At the 2020 WWE Royal Rumble, Edge--the Rated-R Superstar, 11-time WWE World Champion, and Ultimate Opportunist--entered the men's battle royal match at #21 to a standing ovation from over 42,000 Houston fans.
It's been nine years since Edge stood in the middle of the ring and announced his retirement from professional wrestling--the end result of a brutal, high-flying wrestling career that saw him spear opponents through flaming tables, between ropes, and from atop massive ladders.
The bill always comes due. And for Edge, he started paying up on the September 26, 2002 episode of Smackdown. During a match that saw him battle Eddie Guerrero, Guerrero delivered a European uppercut to Edge, causing him to fall backward onto a ladder.
"I bumped on the ladder, and I heard a crack," Edge recalled in an interview on WWE Network series Beyond The Ring. "And I thought it was the ladder. And I don't think I broke my neck there? But I think something gave there."
From there, Edge began feeling numbness and tingling in his neck and arm. Befitting the prevalent culture in professional wrestling, he worked through the injury rather than seeking out help. But once his arm muscles started atrophying, Edge feared that his increasing weakness would make him an unsafe worker.
In 2003, Edge underwent surgery--a two-level spinal fusion of the discs between the vertebrae in his lower neck. And although he returned to in-ring competition, he suffered from cervical spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that constricted the flow of vital fluids. This, in turn, caused numbness and trembling in his arms and hands. An MRI confirmed the worst; continued in-ring competition could result in paralysis or death. That led to a forced retirement after his match at Wrestlemania XXVII in 2011. At the time he retired, WWE made the following statement on its website:
"Medical professionals cannot clear Edge to compete ever again in WWE since doing so could result in paralysis or even death."
And up until three years ago, Edge was confirming the same. Here's what he said on his podcast in 2017 about a potential return:
"It's a huge compliment that you want me to come back for one more match. However, it can never, ever happen. The WWE has medically disqualified me from ever wrestling again, so for those listening, that’s the way it is."
Fast forward to the 2020 Rumble and Edge made an emotional entrance--complete with his signature pyrotechnics--and looks to be picking up right where he left off. The Rated-R Superstar lasted close to 24 minutes in the ring, which was more than respectable, and he eliminated 3 competitors: AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, and Randy Orton. The latter elimination was particularly meaningful, as it came on the heels of an impromptu, tag team reunion with his former partner Orton. Little nostalgic moments, like the one where Orton and Edge--the team formerly known as Rated RKO--shared a knowing smirk in the ring, are sure to be plentiful in the months to come.
Physically, Edge looks great; he has some grey speckle in his beard, but his body is toned and sculpted--clearly, the decision to bring him back was not a hasty one, and he's been preparing for his return. He's not going to be leaping off ladders anytime soon, but he was still able to brawl and deliver spears to his opponents; his best-looking spear came against Roman Reigns. In other words, Edge still has enough left in the tank for a few more high-profile matches before he retires a second-time--this time, for good.
Edge's first opponent back seems pretty obvious: Randy Orton. Their shared history, and their old run as tag team champions, gives this angle an easy access point for fans, both old and new, to reintroduce themselves to Edge. It eases Edge back into competition, and it assures that he has a veteran who will take care of him.
A match versus Roman Reigns would also be great, since it was Roman who eliminated Edge from the contest. And the same logic would apply to AJ Styles and his O.C. backup, who might also be looking for revenge. In the past, Edge has demonstrated an ability to work well with everyone; big men, high flyers, and WWE-styled grapplers. It's the narrative push that will make these matches special.
Beyond Wrestlemania season, there's an entire crop of young superstars who would jump at the chance to work with a WWE Hall of Famer. Edge is one of the last major talents from the Attitude/Ruthless Aggression era. All his contemporaries are either retired, WrestleMania-only (like Undertaker or Triple H), or prematurely deceased. Owing to the sudden nature of his 2011 diagnosis, Edge never got the chance to "pass the torch" in the same manner that John Cena did to Roman Reigns, or Brock Lesnar did to Seth Rollins. The number of marquee matches that can be made, to correct this oversight, are near endless.
But who else deserves a rub on the level that Reigns and Rollins have received? Drew McIntyre, certainly. Braun Strowman or Keith Lee, two big men on the cusp of greatness, could use a high-profile win over a legendary name. Shinsuke Nakamura has seen his character deteriorate over the past two years; a feud with Edge could immediately place him back at the top of the card.
And what about NXT's The Undisputed Era? Imagine if he enlisted them as his backup (The Undisputed Edge?). The alliance could introduce casual WWE fans to four of the most gifted young talents on the roster. And it could serve as a launchpad for Adam Cole, who deserves the instant, mainstream legitimacy that Edge's presence would provide.
Perhaps a revival of Edge's old in-ring talk show, The Cutting Edge, would be appropriate. Many superstars have used these talk shows to prolong their careers while increasing their exposure: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and his Piper's Pit. The Miz and MizTV. Mr. Perfect, who suffered chronic pain in the final years of his WWE career, transitioned into color commentary.
Lastly, there's the option of reuniting Rated-RKO, which will lighten some of the workload. He can rely on Orton to do the work and then make the hot tag to finish the match and clean up what's left. It's not likely that a performer like Edge will be working a full-time schedule anyway.
Edge must work smarter instead of harder--to maximize his entertainment value with the least cost to his body. The WWE Universe is lucky to have Edge back at all and should never become desensitized to that fact. Approach every possible match with this level of love and cautiousness, to ensure that Edge leaves WWE, again, in the same condition as he returned to it.