Christian Cage is one of the best heels in wrestling right now, with his work in AEW already elevating ‘Jungle Boy’ Jack Perry to a top babyface. Though it shouldn’t come as a surprise, he’s so good at it.
He’s done it throughout his entire career; whether it was as a cocky tag wrestler during the Attitude Era or as a pompous jerk in the Ruthless Aggression era, Christian always excelled when playing the villain. However, it’s his mastery of acting like a smarmy and cunning veteran that’s produced some of his best career work.
One More Match
In 2011, Christian’s descent into madness, in search of a proper stint as world champion, stands out as his greatest heel run.
To start this story, we need to go back to early 2011. Christian has just returned from injury to aid his best friend, Edge, in his feud with Alberto Del Rio, reuniting for the first time in over half a decade. The reunion would be short-lived, though, with Edge being forced to retire shortly after retaining the World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania 27, vacating the championship and leaving a spot open at the top of the card.
A month later, at Extreme Rules, Christian would take on Del Rio in a ladder match to crown a new champion. At the show, Christian had the upper hand early on, having years of ladder match experience, but the numbers game became too overwhelming to bear.
It wasn’t until Edge made a surprise appearance that Christian would be able to overcome Del Rio for good and obtain his first ever world championship in WWE, celebrating one last time with his childhood friend.
On his first SmackDown with the Big Gold belt in hand, Christian was interrupted by Mark Henry, The Great Khali and recently drafted to the blue brand, Randy Orton. Teddy Long would ask the crowd who they wanted to see get a world title match and, unsurprisingly, Orton was the favorite.
However, in a shocking turn of events, the match was made official for that same show, just mere days after Christian’s hard-fought victory. Despite the clear unfairness of the situation, Christian carried on, ready to start his title reign on the right foot. Christian and Randy Orton’s first clash was just a taste to what was to come, but it delivered not only in match quality but in storyline potential, with Christian being caught off guard while diving off the top turnbuckle with an RKO, ending his first stay at the top of the mountain before it could properly begin.
Following the title change, Christian had every reason to be angry. Angry at management for forcing him to defend his belt so quickly after a demanding ladder match. Angry at the fans for happily disregarding his hard work, choosing a younger more established name instead of him.
Angry at Randy Orton for taking a moment he had waited for, for well over a decade without any reluctance. Christian, however, would take the honorable route, accept the result and wait for his mandatory title rematch. Christian and Orton would deliver a sleeper hit at Over the Limit, with counters and reversals aplenty and Christian pushing Orton to his limits, forcing him to pull out moves he had never used before.
Christian avoided falling for the same trap as before, only for Orton to counter the Killswitch with an RKO for the win.
After the title loss, Christian was at a crossroads. He had played by the rules and sacrificed his body to this business for so long, and yet, his greatest accomplishment was a measly 5-day title reign. After everything he had done, Christian felt like he was rightfully owned: One. More. Match.
He still tried playing it cool, accepting to take part in a number one contendership triple threat, only for Orton’s anger issues to resurface and cost him the title shot to Sheamus. This transgression pushed Christian to his breaking point, so when given the opportunity to referee Orton’s title match, he used it to make a point.
Christian cost the Celtic Warrior the championship and proceeded to blast Orton with the title belt from behind, solidifying his heel turn in the process.
A week after turning on Orton, Christian finally revealed his true colors. He released all the anger he had accumulated since dropping the belt, calling out everyone who had wronged him along the way.
Christian’s betrayal as well as interference during a No DQ match against Sheamus were more than enough to goad Orton into giving Captain Charisma one more match. At Capitol Punishment, Christian was tired of playing the nice guy constantly targeting Orton’s concussed head.
Christian was laser focused on not allowing Orton to counter any of his offense into the dreaded finisher, only to be caught by it on a simple exchange. Orton once again managed to retain his championship while Christian’s leg laid under the rope, unbeknownst to the referee.
Up to this point, it’s still fair to empathize with Christian as a man who had a taste of glory and has turned to the dark side trying to recreate his past success. And that was exactly where Christian would turn to, in his chase for gold, the past. Edge had made a career out of being “The Ultimate Opportunist” and Christian was willing to do anything to seize his opportunity.
Filled with a sense of entitlement, this new desperate Christian finagled himself one more match against the Viper, this time being eligible to win the belt via Disqualification and proceeded to torment Orton on a weekly basis fully aware of his opponent’s anger issues.
This new persona was at full display at Money in the Bank when Christian pushed Orton into low-blowing him after a spit to the face, ending the match on a disgraceful DQ. Not even a post-match beat down could take away the fact, Christian was once again World Heavyweight champion.
With gold finally back on his hands, a confident Christian didn’t hesitate to cross everyone in the roster, including authority figure Triple H, only to be forced into a No Holds Barred rematch. With one successful plan already executed, Christian prepared a game-changing scheme for his title defense.
At SummerSlam, making his first televised appearance since Extreme Rules, Edge would be revealed as Christian’s latest ploy. However, to Christian’s surprise, the Rated-R Superstar would call out his cowardly tactics, berating his attitude and labeling him “crying, whining, moaning little bitch”, before leaving his best friend at the Viper’s mercy.
Out of mind games or cheap tricks and abandoned by the one person that stuck with him through thick and thin, Christian’s only chance at success would be to beat Orton cleanly. Captain Charisma would fight hard, using every weapon at hand and even hitting Orton with the Killswitch, but it never was enough.
The end of this rivalry would come to an end just like it began, with Christian diving off the top turnbuckle before being caught with an RKO. Following the loss at SummerSlam, Christian would start a short feud with new babyface Sheamus, losing to him two PPVs in a row before suffering an ankle injury.
The rest of Christian’s time in WWE would be plagued with injuries, leading to his unannounced retirement in 2014. Early last year, Christian made a miraculous comeback at the Royal Rumble before jumping ship to join AEW.
Christian’s matches with the likes of Kenny Omega, followed by his partnership and eventual betrayal of Jungle Boy show that despite everything, he’s still a strong in-ring performer and an even better on-screen character.
In 2011, Christian’s superb heel work created one of the best storylines of that year, and eleven years later, he’s showing us that he can do it again.