The Resurrection of Edge

Nearly a decade after injuries forced him into retirement, the WWE legend is back and ready for Wrestlemania. Edge opens up to B/R Mag on what got him back in the ring.
photo of Jonathan SnowdenJonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterApril 2, 2020

The roar at Minute Maid Park in Houston was a visceral, physical thing, a sound so loud that you could literally feel it when it hit. Imagine being in the wake of a jet engine, only rather than being powered by aviation fuel it was powered by love.

But what stood out about the reaction to Edge returning to competition at January's Royal Rumble, after nearly nine years away from WWE, wasn't just the pop of joy and 'Hey, I know this guy' recognition that so often comes when a wrestling legend makes a surprise return at the annual event. It was the sustained nature of it—the way the audience seemed to grab a hold and refuse to let go.

"You visualize it. You hope—you truly hope—that it will be that way," Edge (real name Adam Copeland) tells Bleacher Report. "But you don't know for sure. When I heard that kind of reaction, it overwhelmed me, and it really overtook all of my senses.

"There were a lot of different nerves that night too, because there were different things in play this time. I was coming back after nine years. Am I in good enough shape to do this? Can I keep up? I have kids now. I've never wrestled having had kids before. I can't get hurt. ... Those things are all running through my mind, and it's the first time that I've ever been nervous before a match. And that was a very, very odd feeling for me. And I didn't like that. But I kind of did too."

Backstage, Edge's wife, fellow WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix (real name Elizabeth Copeland) took it all in. She knew he had done this all a million times before. But so had she, and still she left her own return to the ring earlier in the evening, after a nine-month layoff, with staples in her head after an in-ring accident. And so she watched—the spears, the chance to work against A.J. Styles, the interaction with Edge's old frenemy Randy Orton, his eventual elimination after 25 minutes at the hands of Roman Reignsand she tried to remember to breathe.

"There's a layer cake of concern," Phoenix tells B/R. "The first level: As a wife and the mom of his kids, I don't want him to get hurt. We can control 99 percent of what's going on in there, but there's that 1 percent. A rope breaks. There's human error. We drop somebody or we get dipped or we dip them. Or there's somebody slippery. Or you fall, you trip. There's just a million X-factors that you can't control. So the top of the layer cake was, 'Please don't get hurt.'

"The second layer is he wanted it more than anything and he worked his butt off to come back and still be the Edge that everybody remembered. With that big nine-year gap, everybody's so excited to see Edge return. But on the other hand, there's that contingent of people that are kind of waiting for you to fail and kind of get that vicarious thrill from like, 'Ah, look, he's broken down. He just thinks he's got it, but he doesn't.'

"So a big part of me also wanted so bad for him to have that, 'You still got it' moment. He is a legend. He's somebody that I admired and looked up to so much, long before we had a relationship. I was a Padawan when he was the locker room leader. He deserved it.

"He worked so hard, and you only get one chance to make that spectacular return. I just wanted to make sure that it was as good as he envisioned it in his head."

The past year or so had been a bad one. In November 2018, Edge lost his mother, Judy Copeland. Soon after, Beth's father died. It was a rough time for the whole family. And Phoenix knew that Edge, that Adam, needed a reason to smile.

"When he lost his mom, that's all he has," Phoenix says. "He doesn't have any siblings. He doesn't know his dad. And so it was a huge blow for us in our personal lives. That look on his face when he came out, I knew that it was what he deserved after going through such a difficult year. And I am so proud of him. He is so inspirational to me, because to pick yourself up after going through that kind of a loss and grief and heartbreak and to accomplish what he did in just over a year is one of the most incredible things I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

"I'm so happy that I know personally in his heart that he felt his mom was watching him in that moment, in that time. And I just know it was so special on a lot of levels, but he was just so proud. And I know she was so proud. And I don't know how else to put it. It's hard to put into words, because it was just such an emotional moment."

That emotion spread, from performer to audience. It was more than just a moment. Edge owned his return, looking like a man who had never left, despite nearly a decade on the sidelines.

He'd earned unmatched loyalty from fans with pain, sweat and some of the most incredible matches in the promotion's history, including one 20 years ago that remains a benchmark for the sport. The reaction he inspired at the Royal Rumble, and the subsequent buildup for his bout this weekend at Wrestlemania 36, showed just how much he was missed.

Twenty years ago, Jeff Hardy stood on top of an enormous ladder. Bubba Ray Dudley was on a table far below, waiting for a senton splash that would send him crashing to the floor. Jeff's brother, Matt, and Bubba's storyline sibling, Devon, were sprawled across the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, with ladders, tables and chairs strewn out along their whirlwind paths of destruction.

