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Now That’s What I Call Wrestling #8: The Backdated Editions – The Captain Returns (Part I)

Everyone knew it was coming. It was simply a matter of where and when. Fans all over the world knew it was only a matter of time until Prodigal Son returned ‘home’ to WWE, a born again Christian. Internet rumours had the Canadian set to re-debut by costing old-rival Jeff Hardy the WWE Title at the 2009 Royal Rumble…

Author’s Note: Please note that the following edition of NTWICW was written several months ago.

At last you’re on your ooooooooooowwwwwwwwn!

ahora Enfrente de MÍ No más
MI HERMANDE EL Mundo, EL Mundo, EL Mundo


Captain Comeback

Everyone knew it was coming. It was simply a matter of where and when. Fans all over the world knew it was only a matter of time until Prodigal Son returned ‘home’ to WWE, a born again Christian. Internet rumours had the Canadian set to re-debut by costing old-rival Jeff Hardy the WWE Title at the 2009 Royal Rumble. Fans in the Joe Louis Arena were well aware of said rumours, as evidenced by the booming “Christian” chant that broke out during Hardy’s Title defense against Christian’s former tag team partner Edge. It started earlier in the month when a series of accidents befell the unwitting WWE Champion. Before the first angle even had the chance to hit the air, numerous websites, including the one I am writing this article for, claimed the angle was been done to reintroduce ‘Captain Charisma’.

Anyone betting on the rumours to actualize went home with nothing. Christian’s comeback never happened. Instead WWE Creative went with Matt Hardy, who turned heel by delivering a chair-shot to the head of his (real life) brother in a jealousy angle that was ironically reminiscent of Christian’s own heel turn on his (storyline) brother Edge almost eight years earlier. When Christian didn’t return at the Rumble the smart money was on his making an appearance at the following month’s No Way Out as a surprise entrant in one of the two Elimination Chamber Matches. That didn’t happen either.

To the surprise of many Christian casually walked out on the 10th February episode of ECW on Sci Fi and confronted ECW Champion Jack Swagger. Later that night he beat  Swagger in a non-title match.

As it turns out Christian was orignally slated to return (and turn on Jeff Hardy) at the big PPV in January. Christian has always had his supporters in WWE including Edge and SmackDown! Head Writer Freebird Michael ‘P.S.’ Hayes who campaigned to get him on the ‘Blue Brand’. According to The Wrestling Observer and later reported throughout the internet, as soon as it was clear the Canadian was going to re-sign Hayes began working on the Hardy storyline which would have lead to Christian’s return at the Rumble. Unfortunately for him, one person who has never been as high the ‘Captain’ is Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Another ‘problem’ was once word got out that Christian was returning many people worked out where the storyline was leading and came to the conclusions above. In the end it was a combination of the internet ‘spoiling’ the ‘surprise’ and McMahon’s negativity towards Christian that lead to Hayes suggesting Matt Hardy instead. McMahon agreed supposedly on the basis that Hardy was better looking and because no one expected it.

At this point, Raw Head Writer Brian Gewirtz (another Christian fan) requested for him to work on Mondays but there was too much concern within the company that Christian would end up as the next D-Lo Brown who was hired and forgotten about without getting a chance. Feeling that the longer he was left off TV the slimmer his chances he of getting over, WWE Creative settled for sticking him on ECW to feud with the brand’s new Champion Jack Swagger.

It is fair to say the majority of Christian’s fans were not happy with this turn of events. Wherever one looked there was discussion about how much of a wasted opportunity it was that he did not debut at the Royal Rumble. Had McMahon chosen to go that route, there was an obvious opportunity for ‘Captain Charisma’ to make an ‘instant impact’ with the Hardy situation – a situation that seemed to fit like a glove. The angle had been so heavily rumored in the wrestling media that, as a result, Christian’s return had been built up so much in their minds that the idea of their man coming back on the C-Show the week before a pay-per-view was not what his fans had hoped for or expected.

Much has been written about the ins and outs of the angle and whether or not WWE’s Creative Department made the right or wrong choice. A more interesting question for me is ‘How well Christian might do in his new role?’  To speculate on that, one needs to look back at his previous run with the company.

