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How Adam Cole Kept His AEW Debut a Secret Until the Very Last Moment

The Week in Wrestling: Behind the scenes of Cole’s decision to leave WWE, one wrestler Edge is dying to work with and more.

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Adam Cole: Decision to sign with AEW was made “literally only a couple days before” All Out

The newest chapter in Adam Cole’s career began at All Out, where he debuted as the newest member of AEW and aligned himself with The Elite. He superkicked Jungle Boy in the closing segment of the pay-per-view and now plans on proving himself superior to Bryan Danielson, who debuted immediately after Cole.

Cole and Danielson spent the majority of All Out together, patiently awaiting their chance to shake up the pro wrestling industry.

“I didn’t even fly into Chicago [the site of All Out], I flew into a different city the day before,” Cole says, noting that he was thrilled to wear his mask to help hide his appearance on the flight. “I didn’t even stay in the same hotel as Bryan. We showed up to the building while the show was going on, and we waited outside in a trailer. The locker room didn’t even know until the absolute last moment. It was the most secretive debut I’ve ever been involved in, and Tony Khan took every measure to make this as big of a surprise as possible.”

During WWE’s infamous delayed trip home from Saudi Arabia in November 2019, that week’s SmackDown was carried by a number of NXT’s emerging stars. The show was headlined by Danielson, who opted not to participate in the Saudi show, facing Cole, the reigning NXT champion, who won the match in spectacular fashion. Cole confirmed that the two are eager to continue their feud in AEW.

“There is so much story for us to tell, especially with Kenny Omega and the Bucks involved,” Cole says. “There are so many different directions for us to go, and it’s going to be very exciting with the way we tell this story. I’ve changed a lot since I’ve been with The Elite, and so have Kenny and the Bucks, and it’s going to be really exciting to create what we’re about to create.”

Only days before All Out, Cole ended his brief free agency and decided to leave WWE behind. After negotiations with both sides, Cole chose to embark on a new future in All Elite Wrestling.

“My actual decision was literally only a couple days before [the pay-per-view],” Cole says. “I was awake in bed, it was close to 1 in the morning, and I was imagining being involved in AEW. That thought gave me such an excited feeling. I was so giddy I couldn’t even sleep. I loved the idea of coming to All Elite Wrestling, and that’s when I knew what I needed to do.”

Cole, who is 32-year-old Austin Jenkins, had been a staple for NXT over the past four years. Despite the fact that Paul “Triple H” Levesque had built NXT into a legitimate force, Vince McMahon still opted to meddle with the brand. That is how, even though he appeared to be on track to headline a future WrestleMania, Cole is now no longer with the company. Khan swooped in with an offer that brought Cole to AEW, which is a new chance to make a significant impact in the industry. Yet the new home does not change Cole’s gratitude for Levesque and Shawn Michaels, who both played integral roles in his highly successful NXT run.

“One of the highlights of my time in NXT was my relationship with Shawn Michaels,” Cole says. “I’m very open about him being the greatest pro wrestler of all time. To have him as a mentor, that’s something I really cherish. I learned so much from him.

“I had and still have a great relationship with Hunter. Getting to work under him was such an amazing learning experience. I’m not the same Adam Cole that I am today if it wasn’t for working with those guys for four years. I’ll always have a relationship with Hunter and Shawn, and I’m incredibly thankful for what they taught me and the way they believed in me.”

Cole’s final match in NXT marked the official end of an era where he proved he was one of the undisputed best wrestlers in the world. He closed out his NXT run in a two-out-of-three falls match against longtime rival Kyle O’Reilly at NXT TakeOver 36 in August, where he made it his top priority to further establish O’Reilly as a top-tier performer in the industry.

“That match meant everything to me,” Cole says. “I’ve known Kyle since 2009, and our relationship runs so much deeper than the world of wrestling. He’s one of my absolute best friends. I was in his wedding. Whether we’re partners or enemies, the Adam Cole–Kyle O’Reilly story is so important to me. I’m really proud of what we did together in NXT, Japan, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring of Honor.

“I look back on that time with Kyle, Bobby [Fish] and Roddy [Strong] in The Undisputed Era with nothing but pride. No matter what our futures hold, I wanted to do everything I could to cap off that chapter with Kyle in the most meaningful way possible.”