And Adam Copeland, stealthily watching from ringside as he sold one injury or another, couldn't help but shake his head at the madness he was part of.

"We all," he remembers thinking, "have issues."

It was just one of more than a dozen crazy spots in what at the time was arguably the craziest match in mainstream wrestling history, as three tag teams redefined what was possible in a wrestling ring.

"It was six young, hungry talents, truly trying to steal the show and to get noticed and make our mark," Edge says now. "I think we'd all started to at that point. We'd had the first tag ladder match with the Hardys, and then the Hardys had the tables match with the Dudleys. But this was the first time where all of those combustible elements came together.

"And I think we all knew. We just all knew. And as a performer, you know when you have the right people in a match and you have something that can be special. We had all of that in spades, and it was time to go out and do it. That doesn't mean a classic match is always going to happen, but when it does start to happen and you can feel it and you know it, there's no better feeling. There really isn't."

Michaels and Ramon at WrestleMania X
Michaels and Ramon at WrestleMania XPhoto courtesy of WWE.com

Ten years before, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon had wowed fans with one of the most jaw-dropping displays of athleticism, walking a razor-thin wire between thrill and catastrophe.

The most preposterous material from that match, though, served as merely the opening act in this one. And danger escalated from there until the degree of difficulty was so high it was almost impossible to match. Twenty years later, it remains a revelation, a match so absurdly dangerous, the margins for error so amazingly low, that it's a wonder everyone involved is still alive to tell the tale.

"There is that part of me that feels we pushed it too far," Edge admits. "At that time, we were young and we were hungry, and we were just champing at the bit to get noticed and to make our mark. And how do you do that when you have Steve Austin firing on every cylinder? When you have The Rock firing on every cylinder? When you have The Undertaker and Mankind and Kane and Triple H—what do you do to stand out, to get noticed, to start creating some kind of a groundswell?

"Well, we were willing to take risks. And we'd like to think that they were calculated and that they made sense. But I still think we've pushed it so far. And when I look at young talent now and I see matches like, 'Oh, they're doing so much.' But then I have to temper it, remind myself, 'Well, dumbass, you're partly responsible for this because of the TLC matches.' I really would love for it to become more story-driven, more selling and more just that type of thing. But I'm also proud of it, you know? And I'm proud of the work we all did. I'm proud of all those guys. And we'll always share a special bond because of that. Being involved and then on the ground floor of something like that, it's special."

Edge always describes the tag wars of his wrestling youth as being like car crashes. He was lucky to survive. But eventually, you have to pay the price for everything. Every bump, every bruise, every fall off a 10-foot ladder to the floor takes a toll, and the effect is cumulative. Injuries add up, each one making the endless grind and travel schedule that much harder until a wrestler's body simply says "no more."

And so Edge found himself in the middle of the ring at Monday Night Raw on April 11, 2011, announcing his retirement from the thing he loved most. After neck surgery, he found himself unable to feel his hands, numbness there perhaps making up for the near-constant ache in his head. Cervical spinal stenosis was the diagnosis, and leaving the ring for good was the only viable solution.

"It wasn't really walking away," Edge says. "I feel like it was ripped away. So there was some adjustment, without a doubt. But I also realized that I'd better come to terms and come to grips with it, because I'm told I have no choice. When you're told you have no choice, it somehow makes it easier because you don't have to go, 'Oh, can I still get more out of this?' No, it's taken out of your hands."

Not one to dwell, Edge almost immediately landed a reoccurring role on the Syfy series Haven and found a new passion he could sink his teeth into in acting. He had a second neck surgery in 2012 that relieved many of the issues he'd been having. The couple had their first child, Lyric Rose (sister Ruby followed three years later), and life moved on.

"We just really resigned ourselves to this new life and never looking back," Phoenix says. "Like we're not the type to look back and live in the past. We look forward, and it was like, Well, this door is closed, and it was ironclad closed. There wasn't a little what-if or anything. No question. It's done."

But that closed door inched further and further back open over the years. The neck surgery gave Adam new life. Suddenly, he was up to participating in some physicality, refusing a stunt double on both Haven and then Vikings, fully immersing himself in both action-packed shows.

"When he was acting, he did his own stunts," Phoenix says. "And I was always like the hyper-nervous wife, like, 'Why don't you have a stunt person?' And he's like, 'Well, I feel comfortable doing this.'

"And I'm like, 'Are you sure? Are you sure?' I was always like stage mom to the nth degree. But he kept doing the stunts, and he kept feeling great, and he wasn't having any residuals. He woke up from the surgery in 2012, and he went from having constant headaches all day and tingling and numbness in his hands and difficulty holding things to like he woke up and it was like a breath of fresh air."

