AEW is looking to land yet another top WWE star, who must choose between the two biggest brands in pro wrestling.
According to a report from the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Cultaholic), it’s still a toss up as to whether Adam Cole will re-sign with WWE or make the jump to AEW as the former NXT Champion and soon-to-be free agent “hadn’t decided” his next move as of earlier this week.
Cole’s contract situation, of course, has been a borderline fiasco for WWE. Company officials were reportedly “surprised” when Cole’s contract expired after last month’s Great American Bash special, with the widespread belief being that Cole was actually under contract until December. This contract snafu reportedly played a role in WWE firing Canyon Ceman, its then-Vice President of Talent Development, and also paved the way for Cole to potentially join his real-life partner Britt Baker in AEW.
Though Cole has extended his WWE contract through SummerSlam, he has yet to ink a long-term deal to remain in WWE, which has suddenly made him one of the hottest potential free agents in all of pro wrestling. Well, maybe. Vince McMahon reportedly met with Cole last week and took a liking to the star despite the company’s new philosophy to move away from signing stars exactly like Cole—who are smaller in stature and/or former indie standouts—to NXT, and the main roister creative team has been instructed to craft potential storylines to bring Cole to Raw or SmackDown.
It’s no secret that Cole has been one of NXT’s top stars since he first debuted there in 2017, and in many ways, he has become synonymous with the yellow brand as many diehard fans have pictured him potentially being an NXT lifer. At the very least, he was expected to get a chance to make it big on the red or blue brand.
AEW, however, could change things.
The recent plight of former NXT standouts on Raw or SmackDown hasn’t gone unnoticed. The likes of Aleister Black, who’s now in AEW himself, and more recently, Keith Lee and Karrion Kross, among a slew of others, have all found themselves struggling to get the same quality booking on the main roster that helped them become main event-level talents in NXT.
AEW has become a very attractive option for those stars who’ve been hindered by WWE’s lackluster main roster booking, with Black—now Malakai Black—and Andrade El Idolo—formerly Andrade in WWE—jumping ship and immediately benefiting from it. Black has been presented as a huge star right out of the gate in AEW after quickly defeating the face of the brand Cody Rhodes on last week’s episode of AEW Dynamite. Meanwhile, Andrade is settling in nicely as a strong upper midcarder with an undeniable star quality.
The similarities between Cole and Black are evident, too. They are stars who thrived in NXT and are smaller in stature but are also world class in-ring performers. NXT and AEW do a much better job of pushing these types of talents than Raw and SmackDown, which is why they tend to appeal more to diehard pro wrestling fans whereas the red and blue brands are more for the casual fan.
Thus, there should be concern about how WWE would handle Cole on the main roster. While Cole is a tremendous all-around performer, similar stars—like Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa—have proven to be much better fits in NXT than on the main roster, where standout in-ring performers like Ricochet have been unable to break through that proverbial glass ceiling.
That’s something that Cole will have to take into consideration as he ponders his next career move. While Cole reportedly maintains a “positive relationship with top NXT officials” and AEW creative head Tony Khan has denied offering Cole an official contract, Cole’s AEW connections run deep due to his relationship with Baker and several prominent AEW executives.
As AEW expands with the addition of a second show, Rampage, and a wider touring schedule, the company would benefit from adding top talents like Cole to the mix. And at this point, it seems that the decision to make a major splash relies solely on the shoulders of Cole.
But one thing’s for sure: Whatever he does will have a domino effect across the pro wrestling landscape.