WWE, AEW or Other: Where Should Adam Cole Sign His Next Wrestling Contract?

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2021

WWE, AEW or Other: Where Should Adam Cole Sign His Next Wrestling Contract?

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    Adam Cole has no shortage of options for possible places he could show up at next.
    Adam Cole has no shortage of options for possible places he could show up at next.Credit: WWE.com

    Adam Cole is one of the most talked-about talents in the wrestling world right now—and justifiably so given the immense amount of talent he possess.

    Per Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful Select, his contract with WWE is set to expire around SummerSlam weekend. He's already been announced as facing Kyle O'Reilly in a bout being billed as "The Undisputed Finale" at NXT TakeOver 36 on August 22, which could prove to be his swan song from the promotion.

    Of course, it's entirely possible Cole re-signs with the company and immediately reports to Raw or SmackDown. A later report from Fightful Select indicated he met with Vince McMahon last week to discuss potential plans for him on the main roster in a clear attempt by WWE to convince him to stay.

    Before he makes a decision on his future in wrestling, though, the 32-year-old should explore all options.

    If he chooses to leave WWE once he's free and clear to do so contractually, there is a wide variety of places he can pop in. All Elite Wrestling is obviously a strong candidate given his ties to those in charge, but in reality, any company would be fortunate to have someone as valuable as him on its roster.

    Before Cole wrestles what could be his final match for the black-and-gold brand next weekend, let's look at the likeliest landing spots for the longest-reigning NXT champion of all time.

Staying in NXT

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    The least likely of all the options in front of Cole right now—but should still be considered a possibility—is him staying right where he is in NXT.

    If he doesn't like his chances on the main roster even after meeting with McMahon and feels he won't be booked like the star he is, he can re-sign with the black-and-gold brand and remain a fixture there for another few years, or however long he sees fit.

    It isn't uncommon for stars to stick around in NXT for the long haul, as seen with Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. They, along with Cole, have been the stalwarts of the show since 2017 and are undoubtedly among the most accomplished competitors in the brand's history.

    Even in light of recent rumors regarding a possible overhaul, per Fightful Select, NXT's creative direction is far more reliable than Raw or SmackDown. It can be argued that the quality of the show isn't what it once was, but it's still more consistently solid than any other brand under the WWE umbrella.

    The only issue is that, at the end of the day, he won't be able to grow much more as a performer in NXT. He's hit his ceiling there, and outside of another reign as NXT champion, he's done everything there is to do.

    NXT would be lucky to retain his talents, but he can't get to that next step in his career until he reaches a bigger stage.

Moving to Raw or SmackDown

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    In years past, it was common for a top prospect in NXT to rise through the ranks, win the NXT Championship and make the move to the main roster soon after. Whether they would sink or swim from that point forward was almost entirely up to chance, but that was the way it worked until recently.

    Ideally, with his extensive skill set, the main roster is where Cole belongs. It's where he'd make the biggest name for himself, get the exposure he deserves and have the most success—if he's utilized at the level he should be.

    However, WWE has demonstrated a clear inability over the years of using NXT call-ups to their full potential and Cole could be no exception, especially given how he doesn't have the size that the company hierarchy tend to like in its main event players.

    Many stars have broken through that proverbial glass ceiling despite not having the most impressive physique, most notably Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, but times have changed and Cole may not stand a chance in the current landscape of WWE.

    Of the two shows, Cole would have a better shot at superstardom on SmackDown than on Raw, but not by much. If he ultimately re-signs with WWE, he's running a real risk as the main roster will be where his prime years as a performer will be spent.

    That isn't to say he is guaranteed to fail on the grand stage of WWE, but there's no reason to believe the company will get it right with him when they've gotten it wrong with so many others.

All Elite Wrestling

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    If Cole becomes a free agent in a few weeks, AEW is the most logical landing spot for him for a variety of reasons.

    Prior to leaving for WWE, Cole was a fairly prominent member of Bullet Club, if only for one year. In that time, he won Ring of Honor's top title on two occasions, competed in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and befriended the likes of The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes.

    Of course, they all went on to form AEW and offer a true alternative to WWE for the first time in many years.

    Several former WWE talents have gone on to do great things in the promotion, though it has to be careful about not picking up every ex-WWE star. That said, it would be foolish to not make a play for Cole if he became available.

    His girlfriend (and AEW women's champion) Britt Baker is already an established act on the roster, and there haven't been many instances of competitors of his caliber being overlooked.

    Sure, he could be the first to get lost in the shuffle with bigger names reportedly on their way in, but it's much less of a risk than if he stayed with WWE.

    AEW would welcome him with open arms and ensure he'd be a top-tier talent from the get-go.

Ring of Honor

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    Ring of Honor seems to be the only wrestling company—outside of WWE—that doesn't seem to be heavily involved with the working relationship AEW has with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Impact Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance right now.

    Interestingly enough, ROH is where Cole made a major name for himself before arriving in NXT. Thus, there wouldn't be anything wrong with him returning there for a time as he figures out where he'll sign his next long-term deal.

    Look no further than The Hardy Boyz, who left Impact in March 2017 and immediately debuted in ROH as a duo. They had a short stint there as ROH world tag team champions ahead of their return to WWE at WrestleMania 33 less than a month later.

    Cole could do something similar. The landscape of ROH has changed dramatically since he left over four years ago, and there's a whole new batch of incredible competitors for him to work with including Rush, Bandido, Brody King and others.

    As the only three-time ROH world champion in company history, The Panama City Playboy would be welcomed back with open arms. If nothing else, it would be a fun trip down memory lane and a way for him to remain relevant before he jumps ship to AEW on a full-time basis, returns to WWE or does something else entirely.


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    When Cody Rhodes requested—and was granted—his release from WWE in 2016, he embarked on his own path and became the hottest free agent in all of wrestling.

    Once his 90-day no-compete clause was up, he immediately arrived on the independent scene, reinvented himself and set out to work with the best the business had to offer at the time. In the span of just a few months, he appeared at the three biggest pay-per-views beyond WrestleMania: Impact's Bound for Glory, Ring of Honor's Final Battle, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom.

    It was also during that period that he linked up with Bullet Club and returned to his roots as a heel, a role he has always thrived in. He worked a variety of independent shows in the year that followed before finally signing an exclusive deal with ROH in late December 2017.

    Upon getting their respective releases from WWE last year, EC3 and Matt Cardona (f.k.a. Zack Ryder) also followed that formula of working wherever they saw fit. Cole doing something similar would be an exciting idea and allow him to appear wherever he wants—other than WWE, of course.

    Cole may not know exactly where he wants to go once his WWE deal is up. He could pop up in a few promotions or briefly resurface on the independent scene, build suspense and keep fans guessing until ultimately deciding on where he wants to ink his next contract.


    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.