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Adam Cole’s Long Road Back From a Brain Injury ‘Went Even Deeper Than Wrestling’

‘I was worried about my quality of life,’ he says.’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Adam Cole is grateful to be back

Adam Cole is back in a familiar spot.

Cole will have a microphone in his hands on this week’s edition of Dynamite, addressing Chris Jericho as their feud begins to find more and more rhythm after last week’s one-sided beatdown that left Cole and real-life girlfriend Dr. Britt Baker laid out.

Redemption will come soon for Cole against Jericho. But the whole process—beatdowns, promos and dishing out revenge—has placed a seemingly permanent smile on Cole’s face.

Only a few months ago, Cole’s career was in serious jeopardy. Even more frightening than his never wrestling again was the possibility that Austin Jenkins—the man who proudly portrays Adam Cole and shouts out “Bay Bay!”—could have suffered legitimate brain damage.

“I wasn’t ready to have this taken from me,” says Cole. “I want to wrestle for another 15 to 20 years, so the idea that my livelihood was taken away from me was the hardest battle I’ve ever faced.”

Cole suffered a concussion last May in a match against Samoa Joe at the Double or Nothing pay-per-view. He went through the recovery process and was cleared to wrestle in June at Forbidden Door in a four-way title match for New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s prestigious IWGP world heavyweight championship. But the match was cut short after Cole was concussed again.

His memory is foggy, but he can still recall the sorrow he felt after the match at Forbidden Door.

“I was leaning up against a wall,” says Cole. “Britt was there, the doctor was there, a lot of my friends were there—and I felt so discouraged. This was my second concussion in a fairly short period of time. I couldn’t understand why it was happening. It was so frustrating.

“I can’t remember a lot from that match. I do remember the crowd giving us a standing ovation before the match started. I was standing beside ‘Hangman’ [Adam] Page, Jay White and [Kazuchika] Okada, and we could all recognize how special that moment was.

“It was scary. One minute you feel great, the next you feel terrible.”

Adam Cole makes his entrance on AEW Dynamite

Two months after his second concussion, Cole began to sense some optimism. He had been through the worst of the pain, he believed, and it was finally time for his recovery to accelerate.

Yet that was not the case. Instead, Cole reached the sobering realization that there was a very real likelihood his career was finished.

“I’ve never shared this before,” says Cole, 33. “Two months after my concussion at Forbidden Door, I was seeing a brain doctor three times a week. After two months of not being cleared for anything but going for walks, I took this brain test. I had to move my head back and forth, and there was a letter E moving up, down, left or right. I had to say which direction it was facing. Pro athletes are supposed to score a 120. I scored a 38.”

The devastation on his face barely captured the heartache in his soul. Had he scored eight points lower, he would no longer have been legally allowed to drive.

“At that point, after two months of doing absolutely nothing, that’s when I got slapped in the face with reality,” says Cole. “It went even deeper than wrestling. I was worried about my quality of life.”

Those familiar with Cole’s unrelenting work ethic will take comfort in knowing he applied his trademark grit and tenacity to his rehab. Except this time, he was not fighting for a world title, but, rather, his health.

Along that journey, the very best of pro wrestling occurred. Across company lines, hundreds of wrestlers sent their well wishes to an injured brother. Messages from fans did not stop pouring in. Suddenly, this longtime heel was basking in the glow of life as a babyface.

“It is miraculous how many people reached out,” says Cole. “It would be easier if I told you the people who didn’t.

“Britt was incredible. My family, my close friends within wrestling, like Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong. Austin Creed, Tyler Breeze and Claudio, were all in my corner. Christian [Cage] and Bryan Danielson. Bryan had suggestions to help the recovery process, and Christian kept telling me not to rush back and to make sure I was healthy. If I learned anything from the entire recovery process, it’s that I am very lucky to have the people in my life that I do. I’m surrounded by love and support.”

Months passed. Cole meticulously followed his doctor’s orders. Eventually, it came time for Cole to retake his brain test. With clenched fists and a healthy dose of nerves, he learned that he was healthy again.

“I scored a 160,” says Cole. “I had an incredible recovery.”

Cole’s injury and recovery is detailed on AEW’s new reality show, All Access, which will air immediately following Dynamite. It captures a difficult stretch, further complicated by cameras surrounding him. Yet now he is grateful that he can share the journey with those who were so willing to offer him endless support.

