overwhelming, it really is. Your emotions can’t really cope with it, adapt to it, you just have to ride it. That’s basically what I did that night… it’s still surreal."
Edge’s Royal Rumble appearance has led to some of the best WWE-produced television in recent memory. Edge has catapulted back into the main event spotlight thanks to an emotionally gripping storyline alongside fellow wrestling veteran Randy Orton. The two are now scheduled for a high-profile match at WrestleMania, a familiar spot for Edge before his retirement.
However, there isn’t a lot of familiarity in what awaits him on the biggest stage in sports entertainment this time around.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, WWE has been forced to move its marquee spectacle from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., to their performance centre in Orlando, with no fans in attendance. The event will also be spread out over two nights with matches reportedly set to be taped, rather than live.
Copeland has seen almost everything in a career that started in the early 1990s, but this is brand new territory.
"Somehow, I worked my way back into (wrestling) again, and as all of this happens, this crazy miraculous comeback, and then (the COVID-19 outbreak) happens," remarks Edge. "It almost seems apropos because of the craziness of the whole situation. You can’t write this stuff.
"It almost felt like the next natural chapter of this thing, because it’s so unnatural."
Adam Copeland’s transition back into being Edge took nine years, but he’s finally arrived in one of the most unusual ways thinkable. What lies beyond WrestleMania is a mystery for Edge; in fact, it’s a mystery for all of pro wrestling given the state of the world. Edge has listed a number of NXT superstars who he’s interested in wrestling, though, so a timeline in WWE well beyond WrestleMania is certainly plausible.
As for now, Edge is happy to be back inside a wrestling ring where he can flex his creative muscles, leaving Copeland the time to dedicate to a lifestyle at home that is just as important.
"I have that creative outlet (now), I get that out of my system, and when I’m home I’m dad," says Copeland. "I don’t have the creative glut because I’m still doing my thing. I’m still being Adam, but more importantly I can still be the best dad."