If you somehow don’t know Adam Cole’s name, you may want to start paying attention.
Adam Cole (BAYBAY as his fans may shout) is a former Ring of Honor World Champion. He was PWG champion as well as a winner of the prestigious Battle of Los Angeles. He’s won titles all over the world, and has received numerous accolades from places like Wrestling Observer and Pro Wrestling Illustrated. He’s considered to be one of the biggest independent wrestlers in the world, and has had the matches to back it up. However, with all that he’s accomplished, one of the biggest moments of his career happened at the beginning of May when he joined the Bullet Club.
At Global Wars, amidst rumors that he may actually be leaving Ring of Honor, he shockingly appeared during the Jay Lethal/Colt Cabana main event. He, along with the Young Bucks, wrecked everything in sight, and Cole became the latest wrestler to join the powerful Bullet Club. While the “Biz Cliz” is primarily made up of American wrestlers, Cole was the first wrestler to join on American soil, and was the first to join without having ties to New Japan. Adam “Hangman” Page joined the next day, as the Bullet Club spread its wings even further into American wrestling.
Rolling Stone caught up with Cole before a Ring of Honor show in Baltimore recently to talk about his career, joining the Bullet Club, and his views on how to remain a heel despite being part of a beloved group.
What went through your head when you were told that you were going to become part of the Bullet Club?
I was just ecstatic when I first heard. The Bullet Club is, by far, the most influential faction in pro wrestling in years. If for no other reason, you’re seeing in the influence in WWE. They were dominant in New Japan, and got more eyes on the New Japan product from America. Just look at who has been in the Bullet Club, and whose shoes I have to fill. I was intimidated, I was excited, but it’s going to be a really positive thing for my career going forward. I’m still stoked thinking about it.
You mentioned the guys who you’re replacing. AJ Styles, Anderson, Gallows. Does that add a bit of pressure on you?
Definitely. Those guys are incredible. The cool thing about that though, is that it forces me to be different and find something different about my involvement with the Bullet Club so that I’m not just like them. Of course the people in the Bullet Club will have similarities, and always will, but finding what I can do as Adam Cole to be different is important. And I’ve noticed that it’s pretty much just me being myself, and I’m much different than AJ Styles. We bring what we bring to the table, so this will be a cool new chapter for the Bullet Club.
You talk about you being yourself. A lot of people thought that, because of your personality and your association in other organizations with the Young Bucks, you would be a natural fit in the Bullet Club. Before you were told, had you ever talked to the Bucks about joining?
All the time. They used to bring it up to me all the time. They literally have been saying, “Adam Cole should have been in the Bullet Club since the beginning.” From the start, they’ve been telling me that I’d be perfect. But whether it was injury or dates not lining up, things just didn’t work for me for going to New Japan. Then all those guys left, and a spot opened up. I was the first guy the Bucks brought up, and New Japan has been looking at me for a while. So because of our relationship in Mount Rushmore, I think this really worked out for us.
You were the first person to join the Bullet Club without ever being in Japan or working for New Japan. How much of an honor is it that you’re the first guy that they reached out for, and did that make the decision to have you join even more of a surprise to you?
Considering the fact that I hadn’t worked for New Japan at all leading up to that point, for them to reach out and say we want you to not only be a member but be a featured member of the Bullet Club was very surprising to me. This is New Japan and Bullet Club’s vision of expanding the brand to the United States. They think that this will help the Bullet Club have a stronger presence in the United States. So that’s very flattering and humbling.
How is this going to work for you? Are you heading up Bullet Club US, or will this involve you working more in New Japan as part of the group?
I will be working for New Japan Pro Wrestling coming up this summer. Ring of Honor is my home. This is the place that I will be working the most. I don’t think I’ll be missing many ROH dates to go to New Japan. But I will become a regular New Japan roster member. You will be seeing me a lot over in Japan, that’s for certain.
Since you haven’t done it yet, how excited are you to work for them?
I’m stoked. It’s the most exciting schedule that you can work in wrestling, the Ring of Honor/New Japan Pro Wrestling schedule. I’m excited, it’s a new challenge for me. I’m thrilled with the idea. It’ll be something new and fresh for me. There’s so many fresh matchups for me over in Japan. The one-on-one with Okada. Going against Tanahashi. One with Shibata. There’s so many matches. I’m just thrilled about it.
If you had to pick, is there one match or feud you want to have over there?
The number one guy for sure for me is Tanahashi. The first time I saw him, I was like, “Oh, that guy is a rock star.” The way he carries himself, the matches he has, are just unbelievable. Tanahashi vs. Adam Cole could be something really special.
How about the other aspects of going to Japan, the travel out there, are you looking forward to that?
For sure. For me, travel is one of the biggest perks of pro wrestling. You get to see the world on somebody else’s dime. You get to experience life. I am stoked to go over to Japan, and experience that culture.
Be honest, which are you looking forward to more? The matches with the Bullet Club, or the videos with Kenny Omega and the Bucks?
Oh man, I really don’t know. Can I say both? The most part about the Bullet Club thing to me is that I’m close, personal, friends with all of these guys behind the scenes. So when you see us laughing and having fun and joking around, that’s genuine emotion. That’s not just playing a character. So of course the videos are going to be fun. The matches as well. It should just be a good time.
You talk about the Bullet Club brand. There’s really been nothing like it. They have their presence in multiple companies, on multiple continents, including the WWE.
