If not for a bad break, literally, the professional wrestling world and its fans may never have been treated to the legendary aerials and antics of Canadian friends and wrestling partners Edge and Christian.
That break came in the form of a broken shoulder suffered by a young Jay Reso. And while he didn’t yet know it, that injury set the young Ontarian on a collision course with destiny.
“At the time I was living in Grand Valley, Ontario, which is a really, really small town,” Reso, better known by his Christian moniker, said in a telephone interview promoting his return to Toronto this weekend as part of an NXT afterparty that also features the WWE’s Miz.
It started on a Friday night not unlike many before it, Reso recalled when asked how he came to fall in love with pro wrestling.
“Do you remember when people used to go public skating?” he asked the reporter, whom replied he did. “We were public skating. Kids would race the length of the ice or the width of the ice and we were in a race and I hit a groove in the ice and I ended up losing my balance and I (crashed) head-first into the boards. I ended up breaking my shoulder.”
Little did he know then but crash landings would play a pretty significant role in the future of the then fourth-grader.
“The break was so high up in my shoulder at the time that (doctors) couldn’t even put a cast on it,” Reso recalled. Grand Valley was so small that it had no hospital. The injured young Reso was taken to nearby Orangeville (more on that town later) to be treated.
“They put me in this thing they called a super sling, it was like this sleeve that covered my entire arm and it basically strapped my arm to my body so it was immobilized so it could heal,” he said.
Doctors’ inability to place his shoulder in a cast meant Reso was assigned to rest. Lots of it, in fact. “I couldn’t risk getting nudged or knocked or anything like that so they wouldn’t even let me go to school,” he said. “I was stuck in the house for like eight weeks. I had to have my schoolwork sent home to me and that sort of thing.”
Alas, there was a silver lining in this tale of pre-teen torture. While watching TV during his recovery, the bedridden and broken young boy happened across something on the tube that instantly captured his attention – and imagination.
“On the weekends when my brothers would be out playing with the other kids in the neighbourhood or going to hockey games, I was stuck in the house, I couldn’t leave. One day, I was flipping through the channels and I happened to flip the channel onto wrestling. I had never seen it before; I didn’t know what it was.”
It was, clichéd as it sounds, love at first sight.
“I was hooked instantly,” Reso reflected, adding that he watched the Buffalo feed at noon that day, then stumbled on a local broadcast immediately after. “From that moment, I was hooked on wrestling.”
His memory wandering back to that painful but life-changing period, Reso even recalled the first memorable moment wrestling provided him with.
“One of my earliest memories was watching Ken Patera and Big John Studd cut Andre The Giant’s hair,” he said. “That was the first thing that had a serious effect on me emotionally. I was just moping around the house all day. I couldn’t believe they did this to Andre The Giant. I remember talking to my parents about it, how upset I was. How could they do this to Andre? That was the first emotional investment I ever had in it.”
While Reso’s broken shoulder healed, his love affair for all things wrestling only deepened. His love ran so deep, in fact, that it began to impact other things in his life, specifically his burgeoning ice hockey career. His family eventually left Grand Valley for nearby and aforementioned Orangeville, where Reso began playing Canada’s national pastime.
“I was on a travelling team in Orangeville,” he said, referring to what is now called rep hockey. “We used to play every Saturday and a lot of times it was early evening or afternoon games, which meant that if we were travelling, I was going to miss wrestling.”
Reso wanted nothing to do with that.
“I remember telling my parents, ‘Hey, I don’t think I can be on the travelling team, I think I might have to just play house league.’ ” he recounted. “And they were like ‘Why?’ I was like ‘Well, I can’t miss wrestling and if it means that I’m travelling and I’m going to miss wrestling, I’d rather just not do it.’ ”
That was some serious devotion.
“My parents were kind of taken aback that I was taking wrestling this seriously,” Reso said. But, like any great parents, they came up with a compromise. “They actually bought a VCR and promised me that they would set the timer and tape all the wrestling so I could watch it when I got home from playing hockey so I wouldn’t miss anything.” And thus he did not quit the travelling team.
And while it was a broken shoulder that set Reso on his path with destiny, it was a ninja star that would all but seal his fate. Yes, a ninja star. Like, from the movies.
