by Jon Lane
Four friends were traveling in the Canadian backwoods of Manitoba. The clock was approaching 4 a.m. and the temperature was approaching 50 below. The four men - struggling rookie wrestlers who liked to call themselves "Thug Life" - were used to cross-country adventures in the dead of winter. Destination: small arenas the size of shacks for just enough money to buy dinner the size of a pop tart.
But this was no ordinary trip. Their van hit a soft spot on a lake and fell through the ice. There were no telephones for miles, and they were in a desolate area through which traffic passed almost as infrequently as summer weather graces Canada in January.
"We eventually pulled together," said Jason Reso, one of the men in the van. "It took us an hour, but we eventually rocked the van out of there. I actually fell though the ice up to my waist. As soon as I fell though, I pulled myself out; my clothes basically froze to my body." Luckily, another van arrived, where the nearly frostbitten Reso took shelter. "I had to take my socks and my pants off and sit in the warm van."
"Looking back now, it's funny," said Adam Copeland, also a passenger on the van. "But when your van falls through ice as you're driving across the lake and you see this 300-pound guy just completely go nuts, then Jason falls through the ice ... and the guy's crying and praying. I won't mention his name -- but it was Rhino (now with Extreme Championship Wrestling). Just things like that you look back on."
Today, Adam Copeland and Jason Reso are Edge and Christian, a dynamic tag team in the ring and a revolutionary force in character. Their story is one Edge and Christian would prefer to tell while playing their "You Think You Know Me?" entrance theme on a kazoo, but it's a real-life tale as honest as frostbite. Like most young wrestlers in the beginning, the careers of both Copeland and Reso - best friends since grade school - seemed trapped under ice. Reso had to spend his student loan money to attend a wrestling school. Copeland once competed before six people in a barn in Tennessee. While touring Canada and parts of the United States, the friends had barely enough money for rent and one meal a day. And even when the two made the Federation roster, while Copeland was initially targeted as a future singles superstar, Reso felt stuck in a virtual no man's land. "I was looked at by fans as 'Edge and his sidekick, Christian,'" Reso said.
Since they were provided their first real opportunity to speak after about two years as mysterious gothic warriors with the faction known as the Brood, Edge and Christian have blossomed into two charismatic gag-me-with-a-spoon sports entertainers. They have driven other Federation superstars insane with Christian's kazoo.
They've mocked Elvis, degraded host cities' pro sports franchises, and alienated both the fans and the towns they live in before unveiling their infamous five-second pose - "for those with the benefit of flash photography."
"They were definitely late in their opportunity to speak," said David "Gangrel" Heath, who teamed with Reso and Copeland to form the Brood. "Jay always walked around blowing his chest up like he's five sizes bigger than he is. Adam was quick-witted, but not a wiseguy, and pretty humble. Jay spoke more than he should have spoke!"
The act represents a hybrid of the 1970s (Edge and Christian's huge Elton John-like sunglasses), '80s (the totally radical and awesome expressions that range from coolocity to heinosity to sucktatude) and '90s (the "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures" personas) with a 2000 twist. It's a motley mix that clicked instantly.
Federation Commissioner Mick Foley points to his first night as the commish, when he honored Edge and Christian's request for their own dressing room until surprising them with a mandatory match against the Undertaker and Kane. "From that first vignette, everything clicked," Foley said.
"Ever see that Warner Bros. cartoon when Wile E. Coyote and that dog punched into work to guard sheep?" inquired Foley. "The dog spent the whole day foiling the coyote's attempts at stealing the sheep. By 5 p.m., with the dog about to tear into the coyote, the whistle blew and the two punched out.
The coyote said, 'So long Sam.' The dog, 'So long Ralph.' That's me and Edge and Christian. It's all in a day's work until we punch out for the day."
"We're having a lot of fun with it, to get out there and have the people in the palm of your hands reacting either negatively or positively to what you're saying," Copeland said. "I consider us a 2000 version of Bill and Ted with a little bit of Alicia Silverstone from 'Clueless' thrown in."
Clueless is hardly the case in the ring, where their success has, well, reeked of awesomeness. Edge and Christian are three-time World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Champions, a feat accomplished by a handful of tag teams and two shy of the record held by the New Age Outlaws. The duo has participated in many memorable matches: WrestleMania's Triangle Ladder Match, SummerSlam's Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match, and arguably RAW's Match of the Year when they battled Matt and Jeff Hardy one night after September's Unforgiven. "They definitely have the chemistry and the talent," Heath said of Edge and Christian. "They grew up together, have known each other their whole lives and they're crazy enough to climb them ladders!"
