The Mean 03.17.02: Christian

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “mark” enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smart” knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each week I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The Mean” between the two. This week, let’s take a look at Christian

Ok, stick with me for a sec and picture the following if you will

He was one half of an extremely popular tag team. Both team members had long hair. The decision was made to break them up because the WWF thought the other guy had great singles potential. No, I’m not talking about Marty Jannetty

He’s the “younger brother” of a more popular wrestler. He turned rulebreaker and attacked his “brother” to make a name for himself. He’s an excellent technical wrestler, but more known for his “crybaby” personality. No, I’m not talking about Owen Hart

He’s a blond-haired, smaller wrestler who is known for a weird sense of style and cool sense of humor. He throws temper tantrums and is an expert on breaking the rules. No, I’m not talking about Chris Jericho

You’ve probably figured out by now (if you read the title of the column before clicking the link) that I’m talking about Christian. Certainly all the above descriptions apply to him. However, will he end up the forgotten partner like Jannetty, a perennial but loved upper mid-carder like Hart, or an eventual World champion after years of work like Jericho? Let’s take a closer look

Christian, who at the beginning of his career was known as Christian Cage, started out on the independent circuit in his native Canada (recent comments on WWF TV by Tazz and others that Christian is from Florida are untrue, though he may live there now). Since just after his debut, Christian’s career has been closely linked with that of another young Canadian, Adam Copeland, better known today as Edge. Cage and Copeland (who was initially known as Sexton Hardcastle) carved out a niche for themselves as two of the top prospects of the mid-90s independent scene. They had a good knowledge of ring psychology that only served to enhance their great look, strong charisma, and powerful in-ring intensity. Anybody who saw them in action knew that Cage & Hardcastle would not remain a Canadian secret for long.

Somewhere around 1996 (possibly earlier), Cage & Hardcastle began splitting their time between Canada and more well-known Eastern United States independents like Pennsylvania Championship wrestling and the East Coast Wrestling Association. The two blond Canadians were put in a stable with the powerful Rhino Richards and the technically sound Joe E. Rule (Richards would eventually experience tremendous success in both ECW and the WWF first as Rhino then as Rhyno while Rule would have a brief WWF run as Just Joe). The quartet became known as “Thug Life” and Cage & Hardcastle nicknamed their team “Sex & Violence.” While it was Hardcastle’s flamboyant image that drew the team most of its attention, Cage was arguably far superior in the ring, combining tremendous high-flying moves with sound technical wrestling.

Not surprisingly, when the WWF came calling, it was Copeland/Hardcastle they were interested in. The two partners were both skilled wrestlers, but Copeland’s size gave him an advantage over Cage, and in addition, he had been given the chance to showcase his charisma in the American independents while Cage had played a quieter character. Copeland attended a WWF training camp in 1997, and by 1998, was called up to the primetime, newly renamed Edge, and given a new gothic image completely different than his previous flamboyant character. However, Edge had not forgotten his longtime friend and partner, and longtime watchers of the duo knew with him in the WWF, Cage could not be far behind.

To give his character more intrigue, in the summer of 1998, the WWF tied Edge with another WWF newcomer: Gangrel, formerly the USWA’s Vampire Warrior. Some sort of mysterious past was teased between the two gothic characters, though never fully revealed. Maybe because they simply couldn’t come up with an actual payoff for the Edge-Gangrel connection (this was during Vince Russo’s term as booker, and he was infamous for not finishing his elaborate ideas), or more likely because Edge wasn’t quite ready to be a bigtime singles wrestler yet, but the WWF wanted to keep him in the spotlight, the WWF brought in Cage and embroiled him in the angle. Now simply Christian, Cage debuted at Breakdown in September of 1998 coming out during Edge’s match with Owen Hart and distracting him costing him the match. Christian came out accompanied by Gangrel, and was outfitted in the exact same attire as Edge’s nemesis (a frilly white medieval shirt and dark blue tights with gothic symbols).

The WWF would further entangle the backstory, revealing that Christian and Edge were brothers, and that Christian had evidently at some point fallen in with Gangrel. However, before any sort of resolution could be given to the Edge/Gangrel/Christian mystery, Edge inexplicably joined up with his brother and rival, helping them to attack Kane on an edition of Raw. The three would form a trio known as The Brood and became known for their bizarre image as well as the “bloodbath,” a ritual in which the arena lights would shut off and the three would attack a wrestler under a strobe light and then disappear before the lights came on and the victim was covered with a “red substance.” Despite the fact that the Brood had been formed with no apparent explanation, and further that they seemed to waffle the line between face and heel by the week, they actually became quite popular, particularly with younger fans.

