The first fully nude woman I saw on film was Kate Winslet. As a child, Titanic was my favorite film. My family owned it on VHS and it was long enough to take up two tapes. Most of my interest in the film came in the second half–the suspense of having to escape a ship sinking into the Atlantic Ocean. But on that first tape, you had Kate Winslet in the nude. As a child, all I got out of that scene was the mischievous glee of seeing the forbidden “boobs.”

Actual arousal didn’t come to me until I was around seven or eight years old when I watched the horror film Jason X. Being a Friday the 13th film, two teenagers sneak away from their responsibilities to have sex. Watching that scene was the first time I experienced what Lois Lowry’s The Giver describes as “stirrings.” And without dystopian suppressants, those continued into my early adolescence.

So when ten-year-old me was flipping through the channels and heard the phrase “live sex celebration” float out into the ether, I dedicated my attention to it. A sleazy man with long blonde hair stood atop a stage with a lovely redhead on his arm. On the other arm, a gaudy piece of gold dotted with diamonds, looking far more like a plastic toy than it should.

The WWE Champion Edge along with his valet and girlfriend Lita stood before a live crowd in Hershey, Pennsylvania to promise them that they would be having sex on live television that night. I’d only had glimpses of wrestling before this. Bits and pieces from channel surfing, jokes told about it on Kim Possible, brief mentions from friends and family. But only now did I have reason to tune in.

I flipped back and forth between Raw and everything else on TV, waiting for the momentous occasion. When it finally came, it was even more ridiculous than I could have imagined. They’d set up a bed in the middle of the ring–isn’t that where they fight?–and cheap porno lights bathed Edge and Lita as they stripped down. After they got down to their underwear, most of the action got hidden beneath a thick down blanket. I craned my neck and squinted at the screen, hoping to catch a glimpse. That’s when Ric Flair came down to interrupt the segment.

The rest is your standard piece of wrestling business. Edge brutalizes Ric Flair with a Conchairto, busting the old man open. John Cena, great hero and representation of all that is good in the WWE and the U.S. of A. comes down to chase off the smarmy champion. Then, he gives Lita his patented FU to close out another episode of Monday Night Raw.

The only reason I tuned in again next week was to see if they’d do it again.

Of all the ways to become a wrestling fan, this might be the most embarrassing. I wish I instead had some kind of story about sharing wrestling with a father or a sibling. Stories like that always have a sense of true value to them. Wrestling as a hobby becomes almost an heirloom passed down across generations. Some kind of rite of passage like learning how to shave.

The truth instead is one of secretive channel hopping, nervous glances over the shoulder to make sure I didn’t get caught.

If you hadn’t guessed from the fact that you’re reading this essay on a wrestling blog, my fandom blossomed over time. As most children my age did in the early and mid-2000’s, I became obsessed with John Cena, Batista, Edge, and The Undertaker and their conflicts. I became a wrestling fan, and unlike most children my age, I never stopped.

In many ways, you could say that I owe a lot to this piece of wrestling television. You’d be right about that too. Wrestling had crossed my path in the past before this yet this lurid pornographic promise was what made me stick around. It was the start of a now fourteen year investment in one of the most fascinating forms of physical performance art in the world. Hours of time, thousands of words, dozens of videos, all of it dedicated to professional wrestling started with this crass moment from January 9th, 2006.

Sometimes I resent the fact that it had to be this segment. If this popped up on Raw now, I’d be the first to change the channel and write some snide comment on Twitter. My personal history with it frustrates me for one particular reason: in this instance, for this person writing now, Vince McMahon was right.

You can picture him already. Seated backstage at the arena in his office, he explains to Adam “Edge” Copeland and Amy “Lita” Dumas that tonight on Raw they’ll be simulating sex for a live audience of thousands in the arena. That display will then be broadcast to millions across the world. When both Copeland and Dumas voice their discomfort with the angle, McMahon quickly shuts them down. This is the direction that he wants, the freshest odd spectacle on display in his traveling circle of warring brutes and dazzling damsels. For Copeland and Dumas, there’s no other options. They are in the middle of one of the most significant pushes in their careers as the top antagonists on a weekly network television show.

Better to just grin and bare it all.

“Do it for the ratings! Think of the fans!” he would implore them, making promises of record breaking viewership which will only translate into more success and cash for the performers.

And he was right. The segment is one of the most viewed in the history of Monday Night Raw, and one that made a life long fan of this writer. Vince McMahon’s attempt to cast a wide, lowest common denominator net succeeded and he reeled in a fresh mark.

