AEW continues to soar with its island of ‘misfit’ wrestlers, including new stars Adam Cole and Ruby Soho

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A few days after his WWE contract expired, Adam Cole was lying in bed at 1 a.m., trying to figure out what to do next.

The 32-year-old wrestler had two options: stay with World Wrestling Entertainment, where he’d spent the past four years as the longest-reigning NXT champion, or jump to All Elite Wrestling, an upstart promotion started by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan’s son, Tony, barely two years earlier.

“My goal when I was 9 years old was to be in WWE. I was there. I spent four years in NXT. But regardless, even while I was in WWE, I was still paying attention to everything AEW was doing; I loved what they were doing,” Cole, whose real name is Austin Jenkins, told the Daily News.

“When I was thinking about going to AEW, I felt like a 9-year-old. I was giddy at the idea of debuting there. To me, that was my heart and my intuition’s way of telling me that was the decision I had to make.”

A week later, on Sept. 5, Cole debuted for AEW in Chicago alongside Bryan Danielson at “All Out,” a pay-per-view event that fans have spent the last two weeks calling the greatest card in wrestling history.

The same night, Ruby Soho made a surprise debut during the women’s Casino Battle Royale. Two weeks earlier, CM Punk jumped to AEW. Everywhere AEW fans turned, they had a new star to cheer for.

“AEW pretty much stands for everything that I love about pro wrestling, which is being different. There’s something out there for everybody,” Soho, 30, told The News.

”AEW is putting out something different that people haven’t seen before.”

That’s a common refrain, both from AEW wrestlers and its fans, that the company isn’t trying to replicate WWE or even any of the attempted successors. Khan has lured stars away from WWE and found up-and-comers on the independent circuit. Now, the favorites, like Cole and Soho, are coming to him.

“I don’t claim to be anything that I’m not. I’m a small-town kid from Indiana who’s always felt a little bit like an outcast, like a misfit, even within the confines of pro wrestling. I’ve always been searching for my place and I feel like I’ve found it with AEW. I’ve found my people,” said Soho, who was released from WWE in June.

“I have constantly been in search of a place that would allow me to be me.”

Soho, who wrestled for WWE under the moniker Ruby Riott, even got to change her name, thanks to Rancid guitarist Lars Frederikson, who gave her the rights to use their song title, Ruby Soho as her name, and the tune as her entrance music.

“I never have been so jazzed entering a pro wrestling ring than when I hear ‘Ruby Soho,’” she laughed. “It’s the embodiment of my kid punk rock self.”

Almost immediately, Cole and Soho have become highlights on the AEW card; at Wednesday’s show at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, Soho battled Britt Baker for the AEW women’s championship and Cole reunited with old friends the Young Bucks against Christian Cage and Jurassic Express.

AEW wrestlers still talk a little bit like fanboys, geeking out over action figures come to life to throw each other around the ring and jump off steel cages.

“I think Tony Khan’s mentality and the AEW roster’s mentality of trying to imagine what it is the fans want and the stories we want to tell is rewarding because they know, in their hearts, that we are doing what’s best for them,” Cole told The News.

“I think they know that and that’s a big reason why they’re so appreciative of AEW and what the show brings to the table.”

By all measurements, be it TV ratings or sold-out arenas, AEW is working. The fans are watching from home and showing up and singing along to “Judas.” Whatever the magic is, whether it’s the timing or the frustration with the old product or the wrestlers themselves, AEW seems to be only growing.

“Over the last few years, I felt like there was always somebody or something constantly telling me, ‘this is what we want you to be’ or ‘this is how we want you to be for our product,’” Soho told The News.

“This is the first time I don’t have to think about anything else but getting in the ring, performing to the best of my ability, trying to win and being me.”

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