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Everything’s Ending These Days, Part Two: For the Benefit of Those with Flash Photography…

Professional wrestling is, in theory, a young man’s game. It’s punishing, demanding, and grinding to the point where lesser men give up early on to make a less strenuous living. Those who continue are sometimes subject to addictions created by life on the road, be it drugs, alcohol or sex.
The most addictive substance, however, is the spotlight. Professional wrestling seems to be harder to give up than it should. Men like Ric Flair, Kurt Angle, and Hulk Hogan battle through old injuries and a lifestyle filled with pain in order to continue performing, despite the advice of medical professionals.
It’s no wonder that Flair and Hogan are the exceptions in a business that destroys many of its own at relatively young ages. Lives and careers can change irreversibly or end with one wrong move or as a result of years of bodily mistreatment.
Adam Copeland’s career suddenly ended a few weeks ago.

I speak of him in past tense, as though wrestling has claimed another victim, but this ending isn’t nearly as grim: on April 15th’s WWE Raw, Copeland, known to the wrestling world as Edge, made an unexpected appearance to announce his retirement from professional wrestling.
Given his in-ring character’s status as a “master manipulator,” my first thought upon hearing the news was that this might be yet another angle, a new twist in his feud with the aristocratic Alberto del Rio. But it wasn’t. No, this was a sincere, sad declaration from a man whose physical limitations finally caught up with him.
Copeland is a famously injury-prone wrestler, but this stems from his most painful injury, when he broke his neck in 2003. He underwent spinal fusion surgery, which prolonged his career, but as he mentioned on Raw, he’s been on borrowed time ever since. Lately, he started to complain of numbness in his hands, and after the latest round of medical exams, doctors said they could no longer clear him for in-ring competition.
A friend of mine compared Edge to Magnum T.A. (nee Terry Allen), a rising NWA star in the ’80s whose promising career was cut short after a brutal career accident. But there really is no comparison. Magnum T.A. was hurt before he ever really had a chance to shine. Edge, on the other hand, rebounded from a horrific neck injury in 2003 to carry his career to heights he only dreamed of as a child.
In wrestling, the phrase “boyhood dream” is usually associated with Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels. It isn’t exclusive to Michaels, though. Indeed, a childhood dream is often the necessary catalyst to get into the ring. Mick Foley, A.J. Styles, and many more dreamed of wrestling greatness as kids, going to matches, seeing their favorite stars perform death defying moves.

Edge was no different. He grew up in Canada a fan of the World Wrestling Federation, watching the squared circle of adventures of men like Rick Rude, Macho Man Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, and Hulk Hogan. Edge was in the audience at the Toronto SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) when the latter two faced off at Wrestlemania VI in what many still consider to be one of the greatest title matches of all time. The 17-year-old Adam had only a dream, yet no clue he would win the tag team championship once with his hero, the Hulkster, in 2002.
If he couldn’t predict winning championship gold with Hogan, he probably had even less of an idea he’d win seven tag team titles with his best friend, Jay Reso. Reso is known in the ring as Christian, and while the two aren’t actually brothers as they were originally billed, they were still lifelong best pals, bonding as children over their love of the WWF. So if it’s every young fan’s dream to win the WWE Championship, how cool must it be to not only do that, but win tag team titles with your best friend and your hero?

Edge and Christian were actually one of the teams that helped revolutionize tag team wrestling in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Along with the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boys (now Team 3-D), Edge and Christian participated in a series of fast-paced, high-risk matches that were a huge shot in the arm to WWE’s tag team division. The most popular of these were ladder matches, and while Shawn Michaels may have put them in the wrestling lexicon, it was these three teams who made them legendary. Edge and Christian battled the Hardys in a ladder match at No Mercy 1999; the Hardys won, but both teams gained the unquestioned respect of the fans and everyone backstage.
And when the Dudleys came into the picture, the three teams fought one another in a triangle ladder match at Wrestlemania 2000–one of the few highlights of that otherwise not very good card–before winning the two matches that would help define them: Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches at Summerslam 2000 and 2001’s Wrestlemania X-Seven.

Edge and Christian were also amazingly charismatic performers out of the ring. They first got over as part of a stable called the Brood, with the vampiric Gangrel (a gimmick that would be recycled shortly after with the Hardys), before breaking away as faces. But their most popular period was after turning heels yet again against the Brood-less Hardy Boyz, reinventing themselves as goofy egomaniacs whose most famous gimmick was to offer “those with the benefit of flash photography” a five second pose in the center of the ring before their matches. During this period, Edge and Christian feuded pretty vigorously with the Hardys, and once used the guises of legendary lucha libre duo Los Conquistadores to obtain another shot at the tag team titles. This may have been my favorite thing they’ve ever done.