The WWF gave Christian a vote of confidence (though not much of one) by putting him over Taka Michinoku for the Lightheavyweight title in his debut match at Judgment Day in October 1998. The LHW title had been created a year earlier, but was rarely defended and was more a prop for Michinoku (until he fell out of favor with the WWF around the summer of 1998 for some reason) than anything else; nevertheless, it was a great match, and WWF fans were impressed with Christian from the start. But over the next few months, Christian would rarely defend his title, and it became evident the Brood was created to be a showcase for Edge, who primarily teamed with Gangrel in tag matches. Christian would merely accompany his allies to the ring and wrestle the occasional six-man matchup. Further de-emphasizing Christian’s role, the WWF had him drop the title to Duane Gill, a joke wrestler who had never won a match, with the help of the equally ridiculous Blue Meanie. The Brood dominated a brief feud with Gill, Meanie and their teammates in the JOB Squad (Al Snow, 2 Cold Scorpio, and Bob Holly), but then as 1998 became 1999, they were left without direction.

A direction came for the Brood early in 1999, though not one anybody really expected. The trio was decimated by members of The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness, an even darker group; later in the night, all three members of the Brood were revealed to have joined the Ministry without explanation. For the next few months leading up to Wrestlemania XV in March of 1999, the Brood served merely as henchmen for the Ministry. At Wrestlemania, none of the trio wrestled, although they got to be part of a spectacular visual stunt as they repelled from the ceiling of the arena on to the top of the Hell In a Cell cage that Undertaker was doing battle with Big Bossman within. After Undertaker dispatched of Bossman, the Brood let down cables so that their leader could “hang” his opponent. Though the aesthetics of the stunt were great, it was clear that the Brood could be doing much more.

Following Wrestlemania, the WWF did it’s usual spring cleaning, throwing out some old storylines and injecting the Federation with new blood. It was decided that the WWF would give Edge another push towards singles prominence, now that he had been seasoned for several months. The first order of business was breaking the Brood away from the Ministry of Darkness and turning them face. It was decided that Christian would be the focal point of the turn, although in the role of the victim so that Edge could play the hero. Following a match between Gangrel and Ministry rival Ken Shamrock, Shamrock hooked Christian in his trademark anklelock, causing Christian to give up the location of Stephanie McMahon, whom the Undertaker had kidnapped. The next week, Undertaker punished Christian, beating him brutally, and then placed him in a gross mismatch with the 500 pound Big Show. Finally, Edge & Gangrel decided that their kinship with Christian was more important than any allegiance to the Undertaker, and they saved their smallest member. The Brood was once again on their own.

At Backlash 1999, the Brood faced off against members of the Ministry in a six-man matchup and lost. The Ministry was being pushed into main event feuds with Steve Austin and The Rock, so the Brood was moved back down the card into the role of edgy mid-card faces. They worked a mini-angle with broadcaster Dok Hendrix, formerly eighties legend Michael Hayes of the Freebirds, in which Hendrix was interviewing the Brood, made some comments about their “gothic lifestyle” they didn’t appreciate, and received a bloodbath for his trouble. A couple weeks later, after the Brood had finished a tag match, Hendrix, once again Hayes, emerged from the dressing room, but he wasn’t alone; he had the Hardy Boyz, formerly a low level tag team, now with a new look (the first step to their current image), accompanying him, and the two trios flew into a brawl with one another. And so the feud that would define Edge & Christian as well as the Hardy Boyz began.

As spring turned to summer in the year 1999, the push to separate Edge from the pack continued. At King of the Ring, he and Christian lost a match to the Hardyz when Gangrel mistimed his interference. The match was the dawn of a new era of greatness for the WWF tag division, which had been hurting in quality (despite the popularity of teams like The New Age Outlaws) for nearly a decade. The plan initially was clearly to split Edge from both Gangrel and Christian, putting him on his own, but when the powers-that-be saw how impressive the Edge & Christian team (which had in reality been a team for years) was, they began to reconsider.

Edge did break off with Gangrel, and for several weeks, it was teased which side Christian would end up on, though most people naturally assumed he’d side with Gangrel, who wasn’t in line for any sort of singles push and could benefit from a tag team partner. But in Edge and Gangrel’s final grudge showdown (which took place on Raw, not at a pay-per-view), Christian turned on the vampiric heel and stood with his brother. Any sort of feud between the former Brood members was diluted, as after one Christian-Gangrel match, the retooled Hardy Boyz came out and attacked Edge & Christian, turned on Hayes, and aligned with Gangrel. It was the WWF’s plan to use the two exciting teams who also happened to have tremendous in-ring chemistry in a prolonged feud that would spark life into the tag team division.

