Adam Cole, Jungle Boy, and the Depth of AEW’s Main Event Scene

Two of AEW's top stars squared off in an excellent match on Dynamite, highlighting their wealth of top stars.

The intersecting paths of Adam Cole and Jungle Boy started off as a pitch-perfect red herring.

To cap off All Out 2021, after a severe beatdown of Christian Cage and his new-ish friends in Jurassic Express by the Elite, AEW World Champion Kenny Omega hopped on the house mic. In what seemed like typical boasting from the most critically acclaimed wrestler of his generation, he big-upped himself after defeating Christian in a main event title match by saying the only wrestlers in the world who he hasn’t beaten are retired, working elsewhere, or dead. 

The lights cut out for a prolonged moment, giving the fans in attendance and watching from home a chance to anticipate the much-rumored arrival of Bryan Danielson. The music played, the graphic flashed a name, and that name made much of the audience go absolutely apeshit. Adam Cole, bay-bay.

AEW

Cole swaggered his way to the ring, barely able to contain his excitement. He did his taunt and the audience thunderously roared along with him. Adam Cole, bay-bay! Omega looked like he had seen a ghost, and depending on how deep you go into AEW canon, that could be interpreted pretty literally. Cole shouted, “You remember what you did to me!” Remnants of the aftermath from getting fired from Bullet Club at Ring of Honor War of the Worlds 2017 … or getting poisoned by a mysterious powder ground into his Monster energy drink on Being the Elite

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As Kenny and the Young Bucks attempted to talk Cole off the ledge, he turned and superkicked Jungle Boy out of consciousness. The Bucks hugged their longtime friend. Kenny got on the mic again. Show over, folks.

That was until the opening swarn of “Flight of the Valkyries” played, and like Colonel Bill Rawls riding in to shut down Hamsterdam on the Season 3 finale of The Wire, Bryan Danielson entered AEW to clean up. But that’s a story that has already been breathlessly told here. The impact of Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson debuting in All Elite Wrestling within minutes of each other was the surprise not even newsletters had secondhand information on.

A Perennial Top Guy (Bay-Bay)

AEW

Adam Cole worked for the company across the street, and when I say that, I don’t just mean WWE at large. Cole was on the frontlines for NXT as one of their tenured main event stars, handpicked to counterprogram his friends every Wednesday night for over 18 months. He had the longest recorded NXT Championship reign in the brand’s history, put on stellar match after stellar match—whether he was on top of the card or not—and sat under the learning tree of the man he’d spent his entire career emulating: Shawn Michaels.

When NXT started getting beaten in the ratings consistently by AEW and decided to move back to Tuesday nights, soon after came the rumblings about a reset. There were rumors Cole was going to move to the main roster and serve as a manager for Keith Lee; chatter swelled about Vince McMahon himself scrolling an edict on a tablet of stone that banned the hiring of short kings and geriatric millennials.

Cole—a main-eventer in pretty much every wrestling company he’s ever signed a contract with, the only man to ever win the Ring of Honor World Championship thrice—knew he had options. And the option that includes a few of your best friends in the business and the partner you’re cohabitating with is one worth considering mightily.

So he reunited with his sick-ass “kliq” and went All Out.

On My Own Like Tarzan Boy

AEW

Jungle Boy’s career is dwarfed by Cole’s on both the page and the trophy mantle, but before AEW snapped him and Luchasaurus up from the Southern California independent scene, young Jack Perry was seen as a local sensation of sorts. When he came to the national stage alongside his 65-million-year-old friend and indie standout Marko Stunt, he shined in tag matches (as one third of Jurassic Express) to the point where he became undeniable.

Billed from the aisles of Value Village, a collection of territories on the brink of extinction, Jungle Boy quickly became touted as a young star to watch, to the point where veterans like Chris Jericho wanted to work with him. After a campaign where he said he could beat Jungle Boy in ten minutes or less, the then-AEW World Champion had to accept a draw after failing to back up his boast. The son of late teen heartthrob Luke Perry opened a lot of eyes with a gutsy, almost frenetic ten-minute performance against one of the world’s longest tenured active wrestlers.

From there, the legend grew to Tarzan-sized proportions.