Getting Started

Born Jason Reso in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, the future-Christian grew up a wrestling fan.  They may not be biological brothers, but Jason Reso and Adam Copeland – the man who would become Edge – attended high school together. They also attended WrestleMania VI, where the future seven-time Tag Team Champions can be seen sitting in the eleventh row cheering on Hulk Hogan during his memorable main event against The Ultimate Warrior.

After Copeland turned pro (first by entering an essay writing competition which won him training from Ron Hutchinson and Sweet Daddy Siki) and began making waves on the Canadian independent circuit, Reso decided to follow in his schoolmate’s footsteps and was himself trained by Hutchinson, prior to his debut in June 1995.

On an early show, faced with choosing a ring-name Reso picked Christian Cage after two of his favourite actors Christian Slater and Nicolas Cage. Such quick-thinking spur of the moment decision making would define the rest of his career. Described as a ‘natural’ from the start, it was with Copeland  (then known as Sexton Hardcastle) that he would begin to make waves under the names ‘High Impact’ and ‘The Suicide Blondes’ getting some good reviews as they built up their experience, working independent promotions in Canada, the USA and Japan, winning gold in each country by capturing the Insane Championship Wrestling, Southern States Wrestling and New Tokyo Pro Wrestling Tag Team Titles. In what would later become an interesting trivia note, the two were part of THUG Life stable alongside the likes of All Star Wrestling regular Joe E. Legend (WWF’s Just Joe) and Rhino Richards (later Rhino in ECW/TNA and Rhyno in WWF/E).

When Copeland was invited for a tryout match with the WWF, Christian Cage came with him working as his opponent for the match. Suitably impressed by the match, Copeland was signed and not long thereafter repackaged as Edge. A few months later when the opportunity arose Edge was able to put in a good word for his high school chum and in 1998 Christian was invited to attend Dory Funk Jr.’s ‘Funkin’ Conservatory’. Cage was quickly signed to a WWF contract. It was here, that he started to build a cult following (particularly the growing Internet Wrestling Community) when prior to his WWF debut, Funk described him as the stand-out pupil in a class which included Edge, Val Venis, Test, A-Train, Christopher Daniels, Steve Corino and Kurt Angle.

1st Night Champion

Now known simply as ‘Christian’ his first appearance as a mysterious figure at ringside, provided the distraction that cost Edge his match to the late Owen Hart at In Your House: Breakdown. Later revealed as Edge’s ‘brother’, Christian was linked with Gangrel, then feuding with the future ‘Rated-R Superstar’. At the following month’s Judgment Day, Christian won the Lightheavyweight Title from TAKA Michinoku in his in-ring debut in what many considered to be the best wrestling match of the night. It was the first of many titles he would accumulate over the next decade.

After Edge decided to join them, they became known as The Brood, a trio of ‘Gothic Lifestylers’ best remembered for their entrance through a ring of fire (sadly they didn’t use Johnny Cash for their theme music). At the time, the silent, puffy-shirt clad Christian was regarded by some as the best worker of the team. His bumping and selling ability, complimented by a unique repertoire that included a rolling-suplex (think Eddie Guererro’s Three Amigos) into a gordbuster, a Dean Malenko-style fireman’s carry into a gutbuster, a Reverse Tornado DDT, and a frog splash motion into an elbow drop, I thought he was one of the most interesting undercarders in ‘The Big Two’ to watch.  He also had one of the coolest finishing moves in the business – The Impaler, his version of The Tomakaze, a move popularized by Tommy Rogers (of The Fantastics fame).

In storyline terms, Christian was indirectly responsible for the short-lived nature of The Brood’s affiliation with The Undertaker’s Ministry Of Darkness when Edge and Gangrel decided to rescue him from Taker who wanted to ‘punish’ him for telling Ken Shamrock the location of the kidnapped Stephanie McMahon. In terms of importance however he was clearly positioned as the third man (in interviews since then Gangrel has offered the opinion that Christian wanted to split up The Brood because he was always considered the “low man”). He was often relegated to standing at ringside and was the only member of the group not to get a spot in the 1999 Royal Rumble. With the trash-talking Attitude Era in full swing, Christian could have had all the wrestling ability in the world but as a wrestling-orientated light-heavyweight he seemed destined to under-card role, during which he would be used to put over other talents before inevitably leaving to join WCW to compete against the likes of Dean Malenko and Chris Jericho in their Cruiserweight Division.

