Adam Cole. Kyle O’Reilly. Bobby Fish. Roderick Strong. These four men make up NXT’s top faction, The Undisputed Era. With great success in and out of WWE’s black-and-gold brand, as well as both individually and collectively, they are arguably the standard-bearers of all of professional wrestling.
RondaRousey.com had quite the rowdy interview with this exceptional quartet, in which we talked group (and friendship!) origins, favorite matches, and really, just how much they all love each other.
This interview—which was conducted approximately a year ago—has been edited for clarity.
Adam and I talked a little bit about it the other day, but I would love to hear The Undisputed Era’s origin story. You know, the beauty that was the first time you all met each other.
Roderick Strong: Oh, wow. Where to start?
Kyle O’Reilly: I first met Adam in 2009, when we performed against each other on the pre-show of a Dragon Gate USA card. I just moved to the States and Adam had only been performing maybe a year, right?
Adam Cole: Yep. Yep.
O’Reilly: We were pretty much nonexistent, in terms of popularity, things of that nature. But we had a six-minute match against each other and it just kind of blew up, and our careers have never really been the same ever since. And then Roderick, I met at Ring of Honor.
Strong: Probably at the same time. Was it 2009?
O’Reilly: Probably so. Then I met Bobby for the first time at the Harley Race Camp in Melvin, Missouri. So that’s how I met all these silly geese.
Cole: I know we had talked about it when we spoke, but same exact thing. How I met Kyle in Dragon Gate USA. We’ve been married to each other ever since. Roderick and Bobby, same thing with ROH, but like I had told you, Roderick used to watch—and still will watch—my matches. He’d be one of the only people who would give me criticism after each one. And with how important that was for me early on, we built a friendship from there.
Strong: Yeah. I’ve actually known Bobby for a long time. We met when you were “Jerk Jackson,” like multiple times. And that was… 2004?
Bobby Fish: “Jerk Jackson?” That’s going back.
Strong: I met this jerk Bobby Fish in 2004, 2005-ish, yeah. And then over time, we eventually spent some time in Japan together.
Fish: Yeah, I feel like that was when we first really got to know each other, out on the road.
Strong: In Japan, you travel on a bus. I think one of the days we had a nine-hour bus ride. It was unbelievable.
Fish: A bit of that on a ferry. If it was that long, we probably were going north to the ferry. To Hokkaido too, I would say.
Strong: Then we met Adam and Kyle. It was very interesting for me personally to just to see their progression. Obviously, these guys meet in Dragon Gate USA, and then what they came to be was pretty wild as an observer. And then seeing Bobby go from Jerk Jackson to Bobby Fish, and just what he did with his career, it was cool to see all of that. So we’ve known each other for a very long time. Very long.
Fish: Yeah. I never would’ve imagined we would cross paths, the four of us in so many different places. And then to have us end up all here at the same time and then for them to put us together is pretty surreal.
Cole: I won’t ramble about it, but an off-topic thing—because we were just talking about it—is how me and Kyle randomly met and we randomly got put into a match together. Even when we both got contracted to Ring of Honor right around the same time, they had no idea of what they wanted to do with us, so they put us in a random tag team in Ring of Honor. It’s just cool going from that and then ending up here in WWE together.
So would you all agree that it was basically love at first sight when you all met?
Cole: For me it certainly was. I love these three guys. I always did.
Fish: I think we all always got along but it was different installments because we didn’t all cross paths together at the same time. I think for Adam and I, technically it was EVOLVE, probably the first locker room that we met in.
Cole: Right, right. Yeah, we barely spoke.
Fish: But we just didn’t have that much interaction and it was just “Hello” and introducing yourself. I don’t know. It’s kind of interesting to then end up, like I said, to end up here and all be together.
Strong: For me personally, I spent a good amount of time with these guys when they were in Ring of Honor. Until Bobby came, Japan was where we spent most of our time together. So we played a lot of catch up in Japan. As far as getting along, we’ve always gotten along.
Fish: To be honest, this doesn’t work if it isn’t real and I don’t know if that’s something that Triple H recognized. But it really wouldn’t if it was completely fictional. Like, if they just put us together and there’s no friendship. I don’t know. I can’t see it jiving as well as it does because there’s nothing that we’ve been asked to do so far that doesn’t feel natural.
Cole: And then too, again, to comment on if we’ve all gotten along. We definitely did, but just the relationship was a lot different. I really admired all three of these guys. So the fact that I entered any interaction whatsoever with any of them, I was like, “Oh, this is really cool,” and they were really friendly. Then after time goes on and the years and years go by, that’s where the deep friendship really develops. As far as how close we’ve all gotten, a lot of that has to do with time as well. Yeah. There was always a good relationship there.
We talked about this on an individual level, but how do all four of you unwind together? Video games? Karaoke?
Fish: Karaoke when you’re in Japan is almost forced upon you.
Cole: I am terrified of doing karaoke.
Cole: Oh my gosh. It’s the worst. If someone were to just pull me up on stage and go, “Sing this song,” and everyone’s looking at me, I probably would hate it. I would hate it.
Kyle plays video games here and there. Roddy loves music. That’s his big unwinding thing.
Strong: Music and… music. Well, I mean, I have a son. So that’s how I unwind.
O’Reilly: Our sense of humor, as well. Even if it’s just a text in the group thread of something funny that happened like, we’re all of a similar mindset. So, even just little things like that just helps us unwind.
Fish: And I think we’re always checking in with each other and it’s kind of sign of the times too that you can always stay connected through a group text or whatnot. But when we are not on the road or we’re separate from one another, so everybody kind of knows what the other person has going on. We’re always checking in to see how A, B, or C went. We’re out of sight but never too far away, actually.
Adam and Kyle—you’ve both talked about working against each other in EVOLVE and Ring of Honor. Could you talk a little bit more about that experience as a new team at the time? As Future Shock?
Cole: Sure. Again, me and Kyle kind of got thrown together as a tag team. And for both of us, it was like the biggest stage in our careers at that point. We were working with all these guys that, again, we’d been watching for years. And on a stage like ROH, which we used to watch all the time. There was a ton of pressure on us, but I remember me and Kyle got really close really fast just because when you have someone to share that pressure with and then share the excitement of your successes, it was really, really, really cool. Kyle, he taught me a lot being in a tag team with him. I really didn’t do a whole bunch in tag teams before. I really hadn’t done a whole bunch in the ring period before I had teamed with Kyle. So, yeah, it was just really cool being able to travel all across the country and, again, work with these teams and be on these shows that I had watched all the time. Just really glad that me and Kyle got to do that, for sure. It was a lot of fun.
O’Reilly: Yeah. I agree with that completely. Like Adam said, we were both young. We were both nervous. We were both—not in over our heads, but just a little overwhelmed with everything happening so fast. So to have each other to sound ideas off of and to learn from is such… Honestly, without Adam in those first, early years in ROH, I don’t know how well I would have done.
Cole: Same here.
O’Reilly: It really helped me out a ton just to have him. And we were doing well right off the bat. We clicked as a tag team and had a ton of fun working with guys with lots of experience and just learning and growing and just really hit the ground running.
Strong: But that’s very telling about those guys. Because I was there, just seeing it all unfold. And just their willingness to just take whatever they were given and use each other and learn from each other and ask questions to everybody was very, very impressive. And then you knew immediately that these guys were going to be successful, be it at the tag team or individual. It was awesome.
Then after Future Shock split, Kyle, you started ReDRragon with Bobby, and you guys have been teaming ever since. Can you talk about that transition and then moving forward, becoming one of the best tag teams in the entire world?
O’Reilly: I think when me and Bobby started teaming, I think I turned heel, right?
Fish: Yeah. I think that was originally what put us together was to further your angle with Davey [Richards].
O’Reilly: Yeah. I was teaming with Davey Richards for a bit. Then, I turned on him and Bobby joined. I competed against Bobby a couple times in EVOLVE previously. Like I mentioned earlier, we met at the Harley Race Camp where he beat the sense out of me. That was a great learning experience, too. I’ve just got a huge amount of respect for Bobby. We just clicked really easily, with our sense of humor.
Fish: You just loved my Nicolas Cage from Con Air hair that I had going.
It was super cool. I mean, we eventually went into a pretty big program in EVOLVE and bigger shows. We just gelled and clicked as a tag team as well. I think we really helped each other to further our mindsets. Working with Bobby really helped me break out of my shell and find the character aspect in what we do. It’s not just about being an in-ring performer. It’s about being an entertainer. We started doing the Fish Tank and our promo segments—we started just trying to make each other laugh. It ended up turning into really good character quirks that we hold onto to this day.
Fish: Yeah. I agree. Even the matches that we had in EVOLVE, we had very similar in-ring styles. But even through the similarities, there was quite a bit of difference there too, which I always thought was cool. I think that that had something to do with why when we were put together as a team it gelled so fast and so easily. I feel like we were really good complements to one another. The thing that, like Kyle was saying that I’ll touch upon, I don’t think either of us bargained for, we weren’t totally aware of it because we had known each other but hadn’t spent that much time. Then when we started teaming and we were on the road together, we just realized that we had very similar senses of humor.
I think from a personality side, that started to come together. I don’t think anybody saw that coming. I think that that was really the surprise and the main reason why things took off as quickly as they did for us as a tag team and why it was marketable and why it worked was because we just got along so well. You know Kyle has this quirkiness about him thatI don’t think people saw that previously.
It could have been because of the overshadowing a little bit of Davey’s personality being so just all business and it really didn’t leave a lot of room for anything else. So when Kyle turned on Davey and had a little bit of space to be a bit of a smartass, and I myself am very much a smartass. I think it kind of just left some space for that to be. And once that started to come out of Kyle, I don’t know. It just shape and it’s pretty cool to see where it is now.
One more team to really talk about that kind of bridges the gap before Undisputed Era is Mount Rushmore in PWG with Roddy and Adam. Can you guys talk about that time in your careers?
Cole:That was a blast. It was also this weird transition for me where I wasn’t at PWG. Then while I was gone, Roddy, Super Dragon, and the Bucks had formed Mount Rushmore 2.0. Then when I was able to come back and be able to be a part of that, that was a ton a ton of fun. Because Roddy really—and some people say this—but he had an incredibly underrated Pro Wrestling Guerrilla run. Like, the matches he was having, the character he was, who he turned into. Those people—like, in the prime of it—everyone hated him in the best way possible. But he had really awesome matches. So to be able to come back and do that was cool. I liked it also. We kind of did the thing where we were a team but we were kind of watching each other’s backs. We didn’t totally trust the other one. Really fun. I had a blast with it.
Strong: That was a time for me where I was trying to find myself as a character outside of being just a good worker and realizing what my strengths are as a character. It’s just funny that I get to have those kind of interactions with Adam because we’ve been such good friends for so long. It was really funny to act like I liked him but I didn’t trust him. Very weird and fun at the same time. All of that. Being in this room and just thinking about the matches I’ve had with Adam over the years and how it’s been a big part of my career. A feud with Kyle in PWG and one in Ring of Honor.
A feud in PWG where I eventually won the title was something I’ll remember forever in my career. Then me and Bobby. At the end of my run in Ring of Honor, we had a good little feud over the Television title. It’s just funny to just hear them talking and now thinking about how pivotal all those feuds and moments were to my career, to come here, and now here we are.
Fish: It’s interesting that the grand plan eventually was to get to Kyle and Adam for the Ring of Honor title and on the way to getting there was around the same time that Roddy and I had our TV title thing. As part of a dip in the angle to get Kyle and Adam’s blow-off match they put Kyle, Adam, and I together, like we were united for one night or a couple nights. And I remember going to the office and saying, “Hey. I’m not saying change your booking plan. Still get there but maybe let this thing run a little bit just to sell some T-shirts or something. We give it a cool name, like the three of us together. Then it’ll help your eventual swerve anyway.” But the office would have no part of it. So it’s really kind of poetic justice that that trio ended up being put together by Triple H.
Then obviously, to further that even more, then having Roddy brought into the fold. And that literally being the only person in the company that would have worked as a fourth member. There’s no way it would have worked with anybody else.
Adam and I were talking about this the other day—I live in LA, so I was going to PWG all the time during that era, the Mount Rushmore era. I was there when Adam had to leave for a while, when Mount Rushmore formed, and also for the start of the “Shitty Little Boots” chant. Roderick, how exactly did you feel about that chant when it first happened?
Cole: Real quick, you were there for some really important moments. That’s very cool.
Strong: I loved it. Any reason for people to hate me, especially during that time…. You know something, actually? My wife Marina said to me about the crowd there, they respected me so much for what I’d done over time, for me to just resort to doing the stuff that I was doing, it made them hate me because they knew I didn’t have to do it. And I never thought about it like that.
That was honestly, up until joining with these guys and the things we’ve done, the greatest time of my career. I enjoyed every single moment there.
O’Reilly: A lot of great memories from working in Reseda.
Fish: A lot of late nights.
Cole: Often we would be coming in same day. We’d get up at 6:00 AM, be there late morning or early afternoon, then hang out, then go do the show and then get back super early in the morning. And your flight leaves in two and a half, three hours so you just stay up. It was exhausting but so fun.
Strong: Oh yeah.
Obviously, you guys love each other, but I imagine sometimes you have disagreements. Whether it’s about how a match should go down or just in general, like any friend group. How do you guys settle disagreements?
O’Reilly: Thumb wrestling.
Cole: Generally speaking—and this is a super boring answer—we all talk to each other with respect, so it never gets to a point… There’s no real arguing going on because, again, we’re friends. We respect each other’s opinions. So if there’s something that we maybe aren’t on the same page with, we’ll kind of go back and forth about it. Let’s say, for example, I’ll go back and forth on why I think I’m right. Then Roddy will go back and forth about how he’s right.
O’Reilly: It’s a democracy. It comes down to group consensus.
Cole: Yeah. So Roddy, Kyle, and Bobby agree, I’m the odd man out. Then I would just go, “Okay. Yeah. We’ll do that.” Then that’s it or whatever.
Strong: Respect—from just a personal standpoint and then a business standpoint. Without respect for these guys and the work that they do, it’d be very difficult for me to go along with stuff. But I do and I feel that’s all mutual. So, if you don’t necessarily agree on an idea or something, we work with each other to give everybody what they want. It’s really a fun process. And it’s very interesting. But when people that don’t have that necessarily and they see that, they’re like, “Oh my god. You guys just make it so easy for each other.”
Cole: I’m not going to name names, but there are definitely people I know who, when they work together, they just can’t stand the other one’s ideas or thinks that so and so is annoying or whatever. I’m so glad that we don’t deal with that stuff, which is rare.
But if you had to deal with that stuff, who would win in thumb wrestling?
Cole: You think Bobby? I’m going to say Roddy.
Strong: Democracy vote, so it must be him.
One day on NXT, you guys are going to have to have this thumb wrestling contest so the whole world can see.
Cole: I think you just gave us a great idea. Yeah.
Please do. That would make my day. Adam and I also talked the other day about how he felt when Kevin Owens betrayed you all at War Games. How did the rest of you feel about that?
Strong: Oh, it was just Kevin being Kevin.
O’Reilly: We had it coming, we attacked him on Monday Night RAW.
Strong: For fun! For jokes! We were making a joke. We were making a goof, just beating him up and then he has to get serious. He’s sensitive. He is.
“Undisputed Era says Kevin Owens is sensitive.”
Strong: Kevin will hear about that.
On Twitter, there’s this meme about top five movies or top five TV shows to get to know you. What would you guys say are the top five Undisputed Era matches that define you?
Strong: One of the War Games matches—has to be.
Cole: Some version of the War Games match has to. Probably the second one.
O’Reilly: I mean, all three converge into one because they were involving all of us.
Cole: Yeah. We’ve just been involved in every one of those. Even in the first one when Roddy wasn’t officially in The Undisputed Era, he was in the match. So they all count
Fish: I would say the one where Roddy turns too. How could we not?
Cole: Yeah. Yeah.
Fish: That adds a layer too. And it’s interesting now to think back to what the dynamic was because I don’t necessarily remember it all that well but I know it was different. So then that match has to be in there.
O’Reilly: Then at TakeOver: New York, where the three of us got involved. That was a special one.
Cole: We totally don’t have to add this one to the list, but I always think of it. The TakeOver in Chicago where you guys wrestled Oney [Lorcan] and Danny [Burch]. I just remember they opened the show and I just managed them. I just walked out with them. But I remember the vibe in the room. This was one of the first times I started seeing every few people had an Undisputed Era t-shirt on, so it really felt like stuff was firing on all cylinders.
O’Reilly: I mean, if we’re talking crowd reaction too, it’s not a match, but when we came out in the UK taping.
Cole: Oh yeah.
O’Reilly: Oh yeah. That kind of clued us into, “Damn!. This thing might be bigger than we even realize.” I don’t know if this is maybe an honorable mention because I don’t think it’s a favorite match of any of ours.
Are there any matches before you got to NXT that you want to add to the list?
Cole: I know this was only Kyle, but me and Kyle had a Hybrid Fighting Rules match in 2012, in the Hammerstein Ballroom. No, this is perfect—it transcends right to you, Roddy. Me and Kyle had this match, still pretty new to ROH. We were still finding who we were. In that particular match, I got split open. And it being in New York, they totally got really invested once the blood showed up. I remember being on my knees and then firing up and screaming.
And Kyle had a crazy look on his face and my mouth was bloody. It was wild. And I remember when that show was over, a bunch of people were talking about that match. And that kind of took my career at ROH to another level. So then the very sweet Roddy was the Television Champion, and we had a really competitive back and forth match. I won my first championship in ROH. So I still to this day say that that week was the week where my career started to truly take off and went in a different direction, and that involved both Kyle and Roddy.
Strong: Yeah. Mine would be beating Kyle for the PWG title. My career has never been the same since. It was very, very important to me for many reasons. I’d say that.
Cole: Me and Bobby, we also had a match in the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Fish: We did.
Cole: I wrestled both Kyle and Bobby in the Hammerstein.
Strong: I remember the first half of that match being really solid, being really good. Yeah
Cole: Yeah. He put me through a table at the end of that.
Fish: The [angle] really kind of made the match itself secondary. And I think it hurt the match on the backend. I think in the beginning, you saw what Adam and I would have been capable of in just a straight match, straight start to finish. But then again, Ring of Honor has their booking book and it was what it was. Damn booking book. Yeah.
If I had to pick something it would be probably something that maybe the Dragons did against the Young Bucks. Either Ring of Honor or I’m going to say New Japan.
O’Reilly: I was gonna say the Hammerstein match with the Bucks just because that was the first like New Japan/Ring of Honor show. And that match is what got us booked in Japan.
Fish: Yeah. I definitely agree. But there’s also some of the stuff we did in Japan I felt like really took us to another level. Being able to have certain types of matches as a tag team in Japan, I think gave us a credibility that I think we were always kind of aware we had but the people on the outside, to see us hang the way that we did in New Japan, I think that that kind of added another layer to the whole thing. Something in there.
Moving forward, what does the future of The Undisputed Era look like in NXT? In taking over the sports entertainment world?
Cole: So, we talked a little bit about this when we talked. But just in case, yeah. We still feel like there is a lot left for us to do in NXT, especially the past 12 months, kind of showing that we’re not just one of the best factions in NXT history but we’re one of the best factions in WWE, proving that as time has gone on. With this move to the USA Network, more and more people are getting the chance to see what NXT is all about. Specifically, not to speak for these guys but we all like to be a part of something that we feel like is growing. And it’s amazing how much NXT has grown in this very short amount of time. Again, as NXT continues to grow, I would like if The Undisputed Era got to grow with it.
Strong: 100%. There’s so much more gas we have that we really haven’t been able to show because we’ve been in the weeds with everything. I just think we can be here forever. I mean, our personalities are so different. We just have so much fun stuff, so many bigger matches to have. There’s just a lot we can do. There really, really, truly is.
Cole: And combinations of us and our demeanors can be—again, a happy Undisputed Era is a much different thing than an angry UE or even a sad UE or goofy UE. I don’t know. There’s so many cool different things that we can do.
Strong: I think it was Triple H that called NXT the “Broadway” of WWE. The implication being that Broadway is where an actor goes to prove that he’s got legitimate chops. I think from a wrestling standpoint, that’s why the band of four of us together is successful. It’s why we all have been individually successful on our own prior to coming here. And I think because that’s what fans identify the most, is that we do have those chops.
Watching us as a faction together, I think it’s a little bit of a throwback to when pro wrestling was really pro wrestling. Not to say that today is anything less. But I think that there’s a traditional element to us that I personally take a lot of pride in.