As Edge & Christian became a prominent part of the WWF tag team division, the inevitable comparisons to the Rockers began. It was a comparison that the Hardyz were facing as well, and indeed a comparison that every successful tag team since the early ‘90s had endured. The Rockers were a popular, good-looking, high-flying team that wrestled in the AWA and WWF in the 80s and early 90s. When they were a team, there was really no way to distinguish Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty aside from their hair color; neither one was the clear “leader” of the team. Then, they split in 1991, and both became singles wrestlers. Michaels went on to become one of the most popular, successful, and respected (as far as in-ring skills go) wrestlers of the 90s, winning three WWF World titles, three Intercontinental titles, two Tag Team titles, a European title, having great feuds with Razor Ramon and Bret Hart, and forming the history-changing Degeneration X stable. Jannetty won one Intercontinental title and one Tag Team title before quietly fading into obscurity, save for a brief stint as a jobber in WCW towards the end of the century, and years on the independent scene. Not long after the Rockers broke up, so did the Hart Foundation, the WWF’s other big team at the time. Bret Hart went on to win five WWF World titles and two WCW World titles, in addition to countless other titles and accomplishments; Jim Neidhart never saw the spotlight again.

Once Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart went from “tag team specialists” to main-eventers, fans became more closely observant when it came to tag teams. If a team was remotely successful, fans would look to see who was the better of the two members, because now it was assumed that inevitably, the tag team wrestlers of today would be the singles superstars of tomorrow. One of the first predictions was that Scott Steiner would eclipse his brother Rick; it took nearly ten years, but he did do it. With the Smoking Gunns and the New Age Outlaws, Billy Gunn was always seen as the guy who would eventually break out, and lord knows the WWF has tried to see this one through. Booker T was the star of Harlem Heat, and eventually he became a World champion himself. Tag Teams no longer existed solely to be tag teams, they existed to be broken up in the end and serve as the breeding ground for World champions. Maybe the only two successful teams of the 90s to escape this scrutiny and not ever be considered for a breakup are the Nasty Boys and the Dudley Boys(z); the former because neither is particularly talented outside of brawling (though Brian Knobbs had a brief, unsuccessful singles career, it was only after Jerry Sags went down with a major injury), the latter because they truly are tag team specialists. With the Hardy Boyz, the high-flying Jeff has been pegged as the next Shawn Michaels for years while the quieter Matt has always been seen as the next Marty Jannetty; as of so far, neither prediction has fully come to pass (both have experienced moderate success as singles wrestlers, but nothing more). With Edge & Christian, it was no secret that Edge had been groomed from the start to be more than a tag team wrestler, while Christian was merely his accessory. It seemed pre-ordained that Christian would play the Marty Jannetty role in the end, but then nothing in the wrestling business is ever for sure.

Though Edge & Christian were tremendously popular due to their charisma and style, they took a back seat in the tag team division during their first few months teaming regularly in the WWF. During the summer and fall of 1999, the WWF Tag Team titles were used less to showcase the federation’s premier teams, and more as a prize in feuds between makeshift teams of singles wrestlers. First Kane & X-Pac, then the Undertaker & the Big Show, and finally the Rock & Mankind traded the belts.

After a mini-feud with the Acolytes in which Edge & Christian came out on top, coupled with the emergence of the Hardyz and the Holly Cousins, as well as the WWF debut of the Dudley Boyz, it looked like the fall of 1999 would house the re-emergence of true tag teams. Edge & Christian won number one contenders status and were set to face Tag Team champions Rock & Mankind then the unexpected occurred as the ultra-popular New Age Outlaws, Billy Gunn & the Road Dogg, both coming off failed singles pushes, reunited on an episode of Smackdown! and won the titles. At Unforgiven, the Outlaws defended against Edge & Christian, and won when the Hardyz interfered. The Outlaws were re-established as the WWF’s dominant team, and Edge & Christian were shunted back into the mid-card after months of buildup.