After Edge and Christian went their separate ways (following his win at the 2001 King of the Ring), Edge went face again and established himself as a singles performer with a serious claim at stardom. He won the Intercontinental Championship a total of five times in his career, and captured the tag team belts seven more times, with Rey Mysterio, the late Chris Benoit, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, and yes, Hulk Hogan. But it was in 2006 when he finally reached the top of the mountain, cashing in his “Money in the Bank” contract (won in a six-man ladder match at Wrestlemania 21, it guaranteed him a world title shot within a year) against an exhausted John Cena at New Year’s Revolution to win the WWE Championship. This began an intense feud between the two men that did much to establish Edge as a credible main event contender. It also gave him two enduring nicknames, the “Ultimate Opportunist” and the “Rated R Superstar.”
During those days, Edge attracted real-life attention for an affair with former Women’s Champion Lita, who was in a relationship with Matt Hardy. Both Edge and Hardy were close friends offscreen, and Edge was also married at the time. The fallout from the scenario, exacerbated by Hardy’s fanning of the flames on his blog, saw the cuckolded Hardy fired and Edge repositioned, along with Lita as heels with unbelievable heat. The WWE capitalized on the situation, even bringing Hardy back to “settle the score” in the ring. This may have done as much to put Edge at the forefront of the collective fan consciousness as his natural talent, but he lived up to his “Ultimate Opportunist” name by running with that ball. On fact, shortly after winning the WWE title, he and Lita staged an in-ring “live sex celebration” that became Raw’s highest-rated segment in over a year.

But Edge’s in-ring tenure was often interrupted by injury, be it a groin injury that cost him the Intercontinental Championship, a torn Achilles tendon, and most notably, his 2003 neck injury that required spinal fusion surgery. That procedure allowed him to continue wrestling, but it was, in a way, a deal with the devil that would be collected upon in time.
He made the most of his time, ultimately winning more championships than any WWE wrestler in the history of the company, a record 31 titles, 11 of them World Championship reigns. In addition, he won the aforementioned King of the Ring tournament in 2001 and the Royal Rumble in 2010, plus two Money in the Bank contracts in 2005 and 2007. Injuries did much to end some of his reigns and halt his momentum–also being a heel champion so many times meant he was never quite as dominant in popular culture as someone like John Cena. But despite those things, his run was one few in the business get to enjoy, and he was almost always phenomenally popular with fans, whether in the ring or waiting in the wings.

He was just in the middle of a face turn, feuding for the title with newcomer Alberto del Rio, when he started losing feeling in his arms. Doctors checked him out and cleared him to defend his World Heavyweight Championship against del Rio at Wrestlemania XXVII. Edge won, and the two were booked for a rematch–a ladder match–at Extreme Rules this month. But the WWE insisted Edge go in for another round of tests, and this time, doctors diagnosed him with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column likely resulting from his 2003 surgery where his spine was fused with his cervical vertebrae. He made the announcement on April 15th’s Raw, and then appeared on SmackDown, where had reigned as champion, to officially surrender the belt.
Doctors told Copeland that continuing to wrestle could result in the paralysis, or even death. Rather than continue on and risk shortening or ending his life, or dismantling himself to the point of disability down the road, he stepped aside. While he talked recently about considering retirement, the truth was that at 37, Edge still had years left to go. He was an extraordinarily talented performer, strong, agile, and tremendously witty. But in my opinion, he made the right decision. He chose to bring his career to an end, leaving open the possibility of returning some day in a non-wrestling capacity, and most importantly, averting tragedy.
Edge said during his retirement speech that while he wished he was leaving on his terms, he had really worked through his entire career on his terms. That’s the highest achievement anyone can obtain.

And that seems to be a good note on which I can end.
This is my final column for Forces of Geek. I’ve had a great time here, and I’ll miss it. There were some wonderful highlights, such as interviewing comic book legend Jerry Robinson, reviewing an entire film festival on my own, and anything I’ve written about Doctor Who.
But time is ever fleeting, and there are several projects on which I’m working that require greater focus. Leaving Forces of Geek was not a decision I made lightly or in haste, but it was a decision I had to make.
My most sincere thanks go to Stefan Blitz for giving me the opportunity to share my love of pop culture with an ever-growing audience, and to all of you for reading this over the past few years. I had a lot of fun, and I hope you enjoyed it too.
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