NXT has been through a lot of iterations during its time. It’s been a space for WWE’s developmental talent, where the company could help get wrestlers molded into the type of character and personalities that RAW and SmackDown are looking for. But more recently, NXT has become its own thing, its own brand. You could argue about the timeline or what represents the zenith of NXT’s ascension—the Zayn-Neville era, the Owens era, the early Rollins era, or perhaps even the recent domination at Survivor Series in 2019—but there’s one thing that’s become absolutely clear in recent years: Adam Cole is the greatest NXT Men’s Champion of all time, and he’s the very definition of what NXT as a brand has become.
Recently, Cole became the longest-reigning men’s champion of all time for the black and gold brand. He’s got 300+ days under his belt, vaulting himself ahead of the likes of Finn Balor, “The Man That Gravity Forgot” Neville, and the man that time forgot, Bo Dallas. Obviously, there are NXT Champions that have made a major impact on the main roster, be it Seth Rollins, Big E, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, or even recent Royal Rumble winner Drew McIntyre. But Cole is the one who feels uniquely NXT. He feels the like guy who made this brand in his image.
NXT didn’t need Drew McIntyre. It didn’t need Shinsuke Nakamura or Samoa Joe. Those guys were always destined to just be passing through before finding their rightful spot on the big stage. Adam Cole could have done the same thing, but he didn’t. Instead, he made NXT into its own big stage, becoming the most reliable main eventer the men’s division has ever seen. Through his run in NXT, Cole has had classic matches with the likes of Ricochet, Aleister Black, Finn Balor, Johnny Gargano, and a whole lot more from the best that NXT has to offer. He’s also competed in three straight WarGames matches, which is truly a physical accomplishment.
NXT has never seen anybody like Adam Cole. No member of the male division—which is a necessary qualifier because nobody can touch the impact of WWE’s (non-Rousey-related) Four Horsewomen—has made NXT their own the way he has. Sami Zayn is certainly in the argument. He was the heart and soul of NXT for a stretch, his underdog story a defining arc when NXT was growing into something special. But Cole is something different. He’s a champion who’s changed the makeup of NXT and helped make some stars along the way. He’s melded the indy wrestling style with WWE’s own and helped create something that makes NXT stand out in an ever-crowded wrestling landscape.
Look, factions are designed to eventually implode, and yet Undisputed Era has stayed strong through thick and thin, with Cole leading the group through a fruitful period of multiple championships. Cole is, essentially, an anchor for not only his own faction but for NXT as a whole. He’s proven time and again that he’s the main event attraction, and that any match that includes him is must-see.
Now, he’s the longest-reigning NXT Men’s Champion of all time. When he first showed up in NXT, he superkicked then NXT Champion Drew McIntyre in the face. He stood over his body, holding the title high. He was staking his claim then, and he’s not giving it up now. Nobody is more NXT than Adam Cole.