Copeland savouring third act in AEW
It’s all gravy right now for Adam Copeland.
The Canadian wrestling legend is savouring his unexpected third act in the business as All Elite Wrestling rolls into Montreal for the first time this week with the 50-year-old Orangeville, Ont. native set to main event Wednesday night’s Dynamite show against close friend and longtime tag-team partner Jay Reso, aka Christian Cage, in a match for the latter’s TNT Championship.
You can catch AEW Dynamite LIVE from Montreal's Bell Centre at 8pm et/5pm pt on TSN2, streaming on the TSN App and on TSN.ca.
After a 25-year association with World Wrestling Entertainment where Copeland wrestled as Edge and was an 11-time world champion, he made the decision to depart the company and join AEW, making his debut at October’s WrestleDream pay-per-view in Seattle. Copeland’s final match for WWE ended up being at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena on the Aug. 18 edition of SmackDown against Sheamus.
If that was Copeland’s WWE swan song, he’s more than happy with it.
“I’m very proud of that match,” Copeland told TSN.ca. “I’m very proud of that night, that moment. I’m so happy that I got to share the ring with him after all those years. To me, it was never about is it a WrestleMania or is it a stadium [for a final match]. It was never about that for me, and it still isn’t.”
Copeland’s choice to venture off into the unknown of AEW didn’t come without deep consideration. Not only was staying in WWE on the table, but so was retirement. Copeland said he was genuinely open to all three possibilities.
“I was truly undecided,” Copeland said. “Maybe I’m just done. Like that was a viable, viable option. But I was able to sit back at 49 years old and look at it and go ‘Okay, right. Here I am. I spent 25 years in this place. What else is there to do?’ It didn’t seem like there was a whole lot to do. I was kind of the ‘Break glass in case of emergency’ [guy] and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just looked at what I have left and the time that I have left to give what I have left and then it became kind of a no-brainer, especially after talking to my girls. That was all true. I sat down with them and said: ‘What do I do?’ [They said] ‘Go be with Uncle Jay. You’ll have more fun.’ And I said, ‘You know what? You’re absolutely right’ and they have been right.”
What helped push him towards AEW was the feeling of no more worlds to conquer in WWE. Over the course of his time in the company, Copeland won a pair of Royal Rumbles, main evented a WrestleMania (in 2008 against the Undertaker) and held 31 championships. As one of the company’s most decorated performers ever, perhaps it was time to turn the page.
“When you look at it, I literally did everything there was to do there,” Copeland said. “So, I think we would just be doing more of the same. More of the same is fine, but more of the same for a guy like me can get boring. If I’m being blunt, that can get boring. When I looked at AEW’s roster, I thought ‘Oh, man. There’s a ton of people who I’ve never touched inside a wrestling ring.’ That’s super exciting, to be able to think about crafting stories and creating stories with a whole new cast, essentially.”
While his time in AEW has been brief, Copeland says what’s struck him thus far is his ability to operate with any kind of creative hindrance. He’s had the chance to sink his teeth into his current program with Reso and explore the character he’s currently portraying.
“I’ve always been afforded a certain amount of freedom with time put in, right?” Copeland said. “But here, it’s really felt fresh in that regard. It’s like, ‘Hey, let’s see what I can cook up.’ Sometimes I’ll be on a flight and an idea will pop up and I’ll put it in my notes, and I’ll go, ‘Ooh, I think this could work.’ That’s just really fun because I like to be very engaged and very hands-on with all of my stuff, to the point where it’s probably been annoying over the years. But if I have to go out and portray that character, I also have to believe and be able to invest in it, too, and that hasn’t been a problem with AEW. I can’t say it’s ever really been a problem except for maybe at the beginning of my career when I was really trying to find my footing, but that’s just been really fun to navigate this thing and also to come in and, in a way, kind of start slow by design and then start to pick things up when the time was right in terms of story. That’s been fun, too, just to have a plan as to where this character is going and I know people get impatient, especially nowadays with social media when it doesn’t happen right away and it’s taking too long, but I’m always a long game guy. I already have a plan for what Adam Copeland does at the very end of this thing and a whole lot of plans leading up to it, too.”
