After Disappointing WWE NXT Ending, Time for Kyle O'Reilly to Sign with AEWDecember 10, 2021
The latest episode of NXT 2.0 felt like the end of an era, as Johnny Gargano seemingly bid farewell to the Capital Wrestling Center. His performance at WarGames and the poignant promo on Tuesday night were a fitting send-off for the man who proudly carried the flag for the black-and-gold brand for so long.
Meanwhile, Kyle O'Reilly's time with the company possibly ended with a whimper.
Like Gargano, The Undisputed Era's air guitar-playing virtuoso hasn't renewed his contract with WWE. According to Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful, his initial deal is set to expire this week. The two wrestlers even hugged after NXT went off the air and enjoyed a warm reaction from the CWC crowd.
That's quite a turnaround for someone who wrestled in a cage match to open the episode, but it has been a puzzling few months for O'Reilly. At one point, he seemed destined to win the NXT Championship and produce matches with the brand's up-and-coming stars.
However, it's hard not to feel indifferent about what could have been his final appearance on a show that he and his stablemates dominated for nearly three years.
An Undisputed Track Record
Outside of Adam Cole, O'Reilly was arguably the most consistent member of The Undisputed Era. His tag team matches alongside Bobby Fish—and later Roderick Strong—will stand the test of time. To date, he holds the record for the most reigns with the NXT tag team title at three.
In addition, O'Reilly was a part of the NXT Tag Team of the Year for three consecutive years. He is the only competitor in the history of the brand to accomplish this feat.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the 34-year-old's work outside of WWE because he and Fish were already an accomplished pairing. However, the same fans would see the potential for him to go on a successful run as a singles competitor due to his time with Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling and PWG.
If you saw his classic match against Kushida in the 2016 NJPW Best Of The Super Juniors, you already knew what he was capable of. So, it was nice to see the former ROH world champion showcase his hard-hitting in-ring style against Finn Balor at NXT TakeOver 31. Their highly acclaimed encounter was one of the best matches of the year.
The Irishman ultimately retained the NXT title after a hard-fought bout, but O'Reilly proved he could go the distance in front of a new fanbase. The Canadian not only earned the champion's respect but he also made a strong case as to why he could be his successor.
Too Cool for School
On Dec. 16, 2020, O'Reilly defeated Pete Dunne to earn another shot at The Prince. Their highly anticipated rematch at New Year's Evil was tremendous. Still, the gifted striker was unable to wrest the brand's top prize away from Balor, and it slowly became clear that a returning Karrion Kross would inevitably regain the mantle.
Kross would go on to do so at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver in April. Meanwhile, O'Reilly and Cole attempted to recreate some of the magic of their rivalry from ROH in an unsanctioned match to close the show. In the end, the 16-year veteran exacted revenge on the former Undisputed Era leader, but he surprisingly never received a one-on-one match with the new champion.
Instead, he continued to battle with his real-life friend throughout the summer in a feud that offered diminishing returns. Yes, the two produced a trilogy of entertaining matches but it never quite reached the heights of the storied tension it attempted to replicate. Even more, KOR came out of it with less fanfare for whatever reason.
It seemed like the moment had passed and ending Cole's stint with NXT in their best 2-Out-of-3 Falls match wasn't enough to reignite the spark that was there last year. The Kool Kyle gimmick didn't help matters as it effectively turned a naturally charismatic character into a cookie-cutter good guy. Even worse, the new persona never got the chance to develop into anything more than a few quirky segments.
When WWE revamped the black-and-gold brand in September, it became clear there weren't any immediate plans for O'Reilly after Cole's exit. The most glaring indication was the way he was inconspicuously replaced in the Fatal 4-Way match for the vacant world title on the series premiere of NXT 2.0.
In the following months, he took part in an uninspiring pairing with the newcomer who took his place in that bout, Von Wagner. It was a baffling step backward that didn't pay off until the second-generation prospect tried to turn on him at WarGames.
That's when fans got a glimpse of the O'Reilly they fell in love with for the first time in over a year. He even flashed Undisputed Era's trademark sign after he prevented Wagner's predictable attempt to jump him following their match with Imperium.
Is It Time To Get Band Back Together?
Unfortunately, this bit of nostalgia was fleeting as it led to the steel cage match on the latest episode of NXT 2.0 and what looks like O'Reilly's final appearance on the brand.
Later that night, he tweeted a black-and-white image of his last hurrah with the caption "Truly overwhelmed by all the love and heartfelt messages. By no means does this mean goodbye... just smell ya later."
That would seem to suggest this is at least the end of his time with NXT. However, this could be a chance for KOR to reunite with Fish and do what they do best as reDRagon. The decorated duo have made an impact all over the world and would be a perfect fit for AEW's stacked tag team division.
This would be a fitting new start for the three-time NXT tag team champion as they debuted separately in 2017 before they formed The Undisputed Era at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. On the surface, that may seem regressive for someone who had world title aspirations. However, it has to be enticing to work with his close friends again and continue to provide high-quality tag team wrestling with a bevy of new opponents.
That isn't the demotion it appears to be with WWE because the art form is prominently featured on AEW programming. Sure, O'Reilly could roll the dice and hope he eventually earns a top spot with the company. But that seems risky when other smaller guys like him haven't fared that well. Look at where Balor is right now after such an amazing career resurgence with NXT.
Yes, O'Reilly's chances of coming in and becoming AEW world champion within the next year seem pretty slim. One could also argue the company's roster is growing too crowded heading into one of the most exciting free-agent periods the industry has ever seen.
Still, the potential for a new start with old friends has to be appealing. That may not be undisputed but it's better than uncertainty.