Jay Reso has been full of surprises lately.
The Orangeville, Ont., native, who wrestles under the name of Christian [Cage], made his return to active competition for the first time since 2014 when he made an appearance in World Wrestling Entertainment’s Royal Rumble in January. Even more shocking was his arrival in All Elite Wrestling at the Revolution pay-per-view on Mar. 7 where he signed a contract as an active competitor.
You can catch AEW Dynamite on Wednesday night at 8pm et/5pm pt on TSN2, the TSN app, streaming on TSN Direct and on TSN.ca.
If you thought that Reso was retired, you are forgiven because he himself thought that, too. A series of concussions led to the multiple-time world champion failing to be cleared for contact by the WWE and he stepped away from the business for what he believed to be permanently.
“I was content in my retirement,” Reso told TSN.ca. “It’s not something where I actively thought about coming back or anything like that. People asked me all the time – ‘What are the chances [of a comeback]?’ and I would say ‘Zero’ because that’s exactly what I thought it was.”
If you’ve followed the world of professional wrestling for any length of time, you’re well aware that retirement as a concept doesn’t mean the same thing there as it does just about everywhere else.
A vast majority of wrestlers, whether it’s because of financial issues or a simple love of the business, never actually retire. In 2008, Ric Flair famously lost a match with a retirement stipulation to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV. By 2010, he was wrestling again for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Terry Funk has retired at least a half-dozen times, with none of them ever sticking (though perhaps now at 76, the Funker is actually retired).
For Reso, his exit from the business was a firm one, but that didn’t make it any less difficult.
“When it’s taken away from you and you don’t make the decision to retire, you’re told you have to retire, it’s a little bit different, right?” Reso said. “That’s at least how I look at it. It was like ‘Okay, I don’t have a choice in this.’ So you’re able to accept it a little bit more, in my opinion. I wasn’t able to watch anything. Like I wasn’t able to watch any wrestling for a little while after because, in that respect, it was hard for me to kinda wrap my brain around what had happened at that point.
“So, it took me a little bit of time to turn it back on and watch it and to go around again to live shows and things like that just because you hear that live crowd and that’s what we live for, that feeling that you don’t get anywhere else – just getting in front of that live audience and performing. It’s hard to explain that feeling, but the first time I went to a live show and after I heard the music start and the live show start, it was kind of like ‘Ooh, man. Okay, I don’t do this anymore.’”
With his creative juices still flowing, Reso turned to other projects like acting in film and TV and hosting a podcast and a TV show alongside best friend and longtime tag-team partner Adam “Edge” Copeland for the WWE Network. Like Reso, Copeland’s career didn’t end on his terms, forced to retire early due to spinal stenosis in 2011. But Copeland’s retirement wasn’t a permanent one.
After receiving medical clearance to return to competition, Copeland resumed his wrestling career at the 2020 Royal Rumble. Watching his close friend return to action, and seeing WWE performer Bryan Danielson also cleared medically after a series of head injuries seemed to have ended his in-ring career, made Reso begin to reconsider his own situation.
Last June, Reso returned to the WWE as part of Copeland’s feud with Randy Orton. Reso and Orton were to have an “unsanctioned” match on Monday Night RAW. But Reso still hadn't been medically cleared and the match ended up being nothing more than a glorified angle where Reso was low-blowed by Ric Flair and beaten by Orton without taking any actual bumps.
“There were just a lot of parameters [to the match] and things like that, just as far as I was on the non-contact list, and it just didn’t sit well with me,” Reso said. “It was like ‘Really? This is where I’m at now? Where I’m that fragile that I can’t even be touched?’”
The experience left Reso with a bad taste in his mouth and pushed him to look into his own potential return.
“So, I just took it upon myself and I just needed to see where I was at for my own peace of mind,” Reso said. “I set up these appointments on my own to go see a specialist here in Tampa and I went through all the testing. And seeing Edge come back the previous year, I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t something that intrigued me when I saw him come back, even though they were different injuries.”
Reso figured that he didn’t really have anything to lose when it came to looking into his health.
“I did all the testing, sat down with the doctor and he went over the tests with me and he said ‘You’re average or above average on everything. These are great test scores, and your physical testing was great, as well. What is it that you’re looking to do?’” Reso said.
“I just had a conversation with him and said ‘Look, if there was ever a chance for me to come back and rewrite the end of my story on my own terms rather than being told it was over, I would like to do that.’ I said, ‘If you’re telling me that this can’t happen, then I’m in no different position than I was when I woke up this morning. If you’re telling me there’s a possibility, then it’s opening up some doors.’ He said, ‘I don’t think you’re crazy at all. I think you can do this.’”
To get back in game shape, Reso says that he set up a home gym in his garage – a necessity during the pandemic – and hired a nutrition company to help revamp his diet. Once his fitness and eating improved, Reso made one final visit to meet with specialists in Pittsburgh to confirm that everything was on track.