That this program with Reso is even taking place at all is a minor miracle and it’s one not lost on Copeland. Both men were told their careers were over. Copeland initially retired in 2011 when the WWE informed him he would no longer be medically cleared to compete after being diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis, eight years after a major neck surgery. Following his retirement, Copeland would undergo a second neck surgery – a triple fusion procedure – and eventually receive clearance to resume his career in 2020.
A series of concussions for Reso led to him being told by WWE that he would never again be medically cleared for physical contact in 2014. After undergoing a rigorous series of testing, Reso, too, was once again medically cleared in time for an appearance at the 2021 Royal Rumble match. Taking place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the show ran from the WWE ThunderDome at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. without a live audience. During the match, Copeland and Reso shared an emotional reunion.
Copeland says, as far as he knew, that moment would be the last time he would share a ring with the man with whom he held the WWE World Tag Team Championships on seven occasions, and he completely made peace with that idea.
“It was great we got it because [it was like], ‘Hey, we’re both in a ring again – this is insane!’” Copeland said. “I stayed at his place that night and we got up and we were like ‘We’re gonna be in the Royal Rumble.’ And it felt like it wasn’t because we were doing it for a TV screen [and not fans], but I truly thought ‘Okay, that was our moment.’ That was our moment to celebrate how unrealistic this is. We’re both in a wrestling ring when we were both told that we’d never do it again, me after nine years and him after seven years. But I truly thought, ‘Okay, I guess that was it.’”
But professional wrestling is a funny business and the kind where you truly never say never. Nearly three years after that final meeting, Copeland and Reso are again working together in AEW and in what is very like the company’s hottest angle.
Upon his arrival in October, Copeland expressed interest in reestablishing their iconic tag team only to be soundly rebuffed by an emphatic “Go f--k yourself” from Reso. Instead of teaming together, the two men now find themselves at odds and Copeland says AEW’s debut in Montreal was the perfect opportunity for these two characters to have their first singles match. The match will be the first one-on-one match between the two since May 17, 2010.
“I looked at the calendar and thought ‘It’s gotta be Montreal,’” Copeland said. “Like how do we not capitalize? It’s the first time for our company to be in this market, to get back in there with what I feel is a red-hot storyline with two guys who were told they would never do this again, 13 years removed from the last time we ever wrestled, 20 years removed from the last time we ever wrestled for a championship, and we can still count on one hand how many times we’ve wrestled [on TV] period. That’s just stupid, ya know? [laughs] And there’s gonna be a moment there in Montreal where I really just have to sit and take it in because the chances of all of this falling into place the way it has, if you’re an odds man, is kind of astronomical.”
Copeland is effusive in praise for the character work being done right now by Reso. Reso’s Christian Cage leads “The Patriarchy,” a villainous stable featuring the hulking masked wrestler, Killswitch, and Nick Wayne, the 18-year-old son of well-known trainer, Buddy Wayne. The current incarnation of Cage oozes with menace and sleaze, always clad in his trademark safari jacket and turtleneck, even in the ring. Cage vows to be the father figure they never had for his foes and allies alike, viciously attacking their actual fathers in verbal tirades that often straddle the line of good taste.
Copeland agrees that this might be the best ever version of Reso’s character.
“He’s been given the freedom,” Copeland said. “He’s had no restraints. He’s had no handcuffs put on him. He’s had no preconceived notions placed on him. He’s been given free rein to create. I’ve known this was always there. Anybody who’s sat down with him and talked about the industry has known it’s there. Anybody who’s wrestled him, when it’s non-televised matches especially, where there’s less in terms of framework that you have to deal with, knows it’s there. It’s always been there. It’s just that now he’s truly getting to tap into it, and he’s stumbled into happy accidents along the way and realized it because he’s always had an ear for what works, because he’s always listening, he’s always paying attention. So when he stumbles onto to things, it’s like ‘Oh, yep. I’m gonna [use] that’ and take it and run. That’s what he’s done and in doing so, helped bring other characters along with him.