Shortly before their split, The Brood began a rivalry with Matt and Jeff Hardy that would (eventually) elevate both teams and go on to be the most famous tag team feud of the era. On the June 13th 1999 edition of Sunday Night Heat all three of The Brood took on The Hardyz and their manager Michael P.S. Hayes in an Elimination Match (in which Edge suffered a chipped tooth). The match boiled down to Christian against all three opponents at which point he was able to pin Hayes, Jeff and (finally) Matt to win the match,  marking the first time the focus had been on the smallest of the Gothic threesome.

Following the split from Gangrel (who would initially align himself with The Hardy Boyz as ‘The New Brood’), Christian continued to enter stellar performances in teaming with Edge, versus teams like The New Age Outlaws, and singles, opposite the likes of Val Venis. However everything else was overshadowed by their on-going feud with The Hardyz in what came to be known as the Terri Invitational Tournament (TIT). These initials were credited (shockingly enough) to Vince Russo to describe a series of matches which culminated in the first Ladder Match in WWF history (there had been tag team ladder matches elsewhere, notably  Rob Van Dam and Sabu vs. The Eliminators in ECW) on 17th October, 1999 at No Mercy ’99 where the winners would get her managerial services.An insane stunt-show which helped move the focus from catchphrases back to tag team wrestling, getting both teams over in the process, the match (voted ‘Match Of The Year’ by the readers of British magazine PowerSlam) set new standards for innovation, featuring numerous innovative spots and a rapid pace with less of the lying around ‘selling’ that you get in a lot of multi-man Ladder Matches. In the process the match took the angle from being based around Terri, to a vehicle to establish four healthy and hungry young men and the next generation of tag team wrestling Stateside

Both teams have said that Edge and Christian were originally booked to win, according to Edge’s autobiography “Terri would be the mastermind” who would have double-crossed them the next night. In a typical Russo swerve they would then have been attacked at the bank by The Mean Street Posse when they went to cash in their winnings, setting up a feud between “the goths vs. the jocks”. When Russo left the company, plans were changed on the day of the pay-per-view and Vince told The Hardys they were going over because “they needed it more”. According to the Hardyz’ book Edge was disappointed with this turn of events. They might not have been had they known what would happen next…

“For the benefit of those of you with flash photography…”

Adding ECW veterans The Dudleys, and their tables, to the mix the three teams met at   WrestleMania 2000 in the first ever Triangle Tag Team Ladder Match. This time the booking was in their favour. According to Edge, WrestleMania was originally supposed to have marked the end of their partnership: “It had been decided that after ‘Mania, Jay and I would do our singles program. I would stay babyface and Jay would join forces with Terri to form an evil duo. Jay and I spoke up and said we didn’t want to do it, at least not yet. We were both concerned because we felt that we hadn’t touched the surface as a tag team.”Management listened and ironically, for two guys who had originally been given a non-speaking gimmick, it was their vocal skills that saved them as a team. “Jay and I had done some frustrated, heelishm and humouroous commentary leading into WrestleMania and I think it saved us as a team. Vince, or anyone else for that matter, didn’t know if we had it in us. He knew now, and he liked what he was hearing, The original plan was for The Hardys to take the titles and Jay to once again turn on me. Because our heel schtick striking a chord it was decided that we were going to go over and claim our first WWE Tag Team Championships!”. What was meant to be their final night together turned out to be the beginning of an era – ‘The Era Of Awesomeness’.

The bout itself was another cracker (voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated ‘2000 Match Of The Year’ and by the summer WWF decided to release a video called TLC (Tables, Ladders and Chairs) highlighting the three team feud. In order to promote this the three teams were paired together again for the first and, in my opinion, best Tables, Ladders and Chairs (TLC) at SummerSlam 2000. Featuring excitement from start to finish, plenty of big moves and insane bumps, a red-hot crowd in North Carolina, and three very over (and very different) teams at the height of their popularity and abilities, this proved to be not only the high point of their rivalry but one of the best spot-based match in U.S. wrestling history. Every person in the match was given their chance to shine and Christian was no exception. Once again he was on the winning team and for the second time in Y2K he once again in a U.S. ‘Match Of  The Year’ contender (winning him his second straight PowerSlam ‘2000 Match Of The Year’).