After moving to Orangeville near the end of sixth grade, the young Reso had to make all new friends, an experience that can be very traumatic for even the most outgoing of youngsters.
Reso struggled to make friends, that is, until a trip to visit family in the United States proved a game-changer.
“My younger brother actually thought he was a ninja at the time,” Reso said. “He was taking karate lessons and he was really into the ninja magazines and stuff like that. My father is originally from the U.S., from outside of Philadelphia, and we had some family friends we were down there visiting one time for a holiday.”
While there, one of the youngsters Reso encountered was in possession of four or five ninja stars, he said, and offered one up to Reso and his siblings.
“That’s how I ended up with it,” Reso explained.
Back in Orangeville, Reso took his shiny, sharp gift to school to impress his fellow students, hopeful that it could generate some new friendships, if not command a little respect.
“I brought it to school with me, which probably wasn’t a smart idea,” Reso conceded. “I didn’t know anybody and I was just by myself throwing this star into trees and people were coming over (and asking) ‘What is that?’ I’d let people throw it and stuff like that and realized that people thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
So he took things a step further.
“Then I was like, ‘Well, you know, I’m going to sell it,’” he recalled. “And next thing you know, I had a bidding war on my hands with all these people who wanted to buy this ninja throwing star and I realized I was becoming popular because of it. I was inviting people over to my house to throw it after school.”
One of the bidders was a lanky schoolmate by the name of Adam Copeland.
“Adam was one of the higher bidders on it,” Reso said. “He really wanted it.”
Fearing that the sale of his popular but pointy play thing might spell doom for any impending friendships, Reso took his star off the market, instead offering it up freely to those who wished to use it, under his supervision, a.k.a. friendship.
Clearly two peas in a pod even in those days, and drawn to danger even then apparently, Copeland became a regular ninja star user, and thus, Reso’s friend.
“We ended up in the same class together in seventh grade and we realized that we were both wrestling fans and we started talking about wrestling a lot. That’s kind of how our friendship actually started.”
The ninja star talk turned to shooting star press chatter. By high school, the duo would often find themselves hanging out and fantasizing about their future wrestling careers.
“We very much wanted to be wrestlers,” Reso recounted. “We would sit around the house and in the backyard in summertime, just talking about wrestling and how we were going to be a tag team. We would come up with tag team names. Adam is a pretty good artist and he would draw us as a tag team in different tag team outfits. We already had it all mapped out.”
But the wrestling nuts and now best friends weren’t content to simply fantasize. They yearned for more. Much more.
As fortune would have it, the duo caught wind that Big Bear Wrestling, a promotion run by wrestler Dave (Bearman) McKigney that featured the likes of Angelo Mosca Jr., Crazy Chris Colt and Gentle Ben the Wrestling Bear, was coming through town.
“We realized that one of the promoters was a local guy who owned a local motel so we found out where it was and went down there and just badgered the guy, you know, ‘Hey, how can we help or whatever?’ Finally, we annoyed him enough to where he was like, ‘OK, well just show up at the arena.’ ”
That’s precisely what they did.
“We showed up and he let us help set up the ring, carry in chairs, carry in the corner posts and the ropes and all of that stuff,” Reso recalled. “We set up the ringside chairs and all of that sort of thing.” As a thank you, the promoter let the duo pick out some seats for the show. They, naturally, snagged some front-row seats.
It was on that night that the wrestling world got its first – albeit impromptu – glimpse of the antics of the friends who would later become known as Edge and Christian.
“At one point in the intermission, I don’t know what it was, we never planned it, we never said anything to each other, we just kind of looked at each other, gave each other a nod and we both got up and we jumped into the ring,” Reso said, reliving the moment. “We did some spot and I can’t even remember exactly what it was. I think I might have taken a clothesline and did something and then might have come off with an ax handle or something, but the crowd actually reacted. They cheered. That was our first ever exposure to having some sort of crowd reaction.”
Oddly, the duo wasn’t even thrown out of the building for their antics.
