If you were among those who had an issue with Pat McAfee being featured in a match with Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: XXX this past Saturday, he understands. After all, McAfee is a lifelong fan of professional wrestling, and like many of us, has seen “outsiders” use wrestling platforms to put themselves over with no respect for the business.

By the end of TakeOver, there were really few doubters of McAfee’s talent left. The match between McAfee and Cole stood out in a show filled with excellent matches, and the former NFL punter more than held up his end of the contest.

“As a lifelong wrestling fan, I completely understand where everybody was coming from,” McAfee told CBS Sports. “I always hated the thought of an outsider coming into this profession that I love and enjoy watching. I think it’s known by everyone that, normally, the outsider is there to try to get a little pop, try to put themselves over and they rarely put on anything that is anything worthy of being a good match. That’s something that I think has always been pretty disrespectful to anybody that has made a living wrestling. I very much understand anybody that was a little bit upset about it, or a lot bit upset about it, especially because NXT has never done anything like that before. Being such a fan, I could understand where the potential hatred was coming from from people. I also knew that there was a chance that I was going to hopefully go in there and put on a show for people.

“I’m not looking back and grading it, it was kind of weird to watch it when I got home. I got a chance to watch it back for the first time, and it was kind of weird, to be honest. It was just a surreal moment to see me in the ring with Corey Graves, a guy I’ve known for a long time, calling it with Vic and Beth. It was one of those surreal moments, and I’m trying not to be too critical of myself. I messed up a lot of things in there but I think we put on a hell of a show.”

It wasn’t just McAfee showing off some traditional pro wrestling chops that won people over in the match, but also incredible displays of athleticism. McAfee’s background as an NFL punter would certainly suggest a degree of legitimate athleticism, but he took to the skies multiple times, nailing a flipping dive to the outside as well as a true eye-popping moment where Cole shoved him from the top rope only for McAfee to execute a perfect backflip and stick the landing on his feet. Seconds later, McAfee ran forward and leaped from the canvas to the top rope in a move few full-time wrestlers on the WWE roster could execute as smoothly.

“Being a fan, you always have those freak athletes,” McAfee said. “Shelton Benjamin is obviously the guy that made the leap up to the top rope something awesome. Being a fan, I was always drawn to the people who were very athletic. Granted, you have to be able to talk and all that to put on a good show, but for me, I enjoyed the athleticism of people. I always had these grand visions of if I ever got into a ring what I would like to do and what I think I could do if I ever got a chance to try it in a match. 

“I think when I was flying through the air on that backflip, when he pushed me off, I think there were a couple moments there where I thought, ‘Oh, I’m flying through the air right now, this is pretty cool.’ I had never done that before, so I had no idea if I was going to land it or not. Happily, I stuck the landing. Getting back up there to do the Shelton Benjamin jump to do the superplex, going into the corner there, there was a little bit of wonder on whether or not I was going to be able to get up there. But it worked out, and I’m very thankful for that.”

Of course, a successful match left many wondering if McAfee would return to the ring. It’s clear the wrestling instincts and athletic ability are there for the 33-year-old. There would be far less resistance from the fans and media to another McAfee match after seeing his debut performance, but McAfee said he has no idea if another match is in his future, though he does think he’d like to give it another go.

“It’s very interesting because Triple H referenced a conversation he and I had a couple years ago when I first got a chance to work the kickoff shows for NXT,” McAfee said. “I told him I wanted to be a weapon for WWE, and how I wanted him to induct me in the WWE Hall of Fame, and so much has happened since that conversation. The thought of me ever getting a chance to get in the ring — this Adam Cole situation, the way it all kind of happened was just the perfect opportunity for that to happen. But the conversation about what happens after, it never really happened.

“For me, I never even really thought about it. I talked this morning on my show about how it was such a cool bucket list thing for me because I’ve dreamed about it since I was 10 or 11 years old. Now we’re at the point where, yeah, it was awesome. Do I want to do it again? I don’t know, I think? A lot of my friends that I have that are in the business are like, ‘Oh, wait until you see what it’s like in front of a crowd.’ I’m like, ‘Wait, I don’t know that that’s going to happen.’ But they said, ‘No, you have to do it in front of a crowd.’ I think that’s all up in the air right now. I’m not 100 percent sure what’s going to happen. I assume Mr. H and I are going to have a conversation about that at some point. But right now, I’m just trying to enjoy the hell out of the moment and just enjoy that I was able to perform at TakeOver: XXX.”

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