Serendipity sometimes works in funny ways. One of those arcane machinations is to lose something in order to get something else – that which is not necessarily better, but certainly always different. Jay-Z calls it losing some to win some. Some have to give way for others to realize their opportunities.
In 2011, then-World Heavyweight Champion and now-WWE Hall of Famer Edge found out soon after WrestleMania 27 that his once-broken neck and spine were in peril from all the toil, wear, and tear it has taken from all his years of wrestling. Edge had to give up the Big Gold Belt just as he was scheduled to take on challenger Alberto del Rio, and instead of just handing the title to del Rio (which would’ve actually hurt del Rio, who was already unpopular-in-a-bad-way at the time, even more) Edge’s best friend Christian stepped in his place to compete in a ladder match for the championship at Extreme Rules.
This is that match, and the reason why I’m talking about it today is because not only is it a damn fine match – it might just be del Rio’s best so far – today is the two-year anniversary of Christian’s first-ever World Heavyweight Championship victory.
Never mind the fact that he lost it only days later to Randy Orton on an episode of SmackDown!; what’s more important is the fact that Christian was made to win it in the first place, and that’s always a good sign. If the company trusts you to win it once, it will eventually trust you again – provided you do your job well – to win it a second time, a third time, and so on. Or, at the very least, they trust you enough to put you in contention. (Just ask Jack Swagger.)
This match cannot exhibit any clearer the difference between a young upstart and a grizzled veteran, even though the final minutes which lead to the victory are based on an entirely different and simple concept altogether. Even if you’re not familiar with Christian, the commentators do their job and tell you that the man has years of experience in matches with ladders, which will make clear the disadvantage Alberto del Rio has in this bout.
And you will see this discrepancy materialize. Watch what happens when del Rio does silly things such as inexplicably storing Christian under the ring, or sets up a ladder between the ring apron and the announce table. Watch as Christian, ever the intelligent ring general, always finds a way to reverse any offensive attempt on him involving a ladder. But also take note that both men get pretty creative with the ladders, which is uncommon nowadays given that the match type has been in existence for more than a decade. (My favorite sequence in there is where Christian positions the ladder noticeably off-center from the title in order to bait del Rio, so that he would be in line to eventually send the latter flying over the top rope and into the ladder he set up between the ring and the announce table. Whew. That was a mouthful.)
The only problem I saw was Edge’s interference directly leading into the finish. I would’ve liked to see his involvement only balancing off Brodus Clay’s (who was pre-Funkasaurus and the perfect bodyguard for del Rio) then having a more creative finish involving the two actual contenders. The WWE seemed to imply there that Christian could not win a World championship without the help of his better-decorated (ergo, better) best friend.
Little did we know then that that would only be the tip of the iceberg for Christian’s reign at the top. But all that is moot, as the result was as feel-good a moment as we have gotten recently.
In fact, the world would not care about a title victory as much until CM Punk defeated John Cena months later in Chicago, and then Daniel Bryan stealing the same World Heavyweight Championship later that December. Moments like those would come few and far between, even more so now, because the WWE would much rather force its own ideas of fate and destiny – ideas which the audience often tends to reject because of their rawness, rushedness, and half-bakedness – instead of patiently cultivating characters who traverse such a natural path over time and experience. A character like Christian, who had been waiting and working all his life for this moment.
Had Alberto del Rio won this match, he would’ve been booed, and not in the way heels would like to be booed, although it would very much sound like that. He would’ve been booed because the true destiny that should’ve been fulfilled that night – and was fulfilled that night – was Christian’s, who had finally come face-to-face with his own destiny, who knew he needn’t have boasted about it to the world. Destiny is when the stars truly align perfectly in the sky and point the way to gold.