Adam Cole: The Three-Time Champion
What is it like being the first three-time champ in Ring of Honor history?
It’s really hard to put into words exactly how it feels, because I’m the first one to be the three-time champion, but I’ve been a Ring of Honor fan since I was in high school, so I saw all the champions come before me—guys like Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson [known now as Daniel Bryan] and CM Punk and Nigel McGuinness, and the list goes on and on and on. The one thing that these guys have kind of established from the gate is that you have to be a member of an elite list to be a Ring of Honor champion. So to be a guy who is the first one to do it three times, again, it’s just so cool. The fan in me thinks that it’s incredible and it’s awesome and it’s so cool to be a part of, and then the wrestler in me realizes that I have a lot of work to do. So to be the first three-time champion means I have a lot on my plate, a lot of weight on my shoulders, but it’s something that I feel very prepared for and very ready to deal with.
So tell me what’s kept you passionate about wrestling.
I’ll tell ya, for whatever reason, my father was someone who got very, very into something, and then he got out of it in three to four months. Like, he would become obsessed with it, and then it would be something else he would be into. When I found wrestling when I was nine, I think my father thought, “Oh, he’s gonna go through a phase like I go through,” you know, I’d go in these little spurts of being into something. And I’ve been utterly obsessed with pro wrestling since I was nine, and it hasn’t stopped at all. And I oftentimes wonder what exactly that thing or that reasoning is of why I love it so much, but I think it’s just a combination of so many things. I just don’t think there’s any form of sport or entertainment that sends you on this just absolute rollercoaster of emotion that wrestling does, especially if it’s a group of people that are willing to get lost in the art form of what it is. You can have so many people so, so happy, and within five seconds, you can have the exact same amount of people be just as upset. It’s just such a wild, wild ride. You can just cover all bases—wrestling is like this universal language. I’m going over to Japan this afternoon, and a lot of people have no idea what I would be saying if I talked to them on the streets, but when I wrestle, they understand what I’m saying. So, it’s very special to me for so many reasons. But that’s me doing my best to explain it.
Have you bled for your art?
Yeah, I certainly have. And when you bring that up—bleeding for this art form—it’s funny, because that specific moment for me, and the first time that that happened for me, was actually the turning point in my wrestling career. Up to that point, in 2012, I was still like a young blue chipper who was trying to find myself as a pro wrestler, trying to find myself as a performer and trying to find myself with the audience. Again, I had respect from the audience, but I hadn’t really made that full connection with them yet. And there was a night in 2012 at Best in the World against [my] longtime rival and partner, Kyle O’Reilly, where we had a hybrid fighting rules match, and in this match, there was some unplanned blood that could not have [been] placed any better for me. O’Reilly ended up punching me in the mouth, and the way that my lip split was, in some cases you could say perfect, in some cases you could say it was a nightmare. But again, [it was] just absolutely covered in blood. It must’ve hit a vein of some sort, because it was literally squirting out of mouth and onto O’Reilly—it was the craziest movie-like visual that you could ever imagine. It was a scary moment for me, initially, but then when I looked around and realized how into this and how captivated the New York wrestling fans were, I immediately realized that what we had was something very special, and for the next 10 minutes we continued with this match, and there were things that had happened that weren’t planned. There were things that had happened that I could never duplicate again because it was just a genuine raw, real, organic moment that happened before those fans’ eyes and before my own eyes as well. In some cases, I compared this obviously, to a lesser extent, — to when Steve Austin wrestled Bret Hart and he bled everywhere in Chicago at WrestleMania 13 and everybody said, “Wow, we love Steve Austin.” That was my Steve Austin/Bret Hart moment, and ever since then, my career just kind of took off. That was when I started winning championships, that’s when I, a year later, became the Ring of Honor World Champion. And that, for me, was my connecting point with the Ring of Honor fans—me bleeding everywhere in New York City.
How were you able to keep performing in that condition?
There was an exact moment where I didn’t realize how bad I was cut; I knew I was hit, and I knew that I was definitely busted open. And there was a point where Kyle had hit me and I had collapsed and was on my back for what felt like a long time, but in reality, it was only a second or two. And then you see me on the tape immediately pop up because I was choking on my own blood. So I shot up, and I looked down, and there was blood just dripping all over the canvas, and I couldn’t hear anybody. So I’m looking at this blood drip down on the mat, and then it’s like, the sound slowly starts coming back to me, and I’m listening, and then I realize what’s around me, and you see me on camera look up, and I see the audience, and everybody is standing up and going insane and going crazy, and I’m looking around. And just, I realized again, because I am obsessed with this to an unhealthy level, that what we had was something that I was not going to be able to duplicate again. It’s very rare that you can be put in a scenario or a situation where the audience knows that someone genuinely is hurt but not hurt to a life-threatening degree. And they are completely invested in you and want you to fight through it and want you to keep going. So I got to tell some stories and create some drama that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to [do] again. There was a point, too, where the New York State Athletic Commissioner ended up coming down because blood is a big no-no in New York, and he wanted to check me to see if he could stop the match, and the audience was booing. And I refused to go over to the doctor, and I stood up and dramatically shook my head no, that I wasn’t gonna go over to the doctor, and the crowd goes insane because I didn’t go over to the doctor. These are all things that were genuine moments that I knew I was going to be able to capture because of this injury that looked a lot worse than it was. So, yeah, just the love of the performance is what got me through it.
Can you tell me the oddest situation you’ve found yourself in, in wrestling or just something where you thought, “When I was nine, I never thought I’d be here?”
