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
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.”