“For whatever reason, (security) didn’t throw us out. They just sat us back in our chairs and basically said if you get up again, you’re out,” Reso recalled, surprise still evident in his voice decades later. “We sat there for the rest of the show, but we got the taste of getting in the ring in front of a crowd. We talked about it for weeks and weeks. ‘Yeah, we have to do this.’ We were kind of set at that point that some way, we were going to make it.”
Making it began when Copeland famously entered and won a contest put on by famed Canadian trainers Ron (Thundermask) Hutchison and Sweet Daddy Siki, whose wrestling school in Toronto would go on to churn out a who’s who of household wrestling names. The contest required an essay explaining why entrants thought they deserved to be trained at the famed school, which was held at Sully’s boxing club in Toronto. Copeland’s prose scored him the training, setting the stage for the eventual formation of one of Canada’s greatest tag teams.
Fortunately for Reso, his contest-winning best bud had the training locked up, but he didn’t have a means of getting there.
“He didn’t have a car so myself and another friend of ours, Nick Cvjetkovich (who would later become Kizarny in WWE, but now goes by Sinn Bodhi), we actually drove down with him for his first day to give him a ride. We kind of set out with him.”
Reso would often drive his friend to training sessions or independent shows, soaking it all in and preparing himself for his own training, which he knew would happen one day.
“I was watching these guys train and picking little things up here and there even though I didn’t really realize it until I started training,” Reso said. That would come about a year later, when Reso took some of his education loan to pay for his apprenticeship into wrestling.
“(Adam and I) ended up going to Humber College and I took a portion of the student loan that I was supposed to use for rent and for food and I paid for my wrestling training with that. So I ate a lot of potatoes and Kraft Dinner that semester,” Reso added with a laugh.
By that time, Hutchison was the lone trainer at Sully’s and, having watched the young Reso accompany his friend to training, soaking it all in, knew that the day would come when Reso would seek training of his own. Hutchison quickly imparted advice and motivation on Reso that he would carry throughout his career.
“The first meeting I had with Ron, one-on-one, we sat down in the office and he kept saying ‘I know you always come with Adam, this is something that you’ve been wanting to do, so this is the deal, this is how much it’s going to cost you,’ and then he looked me up and down and he was straight and completely honest with me — and to this day it was probably the first lesson and probably one of the best that I’ve ever learned – and he said, ‘This is the cost, it’s a tough business, you’re probably not going to make it. Do you still want to do this?’ And I said, ‘Of course, 100%.’ He gave me the motivation right off the bat that I needed. That kick in the butt like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a challenge and that challenge starts right now.”
Hutchison not only ushered Copeland and Reso into the WWE, he helped many others fulfill their wrestling dreams, including Trish Stratus, Gail Kim and Tiger Ali Singh to name some. Hutchison was tough, but fair, Reso said.
“He was like a drill sergeant,” he said. “He was just honest, brutally honest. If he was there just to take your money and just kind of show and go through the motions, that’s one thing, but he told me from Day 1, ‘You might be ready in six months, you might be ready in a year, but you’re not going to wrestle on a show until I tell you you’re ready. What it boils down to is I don’t care if you embarrass yourself, but you’re not going to embarrass me,’ ” Reso said of his mentor.
Reso recalled one particularly tough Hutchison training session.
“There was this one freezing winter morning at (Lamport Stadium),” Reso recounted. “It was freezing. He was like, ‘Guys, don’t even take your stuff off. I don’t even know if you’re going to get in the ring today, you’ve got a lot of work to do, go run the stadium two times and then come back and we’ll start.’”
Reso continued. “We’re like, ‘Man.’ So we go down the stairs and we go out and we figured that if we walked the stadium and then when we were within eyeshot of the gym, we’d jog it and then when we went out of eyeshot, we’d just walk it again,” he said, adding the group thought it was too smart for Hutchison.
“So, we were on our walk, we were on the other side of the stadium, then all of sudden we hear ‘Guys!’ We look over and Ron is in his car, he’d decided we were taking too long so he was going to come out and find us. And he’s like, ‘I said run, now do it four times.’ And he followed us the rest of the way in the car as we were running it. So we had to run it four times. And then we went up and we trained for that day.”
It may seem harsh, but it was the best preparation an athlete could get, Reso said. “He was being brutally honest and instilling the fact that there wasn’t any room for laziness in this occupation if you really wanted to go places.”