“I kinda went through a five-hour [battery] and saw a bunch of different specialists within a five-hour window,” Reso explained. “They all kind of specialized in different aspects and when I had a chat with the doctor after, he said, ‘You’re in no greater risk now than at any other point in your life of this happening again.’ So could it happen? Sure, but he said ‘You can’t go in the ring worrying that you’re going to get injured, that you’re going to get hurt. You’ve got to get that out of your head.’ And that put my mind at ease right away and honestly, any time I’ve stepped in the ring since, it doesn’t even cross my mind at all. I don’t even think about it.”
Looking lean and muscular at 47, Reso made his return in the Rumble, taking bumps and wrestling for just over 18 minutes. For his part, Reso said there was no trepidation in getting back into the ring.
“It’s funny because after having not been in the ring for seven years and going back and at that point having less than 48 hours’ notice that I was going to do the match, I thought I’d be really nervous when I walked in. But I was surprisingly calm for the entire day – even when I walked up to the curtain,’ Reso said. “I just knew that I was born to do this, so it’s second nature. There was nothing to be nervous about. If anything, I was anxious to get out there. I came back and I felt great. It was kind of like a dream in a sense. It was a little bit surreal that it happened. Obviously with what we do, we always prefer to have a live audience there and it would have been great for that to happen, but it was still an unbelievable moment that I’ll never forget.”
Now once again an active performer, Reso made shockwaves earlier this month when he signed with AEW and not WWE. After being convinced by good friend and former AEW World Champion Jon Moxley to speak with company president Tony Khan before he committed anywhere, Reso said he and Khan – whom he had met in the past – developed a quick rapport.
“Obviously, I knew he was a wrestling historian and loves wrestling, so it was cool to reconnect with him and talk and get his vision of what I could bring to the roster and how I could help and all of that,” Reso said. “All of that was very, very exciting to me. More than anything, I just really liked him as a person. He’s a genuinely kind person and I appreciate that about him. It just kind of escalated from there and literally within a week we had a deal done.”
Now in a company that has already become known for its in-ring work in its short history, Reso disagrees with the notion that there could be more pressure on him than ever before to perform.
“Nobody can put more pressure on me than I can put pressure on myself,” Reso said. “There’s a certain standard that I hold myself to and if I didn’t think that I could perform at that level or better, then I wouldn’t even be attempting this. So I feel better than I’ve ever felt, and I think that you’re going to see a better version of myself going forward.”
He does acknowledge, however, that even in the seven years he’s been gone from the industry, a lot has changed when it comes to both the dominant in-ring style, as well as how to approach working in front of what isn’t always a rapt TV audience.
“I think the style is a little faster now and I think that’s the main thing that I pick up on,” Reso said. “And there’s also the audience – it’s one of those things now where they’re watching TV, but they’re also watching with their phones in their hands. So there’s this whole different dynamic going on with that, as well, and everything is kinda [geared towards] instant gratification at this point in time with social media and those sorts of things – everything is definitely faster now is what I notice.”
While there are several talents that Reso knows from his WWE and TNA days in AEW like Chris Jericho, Paul Wight and Sting, there is no shortage of potential first-time opponents for him. In his first appearance on Dynamite last week, Reso mixed it up with AEW World Heavyweight Champion (and fellow Canadian) Kenny Omega.
“I thought that was a pretty big moment,” Reso said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of people who thought we’d see Kenny Omega and myself standing face to face in the middle of a ring, so just to give a little tease, a little taste of that was a pretty big moment.”
Omega is at the top of the list of people he’d like to work with, but Reso says there are several talents he’d like to step in the ring with in the near future.
“I’m a big fan of MJF,” Reso said. “I think that kid has a ton of talent, a ton of potential. He just gets it. There’s also Darby Allin. I look at him and see a guy that reminds me of Jeff Hardy. He’s just got that something about him that you can’t put your finger on, but you know it’s special. Scorpio Sky, I think has a ton of untapped potential. I’m a fan of him, as well. The roster is just filled with guys – look at a guy like Wardlow, with his size and that look. Eventually when he ties it all up, he’s going to be a big star, as well.”
Reso admits there is a tinge of sadness in not embarking on this next chapter alongside Copeland, but says that each of them making a comeback on his own makes it special, too.
“No matter if we’re wrestling in the same company or not, we’re always going to be best friends,” Reso said. “That’s never going to change, but we had our moment in the Royal Rumble. We got a chance to kind of have some closure there. At least there was that, but it’s also exciting to be able to branch out and do our own things, as well.”
Now that Reso has the opportunity to end his career on his own terms, he already knows how he’d like his legacy in the industry to be remembered:
“I think it’s just the phrase I’ve been using since I came back – a guy who went out there and outworked everyone.”