However, Edge & Christian’s loss was the fan’s gain, as their newly revitalized feud with the Hardyz would prove to be one of the best prolonged tag team feuds since the days of the Rock & Roll Express and Midnight Express. The two teams engaged in a best of five series set up in storyline by valet Terri Runnels, with the winner gaining her services (of course in actuality, this was just a clever way for the WWF to throw this awesome matchup on television week after week without fans complaining about repetition). Of course the series ended up going to a draw and the two teams settled it in a tag team Ladder match at No Mercy. If you haven’t seen the aforementioned ladder match, I highly recommend renting No Mercy ’99 (which also has a great HHH-Austin match and some other good stuff) as it was the template for all the TLC, etc. matches to follow. It put both teams on the map, and now fans, both marks and smarts, were clamoring for an end to the era of thrown together superstar teams, and a return to tag team wrestling.

Unfortunately for Edge & Christian, the team the fans were clamoring for the Tag Team titles to be put on was the Hardy Boyz. Up until this point, the Hardyz had merely been generic rivals for the charismatic blond Canadians, but after the No Mercy match, fans were getting more excited about the high-flying antics of the brothers Hardy than about the good looks of Edge & Christian. The focus of the WWF was moving away from sports entertainment and back towards pure wrestling to an extent (something that would be solidified with the arrivals of Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddy Guererro, Dean Malenko & Perry Saturn in the months to come), and while Edge & Christian were both excellent wrestlers in their own rights, the focus had been more on their (or rather Edge’s) character, while the Hardyz were a no-talk, all-action team which appealed to a new breed of fan. To salvage the futures of both teams for the time being, the WWF had them call a truce the night after No Mercy on Raw (during an interview in which they received a rare standing ovation from the WWF crowd for their work the night before) and had the Hardyz ditch Gangrel in favor of Terri, with both teams being firmly established as babyfaces and friends. The partnership was solidified as next month at Survivor Series, the two teams joined forces in a losing effort against the Holly Cousins & Too Cool.

Following Survivor Series, Edge & Christian quietly faded into the mid-card background once more, as the Hardyz were given a chance to shine. The Hardyz engaged in a hot feud with the Dudley Boyz, while Edge & Christian were relegated to matches with the likes of the Headbangers and Kaientai. But plans for Edge & Christian were still afoot, and the WWF was preparing to give the tag team division a shot in the arm with the Hardyz, Dudleyz & E &C as the centerpieces. Edge & Christian were maneuvered into the Hardyz-Dudleyz feud as they came out in defense of their friends after the Hardyz were injured in the storyline by a Dudley attack; Edge & Christian split a series of matches with the Dudleyz, taking their share of bumps and bruises along the way. When the Hardyz returned, evil owner HHH positioned the two teams against each other in singles matches to draw them away from the New Age Outlaws, HHH’s buddies who were still tag team champs as 2000 began. At No Way Out, the Dudleyz were scheduled to take on the Outlaws, while the Hardyz and E & C were placed in a match with one another by HHH, with the winners receiving a Wrestlemania XVI title shot.

The problem that the WWF was finding was two-fold. They were building up their tag team division around three teams: the Hardy Boyz, the Dudley Boyz, and Edge & Christian. The first problem was that even though Edge & Christian were talented wrestlers, their in-ring skills were not over to the level the high-flying exploits of the Hardyz or the sadistic power game of the Dudleyz were. The other problem was that the Hardyz were extremely popular and for some reason, the heinous Dudleyz were beginning to become hits with the crowd as well. With a Dudley face turn seemingly inevitable, the WWF would be left with two very over babyface teams, and one other team, Edge & Christian, completely overshadowed in personality. The decision was easy: Edge & Christian would turn heel to compensate for the Dudleyz and also to give them a personality with the fans. The only question was whether or not the blond “brothers” who had played fairly bland characters their entire WWF tenures could display the necessary charisma.

What the WWF was unsure about, fans of the Canadian and Northeast U.S. independent scenes already knew quite well: Edge & Christian could play damn fine heels. Within months, the WWF would learn that the duo played the bad guys so well, that it would be hard to keep the Tag titles away from them for any significant length of time. The slow burn to the E & C heel turn began at No Way Out 2000; the Hardyz former valet Terri (who had been injured by the Dudleyz), made her return and helped E & C to win the match. The next night on Raw, E & C denied any involvement with Terri, but the Hardyz were upset, and just as the WWF predicted, the fans sided with Matt & Jeff. This led into Wrestlemania, in which the three top teams in the WWF collided in the now-classic three-way ladder match. It was a spot fest that redefined daredevil wrestling as E & C, the Hardyz, and the Dudleyz inflicted unheard of pain upon one another with increasingly spectacular, but dangerous spots involving tables, ladders, chairs, and more. Ironically, even though they were hardly sitting around doing nothing, E & C probably took the fewest chances in the match, and yet they ended up winning; something which most fans (mark and smart alike) found annoying which is what the WWF was banking on.