By the time WrestleMania X7 rolled around it was only fitting that the six men be given the chance to shine in one of the more high-profile matches on arguably the best (and easily the most financially successful) show of the entire Attitude Era, in TLC Part Two. Almost stealing the show again, this match featured yet more insane stunts not only from all three teams, but their respective sidekicks Lita, Rhyno and Little Spike Dudley. Given less time than the previous two matches, this felt slightly rushed as they delivered one spot after another with little time to absorb them. Whereas the original TLC could be seen as the logical culmination of nine months worth of feuding on-and-off, the build-up here was equally rushed with a series of quick title changes resulting in all three teams been thrown back again. That said, the match is still very good (in fact some regard it as the best of the series) with some really spectacular spots (even more so than the original) topped off by Edge’s mid-air spear (by far one of the most replayed moves in WWE history) en route to another E & C victory (and his second annual Pro Wrestling Illustrated ‘Match Of The Year’).

If Christian was a hit with both the casual and hardcore fans, then he was also getting praise behind the scenes.  When I think back on those matches I think of two things: Jeff Hardy’s dives and Christian’s bumping. It wasn’t just his big bumps in a spot driven environment that got praised either. One need only look at a handful of interviews on the subject or browse a forum to learn, many wrestlers on both sides of the Atlantic have called Christian, the “best bumper in the business.” Combined with his selling, facial expressions, aforementioned repertoire of cool-looking moves and an ability to connect with the crowd he was becoming the complete package – a wrestler respected by his peers and over with fans of both the casual and hardcore varieties. This respect went all the way up to the very top, as guys like Steve Austin, The Rock and Mick Foley were open in their praise for the blonde haired tag team. In a useless bit of wrestling trivia Christian was indirectly involved in the creation of Austin’s famous “What?” catchphrase which originated from a fifteen minute voicemail he left on the future ‘Captain Charisma’s mobile phone. Even in his prime as a full-time worker Austin was known for keeping his guard up around ‘the boys’ (and his ‘Don’t Trust Anyone’ motto onscreen and off) yet he always listed Edge and Christian (along with Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho) when talking about the future of the company. Upon his return to the WWF in 2002, even ‘The Immortal’ Hulk Hogan himself praised Christian and Edge as the two younger guys who were most welcoming to him (possibly because they both grew up Hulkamaniacs?). In fact, Christian seems to be one of the very, very few workers where seemingly noone has a bad thing to say about them. Perhaps, the only thing as impressive as his bumping and selling was his ability to avoid injuries, as Christian was nicknamed an ‘Iron Man’ due to his legendary four or five year run in which he didn’t miss a day off injured. Impressive enough for anyone who makes a living in such a dangerous environment but even more impressive for someone engaged in so many high-risk scenarios.

Such durability would prove to be a valuable asset throughout his run, like in May 2001 when Triple H famously suffered a torn quadriceps sidelining him for eight months at a time when The Rock was off in Hollywood. Worried about the impact this could have on ratings the WWF A third TLC match was rushed together at the literally last minute (see The Hardy Boyz and Edge’s books for accounts of the amount of notice they were given) for the 24th May, 2001 episode of SmackDown!. Adding Chris’ Benoit and Jericho to the mix, the so-called “forgotten TLC” was not-only the first Four-Way TLC, but also the first to air on free television and proved to be another cracking match which is apparently one of his partner Y2J’s favourites.

Outside of their involvement in the TLC-themed three way feud which dominated the tag team division, they were constantly facing new tag teams working with the likes of Road Dogg and X-Pac, 2 Cool, The APA, The Radicalz, Al Snow and Steve Blackman, The Big Bossman and Bull Buchanan, Eddie Guerrero and Chyna, Kurt Angle and Hardcore Holly, Test and Albert, The Brothers Of Destruction (Undertaker and Kane), Road Dogg and K-Kwik (R-Truth), and Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho in matches which normally ranged from above average to very good. Because they were over, E & C were occasionally allowed to mix it up with ‘The Big Boys’ like the September 4th, 2000 episode of Raw where they defeated the odd couple of The Rock and The Undertaker. The two teams went on to work a mini-feud that December during which The Rock proved more than willing to sell for the much smaller Christian.

