Hit Me Bay Bay One More Time…
Saturday night sees NXT celebrate their 30th Takeover show. Few groups have made a bigger impact on the brand’s landscape than the Undisputed Era. Our very own King Of The Ring Andy Spoors (Bay Bay) looks back at their story so far and why the quartet could hold the answer to WWE’s current ratings slump…
August 19, 2017. Brooklyn. Drew McIntyre sinks to his knees, barely able to hold the NXT Championship above his head in celebration. The Scottish Psychopath looks emotional, as the crowd cheers in appreciation for a moment long in the making.
But a second and more guttural roar ripples through the WWE Universe in attendance. Something is happening that the cameras haven’t caught yet. As McIntyre picks himself up to bask in the adulation, he looks to the corner closest to the walkway. Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly are lackadaisically standing on the ring apron, eyes fixed on the new champion.
A third explosion of noise from the fans inside the Barclays Center erupts moments before McIntyre is rocked by an attack from behind by a mystery assailant dressed in a black shirt and jeans. His identity isn’t kept secret for long as commentator Mauro Ranallo screams, “OH MY GOD! IT’S ADAM COLE! WHAT THE HELL!?”
As Cole stood on top of the entrance ramp at the end of the show, the crowd in unison screamed the only correct two word reply when uttering his name. “Bay Bay!”
Never before had a debut been met with such a reception in NXT. The introduction of Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens had come close at smaller venues, but the shock of one of the most popular free agents appearing on WWE’s hottest brand can’t be downplayed.
Consider the system well and truly shocked. It may have been one of the great NXT moments, but few would have been brave enough to predict the impact the group, later named Undisputed Era, would have on the black and gold brand.
Fish and O’Reilly had previously teamed together under the moniker ‘reDRagon’ on the indie scene, capturing tag titles in Ring Of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Having crossed paths with Cole around the world, the trio certainly had not just history, but chemistry from the start in NXT.
Cole had not long wrapped up a stint with one of wrestling’s best-known factions, the Bullet Club, earlier in the year. An established star in his own right, Cole had captured gold around the world and fans had long clamoured for his arrival to WWE.
Within four months Undisputed Era had stamped their mark on NXT. Winning the Tag Team Championships and winning the first War Games match to be held in 20 years, were just a couple of their crowning achievements. But their dominance would continue to grow when a familiar face joined the ranks…
April 7, 2018. New Orleans. Inside the packed Smoothie King Center, the WWE Universe are in party mode. Fans from around the world have congregated for NXT Takeover. A huge contingent of British fans are vocal in their support for compatriot Pete Dunne to capture the tag team titles with makeshift partner Roderick Strong.
As Dunne hits his Bitter End finishing manoeuvre, the crowd rises to its feet as the ref begins to count. Before his hand can hit the mat a third time, Strong betrays Dunne and delivers a finisher of his own to his teammate. Dragging one of his chief tormentors O’Reilly over his prone team-mate, the WWE Universe looks on wide eyed, mouths open in shock. As the match finishes, Strong strips Adam Cole’s UE arm band before pulling it up his own arm and joining Undisputed himself.
Like watching the last Avengers film without sitting through the rest of the Marvel Universe movies, you could understand something special was happening while not fully appreciating the moment completely. All four men had been down the road together throughout their careers and Strong’s one-man resistance from joining UE until that night had only added another chapter to their story.
That seldom seen practice of nuance in modern day wrestling storylines, makes moments like that just a little more special. An ‘Easter egg’ within the wrestling world if you will.
At the beginning of 2019, the supposed leader of the group Adam Cole predicted that the four members of Undisputed Era would be dripping in gold. In August the prophecy came to fruition as Adam Cole held the NXT Championship, Fish & O’Reilly wearing the Tag Team Championships and Strong capturing the NXT North American Championship.
Cementing his legacy, Adam Cole became one of two triple crown NXT champions to date and held on to the much-coveted NXT Championship for a record 403 days, ultimately falling to current champ Keith Lee. Finding himself in a feud with ex NFL punter Pat McAfee may be a change of pace for Cole, but when a Superstar faces off against an outside personality, it should always be seen as a huge vote of confidence. NFL fans and mainstream media will no doubt tune in, interested to see how things play out in the squared circle.
But where do Undisputed Era go from here? With viewers seemingly plummeting each week on Raw & Smackdown and NXT embroiled in a ratings war with rival promotion AEW, the company seems to be beleaguered on all fronts. A shot in the arm is desperately needed from somewhere. The announcement of WWE entering an all singing and dancing ThunderDome in Orlando’s Amway Center may win back fans on a short term basis, but UE could provide the long term antidote.
Factions have come and gone in recent decades and with a few notable exceptions, have proved largely forgettable. Perhaps shockingly to some, the closest comparison can perhaps be drawn with an über popular stable and pop culture phenomenon from the nineties.
A bold and instantly recognisable logo? Check. A catchy entrance? Check. Big names coming together from a rival brand to dominate? Check. A group hand sign? Check. They may not be quite there yet, but a move to Raw or Smackdown could catapult the Era into the same conversation as the NWO when it comes to greatest factions in history.
The tag division of Raw and Smackdown has seen better days and the injection of a group that has six different possible tagging combinations, a work horse and a bona fide main event star could prove invaluable. Survivor Series is just around the corner and although the Undisputed Era have seemingly done everything on NXT, the quartet could easily go into business for themselves and represent any brand.
With fans still unable to attend shows, it would be a shame for the WWE Universe to be robbed of the opportunity to beat the deafening roar that introduced Cole and co. three years ago.
More than 1000 days since that fateful night and four men will continue to shock the system and that…is undisputed.
Photo credit: WWE (all images).