The night after Edge & Christian won the Tag Team titles at Wrestlemania XVI, they did an interview on Raw in which they half-heartedly praised their opponents from the night before, drawing out both the Hardyz and Dudleyz. The promo was not a full blown heel declaration, but it was a little teaser of attitude. While the Hardyz got involved in the Hardcore division, and the Dudleyz turned face in a feud with Test & Albert, Edge & Christian took on hated Degenration X members X-Pac & Road Dogg. Because DX was so hated, the fans were clearly on E & C’s side, but the feud was more to settle them into the role of champions. Following a win over DX at Backlash 2000, E & C turned all the way heel in all their obnoxious glory.

Each town they went to, Edge & Christian would goof on local sports heroes and political figures, a tried and true method heels used to get “cheap heat;” but the difference between E & C and every other cheap heel was that their interviews were so hilarious that no critics seemed to care how cheap the heat was. Another stroke of genius was developing the “five second pose,” a freeze frame the duo would do each night before they wrestled insulting whatever city they were in. The posing gimmick led them to develop their characters to be pretty boy prima donnas who even went so far as to try and win the cover of Tiger Beat; it was priceless. The WWF hooked the duo up with another rising WWF star that excelled in cheap heat heel promos, Kurt Angle, and they had a phenomenon on their hands. Fans loved to hate Edge, Christian & Angle, and would even cheer their entrances in anticipation of what hilarious anecdote the trio would serve up about their own hometowns.

It was around this time, during the spring of 2000, more attentive fans were beginning to take notice of Christian, rather than simply the team of Edge & Christian. Though he had the superior look and was being pushed as the frontman of the team, Edge seemed somewhat squeamish at times on the microphone, whereas Christian seemed right at home. During most interviews, Christian would do the bulk of the work, flashing a hilarious fake smile and insulting the fans, while Edge would merely chime in with his “For the benefits of those of you with flash photography ” catchphrase at the end. It was eerily reminiscent of Billy Gunn & Road Dogg, the New Age Outlaws, but Edge & Christian both possessed more in-ring ability than either man. Though Christian couldn’t supplant Edge as the dominant member of the team, fans came to see the two as equals, rather than viewing Christian as some sort of sidekick.

The WWF attempted take the titles off of Edge & Christian by giving them to the extremely popular Too Cool in June of 2000, but the fans would have none of it. Fans seemed to genuinely love watching E & C as champs, using every dirty trick in the book to hold onto the belts; they didn’t fancy them as challengers chasing the gold. A brief feud with the Acolytes in the summer of 2000 was ideal, as the fans got what they wanted on all fronts as the APA was the perfect team to deliver a satisfying ass-kicking to the pompous champs, but not really care about taking home the titles. Following the Acolytes feud, Edge & Christian were moved back into the three-way feud with the Hardyz and Dudleyz in time for Summerslam. All three teams were so good, that the WWF knew they could always fall back on pitting them against one another in various formats and combinations.

Edge & Christian had a humorous series of backstage skits going with Commissioner Mick Foley (who became a friend and mentor to the duo in real life) that eventually led to him signing a TLC match (Tables, Ladders, and Chairs) for Summerslam. Impossible as it seemed, the three teams outdid themselves, putting on an even more physically grueling, dangerous, elaborate spot fest; and much to the fans’ simultaneous glee and chagrin, Edge & Christian again came out the winners.

Nearly a year after the match that had put both teams on the map, with the Dudleyz occupied with other matters, Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boyz were once again on a collision course, as it seemed the two teams were destined to feud eternally. This time though, the situation was different than ever before, as there was no mutual respect or pretense of friendship, and Edge & Christian were clearly the heels. The two teams put on another solid match, this time in a steel cage, at Unforgiven 2000, which saw the Hardyz regain the Tag Team titles. The Hardy reign would not last long however, as they were defeated at No Mercy by the Conquistadors, a team of masked Mexicans from the 80s who had never won a match; it was no surprise when the masked men were revealed to actually be Edge & Christian and the Hardyz won the belts back the next night on Raw. After nearly seven months uninterrupted with Edge & Christian as Tag Team champions, the WWF was pleased and ready to try something else if the fans would let them.

But the fans wouldn’t let them. Despite their tremendous popularity, the Hardy Boyz were a flop as champions with little to no crowd support. Even in mid-card feuds with teams like Road Dogg & K-Kwik, Edge & Christian were getting more heat than any other WWF team. The WWF relented to the fans’ wishes and at Armageddon, the final pay-per-view of 2000, put the titles back on E & C, having them go over champions The Goodfather & Bull Buchanan, as well as the Dudleyz, and Road Dogg & K-Kwik in a fourway match.