Armed with Hutchison’s training and work ethic, and motivated by his best friend’s rise to the WWE, Reso was signed by World Wrestling Entertainment in 1998 and was assigned to its developmental system. Before the year was out, Reso and Copeland were united again, as “brothers” in The Brood, a Lost Boys-like trio of vampire-inspired characters that also featured David (Gangrel) Heath.
To this day, The Brood, which lasted less than a year, remains popular among fans.
“With The Brood, it was cool because it had the music, it had the different look and at the time reality-based characters were really starting to take the forefront as opposed to the cartoon character stuff that you’d seen in the past,” Reso recalled. “We were already into the Attitude era. It was kind of a gimmick, but it was a cool gimmick. It wasn’t corny. It was very much like a Lost Boys-type feel, with the music, with the entrance, the fire, the spitting of the blood, the three kind of weird guys.”
The Brood, Reso said, was a perfect way to break into WWE for him.
“It was a really cool way to kind of come in an be introduced into something, especially something that was being established, rather than just showing up randomly as this guy on Sunday Night Heat hoping to try to get over. It was really a good jump start. And also to work with Dave Heath, who’d been a veteran who’d been around a long time, to be able to be around him a lot and then with Adam and I being lifelong friends, it just made that transition easier and it helped get our feet wet and start getting the experience that we needed to move forward.”
By then, WWE was in the midst of its most commercially successful and wildly popular era in history, now known as the “Attitude Era.” Reso and Copeland were competing for TV time and roster spots with some of the most popular and famous pro wrestlers in history. Because of that, they had to be cutting edge. An innovative and entertaining series of matches against fellow tag team The Hardy Boyz would change the lives of all of those involved … forever.
“Edge and Christian against the Hardys, that really started off as live event matches,” Reso said. “We were paired at live events, did a couple of matches on Sunday Night Heat and we were doing stuff that nobody had seen before and having these great matches.”
The foursome came up with the idea of a best-of-seven series of matches.
“It was the first time we’d kind of pitched something on our own. We came up with this idea to showcase ourselves. We were like, ‘The worst they’re going to say is no.’ We pitched it and they went with it.”
Each match was entertaining, unique and each better than the previous. It culminated with a career-altering, even industry-altering, ladder match at No Mercy in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1999, with the managerial services of Terri Runnels on the line.
“We were all fans of the Shawn Michaels-Razor Ramon ladder match so we wanted to do kind of a new spin on that with tag teams. It was like lightning in a bottle that night,” Reso understated. “Matt Hardy said, at one point, that that took us from being WWE wrestlers to WWE superstars. It changed the course of all of our careers that night. It was huge.”
The tag team ladder matches became a staple of that era, with the famed Dudley Boys joining Edge and Christian and the Hardys in taking tag team wrestling in WWE to new heights, literally and figuratively, in popularity.
Without that best-of-seven series, Reso said, the careers of those four wrestlers might have been much different.
“It was such a stacked card,” he said. “You had guys like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Triple H, Undertaker — in their primes at the top of the card — and you just weren’t getting anywhere near that. It was, ‘How do we stand out and how do we carve a niche, how do we get on the show every single week in a highlighted segment?’ This was it. We kind of created it for ourselves and made it so good that they couldn’t deny it. They had to put (us) out there.”
The Attitude Era featured sex, violence and plenty of anything-goes wrestling. It was brash, it was bold, it was in your face and while it was an advertiser’s nightmare at times, it was a wrestling fan’s dream. And it was, with its tables, ladders, chairs and hardcore style, at times dangerous.
“There were some close calls,” Reso answered when asked if he’d ever come close to serious injury or worse during those fabled matches. “There was one in Houston in a ladder match at the Astrodome. I can’t remember who I was on top of the ladder with, but the ladder was being tipped over and I remember when the ladder was getting tipped, I was like, ‘OK, I think either I’m going to go all the way over the ropes and land on my feet on the floor or I’m going to end up straddling the ropes, either way it’s not going to be good.’”
