At this past weekend’s Royal Rumble, the annual event presented by the WWE, retired wrestler Edge made his triumphant return to the ring after having to retire in 2011 due to an injury requiring an extremely dangerous surgery.
Stick with me here, this is not about that.
I spent time in independent pro wrestling in my 20s. While the business itself has its issues, that I’m not going to get into here, the memories that remain are of the people I knew, friends I made, and stories I still tell.
Of the hundreds of wrestlers I met, one of them went out of his way to be friendly with us. He spent extra time hanging out with us, getting to know us, and always went out of his way to make us feel like friends. He had this undeniable charisma; the kind where he could flip on a switch and take over a room, but not in a way that made you feel uncomfortable or stepped on.
He was deadset against me ever getting involved in the business, and wasn’t shy about telling me why. He was one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met. Beneath the show, though, was both a person who genuinely cared about those around him, and a person who was suffering. At times, the latter was written on his face in a way that a performance was unable to hide. I remember the last time I saw him. It was late at night at a rest stop in 2008, and his face looked vacant and pale. Something was off, and it gave me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It may have been independent wrestling. I may have been young and starstruck. He may have been like he was to me and my friends with everyone. But it never felt forced or faked. After winning a tournament one time, the camera crew brought a few of us specifically over to celebrate with him. We were associated with him enough to be given a moment like that to share with him.
Now, you may be asking what the first moment of this story has to do with the rest?
Well, in 2011 I was still a full-fledged wrestling fan, though my disillusion with participating in the business matched the scorn he held for it. That was one of the many times in my life that people gave me advice that I had to learn the hard way was correct, but that’s not the point of the story. I started seeing rumors online that he had passed away, and I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. The small community, some of whom I still associated with, was in shock. I recognize that many people knew him way better than I did and likely hit them way harder than it did me, but it still had a profound impact on me. He was only 29.
That night, Edge made his retirement speech. Someone I greatly admired but had no personal knowledge or relationship of, was stepping away from the same business unexpectedly. Instead of being emotional over it, I felt numb. It broke my heart that someone’s career was ending, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about it at all. I’d lost a friend, and so had thousands of other people.
Several of us have tattoos of his catch phrase. One person in his life that I got to know a bit posthumously got a bracelet with the soundwave of his infectious and unmistakable laugh. He had a presence in so many lives, and as a sweatshirt with his name and signature still hangs in my library, as well as his words written across my left forearm, I’ve never forgotten him.
I don’t watch wrestling anymore, but I occasionally still get an update from people who either knew me through wrestling in person or years later when I wrote about it for a major site. Yesterday I heard that Edge returned after nine long years, but after a brief moment of happiness for him, it hit me that it’s been nine long years since a friend to so many was lost. I felt compelled to write about him regardless of how the audience may or may not respond to the topic, because as long as I have any capability to speak or write, I want people to know that there was a man named Alex Whybrow who was a kind, gentle, charismatic person, and he was known to many as “Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney, and I will never forget him.
12 Large, Brother.