When Adam Cole won the NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: XXV, some believed he was to be a transitional champion, simply holding onto the title until Tommaso Ciampa returned to reclaim his precious Goldie. Very few likely would have predicted that Cole would have retained the title upon Ciampa’s return, but he did, as the former champ remained out of the picture at first. When the two finally had their one-on-one showdown at NXT TakeOver: Portland in February, Adam Cole shocked the world and the system perhaps more than at any other time in his NXT reign. In a 33-plus minute affair, Cole retained his title, thanks to a little help from his friends, the Undisputed ERA and Ciampa’s frenemy, Johnny Gargano. That left the road clear for Adam Cole to do what he did on Thursday, March 19th, surpass Finn Balor‘s 292-day record as the longest-reigning NXT Champion.
*Disclaimer: Two set of dates are used in this article. In some cases, the date noted refers to when an episode of NXT was taped, not necessarily when it aired. As a result, there may be some date discrepancies when referring to specific televised episodes of NXT.
The Road to the Title
Adam Cole received his first title shot thanks to a serendipitous opportunity. Set to conclude their extraordinary feud, Johnny Gargano had won the right to challenge Tommaso Ciampa for the belt on the biggest stage for NXT, the TakeOver preceding WrestleMania. But TakeOver: New York was robbed of its main event that had been a year in the making when Ciampa suffered a devastating neck injury that threatened to end his career. That left the NXT Championship vacant and Gargano without a challenger. Enter Adam Cole.
On the March 20th, 2019 episode of NXT, Cole won a fatal-5-way #1 contendership match putting him solely in Gargano’s crosshairs. And somehow with just two weeks, Cole and Gargano built up a compelling rivalry that resulted in their TakeOver match being two-out-of-three falls. Both men delivered, registering WWE‘s only 5.5-star match in history. In the end, Gargano won, finally getting his moment. It was Cole’s first legitimate title match but he fell short. He wouldn’t let that happen again.
What was supposed to be the end of the trilogy between Gargano and Ciampa became the opener of the white-hot trilogy between Gargano and Cole. With not much time to build to their first match, Gargano and Cole took advantage of the two months that led up to their second. Adam Cole presented a valid case. He took the first fall from Gargano and had this been any other match, he’d have become champion, not Johnny Wrestling. Adam Cole and the rest of Undisputed ERA attacked Gargano on the April 17th and 24th episodes of NXT and on the May 15th episode, Gargano requested Cole at NXT TakeOver: XXV.
Day One – June 1st, 2019 (NXT TakeOver: XXV)
The match was set and while there had been cracks showing in Undisputed ERA in the lead-up, the trio united behind their leader to help lead him to gold. Cole’s win marked the first for the group pursuant to Cole’s December 2018 prophecy that “In 2019, the four of us will be draped in championship gold.”
When Adam Cole returned to NXT on June 19th, he enjoyed his championship celebration as he vowed to remake NXT in an “undisputed image.” It was that goal of holding all the gold that was going to motivate him and his boys going forward and no one was going to stand in the way of that outcome. No one and that included Johnny Gargano who Cole began taunting and lording his victory over. Cole began a “Bay Bay Championship Celebration Tour,” where he visited Cleveland and some of Gargano’s old haunts in an effort to bait the man he believed he needed to beat one more time.
Day 42 – July 13th, 2019 – 1st Title Defense (EVOLVE 131)
In the midst of his feud with Gargano, Cole had the opportunity to wrestle his first title defense at the 10th Anniversary Show for Evolve Wrestling against Akira Tozawa. WWE aired the show on the WWE Network, providing a showcase for the promotion which has become somewhat of a feeder to NXT. Cole himself was returning to Evolve at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, the place where he made his pro wrestling debut 11 years prior.
It was actually in Evolve in 2010, where Cole and Gargano faced each other for the first time. And given their NXT feud was ongoing in July, it only made sense that Evolve’s championship match would end in a Cole/Gargano staredown.