“To walk into that scenario as the protagonist is just super exciting…at this stage in our careers, seeing what he’s doing, it’s really, really fun. I’m really happy for him because he deserves it. I’ve always said, to me, he’s the most underrated guy ever in the business. You can throw the Bobby Eatons and Brad Armstrongs and other guys in there, but if I’m looking at overall package, mic skills, in-ring skills, presence, all of it, it’s him.”
With Reso, Copeland will write the next chapter of their storied history on Wednesday night, and he doesn’t think there could be a better place for it.
“It’s Montreal,” Copeland said. “[I’m excited] to get to do this in a wrestling city, a proper, proper wrestling city. You can count on maybe two hands the proper wrestling cities and Montreal is one of those. I sat down in kind of gridding this thing out and looking at it and thought ‘Well, the first one’s gotta be Montreal.’ Again, to me that’s more important than being a pay-per-view or whatever – it’s the city, it’s the atmosphere, it’s the crowd. That brings an element to a match than can make it more than. For me, I just lean on what I know. I’m in there with guy who, between the two of us, I think we’ve got, I dunno, 60 years’ worth of experience, whatever it is and in a town like Montreal and it’s so exciting. It’s just super exciting. It’s fun – I don’t how else to put it – which is all I want at this stage of my career.”
When his program with Reso is over and Copeland continues this new adventure in AEW, he intends to focus on giving back by paying it forward to the next generation of talent in the company. Having seen and done what he has done over the course of his career, Copeland believes that he has a unique perspective to offer his less experienced colleagues.
“Maybe somebody’s on a bit of a roll on TV and then they’re off [all of a sudden],” Copeland said. “As a young performer, you go ‘What did I do [wrong]?” I wanna be there for guys like that or women like that because I’ve been through it, and I understand that there’s peaks and valleys.
“I think more than anything that can be my biggest contribution to the company – not even necessarily what you see on screen, but hopefully, that is the case, too. But I truly think backstage and [I can] help young talent navigate through what might kinda feel like stormy waters, or confusing waters and in crafting stories, crafting characters, helping create a character that has layers instead of thinking just ‘Okay, this is my idea: I want to create a group.’ Okay, and? There’s gotta be more than that. What else? What’s the reason? What other characters and what’s their reasoning? There has to be reason. It’s like any television show in that regard, right?”
As for what’s left for him to do as an active performer, Copeland wants to prioritize fresh matchups and attempt to check off the last few boxes remaining unchecked.
“If I look at bucket-list things at this stage, there are very few things that I haven’t done,” Copeland said. “I said New Japan would be fun. The Tokyo Dome would be very fun because I’ve never performed there. Arena Mexico would be really fun because I’ve never performed there. So those are things [for me] as a wrestling fan because I still am one to this day. I’m still going back and watching Nick Bockwinkel matches or Terry Funk All Japan [Pro Wrestling] matches. You never quit studying and for me that would be fun. Again, that’s what it all goes back to, is what’s going to be fun. That sounds like it would be a helluva lot of fun.”
And as much fun as everything is right now for Copeland, when it stops being that he’ll know it’s time to hang up his boots.
“I think that’s what it really boils down to,” Copeland said. “When I get in there and go, ‘Oof.’ That’s when you know.”
But the difference between that day when it finally comes and when he first walked away in 2011 is that this time it will be Copeland’s own decision and not a doctor’s.“That’s the beautiful thing about it for me,” Copeland said. “I didn’t have that choice before. If I had that choice before, I don’t know if all of this would be happening. And there’s always that itch to scratch because of that. If you watched Rocky Balboa [the 2008 Rocky film], that last one where he says he’s gotta get that stuff out of the basement, because I didn’t get to end it on my terms, I still have some of that stuff in the basement. When I look at everything that’s happening now and getting to wrestle Jay in Montreal, with all of our history, with all of our history in coming back, it’s just all bonus. It’s all dessert at this point, it really is. It’s all cookies and donuts at this stage. And when it stops feeling that way – hopefully before it stops feeling that way, I’ll go ‘Okay, that’s good.’