The live sex celebration on Raw comes only months after Copeland and Dumas’ real life relationship was exposed as an affair by Dumas’ longtime partner Matt Hardy. The legitimate scandal became an integral part of each performer’s on-screen history as the leaked story became the basis for an on-screen conflict. What had been a personal issue between Adam Copeland, Amy Dumas, and Matthew Moore Hardy was now plot for Edge, Lita, and Matt Hardy.

In a business where the lines between performer and character are already so blurred and muddled, this might be one of the most personal examples of parlaying real life experiences into a wild spectacle for millions to gawk and stare at.

As the villains of the story, the harassment and suffering of both Edge & Lita is not only necessary but highly encouraged not only of the onscreen roster members but of the fans live in attendance. It’s gross enough to see “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan make jokes of Lita being a “Hooooe!” for months at a time but then you have the prolonged stretch of time of fans spewing slut shaming vitriol at the performer Amy Dumas, playing the character of Lita.

Edge and Lita are the villains. Whatever ugliness comes their way is earned.

That’s why when John Cena comes down to the ring, grabs a half-dressed Lita who he outweighs by at least a hundred pounds, and hits her with an FU in the middle of the ring, we as an audience are meant to cheer.

The WWE’s philosophies are laid bare by this segment. As always, Vince McMahon wants to have his cake and eat it too. Rake in the ratings boost that the promised celebration inevitably causes yet also frame its participants as immoral, arrogant villains that are swiftly dealt with by the company’s hero. The WWE revels in the indecency only long enough to reap all the benefits before vilifying those who have to do the dirty deed themselves.

This whole segment is indicative of the relationship the WWE has not just with its employees–excuse me, contractual personnel–but with its fans. Even ignoring all the hideous moral decisions made, the segment is infuriating from the shallow basis of wrestling viewership. It highlights the WWE’s habit of making promises too good to be true, snatching it away from you, then expecting you to come back asking for more.

No matter which way you look at it, the only person laughing is Vince McMahon.

As you might have guessed my mind wandered to this segment after Edge’s return at the 2020 Royal Rumble.

For weeks on end, I had heard the rumors from the dirt sheets that Edge had been cleared for active competition and that a return at the Rumble was imminent. This would end his nine year retirement from being diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis. Despite his ardent assertions otherwise, I assumed these rumors to be true. By the looks of my Twitter timeline, many wrestling fans thought the same way.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea. I saw the appeal of it from a nostalgic perspective but there was little that Edge could offer now that he didn’t already give in his original run. In the time since his retirement, I’ve also significantly cooled on much of his in ring work. A good gimmick match worker to be sure, Edge doesn’t really have too many one-on-one bouts that I consider to be essential viewing. For much of the time after his retirement, he existed mostly in my memory as a pretty good promo, with decent ring work, that had some time in the sun as a main eventer in the 2000s. A decent legacy but nothing too much to write home about.

All that melted away when Edge stepped through the fog. The look of nine years worth of emotion competing for space on his face hit me harder than I expected. How could I not be glad Edge was back? He was the reason I started watching wrestling. It felt like rediscovering an old friend.

I wonder if at any point on his run to the ring he thought of January 9th, 2006. Did it cross his mind at all as he Speared his way through the competition? I like to imagine that if it did, it was only with the relief of, “Thank God that’s over.”

But it can never be truly gone. There’s a reason that Edge’s nickname is “The Rated R Superstar.” It’s an inextricable part of his legacy as it is Lita’s in spite of both of their Hall of Fame rings.

I don’t need to be grateful for that moment in time to acknowledge that it’s led me to where I am. Without it, perhaps I would never have become a wrestling fan. I would have lost this part of my life, this blog wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t have met the many friends I’ve been lucky to make all over the world all out of our love for pro wrestling. Perhaps, that might have been a fair trade off.

Or maybe I still would have done all those things. We can never know.

Edge and Lita’s legacies are likely much sturdier than my wrestling fandom. Surely, without this schlocky crash TV mess from January 2006, they still would have become WWE Hall of Famers.

In the second verse of Edge’s most famous theme song, “Metalingus” by Alter Bridge, lead vocalist Myles Kennedy growls, “I’ll never long for what might have been.” In this case though, I can’t help but long. For my sake, for Adam Copeland’s sake, for Amy Dumas’ sake. The world didn’t need this.

We can love what we have and hate how we got it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *