Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly came to WWE NXT with history. The longtime friends shared time on the rosters of Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, sometimes as partners, and sometimes as rivals. On the NXT roster, Cole captured the NXT Championship once and then formed the Undisputed Era faction with O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, and Roderick Strong. Undisputed Era started out as a heel faction, attacking groups like the Sanity stable, but they soon became NXT fan favorites. Like AEW’s The Inner Circle, The Shield, and the heel version of the Hart Foundation of 1996, Undisputed Era managed to convincingly project undying loyalty to each other, and an air of formidability towards their opponents, at the same time; warrior knights, fighting for one cause: each other.
NXT Duo Flourishing Post-Undisputed Era
— Adam Cole (@AdamColePro) April 1, 2021
The Four Musketeers era for the group ended in early 2021, at NXT Takeover: Vengeance Day, when Cole attacked Finn Bálor, moments after he and the rest of Undisputed Era had fended off Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch of the Bruiserweights stable, who attacked Bálor after he successfully retained the NXT championship against their stablemate Pete Dunne. When a perplexed O’Reilly protested Cole’s actions, Cole superkicked him. Cole’s next attack on O’Reilly saw him laid out on a stretcher, which led to a rare occurrence in modern pro wrestling: real life speculation that the gimmick was real, with even O’Reilly’s sister apparently believing for a time that he had suffered a seizure. The Undisputed Era was done, and both Cole and O’Reilly were quickly transformed from brothers in arms to feuding rivals. In between several backstage, and even roadside, dustups, the two have made it clear both are out for glory as singles performers, both Cole and O’Reilly repeatedly challenging current NXT champion Karrion Kross for his title. Both men fought, and lost to Kross in a five-man match for the championship at NXT Takeover: In Your House. They have also both honed new personas that are a departure from their Undisputed Era act.
Cole is all in with his heel turn, resurrecting his “I’m Adam Cole, bay-bay” catchphrase and delivering it with gusto in every confrontation. Watching Adam Cole on the mic, one would think no one has ever enjoyed being a self-interested, cutthroat, brazenly ambitious tool quite as much as Cole. It was a stretch of belief, at first, that he had assembled Undisputed Era and played along with their “band of brothers” mentality just to orchestrate a second shot at the NXT Championship, but with every confrontation Cole solidifies his character, even playing a big role in Samoa Joe’s return to WWE television as the new enforcer to the General Manager. Joe tapped out a rowdy Cole with a sleeper hold.
It was O’Reilly, however, who had an uphill climb in establishing who he was outside of Undisputed Era. Most of his time on the NXT roster has been spent in the stable, where he really only had one role to play, that of loyal brother to Cole, Fish, and Strong. However, in two stand out bids for Finn Bálor’s NXT championship in 2020 and 2021, O’Reilly got to convincingly step into the role of serious title contender. Post-Undisputed Era, he has played the gutsy, quirky babyface to Cole’s heel character.
In the lead up to NXT’s next big event The Great American Bash, at which he is set to face Cole, O’Reilly expanded his range yet again. The former Ring of Honor champion proved that he is not just the “good brother” in his and Cole’s Cain and Abel story, nor just NXT’s insouciantly swaggering, denim jacket-clad answer to Orange Cassidy. O’Reilly stepped firmly out of the shadow of Cole and Undisputed Era with an electrifying match against NJPW opponent Kushida on June 22’s NXT.
Throughout the bout, Kushida and O’Reilly traded submission maneuvers, neither clearly dominating or getting the better of the other. Kushida’s customary quickness served him well, but so did O’Reilly’s knowledge of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as he applied several submission holds to his wily opponent. The Cruiserweight Champion, Kushida and O’Reilly punished each other relentlessly; O’Reilly in particular becoming visibly worn down, but both parties refused to relent and continued to attempt to trap each other with equally expert grappling, then rising to their feet to trade blows, as well. The bout that announcer Wade Barrett described as “an encyclopedia of grapples and holds” split the crowd at the Capitol Wrestling Center down the middle, as half cheered to rally Kushida, and the other screamed to keep O’Reilly awake and on his feet. O’Reilly, bruised, welted, reddened face and soaked in sweat, managed to wrangle a victory via pinfall with a shoulders down cover.
O’Reilly and Kushida ended their match respectfully with a hug, but seconds later, Cole stormed the ring with another attack on O’Reilly that saw them battling outside and Samoa Joe intervening. However, when the two meet in the ring properly at Great American Bash, it will be on footing more equal than ever after O’Reilly’s impressive match, and victory against Kushida.
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