In hindsight, either of those would have been preferrable landings to what ensued, Reso said. “As I was going, I was trying to get myself set to go over feet first, the ladder kicked and my feet went out from under me and I remember going over the ropes flat back. I went all the way from the top of that ladder in the middle of the ring to the floor and I landed on my back on the floor, flat. Luckily there was nothing there — there wasn’t a ladder, there wasn’t something there that could’ve done some serious damage — but I ended up landing flat.”
Lying there, motionless and gasping for breath, Reso recalled the panic of that moment. “It scared me more than anything because I remember laying there for a second … it knocked the wind out of me really bad — but then I remember moving an arm, moving my leg and being like, ‘Thank God. OK, dodged a bullet there.’ The room for error is very, very small, but that was one instance I remember kind of escaping something pretty serious.”
Injuries would plague all of the men featured in those dangerous and destructive matches as their careers moved on, with Copeland even being forced to retire prematurely at age 37 in 2011. While Reso admits that ladder matches weren’t conducive to healthy living, he refuses to blame them for the injuries that plagued him later in his career.
“I think a lot of it is age, also,” he said. “It’s like any athlete, as they get older, you don’t see them doing the same things, or they compensate, or they become a little bit wily and they figure out other ways to make things work and get the reactions that you’re looking for that don’t necessarily have to be physical. In Edge’s case, obviously it took years off with the neck injuries and I’m sure that they did for him. For me, mine didn’t happen until later and I think especially with the things that had happened, with my torn pec and my shoulder, those things were (as much) wear and tear.”
Injuries aside, Reso said he wouldn’t change one thing about his rise to prominence in those days. “At the time, that’s what we all felt we needed to do to get noticed.”
At the height of their popularity, with a lifetime of memories and their childhood dreams fulfilled, Reso and Copeland broke up the proverbial band in 2001, deciding it was time to take a run as individuals. In singles, Copeland would cement his place in the WWE Hall of Fame, going on to become the face of the company before his injured neck forced his early retirement. Reso, meanwhile, compiled his own legendary career, winning multiple singles championships, including two runs as the WWE World Heavyweight champion and four runs as the Intercontinental champion, among other things.
But it wasn’t easy, at least at first, Reso said. “It’s about reinventing yourself and staying relevant and fresh when there’s original programming every single week. There’s no off-season. I think for me, it was a tough transition at first.”
Add to that the fact that the run was coming on the heels of a wildly successful ride in the tag team picture, and it was a very tough transition.
“It’s something we both wanted to happen,” Reso said of the solo runs. “Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the team, but it was also one of those things where we didn’t want to get stale as a team. We’d rather cut that off early and have people say, ‘Man, I’d love to see these guys together one more time’ than go too far with it and have them be like, ‘OK, we’ve seen that before.’ ”
The learning curve was steep, Reso recalled.
“We didn’t know where either of us would end up,” he admitted. “It was a tough transition because when you think like a tag wrestler, it’s tough. It’s different structuring in the match and character-wise, you were always playing off somebody else and now you’re just out there by yourself and trying to figure out how to get that connection with the audience on your own. It took me a little while to find some traction there, but I got there eventually.”
After feuding against one another, the lifelong friends were separated, both enjoying various degrees of success in the ensuing years. Injuries and a short-lived run as “Captain Charisma” soured the solo wrestling life for Reso, whose contract expired with WWE in 2005. He did the seemingly unthinkable by signing with rival Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, where he would spend the next few years.
“When I left WWE in 2005, I made a decision to step away and move on for a little bit, with every intention of going back (to WWE) when the time was right,” he said. “That was a conscious decision because I felt like I’d kind of hit a wall. (I told myself) at some point, I’m going to have to bet on myself. And that means that I’m going to have to step away, get out of (the WWE’s) face for a little bit, go do something else and when the time’s right, come back, be fresh, be new and be more experienced and be a little bit older and be better. So that’s what I did. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to bet on yourself sometimes. And I came back and things went pretty well when I came back.”
The decision, which Reso agreed was “definitely scary,” paid off as Reso returned “home” to WWE in 2009 to be part of its renewed ECW brand. He would win the ECW title, later another WWE World Heavyweight title and enjoy mainstream exposure, but injuries would begin to define Reso’s storied career as the years, and matches, mounted. Reso competed in his final match in January 2014, closing the books on what is undoubtedly a hall of fame career.