Cole’s AEW journey takes flight Wednesday night, as he meets Frankie Kazarian on Dynamite.

“I’ve known Frankie for a really long time, and he’s someone that is very good,” Cole says. “Somehow, he’s still underrated. But this is my debut match in AEW, so regardless of how great I think he is, I am going to teach him a lesson and let him know why I’m the one in charge here now. I’m excited to start my prime years in AEW, and it’s my time to show the best wrestling roster in the world—and the best wrestling fans in the world—how good I really am.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Samoa Joe became the latest victim of the curse of the NXT title, forced to relinquish the belt due to injury.
  • Joe’s injury opened the door for a new champ, and NXT wasted no time in crowning Tommaso Ciampa on the first episode of its rebooted TV show. 
  • While it will take time to see how NXT 2.0 develops, I am excited to see more of Bronson Rechsteiner—who looked fantastic in his debut as Bron Breakker. But how do you not embrace his lineage and call him a Steiner? 
  • Hopefully this can lead to a CM Punk–Minoru Suzuki match. 

SI Recommends

  • Friday’s SmackDown, which took place at Madison Square Garden, was outstanding, led by the Edge–Seth Rollins match, the return of the Demon, and the Roman Reigns–Brock Lesnar confrontation.
  • Becky Lynch as a heel could be a game-changer. How will Sasha Banks fit into this story? Or will she move to Raw in the upcoming draft? 
  • One of the highlights of Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view Sunday was the Jonathan Gresham–Josh Woods match. Woods won the ROH Pure title, and this should open the door for Gresham—one of the best in the industry—to follow his destiny and pursue the ROH world title. 
  • Another Death Before Dishonor highlight was the crowning of the new ROH women’s champion Rok-C. 
  • The Andrade-PAC match from Friday’s Rampage was outstanding. With the roster so packed with talent, can either Andrade or PAC emerge in the title picture? Both would add to the TNT title, but that is firmly attached to Miro at the moment. 
  • How incredible is it to see Bryan Danielson in the same ring as Kenny Omega? 

Edge: “I would love to share the ring with Sami Zayn”

Edge’s triumphant return to the Garden last week on SmackDown was brilliant.

At the age of 47, Adam Copeland finally returned to MSG, showing a dynamic, electric side of Edge in his match against Seth Rollins. This appeared to be merely a fantasy even as recently as a few years ago, considering Copeland had retired due to a neck injury, but became reality as he continues to shine in his return. The match with Rollins was pay-per-view main-event caliber, further enhanced by a sizzling hot crowd.

Unlike their match at SummerSlam, Rollins came away victorious on SmackDown. He continued his assault on Edge after the match, and the story line now takes an interesting turn, as Rollins injured Edge’s neck to the point that he needed to be stretchered out of the arena. This gives Copeland some time away from the ring and builds to a rubber match against Rollins when he returns.

When Copeland does return, another opponent he is eager to work with is fellow Canadian Sami Zayn.

“I would love to share the ring with Sami Zayn,” Copeland says, speaking before last week’s match against Rollins. “And I would love to do it in Toronto. We’d keep it real simple. He can come out in his Habs jersey, I’ll come out in my Leafs jersey, and we’ll go from there.”

Rapidly approaching 30 years in pro wrestling, Copeland debuted in 1992 and has accomplished practically every feat in the industry. He has successfully worked as a babyface and a heel, knowing the intricacies of both roles, and he has watched in awe as Zayn has flourished as a villain.

“There’s a key to Sami’s success,” Copeland says. “There is an element of truth to all his promos. As a heel, you have to have that nugget of truth. If you have it, you can push everything else forward. So his promos feel much more real. He’s doing incredible work.”

Copeland is expected to have time off, which will really cement the injury angle with Rollins. In the not-too-distant future, he also wants to have his time in the ring against Zayn.

“The crowd just knows to boo this guy,” Copeland says. “That’s to his credit. His promos, his character work—Sami is incredible. He’s gone from El Generico, then this plucky babyface with checkered tights and Mighty Mighty Bosstones–type music. Now he looks like some kind of dictator. I really dig it. Thinking about it, I can’t wait for it to happen.”

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