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Adam Cole’s Best NXT Title Defenses

George Geal runs down the five best title defences in Adam Cole’s record-breaking NXT title reign.

As of Saturday, March 21st, 2020, Adam Cole will be the longest-reigning NXT Champion in history, eclipsing Finn Balor’s reign of 292 days.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Cole has been one of, if not, the best NXT Champions in the eight years that the title has been around. Despite not defending as much as I thought on main roster shows, he has defended a lot on house shows. Using cagematch.net, he has made 27 title defences over the near 300-day reign. Based on the frequency of NXT Takeovers and house shows, Cole is a fighting champion. He has also had some fantastic title defences, both on WWE’s main roster and in NXT against the best of the best. The following five matches are the best ones you’re going to find.  

Adam Cole vs. Daniel Bryan – SmackDown, November 1st, 2019

During the best storyline WWE has had in years, Adam Cole made his main roster debut, still holding the NXT Championship, against Daniel Bryan. Bryan was on the back end of his heel run as ‘The Planet’s Champion’, and with an extremely makeshift roster due to the travel problems WWE faced after Super Showdown. This match was a brilliant way to introduce Adam Cole to the WWE audience who don’t watch NXT, which showed when not many in the crowd participated in Cole’s signature catchphrases. The brilliant thing about this match is that Bryan was presented as the more experienced wrestler due to his place on the main roster, which made Cole look like an underdog.

The parallel in styles between Cole and Bryan made this match brilliant. Bryan being the submission expert who pinpointed the injured Cole’s injured wrist, giving Cole another element of the underdog status, that was until Cole turned things around and began to show what he’s all about. Bryan was still partially a heel and still had his brutal in-ring style which worked so well with Cole’s hard-hitting style. Another aspect of this match that made it even more captivating was the presence of Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Triple H is the father of NXT and Cole wanted to impress him. Michaels trained Bryan, who aimed to prove that he is at the top of his game.

Even though we knew Cole was probably going to win this match based on the push NXT was being given and the title being on the line, the rub he got from defeating a five-time World Champion was absolutely huge, proving that he fully deserves his position on NXT.

Unlike the RAW match that followed, there was no DQ finish due to the Undisputed Era, Cole won this on his own against Bryan in a classic back and forth match. Additionally, Pat McAfee is class on commentary and the visual of all of NXT celebrating in the ring was amazing to see. 

Adam Cole vs. Pete Dunne – Survivor Series 2019

Much like the former entry, Survivor Series was a platform to show WWE fans what NXT is all about. It was also a fantastic way to introduce WWE fans to two of the best NXT wrestlers around in Adam Cole and Pete Dunne. This singles match also followed NXT TakeOver: War Games, where Cole went through hell and Dunne won his number one contenders match.

This match followed a similar structure to Cole vs. Bryan, Dunne being the submission and joint specialist and Cole being the flashier of the two. A couple of minutes into the match, we get a great backstory to Dunne from Michael Cole. He informed the fans that the arena in which Survivor Series took place, the Allstate Arena, is the arena where Dunne won the WWE United Kingdom Championship at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, filling in gaps for non-NXT fans. Both men would target one-another’s injuries, Cole going for Dunne’s knee and Dunne going for Cole’s ribs, giving us an even more interesting back and forth match. Its hard-hitting and brutal nature made it one of the best adverts for NXT.

Big move after big move, near fall after near fall; this was one of the best championship matches you’ll see from 2019. Near the end of the match, both men sold their injuries to perfection. Cole tried a lift on the apron, but couldn’t due to his back. The same for Dunne, who couldn’t lift because of his knee, this set up a Panama Sunrise on the apron but Dunne refused to stay down.

As Matty would say, chef’s kiss to this match. The finish was beautiful. Dunne went for The Bitter End, Cole reversed into a Canadian Destroyer and hit the Last Shot to retain his title.

Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano, Three Stages Of Hell – NXT Takeover: Toronto

This was the first ‘Three Stages of Hell’ match since 2013, even though WWE didn’t bill it like this. Cole and Gargano both chose a stipulation and William Regal chose the third if it needed to go there. Cole chose a straight up one on one match whilst Gargano chose a street fight, then Regal went overboard and chose a barbed wire steel cage match.