And make no mistake, he said, his wrestling career is over.
“There are other things going on, with The Edge and Christian Show on the WWE Network and stuff like that,” he said. “And I’m going to be 43. I never really wanted to be one of these guys who hung on too long either. It’s a pretty safe bet that it’s done,” he said, later reassuring the reporter that he’s wrestled his last match.
Their lives — and later their careers — inextricably linked, Reso and Copeland have been reunited time and again for WWE appearances over the years, the latest of which was their wildly popular and highly entertaining Edge and Christian Show.
“We had a lot of fun doing it,” Reso said of the WWE Network show, which he confirmed is in talks for a second season. “When the opportunity was presented to us, it was one of those things where we just really wanted to make fun of ourselves and make fun of everybody. I think it was the type of show the network hadn’t seen before, something more on the lighter side. There was a lot of magazine-type shows, pulling the curtain back, sit-down interview type of shows, which are all great, but we thought we would be on the opposite end of the spectrum and kind of push the envelope a little bit and see what we could kind of get away with. The way we looked at it was, ‘We’re going to make fun of a lot of people here, but we’re going to make fun of ourselves more than anybody.’ ”
As the show evolved, the inner children in Copeland and Reso (remember those aspiring wrestlers who jumped into the ring for never apparent reason that night in Orangeville? Yeah, those guys) emerged.
“It’s fun. Everybody who comes on, we’d just tell them, ‘Look, just have fun.’ We do a lot of ad libbing, a lot of stuff off the cuff, so it’s a very light script, which makes things more fun and come off more naturally. With Adam and I, our goal a lot of times was to see if we could get the other guy to crack, just to see if we could make each other laugh.”
Laughter, fun and off-the-cuff antics also happen to be the staples at Reso’s next public appearance, a homecoming of sorts, as he and WWE star The Miz host an NXT afterparty in Toronto following NXT Takeover: Toronto, on Saturday night.
Reso, who doesn’t make public appearances in his home town often these days, could not be more excited.
“It should be cool,” he said of the exclusive meet and greet, with limited tickets available. “When (fans are) done watching a great NXT show at the (Air Canada Centre), walk across the street to Real Sports and come hang out, talk about the show, talk about whatever you want, talk to The Miz and I. Maybe we can all just make fun of The Miz for a couple of hours,” Reso half quipped. “That’d probably be a lot more fun. We can turn it into the roast of The Miz.”
The event, aptly entitled The Party That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness, an homage to Edge and Christian and Miz’s catchphrases, takes place at Real Sports Bar and Grill. The opportunity for time with fans is rare, according to Reso. “It’s cool to talk to the fans and get some one-on-one time and shake hands, sign autographs, take some pictures and have conversations with people. It’s more interactive and it’ll be a lot of fun.”
It holds extra meaning given that it’s in Toronto. “I literally trained five, 10 minutes down the road, wrestled at the SkyDome, wrestled at the Air Canada Centre. To be able to talk to some fans and people who have kind of joined me on this journey all the way through my career, and just talk to them and hang out, it’s a pretty cool thing. Especially in your hometown.”
Heck, fans might even get better than a five-second pose, Reso said of the phrase made famous alongside Copeland during their WWE run. “They might get a 10-second pose.”
His wrestling career behind him, Reso revealed that he has a number of projects in the works, including some big ones that he hopes to be able to announce in the new year. And while fans may never again see Captain Charisma in action again, Reso takes pride in knowing he literally left it all inside the ring during his career, something he was taught from the very beginning.
“I think that my mindset was, and this is another thing that was instilled in me with Ron, was that it doesn’t matter if there’s 10 people in the crowd or 10,000 people in the crowd, you give them a show. So every time I walked through that curtain my goal was to give the people their money’s worth and hopefully they got that every time they saw me perform.”
For Reso’s fans, and wrestling fans, Reso’s unlikely break that fateful day at public skating sure proved a lucky break for them.
The Party That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness
When: Saturday, Nov. 19, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Where: Real Sports Bar and Grill, 15 York St., Toronto.
Featuring: WWE superstar The Miz and WWE legend and Toronto native Christian.
Tickets and information Here