Recently, Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling promotion has had it’s fair share of shocking debuts. This year alone has seen the arrivals of Andrade El Idolo, Christian Cage, Minoru Suzuki, Paul Wight, Mark Henry, Ruby Soho, the Good Brothers, Malakai Black, Kenta, Bryan Danielson, and some CM Punk guy. The relationships with Impact and New Japan Pro Wrestling mean on any given Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, almost anyone could show up on the true gold and black brand.
And while some of these have sent shockwaves throughout the business, one stands out as the most important. And no, believe it or not, it isn’t CM Punk.
Adam Cole (Baybay) Is AEW’s Biggest Signing
While the likes of Bryan Danielson and CM Punk have the mainstream name recognition, they’re older guys. Bryan is 40, and CM Punk is 42. They’re undisputed main eventers, but it’s not unreasonable to say their best years are behind them. Punk hadn’t wrestled in seven years, and Bryan hadn’t held a world title since 2018. WWE pushed strongly to re-sign both guys, but it isn’t like they were going to build a brand around either man.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re huge draws. They “move the needle,” despite what the embodiment of nepotism might imply. But with each appearance on Dynamite, returns diminish. Their biggest contribution to the product is bringing new eyes to the younger guys like Darby Allin, Dante Martin, Jungle Boy, and Hangman Page… as well as Adam Cole.
It’s All About the Boom
Adam Cole (baybay) is only 32 years old. He’s a full decade younger than CM Punk is, despite being a 13 year veteran of the business, and like his twitter bio says, he’s been the top guy in every place he’s wrestled for. He’s a main event caliber guy, and it can’t hurt that he’s best friends with the executive vice presidents and knows the women’s champion adequately well. On paper, he’s a pretty fantastic get for TNT’s wrestling redemption.
But beyond that, what Adam Cole represents is much, much bigger. Because not only is he a great young talent, but he’s a great young talent that the WWE were high on. Let me explain.
It’s All About the Game…
AEW has done wonderful things with WWE castoffs like Andrade, Miro, Malakai Black, and FTR. Two of these have been champions to this point, and they all feel like big stars. But do you know what they all have in common? WWE fired them.
It’s not that they weren’t great talents, but a free agent acquisition in March always feels a little spicier than one in August. Signing someone the other guys got rid of doesn’t have the same panache as signing someone they desperately want. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, WWE wanted Adam Cole.
Adam Cole was booked to be the biggest star in NXT history. The Shawn Michaels comparisons come naturally, and there’s no question that Cole would’ve fit comfortably into the Triple H guy role in the mold of a Seth Rollins or a Randy Orton. He would’ve had a very long, very comfortable career as a main event guy on WWE’s main roster.
It was through a clerical error that Adam Cole became a free agent. A clerical error that was so costly, the man responsible was fired for it. They were able to get him to briefly re-sign and finish up his angle in NXT, but an agreement could not be reached to keep him long term.
This is the first time that a young, talented main eventer has picked AEW over WWE. This isn’t the story of a washed up vet hoping for one last big run or a disgruntled outcast trying to get back at the E. Adam Cole had WWE over the barrel and chose his friends instead. Tony Khan’s detractors can’t cry “WCW 2.0” because Adam Cole ain’t Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
This is like if Tyreek Hill left Kansas City for Las Vegas. This is like if Fernando Tatis Jr. chose the Dodgers over the Padres. This is arguably the biggest shot fired in the 21st century promotional deathmatch. And personally, I can’t wait to see how WWE responds.