Adam Cole came face-to-face with two of NXT’s heavy hitters on the October 2 edition of the program. Tommaso Ciampa returned to stare down Cole on the entrance ramp and former Universal champion Finn Bálor confronted Cole in the middle of the ring. Finn then announced that he was back on the black and gold brand.
In both cases, Adam Cole and his NXT Championship were targeted. While WWE fans surely never saw this coming, the fact is that Cole versus Bálor versus Ciampa could become a reality in the not-too-distant future. So who comes out on top?
The fact that both men came back to NXT on the same night was indeed surprising, but perhaps not shocking. This edition of the program was the first to go head-to-head with AEW, as Tony Khan’c company finally debuted on the TNT Network. WWE obviously wanted to load the card and give the TV audience at home a reason to tune in next week. Considering the pedigree of all three men, it’s difficult to imagine that plan did not work.
Adam Cole is a great antagonist and as the leader of The Undisputed Era, he’s at the helm of the brand’s top faction. His group holds all of the men’s championships in NXT right now and Cole is on top of the program. He’s accustomed to challengers coming for his belt and he’s always faced every one of them head-on.
Watch Tommaso Ciampa’s return to NXT!
Of course he’s always got backup, but that’s the nature of his gimmick and it’s working on every level. Adam Cole, despite being a hated heel, is also one of the most popular Superstars in NXT. He has the respect of fans who appreciate what he’s done and what he does between the ropes. They know he’s just playing a character and they love to hate him for it.
Much like Kenny Omega during his run in New Japan, Adam Cole is arguably NXT’s Best Bout Machine. He delivers every time he’s on the card and he’s perhaps the best man to wear the brand’s top championship. But how long will his reign last?
Tommaso Ciampa was the biggest heel in NXT and the most hated champion as well, until he was forced to surrender the belt due to injury. The trophy he affectionately referred to as “Goldie” was his most prized possession and he loved it above everything else. But Adam Cole is now in that championship spot and he won’t step aside without a fight.
Ciampa is a devious character who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He’s sacrificed his best friend to get ahead, so Cole won’t even be an afterthought for him. The current champ is in Ciampa’s way, which means Cole must be taken out. Tommaso will be outnumbered because of The Undisputed Era, but that will not matter to him. He will strike when he has the chance and he will take what he can when he can take it.
Finn is back on NXT!
Then there’s Finn Bálor. The Bullet Club founder is back on the brand that introduced him to the WWE audience and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Finn had a good run on the main roster, but it wasn’t the overwhelming success that many fans hoped it would be. Critics believed that Bálor was never used to his full potential and that’s especially true considering how good he looked in NXT.
Finn is a top guy and his run in New Japan proved it. But he truly found himself in NXT and it was that style that should have accompanied him to Monday Night Raw. But as is often the case with NXT call-ups, Finn found himself as the odd man out most of the time. It seemed that the company just didn’t know what to do with him.
So now that the first shot has been fired in the Wednesday Night War of NXT versus AEW, it’s clear that Finn is back home where he belongs. He’s not the same man that was once finding his way in front of the American audience. Bálor knows who he is and he also knows what he can do. He’s taking that knowledge and experience back to NXT and he may just be taking some of WWE’s mainstream audience with him.
So which man will emerge from this eventual storyline as the NXT champion? Both Ciampa and Bálor are former titleholders and they’re both excellent choices to carry the brand once again. But will WWE see it that way? Perhaps Bálor is not coming back to NXT to regain the belt and instead he will be used in a different capacity. That’s not to suggest that he will be putting other stars over all the time, but it could be that he will just be one of the show’s top attractions and not its champion.
Watch Cole versus Riddle on NXT!
However, Ciampa’s situation is a bit different. Tommaso has not been used full-time on the main roster of WWE, he’s always made his home on NXT. He doesn’t have a weak run behind him that he has to overcome and he also doesn’t need to give anyone the rub. Ciampa is a fully realized top star in NXT and it’s safe to assume that he could resume that role sooner rather than later.
But the biggest question surrounding Tommaso is his health. He’s back, which also likely means he’s medically cleared to return. But his history of injury is well documented and fans know the toll he’s put his body through over the years. Is Ciampa physically prepared to walk back into NXT and can he take the pounding that he’s sure to receive once he gets going again?
This leaves Adam Cole as the man to come out as the top titleholder in NXT. At one time, fans were debating whether Monday Night Raw or Friday Night SmackDown would be his eventual landing spot. But with NXT’s new positioning as WWE’s prime time third brand, that jump may not happen. Cole is right at home in NXT, so it’s entirely possible he will remain the champ.
The best part about this angle is that anything can happen. Cole versus Ciampa versus Bálor is a championship trifecta that no one saw coming but now that it’s here, fans are more than excited to see where it goes. NXT is already an outstanding product, but it needed a little something extra and that’s exactly what the brand has now. The future of NXT definitely looks more promising than it did before and it should be very intriguing to see what happens next.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Wrestling Rumors. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on iTunes,YouTube, iHeart Radio, boinkstudios.com and live every Friday at 12pm EST on Wrestling Rumors Facebook Live