A Promise Kept?
"Wow, Billy - you sound like a human vacuum cleaner - managing to both suck and blow at the same time! And Billy, since you're not really doing anything of late, I was wondering if you could do me a favor - if in two years' time at the King of the Ring I'm not defending a title, or even in a match, and my very special assignment is to go to WWF New York and eat a meatball sandwich, then please - just shoot me in the head!
"1999 is SO two years ago, and it's not my fault if you've done a big pile of nothing since then! That doesn't give you the right to come out and rain on MY parade - and Commissioner, I vow to you that I will not 'Billy Gunn' this King of the Ring title, because, Billy... I plan on being entertaining."
- Edge, June 25, 2001, after receiving the King of the Ring trophy
Well, if nothing else, he's a man of his word.
Edge's reign came to an end two weeks ago when he suffered a shoulder injury during his victory over Kurt Angle in a steel cage match, bringing his run full circle.
The final four in last year's tournament were Team E.C.K. (Edge, Christian, Kurt) and E&C's backup, Rhyno, and the situation caused the group to fracture - Angle was confidently guaranteeing that he'd repeat as the winner even with a street fight with Shane McMahon on the same night, while Christian wasn't too thrilled to find out that Edge had entered the tournament in the first place. It worked out that Edge and Christian never faced each other in the tourney; Shane cost Christian his semifinal match against Angle for the purpose of making Angle wrestle an additional match before their street fight, and Edge beat Rhyno in the other semifinal before going over Angle in the finals.
The problem Edge had when he won KOTR was that the invasion angle was starting at about the same time. The solution was to keep him and Christian together for the time being to get them over as faces, and they opened the Invasion pay-per-view with a win over Lance Storm and Mike Awesome. The next night on Raw, Storm won the Intercontinental title - not coincidentally, the logical next level for Edge to take his newfound singles push. Edge would beat Storm at Summerslam to win the IC title.
A few weeks later, his brother Christian would predictably turn on him, then beat him for the IC strap at Unforgiven. This would become a pattern (titles were changing hands seemingly every week during the Invasion) that threatened to hurt Edge's championship credibility, but he kept winning it back, beating Christian in a ladder match at No Mercy for a too-soon end to their feud. Then he challenged Test and lost, but would win the WCW U.S. Title from a newly-heeled Kurt Angle before beating Test in a unification match at Survivor Series proper.
He finally had a successful title defense on PPV, fighting off William Regal's challenge at Vengeance. Looking back, I think that Regal was next for Edge's benefit as a wrestler - you watch Regal for the little nuances and his work on the mat, and even though nobody else in the company really works Regal's style, if a guy can pick up a thing or two from an opponent with different tactics, he can only improve as a wrestler. The problem at the time was that Edge barely got mic time during the feud, and he just, well, lost. Then after losing a 'Brass Knux On A Pole' rematch, he ended up in a WrestleMania feud with Booker T over a Japanese shampoo commercial contract.
(For the record, I'd have done most of that period differently. The Christian heel turn would come at Summerslam and allow Storm to retain the IC belt, the build to a three-way at Unforgiven that Christian would win. Assuming everything else is equal, Edge would pick up the WCW U.S. Title at No Mercy, then go over Christian at Survivor Series in the unification match. He'd defend successfully in December against Test or the equivalent, and then lose to Regal at the Rumble. Christian would cost Edge his rematch at No Way Out, and Edge would later cause Christian to lose the European title in retaliation, setting up a blowoff gimmick match at X8.)
As it turns out, it would be the previous KotR that would eventually make Edge's reign a success. Angle was already a former WWF Champion and the defending King of the Ring winner until Edge beat him in last year's final, and he had since won the title a second time and was coming off of a win over Kane at WrestleMania X8. So Edge pinning him in a tag match shouldn't have been a big deal, right?
It is if you're Kurt Angle and you hate to look bad. And did Edge ever make him look bad over the following weeks. Even after Angle beat him at Backlash, Edge briefly got the "What?" chant changed to "You suck!" just for Kurt, and even sabotaged the unveiling of his new T-shirt. The ultimate humiliation would come at Judgment Day, when Edge beat Angle clean in a "hair vs. hair" match, then shaved Angle's head bald right by the stage. The issue finally ended when Edge won the cage match.
Edge was at his best during the Angle feud. A good portion of that was because of Angle, who's probably the best overall active guy in the company right now. He plays his character to perfection and is such a good wrestler he forced Edge to raise his game. To Edge's credit, he answered the challenge with his best singles match to date (at Backlash) and some very good mic work, particularly the emotional interview he cut last week before Chris Jericho handed him a punk DECK.
So he's beaten two former world champions, one of them three times; gone nose-to-nose in a heated verbal confrontation with a third; and will likely return to a ready-made feud with a fourth. He's also overcome his brother's jealousy, won the company's #2 title on three separate occasions, and went over at a WrestleMania in his hometown 12 years after attending the last one that was held there.
All hail King Edge.
May his successor also not 'Billy Gunn' his opportunity.
NEXT WEEK: Who will be King? Who will be champ? Who will still be employed the week afterwards?