The next chapter in the Adam Cole–Kyle O’Reilly saga will take place Tuesday night.
Cole and O’Reilly first wrestled against each other in 2009, and they continue their feud in an old-fashioned wrestling bout at the Great American Bash–themed episode of NXT. Their story has only intensified since The Undisputed Era split up this winter. O’Reilly won the unsanctioned match against Cole at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver in April, and he would be a great choice to dethrone Karrion Kross for the NXT title—as long as he gets the Great American Bash victory against Cole.
As for Cole, there is still much left to accomplish. The 31-year-old, whose real name is Austin Jenkins, adds significance and value every time he appears on NXT programming. While it would have been exciting had The Undisputed Era run amok and caused carnage and chaos on Raw or SmackDown, Cole has a point to prove if he is moved to a main roster show. And if he remains in NXT, a title program with O’Reilly would be appointment viewing.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Cole touched on his in-ring chemistry with O’Reilly, memories of their 12-year history and the qualities that he believes will make Tuesday night’s match so meaningful.
Sports Illustrated: Your feud with Kyle still feels so fresh even though you have been wrestling one another for more than a decade. How do you keep such excitement in this program?
Adam Cole: The role I was in for so long was defending or chasing the NXT championship, and this is different. There is personal animosity involved here, so this story with Kyle O’Reilly is very specific. And there is so much history, as well as so much history we haven’t even detailed. It’s a never-ending battle.
I don’t necessarily have a formula that I like to follow. For me, I base how I speak, what I say and how I wrestle based on who I’m in there with, which keeps things fresh for me.
SI: This is a story steeped in reality. And while there are plenty of viewers who believe you are the better wrestler, there are many that also feel the same way about Kyle O’Reilly. Considering your real-life friendship, as well as both of your successes in wrestling, does that lend to even more in-ring competitiveness between the two of you?
AC: Absolutely. That’s why so much of the audience has attached themselves to us. At the end of the day, it comes down to suspending your disbelief. That’s easy to do when you know my history with Kyle. It feels real because we are competitive. Combine that with the history and everything we’ve done together, and there is a different feel to this.
That’s also why The Undisputed Era worked so well. That connection, the friendship, those were very real. We’re taking doses of reality and putting it into the performance aspect of pro wrestling, and I think that’s a positive.
SI: How do you differentiate this match at Great American Bash with the one you had in April at TakeOver: Stand & Deliver?
AC: The beautiful thing here is that we’re having a straight-up wrestling match. That’s when we’re at our best, telling a story, bell to bell, in the ring. This will be a very aggressive match to see who is the better wrestler.
Years before this, we’d wrestled dozens of times, and we’d always asked each other how we would keep it fresh. Kyle has his mentality, I have mine, and when you mesh them together, it always ends up with a fresh concept. I’m really looking forward to the Great American Bash, especially because it’s a straight-up wrestling match.
SI: You have had some high-profile matches with each other, including the main event of Ring of Honor’s Final Battle in 2016, an unexpected return title bout a month later at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom in the Tokyo Dome after ROH surprisingly did not come to terms with Kyle on a new contract, and more recently at Stand & Deliver. What sticks out to you most about your collection of work with Kyle?
AC: The feel of each match is so different, especially in terms of the audience. As far as when the bells rings, it’s crazy how similar the chemistry feels. I go back to 2009, which was the first time we wrestled. I’d only been wrestling for a year at that point, and I had more chemistry with Kyle than I’d had with anyone else up to that point. That chemistry has only got better. I think of all the chemistry at that Final Battle match, and it’s only grown since then as we’ve grown as performers.
SI: What is your favorite among those three matches?
AC: I’m going to go with Final Battle when Kyle finally became the ROH champion. But it’s so tough. Wrestling at Wrestle Kingdom in the Tokyo Dome, what a moment, and there was no one else I’d rather step into the ring with in that situation. At Stand & Deliver, that was us getting to main-event an NXT show, which was also pretty special.
SI: The qualities that make you stand out as a performer, from your psychology to your precision to your defiance, are all amplified when working with Kyle.
AC: Back when we were tag team partners in Ring of Honor, Kyle did an amazing job at making me get better at certain things. I did certain things that made Kyle improve at certain aspects. That still holds true any time we wrestle each other. He brings out the absolute best in me, and I like to think I do the same for him.
There are certain aspects of his wrestling, his smoothness, that you have to admire. He is one of the best in the ring. It’s such a joy to watch him. Watching him, that gets my competitive nature really going.
SI: You and Kyle have successfully defined yourself as eternal enemies. Regardless of whether this match will be the best of all your in-ring encounters, it has the most meaning with where we are in your story. As a performer, what is at stake for you in this match?
AC: In terms of what you said about how meaningful this match is, I could not agree more. That’s due to our history, how we got to where we’ve got at the Great American Bash. The story is there, the competitive nature is there and it’s the right matchup.
This is not just another match. It’s the culmination of all of our history, a combination of the Tokyo Dome, Final Battle, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Dragon Gate USA from 2009, and all we created in NXT with The Undisputed Era. All of that, mixed together, is coming to a head at the Great American Bash. I’m excited, and I’m ready to have my most special match yet against Kyle O’Reilly.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.