I spoke with ROH World Champion Adam Cole, who will defend his title against Michael Elgin at tonight's ROH's Best In The World pay-per-view. We will have live coverage of the pay-per-view this evening. Here is the full interview.
Adam Cole: My whole life. I grew up when the Attitude Era started. It wasn't just the WWE at that time, but ECW being risque. My parents weren't a fan of me watching wrestling in the early stages. I started taking karate lessons when I was 9-years-old and my instructor was someone I looked up to and respected, so I would get their early everyday and stay late. One day, I got there early and he was watching a tape of the Monday Night RAW from the night before where it was Kane and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin putting Paul Bearer in a sewer. I remember him looking at me and asking if I was a wrestling fan. I said yea, but in reality I had never watched it before. I just wanted to fit in with him so bad. He said if I get written permission from my parents, he would let me borrow a copy of WrestleMania 15 from Philadelphia. I begged my mom and I guess since this instructor was teaching honor, discipline, and respect to all these young kids that maybe pro wrestling wasn't that bad. I borrowed the tape and saw Steve Austin vs. The Rock and the rest is history. I was a fan for life.
Wrestling INC: When did you think this was something you could do?
Cole: Ironically enough, two year later at WrestleMania 17 with Austin–Rock II. I'll never forget when Austin came out that night. It was the first time I ever got goosebumps. I never got that before. I'll never forget 68,000 people losing their minds when Steve Austin came out. I still get goosebumps when I talk about it. At that moment, I knew I needed to somehow be involved in wrestling.
Wrestling INC: You started for Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) and they're known for their ultraviolent style. Was your family nervous about the choice to go with that company?
Cole: For sure. I remember my debut was at the Chri$ Ca$h Memorial Show and he was a wrestler that passed away and was known for his ladder matches in CZW. My mother was at the event and knew I was the first match. She wasn't aware about the ceremony that goes on before the show. So she got there and sees this giant ladder in the ring. She freaked out thinking her 18-year-old boy is going through this crazy ladder match. It was just for the ceremony. I explained early to CZW's DJ Hyde and John Dahmer that as much as I respected the guys that competed in death matches, I had no interest in being that type of wrestler. I was never put in any scenario where I was forced or pressured to be in a death match. I was always treated and booked as a wrestler, so I never had to worry.
Wrestling INC: CZW does have good technical wrestling on their shows. Do you feel that the violent style overshadows the wrestling on those shows?
Cole: Yea, I think it certainly can. The violence is so spectacular and in many cases CZW brings to the table what not many wrestling organizations in the United States bring in ultraviolent death match wrestling. You watch a show with great technical wrestling, high flyers, or hard hitters but then you see guys going through light tubes, glass, and thumbtacks. Whether you're a casual or die hard fan, the image that will be in your brain leaving that show will be the death match because it's so spectacular. Even though I haven't been in CZW for some time, I always keep up to date on what they're doing because that's my home promotion. Now, they've come up with good well-rounded shows with great comedy, high flying wrestlers, technical wrestlers, and the death matches. It's a well-rounded company.
Wrestling INC: So you've only been in the business for six years now. How does it feel to be one of the first new breed ROH wrestlers to become their world champion?
Cole: It's an honor, no pun intended. It's so cool because I was a giant fan of Ring of Honor. To me, it's the pinnacle. It's the number two or three promotion in the United States, so for me to be the Ring of Honor world champion going in what feels like this new era of excitement with the return of guys like Chris Hero and AJ Styles, our joint shows with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and now with our live pay-per-view it's an exciting time to be an ROH fan—let alone be the champion. It's a heavy responsibility, but something I'm ready for and appreciate.
Wrestling INC: You spoke about ROH possibly being in the position as the number two wrestling promotion in the United States. Do you feel there's a renewed rivalry with ROH and TNA? There are a lot of people that feel ROH's upcoming Best in the World pay-per-view will outdraw TNA's Slammiversary.
Cole: I feel there's a rivalry going on and I think it's great. The closer we are to TNA and competing with them, the more exciting it is for the wrestling fans and wrestlers. Competitive nature in a positive light is always a good thing. When we feel we're competing with somebody, it makes everyone step their game up. It's really cool that we're climbing the mountain and competing with TNA.
Wrestling INC: You mentioned AJ Styles and Chris Hero coming back. What's it like to interact with some of the older veterans?
Cole: It's a huge learning experience. I was asked before about these guys coming back and what their work ethic was like. I can tell you firsthand that these guys are stoked to be in Ring of Honor. They're working their butts off and it's a great learning experience for the young guys because they traveled the world to make a name for themselves. It's great to work with Hero and Styles. It's valuable for the young crop of talent in Ring of Honor to work with these guys. The veterans see how high we've set the bar, so they try to set the bar even higher. It's a cool competitive team nature that we've got going on in Ring of Honor right now with the younger guys and veterans.
Wrestling INC: Along those lines there's Matt Hardy, who you've worked with and against. What has that experience been like?
