Q&A: NXT’s Adam Cole Prepares for the Biggest Weekend of His Career

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WWE NXT Champion Adam Cole in the ring

Adam Cole is on the precipice of the biggest weekend in his wrestling career.

The 30-year-old Cole wrestles in a WarGames match this Saturday alongside his Undisputed Era cohorts Bobby Fish, Roderick Strong, and Kyle O’Reilly, then defends the NXT title on Sunday at Survivor Series. He is also only two days removed from a ladder match main event against Dominik Dijakovic that aired Wednesday on USA, which marked the first night that NXT defeated AEW’s Dynamite in the head-to-head ratings.

Cole spoke with Sports Illustrated, discussing Wednesday’s phenomenal tag match between O’Reilly and Fish against The Revival, as well as Roderick Strong’s breakout potential this Sunday at Survivor Series, and competing head-to-head against All Elite Wrestling.

Justin Barrasso: I know you were preparing for your ladder match against Dominik Dijakovic, but were you able to watch any of the Revival-O’Reilly/Fish tag team match?

Adam Cole: I was not able to watch all of it from start to finish, but I watched about 95 percent of it—and it was spectacular.

Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish are the best tag team on the planet. I stand by that. Those two complement each other so well, their style as a team is so different and unique. They can literally have a great tag match with anybody, and The Revival is that same type of team. So to have those two teams finally meet in an epic 25-minute tag team match was so good for our show and for everyone that got to watch it. It was just a fantastic match, it was great, and I want to see the rematch.

JB: O’Reilly (billed at 5'11") and Fish (billed at 5'10") have been knocked, as have many other current stars, for a lack of size. But they are dynamic together in the ring, and have worked nonstop over the past seven years to develop a chemistry and style that is unlike any other tag team.

AC: Anyone who says these guys aren’t a great tag team are kidding themselves. I travel with these guys and I see the way they train every day. It’s unparalleled in this business. They train like animals, they’re constantly trying to get better. No matter where we are in the world, they’re getting up super early and doing it again real late at night just to train as hard as possible. I know these two better than most, and they’re two of the hardest workers in the world.

JB: Your ladder match against Dominik Dijakovic this past Wednesday told a very entertaining story, and it was a reminder of the difficulty of one-on-one ladder matches—which we rarely see now. Were you happy with the performance?

AC: I haven’t had a one-on-one ladder match in years. The last time I had one, I think, was 2013. They’re difficult when you have six guys in the ring, those matches can be kind of like car crashes and stunt shows, and it’s all about the athleticism and the high risks. But when it’s a one-on-one match, it’s different, especially with the story we have to tell and Dijak being the size that he is. And I think that was his first-ever ladder match. We knew we wanted to make it special and deliver an exciting ladder match, and we did everything we could to accomplish that.

JB: With matches on Saturday and Sunday, how are you preparing mentally for such an important weekend?

AC: I could not be more thrilled that I have these two upcoming matches back-to-back. When I found out I was going to have these big matches, it meant a lot—it’s big for NXT, for WWE and for me. All I’ve wanted is to be in situations like this.

I know my body is going to be sore. I am content with that, I’m OK with that. I got into this job with the intention of working hard and going as far as I possibly could, and part of that is being in tough matches and tough situations. I could not be more excited for this weekend.

I’ll be wrestling at WarGames and then defending my NXT title for the very first time at Survivor Series. I guarantee I’ll have enough adrenaline to get through the weekend, and I’m going to do everything I can to have a great match, too.

JB: You can’t focus on Sunday without first working War Games on Saturday. You also worked the War Games match the past two years. What lessons are you bringing to Saturday from the past two years?

AC: After working this match twice, we know what to expect. All of us are very aware of the punishment your body takes in this match. We take pride that we’re a strong unit in this match, where we’re going against a group of guys that are extremely talented but ultimately are thrown together. We are an entirely different unit, and that allows us to stand out. This is match we could look back on for the rest of us careers. I don’t care if I wake sore the next morning.

JB: How much has your perspective of the main roster changed since your Royal Rumble debut in January 2018? Are you a different performer?

AC: Absolutely, and that is strictly based on experience. When I look back at these past few weeks, having that main event match with Daniel Bryan on SmackDown and some high-profile moments on Raw, I’m no longer just hoping it goes well. I am focused and ready to go.

JB: You take so much pride in your performance, and the total body of work of the NXT product. Your Wednesday show outdrew AEW in the Wednesday ratings battle this past week, which was the first time that happened in the eight weeks the shows have competed head-to-head.

How focused are you on the ratings, or do you prefer to focus on the areas you can control?

AC: I do not want to speak for everyone, but for the people I speak with most often, we want to control the areas we can control. And that has nothing to do with the ratings. We are completely focused on putting on the best two-hour show we possibly can. We need to deliver great matches and incredible stories. I’m sure they feel the same way [in AEW], focusing on having the best show possible and doing all they can do to entertain fans. In the end, we’re getting some really, really exciting pro wrestling, and that’s what it’s all about in 2019.

JB: It’s also an amazing time for you and your relationship partner, Britt Baker, who is a star on the AEW roster.

AC: It’s wonderful. I’m her biggest supporter and she’s mine, and it’s been really cool watching her do her thing, though it’s been really hard to see each other these past few weeks with our schedules. We actually started off long-distance, so that’s made it a little bit easier. Even if we go four or five days without seeing each other, we’re a little used to that from the beginning of our relationship.

JB: The Survivor Series is loaded with great matches, but one that stands out is the triple threat between AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and fellow Undisputed Era member Roderick Strong.

The WWE audience has been graced with the brilliance of Styles and Nakamura, but this is Strong’s chance to break out into superstardom. What does this opportunity mean for Roddy?

AC: Personally, that’s the match I’m most excited to watch, and a lot of people in the NXT locker room feel the same way.

This is a triple threat match with three guys who can go. They’ve all put on great match after great match, and as a fan, I can’t think of a better match. This is Roddy’s chance to show the world how good he is. Those of us who’ve watched him for years know how good he is.

Bell to bell, in-ring, there is nobody better than Roderick Strong. From him to get this shot, this opportunity to wrestle against two of the best, it’s going to be absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to watch it.

JB: You wrestle the winner of Saturday’s TakeOver three-way between Pete Dunne, Killian Dain and Damien Priest. Do you have a preference for your opponent on Sunday at the Survivor Series?

AC: It doesn’t matter who I wrestle. Killian Dain is a beast and deceivingly agile for his size. Damien Priest has done a tremendous job in NXT, but if he wrestles me, he’ll learn very quickly he’s not ready to be the NXT champion. And Pete Dunne is one of the best in NXT UK and overall in NXT. We’ve squared off a few times. The last time we faced each other, he beat me, but I know I’m good enough to beat him.

But it doesn’t matter if it’s Pete Dunne, Killian Dain, or Damien Priest. Adam Cole is going to leave the Survivor Series as NXT champion.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.