Phoenix made her own comeback at the 2018 Royal Rumble and returned the next year to work a tag team match at WrestleMania 35 and take a full-time gig as the color commentator for WWE's NXT television show. That brought Edge into proximity of wrestling regularly for the first time in ages—and started his mind spinning.

He had gone with Phoenix to Dr. Tom Prichard's JPWA school in Knoxville, Tennessee, to help her prepare for her WrestleMania match and ended up demonstrating a move by throwing himself backward and taking a bump in the ring. Phoenix, initially, was angry. But he assured her he felt good. Better than good. He felt alive.

Shortly after, WWE Superstar Sheamus came to their home in Asheville, North Carolina, to film an episode of his exercise show, Celtic Warrior Workouts. Edge had been pushing himself in the gym and was in the best shape of his new life and wanted to show that off to the WWE Universe.

"We went mountain biking, and I took a pretty good wipeout going down a mountain," he says. "And I rolled right to my feet, and I felt fine. I had some road rash and still got some scars for it, but I was traveling 20-25 miles an hour and basically took an arm drag off a bike onto rocks and rolled right to my feet. And I went, 'I feel OK. Huh?'"

The experience led him down a medical rabbit hole that started with his family doctor and ended in the offices of famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama, where specialist Dr. Andrew Cordover told him there was no reason he couldn't return to the ring.

"Now don't get me wrong, there's definitely limitations," Edge says. "There's going to be things that you used to see me do that won't happen now. I want to be able to craft and tell more nuanced stories and tell more stories with my face and my eyes—definitely more than jumping off ladders."

Edge on WWE Raw.
Edge on WWE Raw.Photo courtesy of WWE.com

Since his return, Edge and his old tag team partner, Randy Orton, have grabbed the world of sports entertainment by the throat with a feud that feels more like a psychological thriller than a typical grunt-and-groan pro wrestling confrontation. It's a personal, layered story that, for the first time in their careers, has included Beth in Edge's narrative after she confronted Orton and got bombarded by some ugly truths (and an RKO) for her trouble.

"Oh my God, it was such an honor and amazing to be able to do that and to participate and write a chapter in this beautiful classic book they've written together," she says. "I have never done anything with my husband in wrestling. I think people were even shocked that we were married.

"I got to stand in the main event at Raw, and it was just myself and Randy Orton. All the emotions on my face were real, because what he was saying was real. Everything he was saying was real, 100 percent. And it was just so passionate and so special.

"It was one of the coolest moments of my life—not just WWE, but my life, to hear the crowd reacting and to just watch Randy's performance and just be kind of sucked into that and get to be a memorable part of that story. And I'll remember it forever."

The elephant in the room, in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that the "Last Man Standing" match between the two rivals won't happen in front of a rapt crowd at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. Instead, it will be taped in an empty studio, devoid of energy that can often turn an otherwise by-the-numbers match into an emotional roller coaster. But, ever the optimist, Edge refuses to worry about what might have been.

"I'm so proud of the whole story and process that we put together," he says. "Is part of me disappointed that my first singles match back in nine years is in front of no audience, no live audience? Yeah, of course. You always thrive and feed off of that live reaction. That being said, again, it's a challenge, and I have to look for the positives.

"How do we make the best of this? How do we turn this into chicken salad? That's the goal. That's a huge challenge. I get off on that. And I truly think that with a performer like Randy Orton, and knowing what I know and knowing what I feel and the ideas I have—man, I cannot wait for people to see this. I think I'm thinking of this in terms of storytelling and being able to emote with facial expressions and drama, and that is just so much fun to me."

In some ways, his years outside the business have prepared him for a challenge like this. He's been on a sound stage. He's filmed emotional, physical and powerful scenes in the absence of an audience in his acting life. Edge, like no time before in his career, is ready to meet this new match head-on and write his own ending, rather than accept the one fate handed him in 2011.

"Adam is capable of so much, and now like this extra little layer, he has had eight years of this incredible acting experience," Phoenix says. "He just finished four seasons of Vikings, one of the biggest shows in the world. So he comes to the table as an accomplished actor on top of all his physical layers as a wrestler and his equity as a wrestler.

"I know he wants to bring something different and special to the table and remind our audience that at the heart of it all, we're in the business of telling stories and we're in the business of helping people get lost in those stories so that we can just bring them along with us.

"Adam is one of the—if not the very—best at telling stories. And I'm so happy that he's finally going to get to write the end of his book his way."


For the first time ever, WrestleMania will be held as a two-night event, streaming Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on WWE Network and available on pay-per-view. In addition to the WWE Performance Center, WrestleMania will include multiple locations across the two nights with closed sets and essential personnel only.

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.