Jay Reso, the man who created and engineered the Christian character, is back in pro wrestling, this time starring for AEW. At 47, after seven years away from the ring, he is looking to prove, again, why he belongs atop the industry.
But had there been a crowd for the Royal Rumble, Christian would still be part of WWE.
He would have teamed with Edge against Roman Reigns and Jey Uso, then eventually had a long-awaited clash with his best friend for the WWE championship. There would have been other must-see encounters, like Edge and Christian teaming up against The New Day, or even a merging of the past and present in a six-man tag with Jeff Hardy. Christian would have reclaimed his spot on the WWE card, and while he may not have been able to write his last chapter as a performer exactly how he envisioned it, there would have been the eventual Hall of Fame induction and proper send-off.
As recently as last month, that seemed like the itinerary for Reso’s foreseeable future. But something funny happened on the way to WrestleMania.
The Rumble was held in WWE’s ThunderDome, a venue that does not feature a live, in-person audience. This led to Reso’s surprise AEW debut as Christian Cage at the Revolution pay-per-view on March 7. He appeared last Wednesday on Dynamite in a segment with Kenny Omega, foreshadowing an inevitable showdown between the two—an event that connects directly back directly to January’s Rumble.
For the first time in seven years, Reso was back wrestling in a WWE ring at the Rumble, reprising the role of Christian. His surprise return was met with an outpouring of support on social media. Even the coldest of cynics found some joy when Christian and Edge hugged during the match, an embrace that appeared to signify a rebirth—though now represents a parting of ways.
Every element of Christian’s return in the Rumble, from the surprise entrance at No. 24, to working with an array of different talent, then finishing among the final five, was special. Yet, since there was no crowd present for the Rumble, there was no massive pop—the type that would force the company’s hand in signing the star—for Christian when he returned to the ring. And even with the overwhelming support from WWE’s fan base, those cheers were somehow subdued in Vince McMahon’s office in Stamford, Conn.
Looking back, the Rumble provided closure on an outstanding WWE run, in and out of the ring, for Christian, especially considering he spent the majority of the weekend with his longtime friend, Edge (Adam Copeland), whom he has known since middle school.
“He stayed at my house that weekend for the Rumble,” Reso says. “There were only a handful of people that knew I was cleared, and I got a call at 7:30 that Friday night asking if I’d like to be a surprise in the Rumble. I’ve always bet on myself, so I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was a whirlwind from there. We went out there and had a great moment.”
Reso was asked how, given the success of that moment, he was not immediately signed to a deal with WWE.
“There were some cordial talks, and I can’t really elaborate beyond that,” Reso says. “I’m not sure where their heads were at creatively.”
Even without signing a new WWE contract, the enormousness of his Rumble return will resonate with him for a long time.
“I understand how big it was,” Reso says. “That’s not lost on me. It was humbling how much that meant to people.”
Reso’s return reverberated from St. Petersburg, Fla., the site of the ThunderDome, to nearby Jacksonville, the home of AEW. Jon Moxley’s mind immediately began percolating with ideas, confident that the company could showcase Christian in a manner befitting a superstar.
“Moxley is a good friend of mine, and he was saying, ‘You’re a free agent; you should at least have a conversation with Tony Khan,’ ” Reso says. “So I did.”
A week later, Reso was All Elite.
“Listening to the things Tony thought I could bring to the table and how he thought I could help, providing me the right platform at this stage in my career, it all made sense,” Reso says. “In less than a week, it was a done deal.”
For Reso, this was a cycle repeating itself. In certain eyes in WWE, he was not a main-event talent. An important part of the card, no doubt, but not the type of talent to carry a show.
If you are experiencing déjà vu, it is for good reason—a strikingly similar pattern occurred 16 years ago when Reso exited WWE for a shot at showing he could carry a promotion on his back in TNA.
“When I left in 2005, I was kind of pigeonholed into a certain spot, and that wasn’t going to change unless I changed it myself,” Reso says. “So I bet on myself. I knew that I had the talent and I was confident in my ability. I wasn’t content with where I was at, and I knew I had more to give.”
There are parallels to make with his emergence in AEW. Reso is once again betting on himself, believing he is even more than the character that was presented in WWE. And he looks forward to showing that, eventually, in a world title program with Kenny Omega.
“I’m not expecting to walk in and work the main event with Kenny Omega,” Reso says. “I have some work to do and I need to prove myself. And looking at the layout of the roster, there are athletes with so much talent—like Darby Allin, who makes me think of Jeff Hardy, or MJF, who is just so talented. The sky is the limit here with a blank canvas.”
Reso now also has the chance to apply his magic in the ring without any physical concerns. Dating back to July, when Christian and Randy Orton had an unsanctioned match on Raw, Reso was determined to remove himself from WWE’s “non-contact list” and return to wrestling.
“That didn’t sit well with me,” Reso says. “Am I really that fragile that I need to be on the non-contact list? So I decided to go on my own and see some specialists here in Tampa at the University of South Florida.”
After completing a whole gamut of tests, Reso’s doctor asked what, ideally, he planned on doing with his athletic future. Reso explained he was told to retire seven years ago, yet he was seeking a chance to rewrite the ending of his story. A world of possibilities reopened when his doctor said there were no physical concerns about going forward in the ring.
“I hadn’t been working out as intensely, so that’s when I tightened everything up,” Reso says. “I hired a nutrition specialist in Tampa, Nutrition Solutions, which helped me completely change the way I eat and feel about my body. For me, I needed to be ready physically before I said I was ready to wrestle, not ask for a job and then get ready. So I put a little gym in my garage, and I started grinding.”
Eight months of preparation has led to this current destination, well-sculpted and ready to make a mark in AEW. And with Copeland poised to headline this year’s WrestleMania with Roman Reigns, and Reso chasing Omega for an encounter at Double or Nothing, there will certainly be some must-see episodes in the future for The Edge and Christian Show. Until then, Reso will continue betting on himself.
“That’s always been my thing,” Reso says. “No matter where I was on the card, or whatever story I was in, that kept me relevant. The shows are better with me on them, and I’m willing to out-work everyone. That isn’t a tagline; that’s the truth.”