Day 71 – August 10th, 2019 (NXT TakeOver: Toronto)
Things ramped up and Gargano/Cole not only got their rematch, but got it in a three stages of hell format, just the fifth in WWE history. Gargano chose a street fight and Cole chose a standard match, fitting given he believed he lost his first championship match because it was not a one-fall contest. The third fall was chosen by GM Wiliam Regal – a cage match.
Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano battled the way you would have expected from Johnny TakeOver and the man whose own NXT stardom was skyrocketing by the day. The first fall, contested under Cole’s stipulation, saw Gargano get disqualified by hitting his opponent repeatedly with a steel chair. Down 0-1, the match headed to Gargano’s stipulation, the street fight. As one would expect for this kind of match, the action immediately headed to the outside with big spots accompanying the downright brawling. Cole went through the announcer’s table as well as took a lawn dart into a steel chair. And as these matches tend to go, everything was all tied up, with both men winning the fall they chose.
After brawling outside of the ring, Gargano and Cole were stuck inside of it as the final stipulation was a cage match. But it wasn’t just any cage match as the cage was fitted with weapons of all varieties including sledgehammers, tables, ladders, chairs, kendo sticks and a fire extinguisher. Every single last one of them was used in this brutal affair that ended when Cole and Gargano fell off the top of the cage into tables. Adam Cole fell on top of Johnny Gargano, thus getting the pin and completing his first NXT TakeOver title defense.
Day 76 – August 15th, 2019 (Aired September 4th)
With Gargano out of chances and out of the way, Cole was headed towards his next title defense, which took place just five days later. Considering himself the greatest NXT Champion of all-time (a claim he may well have earned now), Adam Cole showed up to NXT feeling dominant. And why wouldn’t he? He defeated Johnny TakeOver on the biggest stage twice in a row. Everything was coming up roses for Adam Cole.
But before Cole could make his exit, he was confronted by his next challenger. Jordan Myles, by virtue of winning the NXT Breakout Tournament, had earned a title shot and he didn’t plan on waiting to use it. Myles stood toe-to-toe with Cole ignoring the latter’s warning that it would be a huge mistake to challenge him. But Myles didn’t blink and two weeks after the confrontation, he received his title opportunity.
In the match, Cole didn’t take his challenger seriously at first until Myles starting picking up a few near falls. That’s when the match picked up and the Full Sail crowd began to get involved. The crowd was hot for Cole as the action headed to a finish with both men looking for their finishers. It was Adam Cole who hit his, defending his title successfully for the third time on his third different type of show (Evolve, TakeOver, NXT TV).
Day 124 – October 2nd, 2019
Cole’s next title defense didn’t come for another two months (one month in terms of air time), but in that time, a lot happened for the Undisputed ERA. With Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish having already regained the NXT tag titles, it left Roderick Strong as the last one left to fulfill Cole’s prophetic promise. On the September 18th episode, NXT’s first live show debuting on USA Network, Strong delivered, defeating Velveteen Dream for the title with a little help from the rest of the ERA.
All. The. Gold. NXT really did belong to the ERA and as the black-and-yellow brand was transitioning to a new chapter, live TV, there was no more unstoppable force than Adam Cole and his boys. But how long could the dominance last, especially as Cole’s next challenge was set for just two weeks later? On the September 25th episode of NXT, Matt Riddle defeated Killian Dain for the right to be the #1 contender to Cole’s title.
Cole and Riddle had a great match that served as the opener of the October 2nd episode of TV. It was full of action which was helpful, given there wasn’t much history for Cole and Riddle to draw on to help compel the angle. The story simply became about Cole and how he was just on another level when it comes to cunning his opponents. Cole, who had suffered a minor injury prior, used his cast as a weapon to get the win.
Day 154 – November 1st, 2019 (SmackDown)
When the October 2nd episode of NXT went off the air, fans were left wondering who Adam Cole’s next challenger would be. Could it be Finn Balor, who made a shocking return the same night and seemed like a clear choice to be added to the title picture? Or would it be Tommaso Ciampa, who made his own return and seemingly deserved to be at the front of line given he never lost the title in the first place? Well, it was neither of them as Cole had found himself in the midst of another story that initially had nothing to do with his title and had everything to do with establishing brand dominance against his colleagues on Raw and SmackDown.