With Edge & Christian among the most successful and esteemed tag teams in WWF history, the inevitable question now came: when would they break up? Suddenly, in the eyes of fans, the bigger, more prominent Edge became the star of the team again as they re-evaluated the duo as potential singles wrestlers. But for the time being, they remained in the Tag Team title hunt. They dropped the titles in a great match at Royal Rumble 2001 to the Dudleyz, the only team in the WWF that even came close to their level of fan response. Once again the now legendary three-way feud was ignited, and TLC II featuring the Dudleyz, Hardyz, and Edge & Christian was set for Wrestlemania XVII. For the third time the three teams put on a match that outdid even its predecessor and for the third consecutive time, Edge & Christian came out as champions.

Little did Edge & Christian know, though they may have suspected it, that this, their seventh reign as WWF Tag Team champions, would be their last. They had a brush with the main event, teaming with Steve Austin & Triple H against The Undertaker, Kane, and their eternal rivals the Hardy Boyz. But this brush only served to set up a brutal title loss to Undertaker & Kane which, looking back, was quite a nail in the coffin of the E & C team. Surprisingly, the WWF gave Christian the first shot at being a singles star by placing him in a Triple Threat match with European champion Matt Hardy and Eddy Guererro at Backlash 2001. Christian didn’t win the match, but he kept up with both of his highly-skilled opponents, and sent a message to the WWF front office that he was no Marty Jannetty.

The decision was made that with the influx of talent from the collapses of WCW and ECW, there was enough mid-card talent to fill the tag team division, which would allow Edge, Christian, and eventually the Hardy Boyz, to have a shot as singles stars. The long, slow build to an Edge & Christian split began in the weeks leading up to the 2001 King of the Ring. Jeff Hardy won the Lightheavyweight title from Jerry Lynn, and with Matt already holding the European title, both Hardyz had singles titles, which made Edge & Christian extremely jealous. Both men sought individual glory and decided the way to go about getting it would be to win the King of the Ring tournament the only problem was that only one of them could win. They cut a great series of paranoid promos leading up to the pay-per-view, and both ended up making it to the semi-finals.

The other two participants in the semi-finals were, ironically enough, old E & C buddy Kurt Angle, and even older ally and recent WWF acquisition Rhyno (formerly Rhino Richards). Edge defeated Rhyno in his match, and the crowd assumed that an Edge-Christian final was preordained. But Angle ended up defeating Christian when Shane McMahon, who was facing Angle in a non-tournament street fight later, interfered to give Angle the win, ensuring he’d wrestle two matches before theirs. Later, Shane again interfered in Angle’s final match and gave the tournament victory to Edge, as an envious Christian offered flimsy congratulations.

Jealousy between the “brothers” seemed to come and go, as some weeks Christian would be obsessed with Edge’s tournament trophy and demand to carry it himself, and others they would get along fine (in all fairness to the WWF, the E & C split was slowed down in order not to draw attention away from the WCW/ECW Invasion angle, and the WWF wanted Edge & Christian intact as a team at the angle’s outset). Here, comparisons to the legendary split between Bret & Owen Hart began to appear.

In one of wrestling’s greatest feuds, longtime babyface Owen Hart snapped on his older and more successful brother Bret leading to a series of great interviews and matches throughout 1994. There were many reasons the Hart brothers feud was such a tremendous hit. First and foremost of course was that the brothers were both excellent wrestlers capable of having great matches with one another. But more than that, it was a different era in wrestling, and fans possessed the patience to sit through subtle buildup, preferring that to rushed, sloppy angles. The seeds of Owen’s jealousy were planted in the fall of 1993, and a split was teased several times before it finally occurred in the winter of 1994. A reluctant Bret did not initially want to face his brother, and only did so after a vicious assault by Owen. As you’ll see in the paragraphs to come, the Edge & Christian split would imitate the Hart brothers split in many ways, but did not have the emotionally-charge feel of the former. Part of this is because the type of split the WWF was going for (and rightfully so) takes a kind of patience that is hard for today’s wrestling fan to have with two weekly shows and one pay-per-view a month. Another factor is that Edge & Christian are not really brothers, and this is part of why Christian could probably never deliver a resentful, jealous interview on Owen Hart’s level. As much as Owen loved Bret in real life, there had to have been some deep-seeded jealousy somewhere, and Owen ran with this, in the process making himself a legend.