Cole: It's one of those priceless experiences considering Matt was on WWE television for such a long period of time. He taught me different antics of being a heel, which was so important when I won the championship and aligned myself with Matt. He pinpoints little things that maybe other guys in Ring of Honor don't know because of Matt's experience. He's been so excited to be a part of ROH, a huge asset, and something different—which is the biggest thing for our audience and is crucial for our growth.
Wrestling INC: You wrestled Jushin "Thunder" Liger at the last ROH iPPV War of the Worlds. What's it like wrestling such an icon in this business?
Cole: Considering the Jushin "Thunder" Liger character debuted the same year I was born, I have been a fan of his since I started watching wrestling. To get the chance to wrestle him in a main event match in the sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom for the Ring of Honor championship on iPPV was such a cool experience. I'll tell you a little side story. I know it goes against tradition, but I wanted to go out first so I could see when Jushin "Thunder" Liger's music hit and he came out with all the streamers. That will go down in my book as one of my favorite moments in my wrestling career so far.
Wrestling INC: You had tryouts with the WWE early last year. How did that go?
Cole: It went great. I got the chance to meet a lot of the coaches and guys. I got to see what their system was like. I went down right before the new [WWE] Performance Center was made. I think I was the last tryout before the WWE Performance Center got started. Making connections was invaluable to me. It was rigorous and difficult, but cool to meet guys like Dusty Rhodes, Joey Matthews, Bill DeMott, and William Regal. These were guys I was a fan of and now I get to meet them. Really cool experience.
Wrestling INC: What are your thoughts on CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, considering they came from ROH and were world champion like you?
Cole: It's a testament to what the wrestling fans want these days. When guys like Punk, Bryan, Cesaro, or Seth Rollins come into the WWE, the fans instantly attach themselves to these guys. Don't get me wrong, the booking has been brilliant but their performances have shined through. It shows the level of athleticism and performance the WWE fans want to see in 2014 is at the Ring of Honor level of style. It's extremely motivating and cool to see these guys set the bar for the entire industry. The WWE sets the bar for everybody. These guys having excellent matches have forced everybody to step their game up. It's cool knowing these guys came from Ring of Honor.
Wrestling INC: Have you kept in contact with the WWE since your tryout?
Cole: There are certain guys I keep in contact with. With me being under contract to Ring of Honor, I can't have a discussion about the hiring process. There are guys from the WWE camp and main roster that I still keep in contact with. I've built a lot of friendships with these guys.
Wrestling INC: ROH has the pay-per-view [tonight]. They've definitely solidified themselves as the leader of independent wrestling in the United States. How big of a step is airing on pay-per-view?
Cole: It's a huge milestone for the company. I think all the steps ROH has taken this year are positive and the pay-per-view is another huge step, especially with the WWE putting their pay-per-views on the WWE Network. Ring of Honor diving into pay-per-views is a big thing and we're ready for it. Of course, the nerviness and excitement is there. The entire team feels we earned this opportunity and we're ready. ROH has the reputation of being the best in ring product left in pro wrestling. We need to deliver on Sunday and the team is ready.
Wrestling INC: For the fans that aren't familiar with ROH, what can they expect from your match with Michael Elgin?
Cole: This match has been brewing since 2010. We were brought into ROH at roughly the same time. We were both labeled as breakout stars for the company and four years later we find ourselves main eventing the first ever live pay-per-view for Ring of Honor. Appropriately enough, this pay-per-view is named Best in the World and I feel by being ROH world champion I have an argument for being the best in the world and Michael Elgin feels the same way. It's going to be a showing of athleticism of the best in ring pro wrestling you can find anywhere else. It's a true alternative in the world of pro wrestling. The whole pay-per-view will deliver the best in ring action you can see anywhere in the world.
Wrestling INC: ROH has been great at finding fresh, new talent. Who in the company would you say has the potential to become the next Adam Cole or Michael Elgin?
Cole: There's a guy who is one-half of the ROH tag team champions [reDRagon] and my partner from Future Shock named Kyle O'Reilly. He just beat me for the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla world championship. He's a singles guy and this is not taking anything away from reDRagon and his partner Bobby Fish. Those two together are just brilliant and they're the champions. Kyle O'Reilly by himself could offer a lot and could definitely be a future Ring of Honor world champion. I compare him a lot to Daniel Bryan because he is so technically sound in the ring. I think he has the talent and possibility of breaking out as the next guy.
Wrestling INC: I know a lot of our readers are looking forward to this pay-per-view. Is there anything you would like to plug?
Cole: If anyone wants to follow me on Twitter, it's at @AdamColePro. I recently hit over 25,000 followers, which is very cool. Anyone is welcome to join that team. AdamColePro.com has my schedule with everything I'm doing and it's kept up to date. There's a nice store section there with my t-shirts and DVDs. I have some brand new t-shirts if you scroll down to the bottom.