Even from the outside looking in, seeing how much the Bullet Club has transcended pop culture is really amazing. There are people who only watch the WWE who talk about and know about the Bullet Club, and will wear Bullet Club t-shirts. Famous celebrities will wear Bullet Club gear. It’s incredible to see how popular has gotten.
Does the Bullet Club’s popularity illustrate some of the changing landscape in wrestling?
I feel like this is the closest to the Attitude Era that we’ve had, just in the sense that we legitimately have no idea who is going to show up where. It’s crazy. Anyone, in any company, could show up anywhere. Not only are some of people’s favorite independent guys going to the WWE, but you’re having guys leave WWE and show up at a Ring of Honor show, or New Japan, or whatever. It’s not only exciting for the wrestlers, it’s exciting for the fans.
Why do you think that is? Is it just because wrestling is so much more accessible to the fans, or is there something else to it?
I think social media has been a huge factor in why wrestling has gone in the direction that it’s gone. I also think that a huge factor is that the guys that the WWE hired, the guys they took a chance on, the CM Punks, the Daniel Bryans, the Seth Rollins. The WWE has the biggest wrestling fanbase, obviously. They saw these guys, and saw how different they were, and how athletic they were, and how exciting they were, and the casual fans’ perception of what a great pro wrestler was changed. So now all of a sudden thse guys who rule the independents and who travel the world are considered the best in the world, not just by the fans, but wrestling companies around the world start to view them that way. I think the combination of social media, and, like you said, everything being so accessible, and the top guys being top independent wrestling stars really all combined into changing the landscape.
WWE’s mindset has certainly seemed to change. Not only are we getting guys like AJ Styles, and Karl Anderson, and Gallows, but they’re liberally referring to their past. How much has their mindset changing helped change wrestling?
The biggest thing for sure is just that they’re giving opportunities to guys that before wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity. At the end of the day, the cream rises to the top. Now, pro wrestling is realizing the market for that style of wrestling, and that style of wrestler. They’re starting to pursue that type of wrestler. You see it all the time in NXT and PWG and Ring of Honor and New Japan, and now you see it in main events of WWE pay-per-views. The whole wrestling landscape is changing, and it’s changing for the better.
There are many people who want to cheer you, and cheer the Bullet Club. How hard is it to balance that with what you just said, the classic Good Guy vs. Bad Guy match?
It’s challenging, but at the same time, I think there’s this experimental phase that’s happening right now in pro wrestling. The traditional heel vs face dynamic is really changing. It’s more shades of grey vs. shades of grey. You’ll have a guy who acts like a bad guy, but you’ll embrace the fact that some people like that. It’s more realistic. It’s more like UFC. You have people who love Conor McGregor, and you have people who hate Conor. That’s sort of what the Bullet Club is. We say what we say. We do what we do. If you like us, great. If you hate us, great.
As far as that good guy vs. bad guy match, it’s just kind of adjusting and changing with the times. This is the circumstance that I’ve been put in, and I’m stoked to be put in the Bullet Club. I’ve accepted this. If I come out and get cheered, I’m fine with that. It’s very challenging in Ring of Honor, if you’re a featured guy, to come out and have everyone boo. If I embrace that, but during the match, they’re cheering for the babyface, then I feel like I’m accomplishing my job. For example, when me and Kyle O’Reilly wrestled at Final Battle, I got a fantastic reaction when I came through that curtain. However, by the end of the match, everyone was rooting for Kyle. We accomplished our goal. That’s what I focus on now, telling that story inside the ring and making sure the fans support the babyface.
Is that the key to this phase if you’re a heel? You can get cheered outside the ring, but you should try to draw the boos inside it?
Exactly. I think the reason that it works is that we’re not insulting their intelligence. We’re letting the fans do what they feel, and they’re reacting naturally. It’s not like when the match is going on they’re saying, “I really want to cheer for Adam Cole but I’m going to boo him because I’m supposed to.” No, this is the story that we’ve told and we’ve got them to feel that way and react that way. I just embrace the reaction. Inside the ring, I love that I have a lot of support, that’s awesome, but I’m focused on trying to tell that story and making them boo me.
There have been constant rumors about you and WWE. How true have the rumors been, and is there still a thought from you, maybe not immediately but down the road, about going to WWE?
I did a tryout for WWE years ago. At the time it didn’t really work out between me and them, really on both sides. It was a bad timing thing. And as we’ve gone, there have been a lot of things said about me joining WWE. I’m under contract to Ring of Honor though, so I haven’t been able to talk to anybody else. I have to say this though, and this is the truth, I think a big reason that I’ve gotten where I’ve gotten is that I focus on the task that’s put in front of me. I just joined the Bullet Club, I have a huge run coming up in New Japan. I’m not even thinking about WWE. I have a lot of work to do here. Obviously, with the way the landscape is changing, never say never. You never know what could happen when my contract is up. That’s the cool thing about wrestling these days, you always have to stay tuned.
Six months ago we wouldn’t have necessarily thought that we’d be sitting here talking about the Bullet Club, so it’s hard to ask this, but what do you see the rest of 2016 being like for you?
Man, I have no idea. That’s the most exciting and scary thing. This is all fresh for me. I’ve never consistently worked for New Japan. I don’t know what that’s going to be like. I can tell you right now that my goal is to become Ring of Honor World Champion again. I think my goal is just to continue to grow in Ring of Honor, have a great run in New Japan, and continue to travel the world and do what I do.