As the Invasion rolled forward, the Edge-Christian tensions faded into the background as Edge entered into a feud with Intercontinental champion Lance Storm. Christian still wrestled the occasional singles match, and he & Edge did challenge for the WWF Tag Team titles once, but for the most part it was back to playing the sidekick for Christian. However, now he was not content to be merely the sidekick; he had experienced as much success as Edge up until King of the Ring, and ached for respect. The announcers overplayed the impending breakup at times, making it too obvious, but for the most part, Edge & Christian at the very least were handling it pretty well in interviews from their end, with Christian playing the jealous brother who refused to admit his jealousy and Edge remaining aloof.

The breakup occurred after three months of build in early September of 2001. After Christian had “helped” Edge defeat Storm for the Intercontinental title at Summerslam (Christian accidentally speared Edge, but then afterwards inadvertently distracted Storm), he expected his “brother” to return the favor, and was disappointed when he failed to do so, causing Christian to drop a series of matches, including a shot at the European title against Matt Hardy. The final straw came at an edition of Raw in Canada, where Christian all but explicitly asked Edge to interfere in his WCW World title match with the Rock. Christian actually held his own against Rock, and things were going his way, but when the tide turned back in the champion’s favor, Christian looked to the entry way expecting to see Edge and instead saw nothing, allowing Rock to finish him off. Distraught, Christian made his way backstage where his “brother” attempted to console him and explained that he wanted to let him achieve things on his own. The apology did not go over well, as later that night, after Edge had defeated Storm in a return match, Christian entered the ring and brutally assaulted his “brother” with a steel chair; the split was at last complete.

At Smackdown following his split with Edge, Christian delivered a fantastic heel interview that established that he could clearly exist on his own, while at the same time showing that it would be hard to find feuds for either “brother” once they were done with each other. They worked a solid match at Unforgiven 2001 which saw Christian win the IC title in an upset using a low blow. For no apparent reason other than need for manpower, Christian joined the WCW/ECW Alliance later in the month (which was a big speed bump for the individual heel heat he was building). A ladder match between Edge and Christian was signed for No Mercy 2001 and expectations were high.

The words “Edge,” “Christian,” and “ladder” had connotations of greatness carried along with them when used in tandem. Even the WWF announcers insisted on playing up the history of the “brothers’” involvement in so many great ladder matches, at times moreso than the “brother vs brother” feud itself. Unfortunately, everybody failed to take into account that it was the high-flying style of the Hardyz or the brutality of the Dudleyz being held in check by Edge & Christian that made the TLC series a classic. The match Edge & Christian put on at No Mercy, in which Edge regained the Intercontinental title, was a very good match, but before it even began it was obvious it could not possible live up to what was expected of it.

The Edge & Christian split wasn’t exactly a disaster, but it wasn’t the resounding success the WWF had hoped for. One thing that hurt it was that Edge & Christian aren’t brothers in real life, they’re just longtime friends who have worked together for years. Normally, this wouldn’t hurt the feud as the breakup of a successful longtime tag team should be in itself enough to power a feud, but the WWF chose to play up the “jealous younger brother, unaware older brother” angle, which Edge & Christian were unable to fully pull off. Having had most of their success on the mic with comedic interviews, placing E & C in such a classic dramatic setup was no doubt a mistake. The attention span of today’s wrestling audience also hurt the angle. As mentioned before, there is far more wrestling on television now than there was in 1994 (the peak of the Hart brothers feud), and to build an angle slowly would require basically taking the participants off television one night a week, something the WWF would not and should not want to do with two of its top young talents. The WCW/ECW Alliance angle also hit this feud hard; first, overshadowing its beginning, and later engulfing the feud and lessening the personal conflict.

The WWF lost one of its top teams by splitting up Edge & Christian, and Edge has yet to emerge as the World title contender the WWF had hoped for (though he may still), but the one consolation in the whole deal is that there was no Marty Jannetty in this case (poor Marty, a decent worker who will forever have his name associated with “the guy who didn’t make it” ah well, them’s breaks). Christian has proven to be a talented and successful mid-card singles wrestler in his own right. After his feud with Edge concluded, Christian snagged the European title in a non-televised match with Bradshaw and held onto the title for three months. During his reign as champion, Christian was one of the most over heels in the company. In terms of balancing character with wrestling ability, he was one of the best.

