On Saturday, Stage AE will be taken over by Ring of Honor, one of the most dynamic professional wrestling companies in sports entertainment. The show, Steel City Excellence, has a stacked card that includes both singles and tag team matches, Women of Honor and a top prospect tournament that features a few local wrestlers.
One of the most unpredictable matches of the night is an eight-man tag team match with ROH Champion Adam Cole, Cody and ROH World Tag Team Champions the Young Bucks, going head-to-head with Jay Lethal, Bobby Fish, and the Briscoes. It’s bound to get personal, as Cole has super kicked the Briscoes’ father in the head and shaved Jay Lethal’s head while he was knocked out.
“I think it always gets personal when the people in this matchup get together," Cole tells City Paper. " The top guys, the main eventers are all in this match. ... A lot of animosity is going to come to a head on Saturday”
What makes Cole’s reprehensible actions acceptable is his role as a heel, or a villain. He’s a part of a stable of bad boys called Bullet Club. The original iteration of Bullet Club has its roots in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), but now has members spread across NJPW, ROH and WWE (A.J. Styles, Gallows and Anderson, Finn Balor). Cole’s wrestling represents the very best of Bullet Club: he’s cunning, aggressive, exciting and ruthless.
“I think people gravitate to Bullet Club because it’s painfully obvious that we’re out there having a great time and getting into the performance," Cole says. "All of us are genuinely best friends, and that comes across."
The three-time ROH World Champion is no stranger to Pittsburgh. He’s performed in the city about a dozen times and when a 22-year-old Cole held the ROH TV Championship, the new belt design was unveiled and given to him here.
“It was one of those moments where I really felt like my career was taking off,” he says. “I remember looking at that belt and knowing I was the first to hold it, and I thought to myself ‘Wrestling is going really well for me. It’s time to really push forward.’”
Since then he has become the first ever three-time ROH World Champion and has made a hype-filled career with ROH and NJPW, the two companies where he currently holds contracts. As the wrestling world, even WWE, shifts away from favoring the recruitment of giant male athletes or women who are models, wrestlers on the independent circuit like Cole now make a living and have immense creative freedom over their careers.
“Pro-wrestling is so healthy right now. Ten years ago the absolute end-all-be-all if you wanted to make a good living as pro wrestler; every single wrestler who wanted to do this and start a family had to work with WWE or move to Japan,” Cole explains. “The wrestlers are now in the driver’s seat.”
Ring of Honor Wrestling.Sat., Feb. 11. 7:30. $25-75. Stage AE. 400 North Shore Dr., North Side.www.rohwrestling.com
And Cole is a sterling example of what the go-getter wrestler looks like. He has mastered the art of cutting promos, working the mic and the crowd, wrestling in a multitude of styles and keeping fans on their toes.
Because of the variety of styles and the creative freedom of the performers, right now is an excellent time to start watching wrestling if you aren’t already. Folks around the country are starting to check out wrestling in larger numbers, and Cole pointed out that 40 percent of the last crowd in Texas were first-time attendees to a wrestling event. Pittsburgh has a fairly large population of passionate fans, and the performances are even better when the crowd is electric.
“I’m not just saying this —Pittsburgh and Columbus are two of the rowdiest crowds and best fans to wrestle in front of in the states, Cole says. "At the end of the day, [enthusiastic fans] are why I love wrestling."