On August 22nd, Pat McAfee makes his unexpected NXT wrestling debut at Takeover: XXX. The former NFL punter goes toe-to-toe with Adam Cole, a record-setting NXT Champion, in the culmination of their buzzworthy blood-feud. While unique and exciting, the feud’s mere existence has divided an audience — some dismiss it as a meritless, celebrity attraction; while others, including myself, see wrestling gold. Across multiple mediums, NXT has assembled a line-blurring narrative that has captured attention. And ultimately, Cole-McAfee’s been the hottest, most well-orchestrated angle in NXT history.

In late July, Cole was the talk of the wrestling world following his chaotic outburst on The Pat McAfee Show. Throughout the 12-minute interview, McAfee continually patronized Cole before a size-driven comment blew the guest’s gasket: “The Undisputed ERA is the main reason why you’ve succeeded… but that’s very smart. Especially for you, ’cause you know, you’re kind of small” said McAfee.

 

Criticism of Cole’s size has been a constant in his career. After his NXT Championship loss to the much bigger Keith Lee and potential main-roster callup, Cole’s size was forefronted again. The timing was impeccable, making this radio-show incident so believable. Cole’s F-bombs were the chef’s kiss in creating instantaneous buzz and uncertainty online.

Even Cole’s most prominent supporters have mentioned his size. On June 4th, NXT producer Road Dogg spoke on WWE After The Bell: “Adam Cole is the most professional, most talented — he gets it. He gets every aspect of it… Man, if he was Karrion Kross’s size, he would be the Universal Champion right now.”

Cole’s biggest advocate is probably Shawn Michaels. During The Pat McAfee Show interview, McAfee said, “There has been a lot of comparisons to you and ‘Mr. Wrestlemania.’ You and a guy named Shawn Michaels, who I think is obviously a mentor of yours down there at the Performance Center. But I think even you, as a student of the business, would understand that you’re nowhere near what Shawn Michaels was.”

Shawn Michaels attends to Adam Cole. Courtesy: WWE.

That condescending remark made NXT’s August 5th closer even more poetic. When special-guest commentator Pat McAfee punt kicked Cole across the announce desk, Michaels attended to Cole’s lifeless body. It signified the overwhelming career pressures and critiques weighing in on Cole. Shortly after, Cole and McAfee’s one-on-one bout was made official. 

After his 403-day NXT Championship reign, many fans deemed this next venture a disgrace, a big step down. However, Cole-McAfee attempts to accentuate Cole’s value and significance towards the yellow brand. On August 22nd, Cole will fight for pride — pride for both himself and NXT. McAfee said on NXT’s Instagram, “Adam Cole can kiss my ass and so can NXT. I assume you work for them — go ahead and spread the message. This place stinks.”

Adam Cole amidst his epic 403-day title reign. Courtesy: WWE.

On The Pat McAfee Show, NXT founder Triple H said, “Look, Pat, I’ll be honest with you. You know when you come in our world from the outside, people are leery from the outside — media people and everything else. You’ve done stuff on our show… and you like to have fun. But to some of those (NXT) talent, you’re picking fun at something you’re not really a part of. And you’re attacking people that see you as a guy that… bought a ring one time, trained with Rip Rogers for a few days ’cause he needed the money, then interacts with them sometimes like he’s one of them.”

Evidently, the denigration is mutual. Drafted to the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, McAfee flourished. According to The Football Database, McAfee is the Colts’ all-time leader in gross punting average. But despite the success over eight seasons, McAfee is seen like every other punter — hardly a key player on the team. He subsequently started “For The Brand” — a clothing line established to better repudiate the NFL’s special teams (punters, kickers, etc). And coincidentally, professional wrestlers catch similar flack — for instance, Adam Cole’s recent devaluations from McAfee himself.

Pat McAfee, co-host of Takeover Kickoff show. Courtesy: WWE.

Regardless of wrestling’s cultural stigma, McAfee is pursuing this endeavour to prove his athletic prowess and range. Plus, he’s a life-long wrestling fan.

Before getting drafted, a 22-year-old Pat McAfee defeated Warpig on an IWA East Coast show in March 2009. During an interview with Indywire, McAfee said, “I don’t want to say it was perfect… (but) I slapped my leg and everything. I made it look good… My dream was always to become a professional wrestler. I kicked a football one day and made it go real far and a business decision kind of took me that way. But wrestling is still on my mind.” Ten years later, McAfee signed with WWE, officially labeled as a contributor. 

 

Now 33 years old, McAfee is training under OVW head coach Rip Rogers in preparation for Takeover: XXX. To these eyes, McAfee versus Cole as a “celebrity attraction match” can’t possibly disappoint.

BetOnline (www.BetOnline.ag) odds on NXT Takeover:

Adam Cole                    -1250   (2/25)

Pat McAfee                   +575     (23/4)