Kyle O’Reilly is on his own, with an old friend standing in his way.
O’Reilly, 34, is making a name for himself as a singles wrestler in NXT after four years as a tag-team specialist. He was part of the Undisputed Era faction with Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong, which broke up on screen in February.
O’Reilly will now face Cole for a second time when they meet in the main event of the Great American Bash on Tuesday (8 p.m., USA Network) with O’Reilly’s next shot at the NXT championship hanging in the balance.
“He has been the subject of a lot of major moments for me,” O’Reilly said of Cole in a phone interview with The Post. “He is a stud, he is a star, he is a top-tier performer. I have been able to get opportunities through him. Six months ago he was responsible for my success. Now he is the bane of my existence.”
Cole, who had the longest NXT title reign in history, turned on O’Reilly in storyline in February with a superkick that ultimately spelled the end of Undisputed Era. Then, the two battled in a violent unsanctioned match, won by O’Reilly at NXT TakerOver: Stand and Deliver in April. They will meet again in a traditional wrestling match this time.
While the real-life friends — Cole was in O’Reilly’s wedding party — have feuded in other promotions during their careers, this is the first time in NXT.
“That is what is interesting about this art form,” O’Reilly said. “We met in 2009. Two guys, no one had ever heard of, getting an opportunity to wrestle each other. We have had so many life-changing moments with each other through the hip. You are driving for 16 hours to beat up your friend. It is such a unique way to bond with someone.”
They have already combined for some iconic NXT moments. Their on-screen feud got so intense that there was speculation in the storyline that O’Reilly, a Type 1 diabetic, was really injured.
Cole attacked his opponent to close a show in mid-February and O’Reilly was taken out on a stretcher as part of the story. It sparked plenty of concern on social media and even within his own family.
“The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming and certainly humbling,” O’Reilly said. “It really took on a life of its own. It was cool, but it was also upsetting. My sister called me because she thinks I am seriously hurt. She was in hysterics. But it is rare for that to happen in wrestling. And I was proud of my performance.”
It was all part of O’Reilly’s character shift. Originally a bad guy for the last half-decade, the Delta, Canada native is now working as a babyface during his singles run and is happy to show his range.
“The best performers in this industry can do both,” he said. “As a singles performer, I have historically had more success as a babyface. As a tag team, I have always had more success as a heel. I want to show I am a top-tier tag-team wrestler and can switch hats.”
The self-proclaimed chef, bass guitar player, jujitsu enthusiast, reader and writer — he called storytelling “fascinating” — is continuing to reinvent his character as he attempts to become a star in NXT on his own.
“I just want my character to be perceived as someone who is tapping into that quirky self,” O’Reilly said. “It is a lot like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.”
Last week, O’Reilly’s evolving character shined in the final show before this match with Cole. They exchanged verbal jabs, rehashing old qualms from the Undisputed Era. But when Cole said he was the only star to come from it and the locker room knows it and even O’Reilly’s wife knows it, O’Reilly lost his cool.
He took Cole down with a heel hook, as Samoa Joe, who is back in NXT as commissioner William Regal’s enforcer, turned a blind eye and let O’Reilly continue to apply the hold. It showed just how much O’Reilly and Cole’s characters dislike each other.
“When you are a tag-team wrestler, you are doing it with your friends and doing it together,” O’Reilly said. “I don’t have my buddies to back me up anymore. It is a little more anxiety. But that is what is exciting. This sport is all about growing and evolving and never becoming stagnant. I am still working on it and I am far from a finished product. You try to achieve perfection but you will never get there. It is a constant pursuit of that.”
O’Reilly and Cole — plus Strong and Fish — are all onto new things since the Undisputed Era broke up. Strong just debuted as the leader of the Diamond Mine Faction. Fish — who worked with O’Reilly for nine years — recently started a program with English professional wrestler and promoter Pete Dunne. While they are all embarking on different ventures, O’Reilly is open to them crossing paths again.
“Whatever the powers at be think is best for business, and if they want to put us together and fight us out, I am happy to do so,” O’Reilly said. “This journey is about testing myself against the best competitors. And Fish and Strong are two of the absolute best competitors. I know they will bring out the best in me and I will bring out the best in them. I will not shy away from any fight.”