Along with much of the NXT roster, Adam Cole showed up on the November 1st episode of SmackDown to showcase his brand’s dominance. His first match on the blue brand was for a title – his title – as Cole was tasked with defending his NXT Championship against Daniel Bryan. With Triple H ringside, Cole and Bryan put on a main event show worthy of any PPV. In the end, Adam Cole got the win as NXT made their presence known.
Day 157 – November 4th, 2019 (Raw)
From SmackDown to Raw, the NXT invasion continued and once again, Adam Cole was front and center. Triple H offered Seth Rollins an interesting proposition, join them and return to NXT. Rollins’ answer came with a condition. If he returned, he’d do so at the top of the brand and that meant getting an NXT title match against Cole to main event Raw that very night.
It was a good match but one that had somewhat of a predictable ending. Cole wasn’t going to lose his title but it wouldn’t help booking if Rollins lost. So he didn’t. Undisputed ERA swept in for the interference allowing Adam Cole to retain his title and Seth Rollins to be kept away from NXT, had his intention ever been to join in the first place.
Day 177 – November 24th, 2019 (Survivor Series)
All roads led to Survivor Series, which was a huge win for NXT as they took the overall match total and won the women’s 5-on-5 elimination match. On the card, one match that had no effect on the brand vs brand element was Cole’s seventh title defense, against Pete Dunne.
On TakeOver: Wargames III the night before, Cole went through hell going through tables and off the top of the cage. It was a huge spot that was executed perfectly by Ciampa, who despite the brief respite of NXT vs WWE, was clearly still being kept front and center in the NXT title picture. Also on that card was Pete Dunne defeating Damian Priest and Killian Dain to become the #1 contender to the NXT title, with the chance to fight Adam Cole at Survivor Series being the prize.
Once again, Cole did something as NXT champion that no one else had ever done. He defended the title on a WWE PPV, adding Survivor Series to his already impressive list of defenses which to that point included Raw, SmackDown, TakeOver, Evolve, NXT TV and NXT TV’s live debut. Unlike some of his other #1 contender defenses, Cole and Dunne did have history as the Undisputed ERA and Dunne’s British Strong Style engaged in a brutal feud that included Dunne teaming with Ricochet and the War Raiders to defeat the ERA in the prior year’s War Games. That time, Dunne’s team was victorious as he and Ricochet co-pinned Cole for the win. But in 2019, with no one hotter than Adam Cole, the result differed. Once again, NXT’s standard-bearer had retained his title.
Day 201 – December 18th, 2019
With War Games and Survivor Series over, the path seemed clear. Tommaso Ciampa was ready to regain his beloved Goldie. Only, nothing in wrestling is ever so simple. So while Ciampa seemed to be on the fast track to the title since his return, even enjoying a brief reunion with his beloved Goldie the week after he came back, NXT had other plans for who Cole’s next challenger would be.
This set up a huge NXT main event on the November 28th episode of the show as Ciampa took on Balor for the right to be #1 contender. In the match, Cole provided an assist, allowing Balor to get the win. It was an interesting choice but one that continued to tell the story that Cole wanted nothing to do with Ciampa, who he most likely and rightly felt, would be his toughest challenger. So instead, he made his bed with Balor, who used Cole’s assist to win and used his naivety about their relationship, to attack him unexpectedly. Balor had to defend his contendership on the December 11th episode of NXT, setting up the match. it would be NXT’s current champ against its longest-reigning one (at that time).
Adam Cole and Finn Balor had a great match, that served as the opener of the December 18th episode. The two men battled, both working heel, both trying to one-up the other. Ultimately, Cole’s craftiness along with a run-in from Johnny Gargano, who had been feuding with Balor on-and-off, helped the champ retain his title. With Gargano distracting Balor, Cole hit a low blow before hitting his finisher. NXT’s ultimate opportunist had once again found a way to win.
Day 261 – February 16th, 2020 (NXT TakeOver: Portland)
Gargano, Tozawa, Myles, Riddle, Bryan, Rollins, Dunne, Balor – all in the rearview mirror. That meant that finally, eight months after Adam Cole first won the NXT title, it was time for him to face the man who never lost the belt in the first place. But before that, it was time for some awards!
