As NXT TakeOver: New York makes the best of a bad situation, Adam Cole is ready to take advantage


NEW YORK -- It's a credit to how good NXT has become in terms of presenting one incredible TakeOver card after another that Friday's show lost a potential main event for the ages last month, only to rebound as if nothing happened. 

In fairness to former NXT champion Tomasso Ciampa, who has arguably been professional wrestling's best heel over the past year, the anterior cervical fusion surgery he underwent in early March is no joke and will likely keep him out of the ring for more than a year. It also pressed pause on a feud with former #DIY partner Johnny Gargano that was set to culminate during WrestleMania 35 weekend and was one of finest extended arc's WWE has attempted in years. 

Yet despite the challenge that created for patriarch and WWE executive Paul "Triple H" Levesque, Friday's NXT TakeOver: New York show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (7 p.m. ET, WWE Network) is so loaded it has fans and critics alike wondering whether the five-match card, on paper, has the potential to be the best offering the developmental brand has ever produced. 

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Luckily for Levesque, the whole question of "how do you top this?" is one he has fielded for years with NXT, particularly after a 2018 that raised expectations to an entirely new level. 

"It's always the challenge, and we go there every single time and I'm holding my breath," Levesque told the State of Combat podcast on CBS Sports. "We try to build the most epic stuff and you do the best that you can. To be honest, we are at the mercy of the talent and how great they are. I look at this card and it's the talent. 

"The fact that as unbelievable of a year as Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa have had to tell this story, the fact that as awesome as they are that Ciampa could get injured -- and this is no slight to him -- and you could pick five guys, put them in a fatal five-way and say any of these five could win this and have people go, 'Yeah, that would be epic.'"

The fatal five-way match that was put together to decide Gargano's new opponent for the NXT championship that Ciampa vacated was, in fact, an epic one. By the end of those television tapings at NXT's home of Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida, Levesque quickly began to realize just how special of a replacement match he had created.  

"Adam Cole wins it, and by the end of that show, Michael Hayes, Shawn Michaels and I sat in a room in the back and said, 'Man, this feels as big as it did when we shot the ending of the Gargano-Ciampa story right before he got injured,'" Levesque said. "Already it feels as big as that, and that's a testament to the talent and how good they are."

Gargano-Cole might not have the same storyline behind it as the Ciampa feud, but there's little question fans are expecting a potential classic given the stakes and the fact that Gargano's reputation of "Johnny TakeOver" means just about everything he has touched on the biggest stage has turned to gold. 

That doesn't mean the 29-year-old Cole, a former Ring of Honor star whose real name is Austin Jenkins, feels any less pressure to approach the five-star threshold considering of what he calls "the biggest TakeOver in the history of TakeOvers."

"There is so much pressure that goes into being the main event of a TakeOver card in general, let alone one that is as stacked as this one is and it's WrestleMania weekend," Cole told State of Combat last week. "So the insane amount of pressure that Johnny and I have is actually insane, but it's good pressure because the thing that I'm most proud of with NXT is those cards, top to bottom, deliver. Every time there is a TakeOver event, match one through five all deliver. 

"We are going to go into that main event knowing the audience just saw four absolutely incredible matches, and it's our job to make sure that they leave talking about ours."

Despite the unscripted nature of how he got here, the significance of his first NXT championship match being held at the Barclays Center isn't lost on Cole, either. It's this same arena in which he made his NXT debut at TakeOver during SummerSlam weekend in 2017, when he joined his Undisputed Era stablemates in beating down then-NXT champion Drew McIntyre. 

The last image of the card before it went off air was Cole, dressed in street clothes, holding up the NXT title. 

"Ever since that moment, I have said that someday I would become NXT champion, and as far as I'm concerned, that moment is now. This is everything I worked for in the almost two years I have been with NXT, and I'm ready to rock and roll."

While Gargano-Cole is happening for the first time within WWE, the two have extensive history on the independent scene making great matches, most notably under the banner of Pro Wrestling Guerilla. Cole not only considered Gargano a rival of his throughout their independent days, but the two wrestlers were often compared to each other. 

Listen to our complete interview with Adam Cole on the State of Combat podcast, and be sure to hit the "Subscribe" button in the player below.

"We had some really, really good and competitive, exciting, entertaining wrestling matches against each other," Cole said. "I would even go as far as to say Johnny is the guy I have the most chemistry with. He's incredibly talented, no doubt. But to me, the most important thing is that Johnny brings out something in me that not many people can -- my intensity, my attitude and where it's almost an indescribable thing that happens where you are clicking on all cylinders. The stars are aligning, and everything is flowing as perfect as possible. Johnny Gargano is a guy who brings that out in me, and I'd like to think I do the same for him."

Both Gargano and Cole deserve plenty of credit for NXT's insanely good calendar year of 2018, which included five TakeOver shows that somehow found a way to outdo (or come dangerously close) the one before it. In doing so, they helped give NXT a legitimate case as the best promotion worldwide, competing against the likes of NJPW and WWE's main roster. 

The secret to NXT's success, according to Cole, is brewed inside the tiny Orlando arena and carried out to the larger ones for the TakeOver events. 

"There's this really cool, untapped thing that has happened, and that is the relationship between the wrestlers and the fans in that building," Cole said. "I think one of the coolest things in the world at these TakeOver events is that these fans -- and I know this sounds cliche, but it's true -- are the most passionate wrestling fans on the planet. You can just feel it in the building. It's just something that is priceless. 

"They are there to make as much noise as possible to let the wrestlers know they just want us to knock it out of the park. When they act that way, we have no choice but to give 100 percent. The relationship is so awesome because those fans are just as much a part of the show as the wrestlers are."

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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