I had my column completely written and ready to submit to my editors last night when I happened across a recap of Kobe Bryant’s incredible 81-point outburst during the Lakers-Raptors game on Sunday. I had to fire my laptop up and start typing again, because I knew Bryant was about to come under fire from some corners, and it immediately made me think of the Edge’s ascent to become WWE champion. And if you give me another paragraph or two, I’ll even explain why.
I’m not a Kobe fan, simply because he seems like a selfish guy, one who would rather be the big fish in a small pond than, say, co-exist with Shaq and keep on winning as the second fiddle. I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw he took 46 shots — more than one a minute, which is pretty incredible when you stop to think about it — en route to his historic night. I’m also smart enough to know that he isn’t surrounded by a whole lot of talent right now, so there are going to be times when he has to take matters into his own hands. Granted, Sunday was a pretty extreme example, and you can’t help but feel like Kobe prefers it this way. That’s all irrelevant though, because the name of the game in the NBA or any pro sport is winning, and if that means scoring two-thirds of your team’s points, so be it.
Edge isn’t the Kobe of the WWE in terms of talent, but if you believe that the ends justify the means, he’s your guy. Yes, he’s been around for a while and seems like he’s paid his dues. He’s definitely overcome some adversity, especially with his rotten luck concerning injuries. His first world title shot probably would have come a while ago had he stayed healthy the whole time. He came tantalizingly close on a number of occasions, rising up the card and shaking off any thoughts of being typecast as a tag team wrestler. In some ways, a WWE title reign seems like it was a long time coming. You can’t question the effort and perseverance it took to get Edge in position to wear the gold.
But now that he is on top, you can’t escape the fact that Edge took advantage of an alleged “real life” situation to get his big break. I won’t use this space to discuss that situation, especially without all of the facts, but suffice it to say that Edge isn’t getting all those boos on Monday nights just because he plays the arrogant heel role so well. Enough WWE fans believe that something happened between Edge and Lita to justify disliking him, and he’s played on that perception all the way to the bank, if you’ll excuse the pun. Some of those same people would criticize him for taking advantage of an angle that hits so close to home. I’m not one of them.
A wrestler’s shelf life as a top attraction is short, and Edge’s injury history undoubtedly helps him understand that point even more than most of his colleagues. You can’t pick and choose when or under what circumstances your shot may come, and you have to be ready for it if and when it does. I’m fairly certain that when Adam Copeland imagined this chapter of his life, he wouldn’t have chosen for his personal life to play any part in his main event status. I’m just as sure that he’s okay with how things have turned out now that his time has come.
As fans, we’d all prefer that all of our champions were stories like Chris Benoit was a few years ago at WrestleMania: a guy who worked hard for years, didn’t rock the boat too much, wasn’t (as far as we knew) likely to be doing tons of backstage politicking and finally got rewarded for his effort. The reality is that our champs come in all flavors, and it’s hard to find one that doesn’t have something unsavory on his record at some point. My current favorite Shawn Michaels is a great example — a wrestler who seems to be doing things the “right way” now, but you sure didn’t get that impression of him back in the days of the Kliq.
The WWE, never one to shy away from an angle on moral grounds, seems to understand what it has in Edge, and it’s hard to argue with the decision to put the gold on him, at least in the early going. Raw has been lacking a heel with serious heat since Triple H was at his peak, and Edge has that in abundance. In just two weeks, he’s already helped out John Cena immensely, saving him from a floundering feud with Kurt Angle that featured mixed reactions for both men, never something the WWE likes to see. Conventional wisdom says that WrestleMania works best when a face challenger is chasing a heel champion, so keeping the gold on Edge seems like a wise move.
I’m not trying to convince anyone to support Edge. I personally find the circus surrounding his teaming with Lita a little distasteful, and I’m not a huge fan of his in-ring work. I also think the fact that his much-hyped live sex celebration a few weeks ago was the highest-rated segment on Raw in years is a sad commentary on why we watch wrestling, but that’s a column for another time. What I am trying to do is avoid rushing to judgment, and trying to keep in mind that many of us would do whatever it took to get to the top. Life, like wrestling, often requires us to use any means necessary to achieve our goals.
Unlike basketball, wrestling isn’t a team sport, but the ultimate goal is the same: to be the champion. Kobe has to keep taking his shots, and Edge has to keep doing his thing. Like Jay-Z said back on his first CD, you can’t knock the hustle.