Along the way, E & C (who were also known as Christian and Edge, at one point) captured the WWF Tag Team Titles a record breaking seven times, holding the belts for a combined 207. Fans couldn’t get enough of them, as in addition to their match-based awards they also voted them Tag Team Of Year in PowerSlam (2000) and The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (2000) – the first WWF tag team to win the latter since 1989 when The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) and only one WWE tag team has managed to do it since: Eddie and Chavo Guerrero in 2002 (a team Edge and Christian faced in a House Show reunion on 13th October, 2002). For the record, they were ‘First Runner-Up’ in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s 2000 Awards. Last but not least, they introduced us to the brutal ‘Con-Chair-To’ (double-chair shot to the head), originally at the expense of Dean Malenko –  a move brutal in its simplicity and impact. At their peak it is safe to say they were easily one of the most over heel teams the company has ever had.

Yet for all their accomplishments inside the ring, it is their promos and backstage skits that they are most fondly remembered (which is really saying something considering the quality of the above matches) to the extent that one fan said they were the only act they could even watch in front of people who hated wrestling because they were so funny. Their heel promos quickly became the stuff of legend, packed full of insider terms, references to current events and local sports teams. Transitioning from Goths to Surfer Dudes, ‘E & C’ (as they were nicknamed) let their goofy personalities shine through and established themselves the best comedy duo in WWF History. Although both were funny, Christian had the better comic timing of the two (e.g. Michael Cole: “Why would you put your titles on the line in a match like that?” Christian: “Why would you die your hair like a fourteen year old girl?”). From the time they ‘invented’ the run-in to their increasingly creative trademark pre-match ‘Five Second Poses’ the duo introduced wrestling fans to the concept of ‘Reeking of Awesomeness’. How about “fat Elvis” and “really fat Elvis”? Or the month-long angle when, having lost the Tag Team Titles to The Hardyz, they decided to resurrect one of the most infamous jobber gimmicks of the 80s by becoming Uno and Dos Los Conquistadors in a plan which would backfire on them in spectacular fashion? They might have peaked on Raw the night after their win in the original TLC Match at SummerSlam 2000 when they first decided to ‘recreate the match’ versus midget versions of The Dudley Boyz and  Hardy Boyz in the first ever Thirty Five Second Pose. An angle rivaled shortly thereafter when they used their ‘time machine’ to introduce us to The Hardy Boyz of the future (old people dressed up as Matt, Jeff and their associate Lita) on SmackDown! As usual,Christian was stole the show with one of his well-timed witty one-liners: “Well, Lita of the future time sure beat you down and dragged you through the mud”.

Backstage they formed a comedy partnership known as ‘Credgely’ (Christian, Edge and Mick Foley) which manifested itself on television with authority figure Foley acting as the high-school principal to E & C’s immature pranksters. The first skit with newly-appointed Commissioner Foley gave birth to the phrase “sodas rule” and from then on the three of them (four if you count Sarge, Foley’s cuddly dog toy who was an integral part of many of the skits) produced some of the most legitimately funny moments in WWF/E history as The Commish repeatedly outsmarted their master plans and saw through their excuses.

Onscreen, the opportunities for silly poses and comedic moments only increased added their real life friend (and traveling partner) Kurt Angle to the mix to form Team ECK. Who can forget Kurt’s chicken suit, The Jug Band, or Edge’s Birthday Party? The latter skit, involved ECK, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H (Mick Foley unsuccessfully campaigned get in) as Christian attempted to play wrestlers theme tunes on a kazoo. It would briefly become a running gag as part of his act. In early 2001, after Extreme Championship Wrestling went out of business, ECK were joined by the last World Champion of the original ECW, Copeland and Reso’s old chum Rhyno (Christian to Rhyno: “That was Gore-geous”).