“There was a period of time when I didn’t want to do it,” says Cole. “It was personal and private. Cameras were there, everywhere, and that was hard. But it was incredible the amount of support I got from fans. So as hesitant as I was, I’m happy now that I can show that process.”

There was simply no way Cole would return to the ring without hearing cheers. So the decision was made to embrace it, and he now enters into a new chapter of his AEW career as a fan favorite.

“It’s been an interesting transition,” says Cole. “I’ve played the vile, despicable heel for so long. But coming out of this injury, and being able to get back in the ring and wrestle again, it feels like such a natural fit to be the babyface. It’s a challenge I need, and I’m enjoying it a lot.”

The change to babyface also allows Cole to square off against a whole new slate of opponents. This includes Jericho, an icon of the industry and an intriguing new adversary.

“As soon as I joined AEW and stepped in the locker room, I knew the day would come when I shared the ring with Chris Jericho,” says Cole. “He is someone I’ve studied and looked up to for a long time. The fan in me is incredibly excited.”

Last week’s Dynamite segment in Pittsburgh offered a chance for a lively crowd to support Cole and Baker while voicing their displeasure for Jericho. It will be fascinating to see where their program goes next. But the end game is not the focus for Cole.

This program does not necessarily represent a launching point for Cole to reenter the world title picture or the main-event scene. Instead, it is a chance to put his soul at ease. Cole is back in the wrestling ring, exactly where he wants to be, making seminal announcements on behalf of Tony Khan (“I love that I’ve become a huge part of those announcements,” says Cole) and relishing every single moment of it.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always said my goal is to be the world champion,” says Cole. “I want to be AEW world champion. But at this point, I have a whole new appreciation for this job. Every single week, I get on an airplane and go to a show. I’m so thankful for that. Wherever else that lands me is icing on the cake.

“My goal is to keep wrestling for a long time. This is me. I’m back where I belong.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Mercedes Moné lost the IWGP women’s championship to Mayu Iwatani on Sunday at Stardom’s All Star Queendom. Moné’s next pursuit should be the prized World of Stardom championship.
  • Bad Bunny will now be wrestling at Backlash in a singles match against former partner Damian Priest.
  • It is great to have Trish Stratus back as an active part of the WWE roster.
  • Dax Harwood and Matt Koon announced the end of their podcast, which is a real disappointment, as their show had endless potential. Going forward, Koon will partner with a different cohost each week.

Who should be WWE world heavyweight champion?

Who will WWE crown as the new world heavyweight champion?

The upcoming tournament for the belt largely depends on how the talent dispersal draft shakes out Friday and Monday, but part of the fun is the speculation.

With Roman Reigns expected to remain on SmackDown, two major players who could use some space from the “Tribal Chief” are Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Both had an outstanding run with Reigns and The Bloodline, stretching from the Royal Rumble all the way to WrestleMania. And there is no reason it cannot continue, but all parties involved would greatly benefit from some separation.

What if Owens and Zayn, who are WWE’s tag-team champs, meet in the finals of the tourney to crown a new world heavyweight champion? For now, it appears Zayn’s moment has passed, but he is a performer with a diverse array of skills and could certainly craft an entertaining title run. Owens would make a great champ, and, having last held the universal title in 2017, he is overdue for a reign with a world title.

Seth Rollins is also in need of a creative boost. A run with the belt would certainly serve as the antidote to any and all creative woes. Bobby Lashley, who unfortunately did not get the chance to shine in a match at WrestleMania 39, is also a deserving candidate. But one wrestler who should avoid a run with the belt is Cody Rhodes.

Rhodes should stay on Raw, but he cannot be the first one to win the world heavyweight championship. If he does, it will look like a consolation prize after he was unable to dethrone Reigns in the WrestleMania main event. Rhodes needs to keep producing must-see content on a weekly basis, and story-wise, he should keep his eye on Reigns regardless of whether they are on separate brands.

If there is one constant about WWE talent dispersals, it is that they have very short shelf lives. If Rhodes remains near the top of the card, it won’t be long until he gets another crack against Reigns. In terms of the new belt, it is time to crown a different champion.

Tweet of the Week

Edge and Christian teamed up Monday night, watching the Maple Leafs overcome a three-goal third period deficit and defeat the Lightning.

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