On January 1st, NXT held its annual end of year awards which saw Adam Cole and Undisputed ERA clean up. Cole won Male Performer of the Year, Overall Competitor of the Year, Rivalry of the Year and Match of the Year (alongside Gargano) and O’Reilly and Fish winning Tag Team of the Year. It was a fitting result for the faction which has been nothing short of dominant since arriving in NXT in 2017. But 2019 was really the group’s year and as Cole announced, their era had only just begun.
On the January 8th episode of NXT, the official build to Ciampa/Cole began as Tommaso Ciampa called out Adam Cole as not being a real champion since he never won the title from him. On January 29th, the two men made it official with a contract signing that saw Cole go through a table and Ciampa seal the deal by wiping his blood on the document. This came after he singlehandedly took out the ERA as well.
Ciampa didn’t need to be built up as a credible challenger to Cole as he had that inherently by being the champion who never lost his belt. But his performance in the contract signing made it feel like this was almost a foregone conclusion. After all, Cole was meant to be a transitional champion, to hold the belt and carry the brand until Ciampa returned to take his spot on top. But Ciampa was back now and it was time for Goldie to come home.
Only that’s not what happened. One more week of brawling with the ERA ensued, as well as one final staredown, but then it was time for TakeOver: Portland and Cole’s biggest challenge to date. And boy was it every bit as good as it should have been. Unlike much of Cole’s previous defenses, there was genuine heat here. It wasn’t just about Cole being the best guy on the roster. It was about him having to fight tooth and nail against a man who had become unhinged over his obsession with regaining his title.
In the end, that obsession almost led Tommaso Ciampa to the promised land. Despite taking a bump close to his surgically repaired neck, Ciampa remained laser-focused on Goldie. And he would have won her back if not for his frenemy, Johnny Gargano. Gargano seemed to initially come out to run the ERA off, but then he showed his true colors. As Ciampa grabbed for the belt to hit Cole with it, Gargano reached it first. And while it seemed he was just trying to not have Ciampa win that way, his real intent was not to have Ciampa win at all. Gargano cost Ciampa the match, but the end result was still the same. For the ninth time, Adam Cole retained his NXT title.
Day 293 and Counting
Officially, I stand before you as the LONGEST REIGNING NXT Champion of all time. This championship means everything to me, because it shows the world how good Adam Cole really is. I’ve had quite a few “first evers” in my career. But this? This is #Undisputed #AdamColeBayBay #UE pic.twitter.com/5OzhYzUGjT
— Adam Cole (@AdamColePro) March 19, 2020
There is something incredibly special about Adam Cole. Come hell or high water, he’s retained the NXT Championship even when all odds have been against him. He’s won with the ERA, he’s won without them. He’s won thanks to interference from friend and foe. He’s won with his back against the wall and he’s won in dominant fashion. Moral of the story, he’s just won.
That’s nothing new when it comes to Adam Cole and his 11-plus year wrestling career. He’s the only man to win the Ring of Honor world title thrice, the first-ever NXT double-champion and first-ever North American Champion. He’s also the longest-reigning Combat Zone Wrestling Junior Heavyweight Champion and longest-reigning Pro Wrestling Guerrilla World Champion. And now, he’s the longest-reigning NXT World Champion too.
Adam Cole made an impact on the night of his NXT debut, holding the title he would later win, high above his head. A statement was made and he’s only continued to build on that message ever since. In an NXT that boasts Finn Balor, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Keith Lee, Velveteen Dream and more, Cole is THE guy right now. He’s proved to be untouchable with the Undisputed ERA by his side. He’s proved to be the best NXT champion as he claimed months ago to be.
Cole’s next title feud looks to be with Dream, another person who one would look at and think, he’s gotta be the guy to end Cole’s streak. But fans thought that about Balor, they thought that about Ciampa. Neither man was up to the task. And it’s quite simple as to why. This is Adam Cole’s NXT. It’s his era, and that is well…undisputed.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. Be sure to catch NXT Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET on USA, and NXT TakeOvers on the WWE Network.