Adam Cole, And Why WWE Doesn’t Have Enough Space For All Its Wrestlers
We love to hear that the next indie darling has finally earned enough stripes to sign with WWE. But is this a process that can go on forever?
Pop quiz time everyone: who can tell me how many active wrestlers WWE employs for its television? I’ll be generous and narrow things down for you. Let’s exclude Total Divas, the UK tournament guys and all the NXT workers yet to make their first TV appearance. Just the wrestlers signed to appear on WWE’s weekly in-ring television. What’s your guess?
The answer is around the 120 mark. Across Raw, Smackdown, NXT, Main Event and 205 Live, WWE contracts more than 120 workers. That will either surprise you or it won’t, but you should also know that it’s getting bigger – and it’s starting to feel like a problem.
To explain why, I’m going to talk about one man, and why his addition to the WWE locker room will have a ripple effect on the company’s increasingly bloated roster. So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Adam Cole.
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For those of you who might not have heard of him (still a possibility if you’re a WWE-only fan, which is fine), Adam Cole has been one of Ring of Honor’s marquee names for the last three or four years. At only 27 years old, Cole has managed the auspicious feat of being the first and only three time RoH World Champion. He’s a natural sports entertainment villain with the kind of natural good looks that make both women and men swoon. Until a few weeks ago, he was a member of Bullet Club, frequently goofing it up with the likes of Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks in New Japan.
The idea of Cole showing up in NXT appeals to the special wrestling mark segment of my brain. He’s cool, confident and has the industry smarts of someone who’s learnt the business from guys as business savvy as the Young Bucks and Kevin Owens.
Cole is headed for WWE. Nothing’s been confirmed – it never is until WWE are ready to tell us – but his RoH contract is done and he’s been pretty conclusively written off their television. Dirtsheet rumours say it’s just a matter of time until he signs and debuts on NXT.
Now, that little detour took longer than it should have and you’ve probably been waiting for me to get to the point. We’re almost there. Because when Adam Cole steps into NXT, he will not be there to shore up a depleted roster. As it stands right now NXT boasts Bobby Roode, Roderick Strong, Kassius Ohno, Andrade Cien Almas, Drew McIntyre and Aleister Black. And that’s just the men’s singles division (and don’t forget to add Gargano and Ciampa now DIY is dead).
The point? Every one of these guys could merit an NXT title shot (yes, Vince, it’s still a title shot no matter how many times you call it a championship opportunity) at a Takeover, but there simply aren’t enough shows in a year. This might be why there’s already talk of having Aleister Black leapfrog everyone and jump straight to main.
So here we are, at last, at WWE’s grand game of musical chairs. See, to make room for Adam Cole, who definitely deserves a featured spot, someone else has to be pushed up to Raw or Smackdown. Except these days WWE’s main roster is stacked with so much talent that to push Aleister Black means you’re undoubtedly squeezing others off television.
From WWE’s perspective, it looks like a great problem to have, as long as this bloated wage bill is outpaced by profits. For fans, as well as wrestlers not pegged for a push, it’s less exciting. And don’t get me wrong, it’s great that WWE can provide relatively secure employment for so many performers. Job security is hard to come by in wrestling. But how many wrestlers sign with WWE just to take the paycheck and appear on television once a month?
And what happens if you’re pushed to main but there’s no room for you when you get there? After Wrestlemania this year, Tye Dillinger made a triumphant debut on Smackdown Live. His pop was good. Those “Ten” chants he gets have become memetic, and he has future Intercontinental Champion written through him like a stick of rock.
But where is he now? His undercard feud with Aiden English has barely made it onto television of late. If it’s true Triple H insists on a six month plan for every NXT main roster call up, he can’t have read Tye’s very carefully. With a hot tag division, a crowded women’s scene, the rise of Jinder Mahal and the stacked Money in the Bank program, where is there room for Tye in Smackdown’s two hour window?
Faced with this many wrestlers to fit onto only eight hours of weekly TV, you might think WWE would slow down on the hiring front. Since January, WWE has signed Kassius Ohno, Ruby Riot, Aleister Black, Kairi Hojo, Kimber Lee, Io Shirai and Drew McIntyre. Signing so many female wrestlers is perhaps a nod to the upcoming Mae Young Classic, but unless it leads to them appearing on their own permanent television show every week it still runs into the same problem: too many wrestlers, not enough air time. Every one of the wrestlers I just mentioned is capable of being a show headlining star on some level, and no doubt has the drive and ambition to match it.
From the outside, it looks like WWE have built this brilliant engine for turning indie wrestling standouts into prime time superstars. We’ve seen the process work for Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and even Shinsuke Nakamura. But it’s starting to feel like, in their grand game of musical chairs, more and more talent show up to play – but WWE has ran out of chairs to add. It’s sad, because right now I’m not sure there’s a man or woman employed to wrestle in WWE who isn’t immensely talented.