The close bond between Copeland and Reso adds to their characters - when Christian made his debut, he was billed as Edge's brother -- because one knows what the other is thinking without having to say it. They can tell when the other is hurt, off his game or in a bad mood.
Like brothers they sometimes quarrel, unafraid to tell the other one off if necessary. And, like brothers, they're close enough to share silence comfortably during a three-hour drive. "We already know everything about each other, so there's not much else to know," Copeland said. "It's almost like a marriage in certain respects."
Both in the ring and in life the two friends have always complemented each other. "If one guy does something," adds Reso, "the other will play off that. We use that to our advantage."
There was never a question if Copeland and Reso could wrestle. The big question was if they could talk. Copeland traces the evolution of Edge and Christian to the week before WrestleMania, when they were finally given the opportunity to do guest commentary after nearly two years of silence. "I think maybe they realized, 'Wow! We've been shutting these guys up for two years. They have a lot to say!" Copeland said. "That's the way it felt. It felt like we had a lot to get off our chest and show that we could step up to the plate not only when it comes to wrestling but when it comes to being able to vocalize. It was at that point that they decided to run with it and maybe do a little transition from babyface to heel."
Shortly after winning their first Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania, the transition was complete.
A week before April's Backlash Pay-Per-View, Edge and Christian joined Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler at the announce table, and boasted that they would do a "run-in" (a wrestling expression) and cost the Road Dogg his Intercontinental Title Match against Chris Benoit.
"We wanted to express ourselves," Reso said. "We wanted to talk and have that kind of
character who could speak and have people react. People always knew we could
wrestle, but this gives them something else to care about. It makes each character go deeper. I think we reinvented ourselves and made our characters fresh again, just by doing that one (pre-WrestleMania) segment where we spoke. What we're doing now -- having fun and entertaining -- this is more me. "I'm my own identity that can stand on my own feet.
"I think it just shows you can tell when something catches on. I think that's why our personalities click so well and why we've been friends for so long, because we've got similar personalities."
The friendship goes back as far as grade school and growing up in tiny Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, roughly an hour north of Toronto. It extended through high school, when Copeland won an essay contest offered by the Toronto Sun. His piece, "Why I want to be a wrestler," earned him a scholarship at Sully's Gym, a famed wrestling school in Toronto that also trained current Federation Superstars Trish Stratus and Tiger Ali Singh.
For the two years that Copeland enjoyed his free lessons and developed his craft, Reso never had the money to afford it, and instead worked a part-time job while attending school. "Finally, when I went to college, I got a student loan, and I used the money from my student loan to pay for my wrestling training," said Reso. The two attended the same wrestling school, same college and lived in the same house before embarking on their wrestling careers.
Working before today's sellout Federation audiences pales in comparison to the night Copeland competed in a Tennessee barn before six people. The money he earned was worse -- he barely had enough for a can of tuna a day. Reso was with Copeland that night. By the time the tour reached Raleigh, N.C., the two couldn't afford to finish it. "We both had to call our parents and have them wire us the money so we can take a bus trip home," Reso said. Including the numerous stops en route to Orangeville, the trip lasted 38 hours.
"Looking back, I'm surprised of the amount of good times we did have," Copeland said. "When you're in that kind of situation, you have to have a positive outlook and kind of roll with the punches." Without sounding egotistical, or much like the character he portrays, Copeland knew he'd end up with the Federation since his first day of training. "If you know that, you'll get here. That's what I believe.
Everybody has different paths, but that was ours and we just decided to stick with it because we knew we'd eventually reap the benefits."
But not before lighting up the Canadian circuit as two heartthrobs known as the Suicide Blondes. There was Copeland, who competed as Sexton Hardcastle, and Reso, who at that time was Christian Cage, a name derived from actors Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater. "I've always been a Nicholas Cage fan," explains Reso, who while at a friend's house the night of his debut played a game of mix and match with the Cage surname. While brainstorming, the tabloid news show "Extra" ran a story on Slater. "I just blurted out 'Christian Cage,' and figured I'd use it for the first show and change it after. It just stuck from there."
The Suicide Blondes were a training platform for the Federation. "It was at the point when we were so in sync with each other that we could do things in the ring where we didn't even have to tell each other what we were doing," Reso said. "We just look at each other or do something -- motion toward something -- and we know what the other is going to do already."
The Federation was confident it knew what it was doing when Copeland, who balked at his original name (Riot) before settling with Edge, made his TV debut in June 1998. As Edge, Copeland was thrust into a feud with Gangrel, in which the story was that the two had a mysterious past together.
Two months later, Reso (without the Cage surname) was introduced as Edge's brother and sided with Gangrel. Edge eventually aligned himself with the two superstars, and the Brood was born.
