Early in 2012, just a couple of weeks after he broke up with his former tag partner Kyle O'Reilly and teamed with Eddie Edwards, Adam Cole offered to sub for his new partner (out of commission with a staph infection) in a no-holds-barred match against Roderick Strong, a man not known for barring holds in any of his matches. Heel manager Truth Martini decreed that the only way Adam would get a match was in a two-on-one setup. "And if you don't like [that deal ...], all you got to do is to shut me up," Truth said, and forthwith Adam kicked him on the chin, flipping the manager (a master of "famous last words" if ever there was one) over the ropes and out of the ring. Roderick immediately charges in on Adam, and the fight is on.

The January 20, 2012, battle is an early trial run for Cole as a singles competitor at Ring of Honor. It showcases many of his strengths, mostly his ability to alternate roles between jacked-up roughneck and wounded little boy, an emotional rollercoaster that builds fan empathy and allegiance, a rollercoaster Cole rode all the way to the ROH world championship this past September. This fast-paced but intense match gives us everything: a perfectly coldblooded heel in Strong, stiff chops, high kicks, slugfests in and out of the ring, a backbreaking bodyslam against the edge of the ring (twice!), weaponized steel chairs, outside interference, a heroic save by Edwards, and hair-pulling (lots of it).

The jam-packed 16-minute match is included on the second disc of the recently released Adam Cole: Panama's Finest (a must-buy for Cole fans like me). Strong-versus-Cole is both these wrestlers' at their best, ROH at its best, and, though Cole's unmistakably the underdog here, a glimpse into the great things to come for the eighteenth and current ROH world champion.

The photos are Scott Finkelstein's.


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