In the first of a new, weekly feature looking at the world of wrestling, Jack King considers the implications of Edge's victory in the 2021 Royal Rumble on WWE's present and future...
Last weekend, at the age of 43, Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl ring - which did steal the spotlight from Edge slightly.
Brady’s triumph means that he’s won more NFL championships than any of the league’s actual teams. It’s an absurd achievement, one which has further cemented his status as the greatest in his field. Touchdown Tom is well beyond retirement age and still keeps winning. Everyone is incredibly impressed.
That feels weird as a wrestling fan.
In sports, the triumph of the veteran is seen as something to be celebrated. We marvel at a sustained period of late-career dominance like Brady’s; we love a Tiger Woods clinic at the Masters, 14 long years after his last.
In sports entertainment, of course, that feeling is quite the opposite. Maybe Goldberg shows up, for example, and absolutely rips the Universal title away from two of the roster’s most important figures. Bill may still be eviscerating opponents in his 50s, but we don’t throw our arms in the air for him. Not in the slightest. He’s made Kevin Owens and The Fiend look like idiots, and we love Kevin Owens.
Many of the biggest criticisms aimed at WWE centre around this very idea, that the past is treated with far greater importance than the present. Onscreen, there is a constant understanding that things used to be better than they are now. The wrestlers were tougher and the action was more intense. That’s a very strange thing to admit to your viewership, right?
Sometimes it’s a subtle admission - Booker waxing lyrical about the returning veteran of the month, Cole plugging the latest Attitude Era series on the Network, and so on. But sometimes, as in the aforementioned case of Goldberg, they really slap us in the face with it.
So our issue is not simply that WWE haven’t created any new stars; it’s that they aren’t even trying to create any new stars. They’re wilfully making it harder for themselves, all in single-minded servitude of the past. It goes without saying that many of us have been frustrated about this for a long, long time.
Then Edge, 47, went and won the Royal Rumble. It was another example of WWE prioritising an older veteran over an entire full-time roster, and it made us feel...quite good, actually.
I mean, it was cool for various reasons, wasn’t it? He’d worked his way back from injury again, he survived from being entry number one and, moreover, he’s a genuinely likeable guy. It’s just easy to feel happy for him.
On gut reaction alone, it felt like a positive booking decision all round. But slowly, as the smoke from the ‘Mania sign fireworks drifted away, this initial sentiment received some pushback online - pushback which has since grown into a sizeable counterargument.
It’s an understandable point of view. Why should we make exceptions for Edge? Because he was forced to retire and seems like a friendly guy? Maybe we need to remind ourselves that on paper, he’s one of the most successful WWE Superstars of all time.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Edge has won it all. Four reigns with the WWE Championship, seven with the Big Gold. A five-time Intercontinental Champion, a former King of the Ring, a two-time Money in the Bank holder, and now a double winner of the Royal Rumble. (Throw in the WCW United States title as well, why not?)
On top of all that, let’s remember that even if Edge had never enjoyed a shred of singles success, he’d still be a beloved part of WWE history. Forming one half of an iconic tag team will do that for you. (A team that won lots of titles together, incidentally, so add those to the pile.)
The point I’m making is this: through a combination of good fortune and immense hard work, Edge has squeezed every last drop of potential out of his WWE career. Here are a few names that, relative to their ability, have barely been able to get started under Vince McMahon: Shinsuke Nakamura, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Mustafa Ali, and Ricochet - all entrants in the 2021 men’s Royal Rumble.
So why are we largely pleased with Edge winning it? There’s been some dissent, as mentioned, but Twitter is very much not ablaze. For perspective, remember the Goldberg rumour going around in the days before the match, and imagine the reaction if he’d been in the shoes of the Rated-R Superstar.
Edge is the exception; he’s the one veteran we’ve let get away with it, and it’s hard to fully understand why. Part of the reason must be the fact that his journey back to the ring has been truly inspirational. But I think there’s another key factor at play too: predictability.
Perhaps Edge is just - to half-quote former tag partner Hulk Hogan - the right guy in the right place at the right time. Because as disappointing as it may sound, not every Rumble can be used as a mechanism to elevate a deserving young workhorse. The excitement would eventually become diluted - and with Bianca Belair sensationally winning the women’s version this year, maybe Edge is the perfect counterweight.
On balance, I think we can allow ourselves to feel okay about the Ultimate Opportunist pulling it out of the bag yet again - even if it goes against our stubborn smark principles. The company’s issues with the past and future run far deeper than Edge winning a Royal Rumble. But until consistent, week-by-week changes are made to the booking and presentation of current Superstars, WWE will always struggle to rediscover an edge of their own.