Edge and Christian, who was nicknamed ‘The World’s Ugliest Pretty Boy’ by Angle, continued their partnership with the Olympian even after Kurt won the WWF Championship and solidified himself as a main eventer.  They weren’t The Four Horsemen but RECK were considered a big enough deal that the entire tournament portion of King of the Ring 2001 built to semi-final matches involving the foursome against each other. Christian was eliminated by Angle and had to watch as ‘older brother’ Edge went on to win the tournament…

The Other Half

Since as far back as 1999, it had been widely discussed that WWF saw Edge as a potential future headliner. By 2001, WWF were finally ready to pull the trigger on his singles push. They did this through a storyline in which Christian developed an ‘Inferiority Complex’ in relation to his pretend older brother’s singles success. To their credit WWF did a good job of delaying the inevitable heel turn, as Christian developed an obsession with Edge’s King Of  The Ring trophy, greedily snatching it from him during their ring entrance and carrying it if he were King. Things only got worse when Edge beat one of their old friends/mentors from the Canadian Indy scene, Lance Storm to win the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam 2001, in spite of Christian ‘accidentally’ spearing his partner towards the end of the bout. Meanwhile, Christian’s bad luck continued as he failed in his attempts to win both X-Pac’s Lightheavyweight Title and Matt Hardy’s European Title.

The ‘turn’ finally happened on the 3rd September, 2001 edition of Raw from the duo’s hometown of Toronto, Canada and turned out to be not only one of the best angles of year but one of the best heel turns of the decade. On that night, a frustrated Christian failed to defeat The Rock for the WCW Title. The match itself was memorable for two things: i.) The amount of offense Rocky was willing to give the former Tag Team Champ in his first World Title match; ii.) The rabid Canadian crowd which was solidly behind Christian. Later that night, Edge was on the receiving end of an attack from Storm after he had successfully defended the Intercontinental Title in a SummerSlam rematch. Making the ‘save’ was a chair-wielding Christian, who ended their partnership by destroying Edge with the aid of the King Of The Ring trophy and two steel chairs. He topped off the assault with a violent one-man ‘Con-Chair-To’ which was simultaneously violent in its execution and symbolic in demonstrating that he no longer needed Edge. As his new entrance theme proclaimed “at last” he was now on his own.

His rock opera theme tune was the wrestling equivalent of The Who or Queen, as images of the juxtaposed Comedy and Tragedy masks played on the Titantron and golden pyrotechnics rained down from above.  The whole entrance remains one of the best of the decade. In-ring the feud between Edge and Christian was originally supposed to stretch over three PPVs (with Christian winning the first two) culminating in Edge getting his revenge at Survivor Series. Christian drew first blood when he used a spear and a chair-assisted low-blow to win his first Intercontinental Title at Unforgiven 2001.

Their rematch was billed as a battle between ‘The Two Men Who Are The Masters Of The Ladder Match’ (thanks to Paul Heyman) but for me it also highlighted the fact they weren’t as good in this environment against each other as they are working together. It also led to a change in booking plans as once he found out their second PPV match had been announced as a Ladder Match, Edge fought to have it end their feud. He felt that as a babyface “if I were to get beat in a match with no rules, why would any fan want to see it again a third time?””. To Christian’s chagrin, the result was changed quite literally at the last minute and as Edge puts it, “On the day of the show, it was decided the feud between E&C was over and I would win my third I-C title” .In keeping with their feud the bout itself was less spectacular but more violent than the TLC matches, focusing more on  brutal but innovative moves, including lots of low-blows and some evil chair shots. In the end, Edge extracted appropriate revenge when he drilled Christian with a ‘Con-Chair-To’ from a top two strategically placed ladders sending Christian (and seemingly his career prospects) tumbling back to earth…

For fans of the (former) team, the biggest question was where would this leave Christian? When a successful tag team splits one member normally becomes more successful than the other (compare Shelton Benjamin to Charlie Haas as a recent example). At the time, Christian’s fans were worried he was going to end up as Jim Neidhart to Edge’s ‘Hitman’, Marty Jannetty to his ‘HBK’, Stevie Ray to his Booker T., Kronus to his Saturn. Many regarded him as the better promo. Others felt he was the better worker. Even those who regarded him as better in both categories felt he wasn’t tall or good looking enough to surpass his ‘brother’.

Instead the opposite almost happened. After losing a Steel Cage Match to Edge at UK-only PPV Rebellion in perhaps the best match of their series, the brothers were mostly kept apart and settled into respective roles with Edge in the upper-midcard and Christian further down the card. From the start many wrestling fans and journalists were of the opinion that Christian was the better worker of the two. For others (myself included) it wasn’t until they were split up that we realized just how much Christian contributed to the team.

