Edge's WWE career is a story of risk and reward.
On the path to becoming a WWE Hall of Famer, Adam Joseph Copeland sacrificed his body like few others have. For a chance at glory and to win fans over, he puts his hands in fire, accepting and suffering the subsequent burns.
You can't measure the impact of Edge's 14-year career by counting up all the championships he's won or adding up all the accolades, but instead by how vivid his greatest moments are and will remain in fans' memories.
Tattooed in the minds of WWE fans are the images of Edge leaping from a ladder to spear a dangling Jeff Hardy, of him pouncing on a fallen John Cena, of him goofing around with Christian or of him quivering in the corner, pulling on his hair in the corner with wild eyes, ready to spear someone to the canvas.
When his shortened career ended in 2011, Edge joined a long list of Canadian WWE greats. It was a career that began in the summer of 1998, the future icon cloaked in mystery.
You Think You Know Me?
Fans first caught glimpses of Edge in a series of slickly-produced vignettes. In these, the narrator compared him to God and the devil and spoke of "seeds of unrest."
Edge walked around bathed in red or blue light, wandering around dark streets.
This was a brilliant way to sell Edge to the audience. He looked equal parts cool, creepy and enigmatic. These videos did well to build his buzz.
In his first match, he left Jose Estrada lying outside the ring, surrounded by medical staff.
Edge soon joined up with Christian and Gangrel to form The Brood. Having one of the best entrances in wrestling history certainly helped the trio get folks' attention early on. With sinister grins, Edge and his partners would rise out of flames before walking down to the ring.
His partnership with longtime friend Christian proved to have a longer shelf life than The Brood, but it was during this time that fans started to see Edge's potential. Though Gangrel was the lead man of that group, the lanky man who flanked him was to be the biggest star of the three.
It was among a mess of broken ladders that he first began to shine too brightly to ignore.
Ladders and Brothers
The Hardy Boyz' and Edge and Christian's tag team ladder match at No Mercy 1999 wasn't just a thrilling classic, but a match that altered WWE history.
It started a flood of dangerous ladder matches that both made some lifelong fans of WWE, but created stars who would all go onto varying degrees of fame and triumph.
Edge fought alongside his brother in arms in multi-team ladder matches including classics at WrestleMania 2000, WrestleMania X-7 and SummerSlam 2000. Like both his partner and his opponents, Edge spent much of those battles taking jaw-dropping risks.
He crashed into tables, fell onto ladders and famously flew at Jeff Hardy like one bird snatching another out of the air.
These matches were about more than the tag titles; they were hypnotizing daredevil theater.
Edge and Christian weren't just stuntmen with nonfunctioning fear glands; they were mighty entertaining as well.
Donning over-sized sunglasses, the friends posed for five seconds for those with the benefit of flash photography. They joked around, pretended to have a time machine and generally made us laugh by way of making fools of themselves.
Edge revealed his charm during this period. His in-ring ability would have led him to a successful singles career, but the magnetism he displayed with his tag partner added another dimension and showed that he could connect with fans without smashing his body on metal.
Emerging On His Own
Early on in Edge's singles career he won the 2001 King of the Ring tournament by last defeating Kurt Angle.
His feud with Angle was one of his compelling rivalries of this time period along with his battles against his best friend and tag team partner Christian. Edge beat Angle for the United States title in November 2001 and forced him to shave his head when he beat in a hair vs. hair match at Judgment Day 2002.
His work with Angle showed marked improvement. He was growing as a performer, moving away from needing gimmicks to entertain and instead relying on in-ring storytelling.
Edge won and lost the Intercontinental and U.S. titles during this period. His feud with Christian was supposed to be a fight over the IC strap, but it always felt more personal and intense than that. Their best match was, what else, a ladder match.
Its ending, Edge smashing Christian's head on a ladder with a chair, was mighty powerful but nothing compared to the seething hatred he had with Matt Hardy.