This should have been enough for the WWF, to let Christian grow on his own, but with Edge’s star floundering, and Christian seemingly money in the bank, the WWF moved to salvage at least part of the E & C breakup. Feeling Christian was on the cusp of greatness but was lacking something that prevented him from breaking the main event (be it size or something else), the WWF decided to saddle him with a familiar gimmick. In 1998, struggling mid-card WCW cruiserweight Chris Jericho reinvented himself as a whining, over-the-top egomaniac who would often use loopholes in the rulebook to hold onto first the WCW Cruiserweight, and later the WCW Television title. The character was hilarious hit, and Jericho parlayed his notoriety into a successful jump to the WWF where he played both a heel and face. He won just about every title in the WWF (missed that darn Light-heavyweight strap) and made history in December of 2001 by unifying the WWF and WCW World titles for the first time.

Christian was given Jericho’s old “whining” gimmick, but not in nearly the complex form Jericho was. The beauty of Jericho circa 1998 was not just in the gimmick, but also in his ability to pull it off. He would be so cool and cocky that the minute he became unnerved, the fans would leap to their feet in excitement. Christian, though talented, does not have anywhere near the acting ability of Jericho; he excels more with one-liners than with subtlety. When Christian throws an in-ring “temper tantrum,” it is blunt and without build, rendering it more annoying than entertaining. He has also not been given the interview time Jericho’s character had to build up a persona and comes off as flat and one-dimensional.

Still, despite the current disappointing state of his character, Christian has been extremely successful for the perceived “weaker link” of a tag team. Given time and the right kind of push, he could remain one of the WWF’s upper midcard heels for quite some time. He will probably never reach Jericho’s level of success or achieve Owen’s level of success, but he has not become another Jannetty or Jim Neidhart. Let’s take a closer look

THE MARK: Christian appeals to mark the crowd through his mic work. His appearance is different when it comes to his attire, which is good, but he doesn’t have an impressive, eye-catching build and still looks a lot like a smaller Edge. His in-ring work, while solid, is not show stealing. However, much like Kurt Angle, you give Christian a microphone and he can have the audience eating out of his hand. He is a master of cheap heat and one-liners. He’s much better off playing the heel because it allows him to display more character. Christian has developed a reputation among mark fans at this point and gets a good initial heel reaction (which has to be at least partially credited to his unique entrance music and pyro). He has become a recognized name among marks, which is something he was never expected to do.

THE SMART: When it comes to the tastes of internet fans, Christian falls into the vast “he’s pretty good” category. He’s well liked and rarely bashed, but not many internet are actively campaigning for him to receive anything more than he currently is in the way of a push. All aspects of his work are good enough not to draw criticism, but only when he participates in something really spectacular does he draw significant praise from the online community. Most smart fans see Christian is eons better than a Billy Gunn or Big Show, but nowhere near as deserving of a push as a Chris Benoit or Eddy Guererro. Smarts think Christian is just right where he is, firmly entrenched in a solid spot in the upper mid-card.

And finally

THE MEAN: Any fan who has followed Christian’s career for a long time knows he always had the tools to make it big, but he had to prove that to a lot of doubting WWF executives. He has had a lot of lucky breaks, mostly revolving around Edge’s failure to make it as a singles star, which brought him to the WWF, placed him in a highly successful tag team, and gave him life as a singles competitor. Had Edge succeeded more quickly, Christian would probably be exactly where Gangrel is right now, shoved to the side and discarded. The big stumbling block for Christian in breaking out of the mid-card ranks and into the main event is a gentleman by the name of Chris Jericho, who does not appear intent on disappearing anytime soon. Christian’s current character and even his look and in-ring style are too similar to Jericho, and Jericho does it all just a bit better, not to mention the advantage of already being well-established as a main eventer at this point. Were Jericho not around there would be a niche Christian would be perfect to fill at the top of the WWF, but just as Edge’s lack of success has helped Christian to an extent, Jericho’s success has indirectly hurt his career.

No matter where he goes next, Christian has etched out a fairly solid place for himself in the WWF mid-card where he should be a successful heel for quite some time barring unforeseen events. This is not a small accomplishment for a former tag team member who was at first simply viewed as an enhancement for his partner. Edge & Christian have played a far more important in the history of tag team wrestling than many people are aware; though there are those who don’t favor either one as a singles wrestler and want the team reunited, there is no denying that few teams have been able to split and produce two wrestlers who remain fairly over and retain their usefulness. If we were to examine Christian’s place on the three person hierarchy mentioned at the beginning of this column, he is scores above Marty Jannetty, nowhere near Chris Jericho, and lacks the respect Owen Hart garnered, but has achieved enough not place him too far below the youngest Hart brother. Who knows whether in the future Christian is the next Jericho, or whether he could still be the next Jannetty.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.