For nine years, Adam Copeland would find himself pondering the same question: Could I still be a professional wrestler?
Copeland, better known as Edge, an 11-time world champion with WWE, retired in 2011 after suffering a series of neck and spine injuries. He was 37 at the time, far from old, especially in the sports entertainment world.
“I was told that was it and I had to accept that,” Copeland told Yahoo Sports. “I had to try and move on from it.”
‘If I can do that, could I do THAT?’
With his professional wrestling career seemingly over, Copeland made the transition into acting, a move that others before him — like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista — had done, although theirs were more choice than out of necessity.
Despite being away from the ring for nearly a decade and having acting credits from the TV series “Vikings,” “Haven” and “The Flash” on his resume, the question still lingered in the back of Copeland’s head and, every so often, would jump to the forefront of his mind.
“It would usually pop up when I would do something physical and feel OK,” Copeland said. “Sometimes that would be when I had a fight scene in a movie and I don’t have stunt doubles. Other times you get into these productions where you have three fight scenes in three days and you’re the centerpiece. You go through this physical stuff and you’re sore, but you’re OK. Again, I was pretty busy acting so it would just be onto the next production. I got to ‘Vikings,’ which is a highly physical show, when I went through that and I was fine, I got my first inkling then.”
Seemingly content with his second act as a husband, father and actor, the biggest trigger for Copeland seeking a WWE comeback came while filming an episode of “Celtic Warrior Workouts,” a YouTube series hosted by fellow WWE star, Sheamus.
There, in a moment that would make even the late Bob Ross chuckle, a happy accident spurred Copeland to seek out more medical opinions.
“I took a pretty gnarly wipeout going down a hill [on my mountain bike] at about 20, 25 miles per hour and I rolled right up to my feet and I was fine,” Copeland recalled. “I thought to myself, well, if I can do that, could I do THAT? I hadn’t had a checkup since my second neck surgery in 2012. I went and saw my doctor, we decided to talk to a spine specialist and that doctor said I looked great, strong, healthy, to keep doing what I was doing, just don’t land on top of your head.”
From there, it was on to see Dr. Andrew Cordover, a spine specialist at Andrews Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama. After getting cleared once again, Copeland began to put feelers out, letting WWE know he was interested in coming back and passing the required tests the company would put him through.
A comeback and a callback to an old friend
Copeland’s big return would finally come in January of this year, at the Royal Rumble event in Houston. Ten years prior, Copeland had made a surprise return from an Achilles injury, winning the 30-man battle royal match and earning a spot in the main event at WrestleMania.
This time around, Copeland wasn’t going to win the event, but the occasion was no less momentous for the crowd at Minute Maid Park, the fans watching around the world, or Copeland himself.
As his immediately recognizable music hit, a wave of emotion struck and the cameras caught the astonished look on Copeland’s face.
“I’m big on visualization, if you can visualize it, you can make it happen,” Copeland said. “It was truly dawning on me that this was the visualization and it was actually happening, it was tangible. That’s kind of mind-blowing. There’s nothing that can prepare you for that kind of jolt of adrenaline and emotion. Even if you think or hope that it is going to be that way, that the fans are going to explode, there’s no preparation for it. It overwhelms every sense, it overwhelms physically, emotionally. It hits you in the heart, in the brain, in your soul.”
During the match, Copeland would reunite with Randy Orton, one of his close friends — and, at times, on-screen rival. One night later, the two veterans would plant the seeds for a WrestleMania feud as Orton viciously attacked Edge and solidifying their roles in the upcoming angle.
“It needed to be Randy,” Copeland said. “There was no other choice to me. When I sat down and talked about it, this was the vision. Everything that you’ve seen thus far, it was the vision. Randy, to me, in my mind, there’s no one better than Randy Orton. I know what him and I can do together, I know what happens when him and I are in the same space. We just have something that you cannot fabricate. It’s just there.”
Over the next several weeks, the rivalry would continue, albeit without Copeland being on WWE programming. Orton would do the heavy lifting in building the storyline toward WrestleMania, diving into Copeland’s personal life and even attacking his wife, fellow WWE star Beth Phoenix.
Orton’s actions, while scripted and planned out, did have some truth resonated deeply with fans, a calculation Copeland, Orton and WWE’s creative team made when crafting this rivalry.
“A lot of what you’re seeing and hearing is true,” Copeland said. “We have been through a lot together. We’ve been there for each other a lot over the years. I think those elements of truth sell this even more. An audience can tell. I think when they feel like they are being let in on something like that, they get invested, the fall into the story and into what this is. Any great story, to me, always has elements of truth and this one has it in spades. Yeah, this was by design. I’m so over the moon that it has gone the way it has. Hearing the crowd scream the first night that this started, that’s when you know the right decisions were made, the right people are involved. That’s when, as a performer, you know you are off and running.”
Making the most of a unique situation
In the middle of the build to WrestleMania — originally scheduled to take place at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa with tens of thousands of fans in attendance — the coronavirus pandemic began to grip the world, forcing WWE to take the unprecedented step of moving its largest event to its training complex and barring fans and non-essential personnel from the premises.
The unique circumstances, easily unlike anything Copeland has ever experienced while working in WWE, added another degree of pressure to build up a WrestleMania-worthy storyline. Things were thrown so awry that Copeland needed to drive 17 hours just to make it to “Monday Night Raw” last month.
“You pull the positives,” Copeland said. “When all of this started happening and you come to terms with everything that is happening in the world, you realize that we still have work in front of us. Then I started focusing on that and realizing that, if anything, this makes our story more compelling. Now, I can cut a promo and I can use my experience on sets, I can do a theatre monologue. I don’t need to worry about reacting to the crowd, I can just tell the story. It’s challenging, but I thrive on that, I love that.”
There’s also the fact that without added crowd noise, the ambient sound is eliminated, presenting an opportunity for the two veteran wrestlers to add an even deeper, more personal wrinkle to the match.
“With a ‘Last Man Standing’ match, we now have more freedom strangely,” Copeland said. “When you do this in a football stadium and you go backstage or off the main stage, you can lose the audience. I think now, with what you’ll see Randy and I do, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the TV screen. We can really tell an even more personal story with the lack of an audience. I think that’s because you have two craftsmen and we have built something that comes with 45 years of experience between us.”
At age 46, nine years after his last WrestleMania moment, thanks to a wipeout, Copeland is getting another, and it likely won’t be his last.
“There’s time to get to the other matches that we haven’t seen — I’ll get to everybody,” Copeland said. “I hope that this match with Randy sets the template for this chapter of Edge.”
For the first time ever, WrestleMania will be held as a two-night event streaming Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 at 7pm 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.
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