WWE culled a storyline from real life when Matt and Edge let their issues over Lita play out on camera.
Fans knew about Edge's role in breaking up Matt and Lita. WWE pounced on that heat and as a result, Edge became one of the most hated men in the industry.
Making Edge stealing Lita from Matt fodder for a storyline was as uncomfortable as it was irresistible. This was Edge's chance to grow as a villain, to go from fun-loving goof to calculating mastermind.
This feud featured a vicious Street Fight between Matt and Edge and a wedding which ended in disaster. It ended with Edge ousting Matt from the WWE after beating him in a Loser Leaves Raw Ladder Match in October of 2005.
Great Rivals Make Great Theater
Edge not only won the first-ever Money in the Bank ladder match, but he embodied the opportunistic nature of the concept.
He ignited one of his greatest rivalries by taking advantage of the then-champion Cena who just survived a brutal Elimination Chamber match. The first MITB cash-in gave Edge the Ultimate Opportunist nickname and made him the WWE champion for the first time.
He and Cena would go on to bring out the best of each other in the ring.
Their matches are among both men's greatest hits, most specifically their thrilling TLC match at Unforgiven 2006.
Edge became the scavenger once again when he defeated Mr. Kennedy in May 2007, robbing him of his Money in the Bank briefcase. He would soon cash that in on Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Their battles are some of Edge's best. They headlined WrestleMania and fought in a dramatic Hell in a Cell match at SummerSlam 2008. His work opposite both Cena and Undertaker left no doubt about his ability to be a main eventer.
At WrestleMania 22, Edge and Mick Foley collided in a match marked by seared flesh, gashes and the kind of self-imposed self destruction that made Edge such a beloved figure.
While the sight of Edge spearing Foley into a flaming table is the most iconic image of that clash, it's their promo work leading up to it that was most Hall of Fame worthy.
Yes, Edge was a man willing to let the Hardcore Legend torture him with barbed wire, but he showed in the buildup to this match that he was among the best storytellers in the WWE.
Edge won the tag titles with six different partners. He and Christian won them the most often, but he also teamed with his childhood idol Hulk Hogan, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Randy Orton and Chris Jericho.
As Rated RKO, Orton and Edge were almost as compelling as partners as they were as enemies. They battled D-Generation X for much of 2006 and 2007.
It was his run as the centerpiece of La Familia that is his most memorable partnership aside from Christian.
Joining forces with Vickie and Chavo Guerrero, Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder, Edge went on to become nearly as hated as he was in his feud with Matt Hardy. As General Manager of WWE SmackDown, Vickie gave Edge special treatment and banned his opponents' best moves.
Watching Edge and Vickie kiss and grope each other was unsettling, but difficult to look away from. In shifting from partner to partner and tweaking his character along the way, Edge demonstrated an impressive longevity.
Had he not been injured, he could have continued to evolve and entertain for years to come.
A Career Winds Down
Edge retired as world champ, in the midst of a feud with Alberto Del Rio, his body just unable to continue.
He had missed time before due to injuries to his groin, his pectoral muscle and his Achilles tendon.
The excitement of his appearance and win at the 2010 Royal Rumble came from his forced absence. Injuries kept knocking him off his feet and he continued to come back. Maybe we all thought he'd continue to do that forever.
Cervical spinal stenosis was what finally stopped him. The culmination of risks and abuse that Edge took was bound to lead to a serious injury like that.
With as often as he soared out of a ring with little regard for his body and as often as he crashed into the mat, a table or a ladder, he was always one bad bump away from forced retirement.
You can drive a car timidly and have it last for a long, long time or you can press down the gas pedal with abandon and send it into the heart of the demolition derby. Edge chose the latter option, the more exciting option and the one more conducive to creating a legend.
Edge was a pioneer whose charisma, fearlessness and wrestling acumen led to a Hall of Fame career fans will always treasure. It's hard to see a Superstar use the spear, fly off a ladder or carry around the Money in the Bank briefcase and not think of him.