Orangevill­e pro wrestler re­tires be­fore he’s forced to

Numb­ness in his arms leads Edge to end a ca­reer that be­gan off the top rope with a Star con­test

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - KEN­NETH KIDD FEA­TURE WRITER

Regi­nald “Sweet Daddy” Siki keeps cir­cling back to the same thought, with only slight vari­a­tions. “Oh, boy. “My God, sorry to hear that. “Oh, boy, that’s too bad.” Then he asks a ques­tion: “Did he have numb­ness all over his body?”

The an­swer, thank­fully, is no. But it was numb­ness in his arms that fi­nally forced Orangevill­e’s Adam Copeland, a.k.a. Edge, to re­tire last week as a per­former with World Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment, clos­ing a ca­reer the leg­endary Siki helped launch two decades ago.

Copeland, 37, bade his teary farewell from the ring Mon­day at Web­ster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., with thou­sands chant­ing “Thank you, Edge.”

Eight years ear­lier, Copeland had had spinal fu­sion surgery on his neck to re­pair dam­age sus­tained in the ring. “Be­cause of that surgery,” he told the crowd, “I knew that I was wrestling on bor­rowed time.”

He was in­creas­ingly in pain, and los­ing some of the feel­ing in his arms.

The mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing that Copeland re­cently un­der­went only con­firmed the dan­ger of con­tin­u­ing in the busi­ness that had fu­elled his imag­i­na­tion since grade school.

As Copeland put it, “The doc­tors have told me that I got no choice, and thank­fully they found out be­cause I’m not go­ing to end up in a wheel­chair now.” Copeland was one of the big­gest stars in the wrestling game, per­haps as revered as his child­hood hero, Hulk Ho­gan. Wrestling may be in one of its pe­ri­odic lulls, over­shad­owed by the pop­u­lar­ity of the UFC’s mixed mar­tial arts, but Copeland’s re­tire­ment is a re­minder that, for all its care­ful script­ing, the wrestling busi­ness is still phys­i­cally pun­ish­ing. “It’s re­ally some­thing how cer­tain things do hap­pen,” says Siki, a star in the 1960s and ’70s. “I had quite a few (in­juries), ribs, leg, dif­fer­ent things like that. I wres­tled Hans Sch­midt. He par­a­lyzed one side of my face.” It’s also a busi­ness in which the per­sonal nar­ra­tives of sundry wrestlers are al­most as op­er­atic as the elab­o­rate plots and feuds that char­ac­ter­ize wrestling shows. Copeland epit­o­mized that, too. Born in 1973 to a 20-year-old sin­gle mother who strug­gled to pay the rent, Copeland grew up sur­rounded by an ador­ing, ex­tended fam­ily in Orangevill­e, yet painfully aware of poverty. He was the lit­tle kid who liked the rock band Kiss, played at be­ing Spi­der-Man and got nick­named Bam-Bam, in the spirit of the Flint­stones’ off­spring. Tragedy struck early. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Copeland writes of be­ing a lost soul af­ter his un­cle, Gary, died in the wake of an auto ac­ci­dent. Gary, just 17 and dream­ing of an NHL ca­reer, was only nine years older than Copeland, “like the brother I never had.”

Copeland says that he “floated around for a long time,” un­able to fill the “gap­ing hole” left by his un­cle’s death, un­til one day he hap­pened to glimpse a “plat­inum blond, yel­low-and-red clad be­he­moth” on tele­vi­sion: Hulk Ho­gan. Wrestling was about to be­come an ob­ses­sion.

Tall, skinny and mul­let-haired, Copeland was a loner in his teens, he con­cedes. For years, his only real friend was an­other wrestling fa­natic, Ja­son Reso from the nearby ham­let of Grand Val­ley, who would him­self be­come a pro­fes­sional wrestler un­der the name Chris­tian.

All of which made Copeland a nat­u­ral tar­get for bul­ly­ing once he hit high school. He re­mem­bers be­ing slammed up against his locker and punched, then do­ing noth­ing to re­tal­i­ate. “I stood there with a hor­ri­ble feel­ing in the pit of my stom­ach, hu­mil­i­ated, in the mid­dle of a packed hall­way.”

What came next could have been lifted from the plot of Wee Ge­ordie, the 1955 film about a puny Scot­tish kid who grows tired of be­ing picked on, an­swers a Charles At­las-type ad and be­comes an Olympic cham­pion in the ham­mer throw.

Copeland en­rolled at the lo­cal gym, just ahead of the growth spurt that would take him to 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, and put him in the hands of Siki, cour­tesy of the Star.

The pa­per then had a wrestling col­umn, and it told of a con­test. Who­ever wrote the best es­say about why he or she wanted to be a wrestler would get free lessons from Siki and Ron Hutchin­son at Sully’s Box­ing & Ath­letic Club in west-end Toronto.

Copeland duly en­tered, and while Siki says the en­su­ing es­say might not have been the finest, “it had some­thing in there,” which Siki read as raw de­sire.

“He was a good-look­ing guy, tall, and he could move,” Siki re­calls. “I thought if there’s any­body I ever trained, he would make it.”

The pro­tégé made his de­but on Canada Day 1992, in an out­door ring set up in Toronto’s Monarch Park. He was soon trav­el­ling to small wrestling shows across North Amer­ica, first as “Sex­ton Hard­cas­tle” — one half of a tan­dem dubbed “Sex and Vi­o­lence.”

The pay was ter­ri­ble — $75 a show in Win­nipeg, $100 in Detroit — and Copeland, then 22, was still sleep­ing on a mat­tress on the floor of his mother’s tiny apart­ment.

But the kid with long, blond locks was start­ing to at­tract at­ten­tion, and when Bret “The Hit­man” Hart went down with a knee in­jury, Copeland got in­vited out to Cal­gary to show Hart what he had.

Copeland was on his way to the WWE and, even­tu­ally, a new stage name, Edge, which he cadged from a hard-rock ra­dio sta­tion. Fame fol­lowed, and at least a small for­tune — enough to buy his mother a house, just be­fore he un­der­went surgery on his spine.

In his farewell speech in Connecticu­t, Copeland talked again of the lit­tle boy he once was, ob­sessed with wrestling, trekking to watch bouts at Maple Leaf Gar­dens.

“I’m go­ing to miss all of this, all of it,” he said. “If you asked me if I would do all of this again . . . in a heart­beat.”

Adam Copeland, a.k.a. Edge, who quit pro wrestling at age 37, idol­ized Hulk Ho­gan as a child.

GETTY IM­AGES

Then-cham­pion Edge lands a blow on foe Batista in Aus­tralia in 2008.

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