Christian, who won the Light Heavyweight Championship almost immediately after his debut, was never comfortable with his place in the storyline. "I came in and I was looked at as being the third member," he said. "In tag matches, I was the one standing on the floor. I loved (the Brood), but it wasn't really me."
It was during the later days of the Brood that fans heard a glimpse of Copeland's potential as a public speaker in their first on-camera interview during the premiere episode of SmackDown! in April of 1999. "Edge just came across great in that interview," Heath said. "He pulled it off. It was an interview with a smile." The sudden end to the Brood storyline involving Edge and Christian could have had something to do with Copeland's ability on the mic. Or perhaps the Federation realized it had two popular young men who work well together, and the potential they possessed if they were developed slowly until the time was right. "We didn't understand (the end of the Brood). We were really popular with the fans," said Reso in retrospect. "Good gimmick, awesome music, wicked entrance."
The Edge and Christian you see today are tailored more to Copeland's and Reso's true personalities than the dark, enigmatic guys who never spoke.
"Everybody has their moods like that, but that's not really us," Copeland said. "The words like henosity and scraping the bowels of sucktatude ... just insane words, but words that actually I've had people come up to me and they're saying them now. They don't even realize it."
Competing and speaking out in the Federation has opened many doors for both Copeland and Reso as Edge and Christian. There was Copeland's appearance in "Highlander: Endgame" (billed as Edge), the duo's memorable interaction with rapper Joe C. (who they called Mini-Me) and opportunities to express their love of hockey. During a late-spring RAW show in Detroit, shortly after the hometown Red Wings were eliminated by the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference semifinals, Christian entered the Joe Louis Arena wearing a Red Wings jersey. Behind him was Edge, who soon took off his overcoat to reveal an Avalanche jersey. In mock tribute to the Wings, who were bounced 4 games to 2 by the Avalanche, Edge shot an imaginary puck between Christian's legs.
Off television, Copeland and Reso were recently invited to pay tribute to one of the National Hockey League's all-time greats. "We were asked to do a little victory celebration for (Avalanche) goalie Patrick Roy (who became the NHL's all-time winningest goaltender)," Copeland said.
"That's fun, because that's a guy who we grew up watching, and to be able to be involved in his victory celebration that happened in the arena he did it in was a real cool thing. Then to do 'Lets Go Devils!' on their Titan Tron last year during their Stanley Cup run (Edge's favorite team is the New Jersey Devils), that's pretty cool. In between penalties and cleaning the ice or whatever, people saw me up there cheering them on. So it's opened a lot of doors in that respect and that's real cool."
They are equally popular backstage. For example, Copeland and Reso often engage in a game with Stone Cold Steve Austin in which the first guy to say, "Don't look at me," must turn away and not look at the others. "Then we'll give each other a time frame that we can't look at each other and always try and pop in the guy's frame of view," Copeland said. "It's a stupid little thing but it's a lot of fun, and it kills a lot of time during the day."
One stupid prank ranks among Copeland's and Reso's all-time favorites. Back in the days of Thug Life, Copeland, Reso, Rhino and Joe E. Legend (now Just Joe) went to see a college friend. Intoxicated, the five friends passed out in their buddy's room. Later, with Rhino passed out, Copeland decided to have a little fun with Rhino's thick leg hair. He shaved the word "Fat" (one of the group's little nicknames for one another) into the leg of the dead-to-the-world Rhino. "He got mad and he tried to punch us!" Reso said.
"He was drunk, so we were able to get out of the way and he passed out so we finished the job. He woke up in the morning and he didn't even remember it."
Since it was the middle of winter they assumed Rhino would not wear shorts for a couple of months. No harm, no foul, right? But Rhino ended up going to Los Angeles - with his father -- to work a show the following week, and discovered the word shaved to his leg while walking down the street.
Humbling indeed, but the two pranksters who took their shots as well as they dealt them would not trade their past for the Stanley Cup. "All those things are very character building experiences, things I wouldn't give up for anything," Reso said. "I would rather have gone through all that than just have something handed to me. I earned it and I know I worked hard for it."
The duo's Federation goals are modest. Reso hopes to win the Tag Team Championship for the fourth time, but he and Copeland also addressed the rumors of an inevitable breakup.
"From Day 1, fans always said, 'When are they going to split?'" Copeland said. "Who knows? But I think when we do, you definitely have two viable characters that can definitely make it in the singles world too."
"In the meantime," adds Reso, "we'll keep doing what we're doing -- entertaining the
fans and having a lot of fun. This is the most fun we've had since we've been
here and we want to keep that going."