At this year’s Double or Nothing, Jungle Boy managed to outlast a field of 21 competitors—culminating in a great showing against the debuting Christian Cage, leading to an alliance between the two filled with barely perceptible tension. Winning the Men’s Casino Battle Royale led to Jungle Boy challenging Omega in a thrilling contest for the AEW’s top title. Humble and soft-spoken, there are few babyfaces as sympathetic as Perry, who was such a good foil for the increasingly obnoxious heel champ. As a wrestler, Jungle Boy smartly uses his gifts in being lightning-quick and elusive. To borrow an aphorism from Jim Ross, pinning Jungle Boy is like “trying to pour smoke through a keyhole.” 

Main Event on First

AEW

There seems to be this misconception among fans that anything that doesn’t go on last on a wrestling show is “midcard,” which is at best needlessly hierarchical and at worst showing their ignorance of how television is used to tell stories. Dynamite, like any good wrestling show, hosts an ensemble cast, and its main event scene is nearly a mile wide. There are multiple characters inhabiting the top story—in the men’s division, at least—and most combinations can contribute to a key storyline on any given show. 

Adam Cole and Jungle Boy are proven main event stars for AEW, even when they’re the focal points of a trios match placed second on the Rampage Grand Slam card. Jungle Boy’s near-heroic performance was exactly what the Super Kliq needed to emphasize their first win as a group since their days schlepping through mid-sized venues for Ring of Honor. It also perfectly set up the first-ever one-on-one meeting between Jungle Boy and Cole.

AEW
AEW

Cole was given a hero’s reception on Wednesday night. In part because people love chanting “Adam Cole, bay-bay!” for some reason, but also because Cole was the textbook example “cool heel” for most of the entire four years he was with WWE. (Note how the Undisputed Era taking on professional loudmouth Pat McAfee as ass-kicker babyfaces didn’t quite work as well.) Concurrently, the Rochester fans, same as every crowd AEW has visited, sang along with full throats to “Tarzan Boy” as Jungle Boy made his way to the ring. 

The first part of the match centered around Jungle Boy slipping out of Cole’s side headlock and Cole cinching it back in. Jungle Boy gained the advantage with a big shoulder block early in the match and soon after nailed his gorgeous springboard arm drag. Cole took a powder break on the outside, looking offended that Jungle Boy managed to gain the upper hand.

More subtly than any character in wrestling, Adam Cole doubts himself. He superbly utilizes bravado to shallowly mask his lack of belief in his ability to definitively win matches. Though some of his confidence can be seen as very earned, you can pinpoint moments in every match where you see his confidence slipping just a bit. Either because his opponent is harder to beat than Cole thought he was, or because Cole himself, deep in the pit of his stomach, doesn’t feel he’s quite as good as he says he is.

AEW

At one point, Cole magnificently counters his way out of the pumphandle torture rack position and into a pin. The crowd cheers for him not just because of his cool heel aura (even though he’s at heart pretty fucking goofy), but also because he’s excellent at wrestling. He frequently found himself one step ahead of Jungle Boy, until he’s hit with a step-up hurricanrana from the ring to the floor. Amazing.

Jungle Boy eventually found his ace in the hole, his Snare Trap submission hold, but Cole rather desperately made it to the ropes. Cole nearly bumped into referee Aubrey Edwards and corralled her attention with just enough room to mule kick Jungle Boy low without her detection. He then hit his shining wizard to the back of Jungle Boy’s head—now known as the Boom—and closed the books on the match.

AEW

The fans were on their feet for much of the contest; the competitors busted out some dazzling high impact moves and wrestled the match with a salty veneer. Which is ideal for wrestlers who are supposed to be rivals. Predictably enough, Jungle Boy vs. Adam Cole was a main event style match in the opening slot, given the time and space to tell a compelling story. Jungle Boy as the gifted young star who got bested by Adam Cole, who had made a home in top spots for years with the wherewithal to take a shortcut when his skill doesn’t get the job done. 

They’re the kind of talents trusted upon to communicate that story as eloquently as possible. As main eventers always are.

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Martin Douglas

A proud adopted son of the Pacific Northwest, Martin Douglas is an essayist, critic, and journalist specializing in the fields of music (KEXP.org, Bandcamp Daily, Pitchfork) and pro wrestling (Seattle Weekly, quite a few online zines). He's also a hip-hop beatmaker, fiction writer, disposable camera photographer, and all-around renaissance man.

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