By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
The date was January 26, 2020 – the night of the 2020 Royal Rumble. Nobody knew at the time that it would be one of the last WWE shows with an actual audience (for the most part). And very few people knew (at lease those who chose to ignore pro wrestling internet for the day), that Edge would be making his return to the company after what was believed to be a career-ending neck injury.
But return he did and the reaction that accompanied this comeback story was one for the books.
Actually, it was one for an article. Specifically this one, because I’m using it as an allegory for the rest of said article. The point is, one year later, Edge came full circle and actually win the 2021 Royal Rumble. Both of these ‘Royal Rumble Moments,’ (‘Mania isn’t the only show that gets to have moments). The moments were exciting, powerful, and beautiful. And the reason for this is because they both involved something that, this year especially, is sorely missing from most wrestling shows – genuine human emotion.
Edge is a master of genuine emotion. He can show it himself, and he can elicit it. And it was during this year’s Royal Rumble that I realized how much emotion he has elicited from me.
The date was April 3, 2011- the night of WrestleMania 27. It was my first (and so far, only) WrestleMania that I would attend live. I was with my best friend and it was, without hyperbole, the best weekend of my life. Don’t get me wrong- the show itself pretty much sucked. It was the worst WrestleMania not named 9 or 13. But, like both of those shows, there was one match, one moment, that made the entire show worth it.
It wasn’t The Undertaker vs Triple H (though, to be fair, that was the best match of the night). It wasn’t seeing Steve Austin and The Rock live and in person for the first time ever. It wasn’t even watching Snooki (whom I had an enormous crush on at the time and shut up because you’re not better’n me). It was the fact that, for the longest time, I was able to say that I got to see Edge’s last match in person.
For those who don’t remember (or those who blocked it out) WrestleMania 27 saw Edge defend the World Championship against Alberto (have we cancelled him or not?) Del Rio. Edge had Christian by his side at the beginning and the end of the match and, if it had to be Edge’s last, it was a great way to go. Edge won the match, kept the title, and walked out of his last match with his best friend by his side.
A week and a day later, Edge would announce his retirement. And it was the second time in as many years that wrestling broke my heart (Shawn Michaels retired the year previous).
His retirement speech was a tough one to get through. As was his WWE Hall of Fame speech. As was any subsequent appearance that he made in the years since, only because I missed him so much.
Edge was never my favorite wrestler. Truth be told, I didn’t realize how important he was until he was gone. I’m sure there’s cliché in there somewhere. But ever since he came back at the 2020 Rumble, I’ve appreciated every moment he has been a part of, simply because he’s one of the few professional wrestlers that can elicit an actual, genuine human emotion from me. Whether it’s a match, an interview, or a backstage promo, Edge gets me every time.
Very few wrestlers, especially in WWE, can do that. It’s even harder to do so these days, because of the restrictions COVID-19 has placed upon live shows. The piped in crowd noise does add to the overall presentation of the ThunderDome, but I realized during this year’s Royal Rumble how much wrestling needs genuine human emotion. Goldberg did a fine job against Drew McIntyre, but there is no way a “real” crowd would be chanting his name as much and as loudly as WWE wants us to believe they would. WWE officials can’t be trusted to produce genuine human emotion, so that job relies on the wrestlers. And, wouldn’t you know it, when they’re actually showing genuine human emotion, it tells the story better than any amount of fake, canned crowd noise can.
Edge is the biggest example coming out of the Royal Rumble. But Bianca Belair did it too. When she won the Rumble, she started crying and, whether her tears were real or not, I believed they were real (and, for the record, I’m pretty sure they were real). Give me that over piped in ‘this is awesome’ chants any day.
The biggest moments, the beautiful moments, the most powerful moments in pro wrestling history were not remembered because crowds were chanting ‘holy shit.’ They’re remembered because they felt ‘real.’ They felt genuine. Because, for the performers, these moments were genuine. Remember when?
When Shawn Michaels won the WWF Championship at WrestleMania 12, finally realizing his boyhood dream.
When he came back, 6 years later, after a career-ending back injury.
When he tried to end the streak of The Undertaker and sacrificed his career in order to do it, and then retired the next night.
When The Undertaker finally raised his hand to his brother Kane after months of refusing to fight him, or when they seemingly made peace and bowed to each other in acknowledgement.
When Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero embraced in the middle of the WrestleMania 20 ring, both with world championships on their shoulders.
When Bret Hart returned to Raw for the first time in 13 years.
When Daniel Bryan won the championship, lost it, won it back, retired and finally, miraculously, came back through the curtain and told us that if we fight for our dreams, our dreams will fight for us.
When Bayley, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte held up four fingers after Bayley and Sasha gave us the match of a lifetime at NXT Takeover.
When Drew McIntyre kicked Brock Lesnar in the face en route to becoming the champion for the first time, and put his hand out, telling the audience at home that “this is for you.”
When Edge retired.
When he returned at the Royal Rumble
When Christian came back, and the two men embraced after reclaiming the careers that they thought they had lost.
When Edge won the Royal Rumble, starting what could be his final road to WrestleMania.
These are the moments we will never forget and it’s because these moments were real. There were no bells, no whistles, no thunder and lightning. They were real people, reacting to real moments. And they’re what reeled us in.
Because real, genuine, human emotion is what keeps us coming back. It’s why we wade through the fake Goldberg chants. It’s why we put up with the holograms of Alexa Bliss and the smell of smoke after Randy Orton sets The Fiend on fire. It’s why we deal with whatever tf Retribution is doing.
Because for every Fiend/Alexa Bliss fireplay (get it?), we get Drew McIntyre telling us to take COVID-19 seriously.
For every T-Bone and Satchel (or whatever their names are), we get The New Day honoring their friend by displaying him on their tights.
For every Ric Flair banging his daughter’s frenemy, we get Bianca Belair crying and telling her mom and dad that she was going to WrestleMania.
And for every piped in ‘Goldberg’ chant, we get the look on Edge’s face when Christian entered the Rumble.
I’ve long believed that the key to successful professional wrestling relies on good writing. But I’ve realized this week that it also relies on the performances of the wrestler; not just in terms of move sets, but in facial expressions, in body language, and in reaction.
In short, professional wrestling relies on, and needs now more than ever, genuine human emotion.