The Adam Copeland experience in AEW is both a sprint and a victory lap. It’s a concentrated effort to quality, creatively fulfilling work with his best friend. Edge and Christian can rest on their WWE laurels, but Copeland and Christian Cage are about to cook.
Copeland made his All Elite Wrestling debut at AEW WrestleDream in Seattle on Sunday to oppose Cage and his pupils. The video of Copeland’s debut drew nearly 7 million combined views on Twitter and YouTube in the first 24 hours. The familiar notes of Alter Bridge’s “Metalingus” not only signaled Copeland’s arrival but also his final rally. He wrestled his final match for WWE in August where many thought he would walk away from the ring for good.
But professional wrestling retirements rarely stick. Still, Copeland is fairly confident that his run with AEW will be his last as a full-time performer.
“I think that’s a very safe thing to say because I know how much work it’s going to take to be able to pull it off,” Copeland told CBS Sports. “I know that. I’m not in any way trying to fool myself into thinking I’m just going to trot through this whole thing.
“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. I enjoy hard work. I always have. It’s how I’m wired. It’s what I was born with. It’s in my DNA. So that’s super fun. But I’m also a realist and I understand that I’m not going to be able to maintain it for a super long time.”
Copeland wrestled his last WWE match on Aug. 18 in a first-time encounter with Sheamus. The match took place on an episode of SmackDown in front of Copeland’s family and his billed hometown Toronto crowd. Copeland teased retirement at the time, saying, “I don’t think I can make it another full run to get here again for a match” but also suggested a new “main residence,” fuelling speculation of a move to AEW. Copeland insists that he genuinely grappled with the idea of retiring after his last match.
“As I got closer to the end of the deal, retirement was a very, very real option. It was not off the table…” Copeland said. “I really sat with the idea of retirement because I truly thought like, ‘Man, WWE gave me that night. I don’t know how that gets topped.’ And that’s still in my brain.
“But I guess now it’s like, ‘OK, how can I try and top it in this new environment.’ Honestly, that Toronto show was a send-off of that character and it was the perfect way for that character to go out. Wrestling a guy that I’ve never wrestled that I always wanted to. It was just so much fun in there. That night, I’ll never forget it. I’ll always have that night with me. I told Sheamus that too. That will be one of the most special nights in my career, always.”
It’s easy to become jaded when you’ve achieved everything that Copeland has: 11 world championships, two Royal Rumble wins, King of the Ring, Money in the Bank and a WWE Hall of Fame ring to accompany dozens of other titles. There were two things — secondary to the support from his family — that pushed Copeland over the edge to get back in the ring: a lifelong friendship and a creative palette cleanse.
“If we could end this together, that’s the dream,” Copeland said of working with Cage, real name Jay Reso. “I sat down with my girls and I’m like, ‘OK, so what does dad do, girls?’ What do I do? And I laid out the scenarios for them. Lyric said it and then Ruby agreed, ‘Go be with Uncle Jay and have fun.’ And that doesn’t mean that I’m not having fun in other places, but they know the most fun I’m going to have is with my best friend of the last 40 years.”
Speculation ran rampant for months that Copeland would join AEW, but he says the deal came together less than two weeks before his debut. Copeland’s wife, fellow WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix, was another key player in his decision to make the switch.
“It wasn’t until my contract was up on [Sept. 21]. It wasn’t until then,” Copeland said. “So it was really, really quick to get everything done and get everything dialed in. Figuring out so many things like getting with Alter Bridge and getting the music and doing all of those things. There were nine or 10 days.
“I didn’t know immediately, but I thought that’s where I wanted to go. I really thought that working with Jay again was what I wanted to do and how I pictured it in a perfect world. Beth said, ‘What’s your perfect world? ‘I was like, ‘My perfect world is that I end my career with Jay.’ So suddenly that perfect world looked like it could be there. It’s tough to pass that up.”
Copeland was forced to retire in 2011 due to severe issues stemming from past neck injuries. Cage retired in 2014 due to concussion issues. Both wrestlers made remarkable comebacks and are still performing at an elite level weeks from age 50. The lifelong friends have had uniquely entwined careers even when they were apart. Cage is arguably doing some of the best work of his career as TNT champion. Copeland certainly noticed that while suffering from writer’s block in WWE.
“I kind of got the sense there wasn’t really a plan [for me in WWE]. I get it because what else do we do? What else is there to do? And after 25 years I’ve literally done everything there. So what do we do? It wasn’t anybody’s fault,” Copeland said. “I was coming up against creative walls too. I was having a hard time coming up with ideas and that’s not usually the case. I think they were too.
“There was also the conundrum that I was contracted for 10 matches a year. I offered to do more, but to their point, it wouldn’t feel quite as special, which I understood too… It just felt like neither one of us really had any ideas and that’s never been the case before. So when you look at that and then I look at my best friend over there having the time of his life, at a certain point, once I thought, ‘You know what, I still have a window here where I can do this and I don’t feel like I’m maximizing that.’ I think that was really what it boiled down to.
AEW president Tony Khan revealed at the WrestleDream post-show press conference that Copeland would be appearing in a regular capacity for the promotion. Copeland will appear on Wednesday’s episode of “AEW Dynamite” and Saturday’s “AEW Collision” ahead of his first official AEW match on Oct. 10. Copeland is keenly aware the clock is ticking and he isn’t shying from it.
“I want to try and maximize what I still have left,” Copeland said. “If that’s one year, if that’s two years, I want to do it as much as I can while I still feel like I can. I know that’s going to be hard and I know that’s going to take a lot of work physically. I know there’s a different fallout now, but I know all of those things and I really just want to weigh the glory of this thing as much as I can.”