(CBSNY/CBS Local) -- WWE kicked off the road to WrestleMania in a massive way by bringing back one of the biggest Superstars in the history of the company. Edge, an 11-time champion, shocked the pro wrestling world by entering the Royal Rumble in the 21st position.
If sound could physically blow the roof off of an arena, the collective roar generated by the announced record-setting crowd of 42,715 at Minute Maid Park would have sent it into kingdom come.
Although the return had been the subject of persistent rumors leading up to the event, his presence was no less shocking. Even in the "never say never" world of wrestling, a return to the ring seemed so far out of reach given the serious medical issues that forced him into an early retirement. Doctors diagnosed him with spinal stenosis and performed triple fusion neck surgery in 2011, bringing his in-ring career to a close at the age of 37 — or so they thought.
For years Edge remained sidelined as other injury-plagued Superstars forced into early retirement found their way back into the squared circle. Cries for the return of the Rated-R Superstar intensified after Daniel Bryan emotionally clawed his way back. But Edge was quick to shoot down any suggestion that a return would be in his future. Instead, his appearances were limited to a comedy show for the WWE Network and a handful of specials on Raw and SmackDown. Never was there anything physical.
But that changed last August when he surprisingly speared Elias at SummerSlam. Even still he staunchly maintained his wrestling days were behind him. And he remained dormant for the next five months until the clock struck zero at the Royal Rumble and the first chords of his unmistakable entrance music sent the crowd in Houston into a frenzy.
On this day, WWE had one chance to get it right. And they nailed it, save a production snafu that caused the television audience to miss his first spear in nearly a decade. He decimated everyone in the ring and was made to look every bit the dominant force he was before retirement.
Here is where WWE deserves immense credit. Rather than put Edge into a program with a less established talent in hopes of bolstering their standing, the decision was made to pair him with former tag team partner Randy Orton with whom he won a World Tag Team Championship as one-half of Rated RKO.
It was a decision that led to one of the most memorable moments on WWE television in years.
A coveted reunion was teased during the Rumble match and again the following night on Raw. Their second meeting was slow-played to perfection as Edge poured his heart out on the microphone, becoming increasingly emotional about the return that had eluded him for so long. He was basking in the moment and relishing the chants of encouragement reigning down from the crowd.
As the speech continued, Orton's music hit, bringing the heartfelt moment to a close temporarily. After slowly making his way to the ring, Orton said he was there to welcome his former partner back into the WWE fold. The Viper grinned ear to ear and reminisced fondly about their moments in the sun together more than a decade ago. Then he proposed the idea of rekindling their dominant mega team and run roughshod over the Raw tag team division. Although unspoken, the WWE Hall of Famer seemed to be excited by the prospect of putting the band back together despite Orton's attempted double cross one night earlier.
Orton told Edge that he was like a brother to him and that he was the one person whom he could always count on to get him out of the holes he dug for himself during his immature early years in the wrestling business. The men hugged, signaling that the reunion was going to happen to the delight of the frenzied live crowd.
And then it happened.
An RKO out of nowhere and subsequent chair shot to the back left his former partner laying. Edge appeared vulnerable and played up the risks of returning from a severe neck injury. His body shook as Orton wrestled with the demons driving him to violently attack his confidant.
Orton placed Edge's neck inside the steel chair and climbed the ropes. He was fighting the impulse to come crashing down on the steel and smash the surgically repaired neck. He agonized over the decision for seemingly forever before climbing down, removing the chair and exiting the ring.
But as he was leaving, impulses got the better of him again. Edge, meanwhile, was still selling the attack magnificently and playing to fans' genuine concern that he was injured.
Unable to control himself, Orton tossed two chairs into the ring. He placed Edge's head on top of one and hauled back with the other and smashed it down on skull and cold steel to close the show.
After the show faded to black, WWE issued a storyline update on their website that was crafted to further blur the lines between reality and sports entertainment.
"Edge has been taken to a local medical facility following an attack by Randy Orton at the conclusion of Raw," the statement read.
Instantly, this became a main-event-worthy match at WrestleMania. Whatever other contests are on the card, this one will be the one that evokes the most emotion and reignites the interest of long-lapsed fans.
Indeed, WWE had one chance to get this right. And they didn't just nail it, they delivered a masterpiece.
NEWS & NOTES
Adam "Edge" Copeland appears to be back in WWE for the long-haul. His new deal is for three years and worth $3 million per year, according to The Wrestling Observer. Perhaps due to his previous injury and current age, the deal is believed to be for a limited number of matches but a decent number of television appearances.
After receiving medical clearance last summer, Copeland also reportedly entered into contract negotiations with AEW which offered him the same $3 million salary, per The Observer. WWE then matched the offer and brought him back into the fold.
Former Women's Champion Paige, who was also forced into retirement by a similar injury, tweeted that Edge's return "gives people hope."
The other headlining matches at WrestleMania this year will be Brock Lesnar vs. Royal Rumble winner Drew McIntyre, which is locked in. Also appearing likely is Universal Champion Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns. On the women's side of the roster, it appears NXT talents will be featured prominently. Raw Women's Champion Becky Lynch is penciled in to face Shayna Baszler while Charlotte Flair is expected to use her Royal Rumble victory to challenge Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women's Championship, according to Dave Meltzer. You had to figure NXT would get a prominent place on the card given the brand's battle with All Elite Wrestling which recent signed a multi-year extension on its television deal and has been dominant in the ratings.
Manuel "Andrade" Oropeza, the current United States Champion, has been suspended for 30 days following a violation of WWE's Talent Wellness Policy. It is his first infraction.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.
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