Cole won the first fall after Gargano got himself disqualified. A smart move, because it set up into the street fight and Cole’s punishment could continue. And it did, extremely effectively as Gargano would go on and win the second fall after making Cole submit to the Gargano Escape.

The most insane part of the match was the third fall. The spots these two put together were just unreal. Multiple moves to the head and neck, including a Panama Sunrise from the top of a ladder and lots of horrific weapons spots that would make the skin crawl.

The end of the match was crazy – Cole hitting an Air Raid Crash on Gargano from the top of the cage through two tables. Things came full circle as at the following PPV, War Games, Cole had the same move done to him by Gargano’s partner, Tommaso Ciampa. This match had everything you’d want in a blow-off match, a fantastic build-up that started at NXT TakeOver: New York where Gargano won the vacant NXT Title against Cole in a two-out-of-three falls match.

Gargano lost the title to Cole at NXT TakeOver: XXV which then set up the physical final battle between the two men which ended the feud and Cole came out on top. One of the things NXT does better than WWE, among many, is the hardcore style match because it feels like they have free rein to do so. I highly recommend this match for the hardcore aspects for the two latter falls and I promise you, it won’t fail to impress. It’s also the best match out of their trilogy. 

Adam Cole vs. Finn Balor – NXT, December 18th, 2019

What a breath of fresh air Finn Balor has been since returning to NXT. This match opened the show, an unbelievable way to open any show, never mind a weekly episode of NXT. Balor won a number one contender’s match against Keith Lee and Tommaso Ciampa, two men who most people thought would win. Balor was on a tear, taking out Johnny Gargano and Matt Riddle before setting his sights on Cole. This match had two stories going into it – Finn’s dominance of NXT and Cole’s prophecy for the Undisputed Era to be draped in gold and if he could keep hold of his. 

Both men were hitting hard, taking as much control as they could which resulted in another back and forth contest. Two men who made their names in Japan, and you can tell based on their in-ring styles. This was another free TV match which could easily headline any PPV and probably will in the not-so-distant future.

Mauro Ranallo summed this match up with one sentence – “Adam Cole makes metronomes jealous”, implying that he always comes back and always makes any contest he’s in a back and forth and as captivating as possible.

I see Cole as a very similar competitor to Edge – an opportunist. He got one shot in on Balor’s knee and isolated that one body part, a wise move against someone like Balor who uses the Coup de Grace. Balor kept a storyline going from his interactions with Gargano, hitting the John Woo dropkick on Cole through the barricade, after Cole attempted a Panama Sunrise on the outside.

The only downside to this match is the tainted finish as Johnny Gargano made his return to NXT to cost Finn his title shot and set up their feud heading into NXT TakeOver: Portland. However, it did protect Balor in defeat as he couldn’t have lost clean in this match in order to keep his momentum going. 

Adam Cole vs. Tommaso Ciampa – NXT TakeOver: Portland

The most recent of Adam Cole’s defences came at the most recent TakeOver in a hotly anticipated match against Tommaso Ciampa, a match I thought was going to be the last for Cole until shenanigans played a part. Since his injury in April 2018, Ciampa was set on reclaiming ‘Goldie’, the title he never lost.

Cole targeted the neck like a shark targets blood, he was on it straight away trying to effectively disable Ciampa. If the opponent was anyone else other than Ciampa, I don’t think this match would’ve been as good as it was. Nothing to do with the in-ring aspect, but all about the storytelling. No one is as good a storyteller as Ciampa, especially in his hunt for Goldie. A perfect example would be after NXT’s celebration of their invasions of SmackDown and RAW, he didn’t take his eyes off Cole, planting the seeds for this match since November the previous year.

The match itself garnered some controversial comments due in part to the indie-rific nature of the match. There were plenty of near falls but despite this, everything about this match rolled up and made an instant classic and a title match that defined Cole’s reign. Yes, he had help from the Undisputed Era and indeed Johnny Gargano, but he still pulled it out the bag and retained the title. 

Unfortunately, due to the world crisis going on, NXT Takeover: Tampa Bay has been cancelled so we won’t know if Cole’s reign would surpass WrestleMania weekend and his rumoured opponent in Velveteen Dream. Despite this, his reign has been fantastic. Cole has been a brilliant NXT Champion and it shows in the length of his reign. 

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You can find the author of this article on Twitter @George_Geal_. Thanks for reading!

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