Back in the day, guys like Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton and Steven Regal had the  reputation of being good ‘TV Workers’ – guys who could go out there and put on a good match every week on WCW Saturday Night or Worldwide on a consistent basis. Over the following months Christian showed that he too fit that mold. On the 1st November, 2001 (taped 22nd October, 2001) episode of SmackDown!, Christian won the European Title from Bradshaw. He went on to defend the belt against the likes of Hurricane Helms, Al Snow, Jeff Hardy, Scotty 2 Hotty, Rikishi and Tazz in a series of  matches that (much like his earlier Tag Team Title reigns) ranged from above average to very good before losing the belt to Diamond Dallas Page on the 31st January, 2002 SmackDown! in another good match. It was impressive how despite not having anything that resembled a proper storyline (other than his occasional partnership with Test) he managed to remain over and establish himself as one of the most consistent workers on the entire roster. Wrestling-wise he continued to improve and impress to the extent that, by early 2002, some ranked him as the fourth best worker in the company in terms of consistency behind only Austin, Angle, and Rock (Jericho in my opinion, had better matches but for years there was an argument over who was better between Jericho and Christian which seemed to peak in 2003-05). It was allegedly close to the opinion shared by those backstage.

If Christian was supposed to be the one to fade into obscurity, then someone forgot to tell the fans at the arena. I recently watched his match with Lo-Ki from this period and was reminded of the crowd reactions he got for his entrance. Even when, after losing the title, he embarked upon a losing streak gimmick (normally a sure sign of death) complete with post-match temper tantrums he was able to do his best to get it over as an undercard gimmick. Taking advantage of the 24/7 rules he won the Hardcore Championship from Molly Holly in a backstage segment at WrestleMania X8 but lost it to Maven before the show was over. It seemed no matter how little he was given to work with, Christian was able to get himself and his angles over.

Edge meanwhile seemed to struggle in his new role as a singles star. Despite being billed as a future main eventer (and having being considered that way by several of those inside the company for several years at this point), some good matches and comparatively high-profile programs with Test, William Regal and Booker T. it wasn’t until the ‘Brand Extension’ and his feud with Kurt Angle that Edge really came into his own as a singles star in terms of looking like a future headline act. Of course, Edge has improved immensely since then but at the time Christian looked more comfortable in the role and from October 2001 to around WrestleMania X8 it became something of a cliché for people to claim that WWE (as the company was now known) had “pushed the wrong partner”.

Following the original ‘Brand Extension’ on 25th March, 2002, Christian was used mainly as a ‘Tag Team Specialist’ (if such a thing still exists), a modern-day Bobby Eaton as he racked up further reigns with the Tag Team Titles, one with Lance Storm as part of The UnAmericans, and once with Chris Jericho.

In some ways he was the least important of The UnAmericans since Storm (and later William Regal) was portrayed as the leader of the group and Test was the muscle, yet it was the charismatic Christian’s mocking promos at the expense of the U.S. education system and bumping for guys like Hulk Hogan that were the highlight of their act. The partnership with Y2J was similar in that he was clearly positioned as the ‘lesser’ of the two, acting almost Jericho’s henchman in his feud with Shawn Michaels,  but he was able to make the most out of any angle he was put in (such as dressing up as Jericho to distract HBK at Royal Rumble 2003). Both teams had good matches against the odd-couple of Goldust and Booker T. and with Jericho he took part in TLC IV on the 7th October, 2002 Raw – a match that was named ‘Raw Match Of The Decade’ at the Raw X Anniversary Awards Show the following  January. Still, as good as these matches were it seemed he was set to play second fiddle for the rest of his career until he was paid a visit from an old friend… Tune in for next week’s exciting installment to find out whether it was peaks or troughs next? Now That’s What I Call Wrestling!

> PART 2

Carl ‘TheBigBoot’ Robinson

Additional Sources: Adam ‘Edge’ Copeland, Adam Copeland On Edge (2004), Matt and Jeff Hardy with Michael Krugman, Exist 2 Inspire (2003) and Kurt Angle and John Harper, It’s True, It’s True, HarperEntertainment:2001