When you first start as a pro wrestler, there isn’t a lot of money. It’s a lot of, as they say, paying your dues and just getting experience and getting yourself out there and learning. And part of that process is, when I first started travelling overseas, I was very fortunate to go to Europe and go to Japan years ago and Mexico and things like that, but when I first started going to Europe, I didn’t have work visas. So I used to literally have to sneak into the country to get over to the U.K., whether it would be to train or to wrestle or whatever. And so I went over there one time, and I didn’t have this visa, and I was explaining to the gentleman why I was there. Long story short, he ended up sitting me down, and I waited for, like, 45 minutes on this bench, and then I got pulled into this room, and I was kept there for five hours, and I was grilled about my connection with Filipino government, and I was fingerprinted, and I was mugshotted—I was like 21, 22 years old at the time, and here I was in London, England, being grilled by these agents, and that was just a moment for me where I was like, man, I’m in deep on this pro wrestling stuff. And that was a scary time for me. I remember thinking I was gonna be in a prison somewhere. But everything worked out, and I was fine.
So, tell me, why join the Bullet Club?
Well, I believe, and I think many other people believe, that Bullet Club has been the most influential wrestling faction of the past 10 years. I mean, I can’t think of a group in a very, very long time that has influence in every wrestling organization across the country. I mean, Bullet Club, for it being a group that started in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and it’s made waves in Ring of Honor and WWE and other independent and international promotions, has been pretty cool. So to be a part of that is something I certainly wanted to be a part of. The other reason is, a lot of my buddies are Bullet Club. I’ve been close, personal friends with guys like the Young Bucks for years, and we’ve even talked about me joining Bullet Club for a really long time. So getting to do that, finally, with them and work with them on a more consistent occasion is always a positive for me both personally and professionally.
Talk to me a little bit about wrestling in Japan. What’s that like?
Well, again, for me as a fan, I discovered Japanese pro wrestling when I was in high school. Like, all through elementary school and middle school, I was a naïve wrestling fan where I thought just the WWE existed, until I got the internet, and then I discovered all of the different types of wrestling, and I was always fascinated by Japanese pro wrestling. So that was always a goal of mine to go over there and wrestle. So when Ring of Honor formed this relationship with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, I thought, “This is great, this is maybe my chance for me to go over there.” Getting to go over and wrestle for New Japan Pro-Wrestling has been just—again, I know I sound like a broken record—but it’s been awesome. New Japan is a huge deal over there. I recently went over for the Tokyo Dome Wrestle Kingdom show, and there were wrestling fans just everywhere waiting to meet the wrestlers and talk to the wrestlers and get pictures, or people with gifts or whatever it was ready to show their appreciation for the wrestlers who were there. As far as performing live, it is a much different experience. When you wrestle in the States, especially me, I wrestle for, obviously, Ring of Honor— [there are] some really diehard, hardcore independent wrestling organizations where it’s some of the rowdiest wrestling fans in the world.
Over in Japan, they’re rowdy, but in a totally different way. The fans will sit there, and if you’re in the ring and the bell rings and you don’t hear anything and you look out, it can be very intimidating because you think, “Oh, the people aren’t interested.” But if you look, each and every person is sitting there, and they’re just intently watching everything that you’re doing—nobody is talking to their friends, nobody is on their phones—they’re sitting there respectfully watching and waiting for you to do something so they can pay the closest of attention to what it is that you’re doing. And when they do [get] excited, they let you know that they’re really impressed with what they see. So, it’s a totally different world, but in the best way possible. Just getting to go over and wrestle for New Japan for the New Japan fans, and for the organization which is so big league and so professional and such a cool company, is really cool. And I feel like I’ve just gotten my feet wet in that company, and I feel like I have a lot more to offer there.
Can you talk to me a little bit about Christopher Daniels? What are you anticipating? What’s that gonna be like?
Christopher Daniels was the first wrestler that I ever saw when I watched my first Ring of Honor events, and I watched the very first Ring of Honor in Era of Honor Begins, and it was in Philadelphia, and Christopher Daniels was in the main event against Loke and Bryan Danielson. Christopher Daniels was the one bad guy, or the main bad guy, on the show. I remember being captivated by Christopher Daniels and really, really liking his stuff, and really, really liking Ring of Honor. He was one of the big reasons that I continued to watch the company. And now we fast-forward 15 years later, it’s pretty crazy to think how I’m the one wrestling Christopher Daniels, but I’m the Christopher Daniels in this situation. Like, I’m the bad guy, I’m the one who has the championship, I’m the one telling Christopher Daniels that he’s not gonna get anywhere near the Ring of Honor world championship.
It’s pretty cool to think that the company as a whole has grown as much as it has, and regardless of the fact that Christopher Daniels has never been Ring of Honor World Champion, there’s no question that he’s played a huge part in Ring of Honor’s growth as a company. However, if I’m being honest here, I just started this third championship run. It’s a historic, legendary third championship run. No one has ever done it before. There’s a reason that Christopher Daniels has never been Ring of Honor World Champion before, and lightning is not gonna strike in Las Vegas. He’s not gonna have the winning lottery ticket in Las Vegas. I have all the respect in the world for Christopher Daniels, and I know that Christopher Daniels is a great pro wrestler, but I’m just now hitting my prime, I’m just now hitting my stride, and there’s not a chance that in Las Vegas at the 15th anniversary show that Christopher Daniels is gonna walk out as the Ring of Honor World Champion.