Exclusive: WWE NXT Champion Finn Balor on Randy Orton, the Demon Character, More

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2020

Exclusive: WWE NXT Champion Finn Balor on Randy Orton, the Demon Character, More

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    Finn Balor's second reign as WWE NXT Champion marks the beginning of a new era on the brand.
    Finn Balor's second reign as WWE NXT Champion marks the beginning of a new era on the brand.Credit: WWE.com

    Almost exactly five years removed from his first record-setting title run, Finn Balor is atop the totem pole in WWE NXT once again as its champion.

    Balor defeated a familiar foe in Adam Cole on Tuesday's special episode of NXT to kick off his second stint with the strap. There's no telling what he would have been doing instead right now had things gone according to plan and Karrion Kross wasn't forced to vacate the championship because of injury.

    For Balor, though, this title win was in many ways the perfect culmination of almost a year's worth of excellent work in NXT. He initially resurfaced on the show in shocking fashion on the October 2, 2019, episode and has been one of the best parts about the program since then.

    It's more a matter of when than if he'll return to Raw and SmackDown given his skill-set and star power, but now that he's the reigning NXT champion once again, fans should assume he'll be staying exclusive to Wednesday nights. He's worked with a ton of fresh faces this year but still has more to accomplish and do before he moves on to the next chapter of his career.

    The Prince took the time this past week to chat with Bleacher Report about his monumental NXT Championship victory, being back on the black-and-gold brand, what he misses about the main roster, looking up to Randy Orton and more. Audio of the exclusive interview can be found at the top of the subsequent slide as well.

Did He Ever Expect to Be Back in NXT as the NXT Champion Again?

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    Finn Balor has had quite the career in WWE up to this point, but not even he could have expected that his journey would have taken him back home to NXT, let alone the NXT Championship itself.

    To his credit, he's been able to make the most of every situation he's found himself in since signing with WWE six years ago. He wasted little time in becoming the face of NXT before breaking out on the main roster in mid-2016 and becoming the inaugural Universal champion.

    The next three years of his main roster run from there were far from stellar in regards to his booking, but he was still able to hold the Intercontinental Championship on two occasions and contest many memorable matches with everyone from Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins to AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar.

    The current incarnation of Finn Balor we're seeing every week on NXT TV, however, may well be the best yet. He never ceases to impress every time he steps in the ring and has shown he can work well with just about anybody, making him the perfect fit for NXT champion right now.

    "I don't know if anyone else can do it the way I've done it throughout my career," Balor said. "It's kind of like ping-pong between different styles, different platforms, different styles, and making the most of every situation. I don't think it's ever been done before for someone to be NXT champion, go to Raw, be Universal champion, be Intercontinental champion, return to NXT, [and] be NXT champion. Maybe I can push the boundaries a little further and go to Mexico and become champion down there, go to Japan and become champion down there. NXT UK, I wouldn't mind a shot at that title. I'm open to all challenges."

When Will the WALTER Match Happen?

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    Shortly after Finn Balor beat Johnny Gargano at NXT TakeOver: Portland, fans started to question what was next for The Prince in NXT and if he was primed for an immediate return to Raw or SmackDown.

    Thankfully, he stuck around on the black-and-gold brand and, better yet, set his sights on WALTER's NXT UK Championship. Balor went on to make a handful of appearances in NXT UK, but before a bout could come to fruition (likely at NXT TakeOver: Tampa), it was put on the back-burner because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Although NXT UK will be returning with original content on WWE Network for the first time in six months next Thursday, don't expect to see Balor challenging WALTER any time soon. Balor clarified that the current circumstances have made it difficult for him to travel across the pond, but he's anxious to make that match happen eventually.

    "WALTER, for me, is an absolute enigma in this business," he said. "I'd put him in the same group as [Brock] Lesnar. That was the match that I wanted, and obviously, the world kind of went against us in a sense."

    Balor added that it's inevitable he and WALTER wage war, saying: "I definitely feel like that match hasn't gone away. With the travel restrictions between Europe and U.S. right now, we're not able to travel. I think in the future, we'll definitely get back to that match. But right now, whether it's WALTER or someone else, I'm ready to defend the title."

Who's the Biggest Locker Room Leader in NXT?

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    A ton of talent in NXT have played a major factor in making the brand what it is today, most notably Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa for how long they've been there. However, according to Finn Balor, the biggest locker room leader behind-the-scenes is actually Matt Bloom.

    The former Lord Tensai was appointed to be the new head coach at the Performance Center following the dismissal of Bill DeMott over five years ago and has done an exceptional job of building the foundation for the future with NXT.

    "There's a lot of guys, but I feel like the real leader is Matt Bloom," Balor said. "Someone who's had an incredible career and someone who has done it and adapted to this role of head coach at the Performance Center and then kind of transformed into the leader that has the respect of all the talent. His knowledge is extremely valuable. He's wrestled all over the world, similar to myself, in Japan and in Mexico and having an incredible WWE run. I feel like [between] his people skills and his personality, he is the real, true leader of the locker room in NXT."

    Bloom's importance to the brand cannot be overstated. He's been integral to the growth and success of several stars, including Balor.

    The history they share together from their time in Japan makes his comments that much more meaningful.

Does He Miss Anything About Being on Raw and SmackDown?

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    Interestingly enough, Finn Balor has so far spent more time on WWE's main roster than he did in developmental, and his two runs in NXT were by no means brief.

    It took Balor less than two years to be called up to the grand stage and receive an immediate push as the first-ever Universal champion. An untimely injury caused that reign to be cut short and for him to be relegated to midcard purgatory until returning to NXT, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's nothing he misses about being under the bright lights.

    "You can look back on parts of your career and miss elements of everything," Balor said. "I miss my friends in Japan. I miss my friends on Raw and SmackDown. I've got friends in every promotion in the United States right now. I miss them all, but the most important thing for me is when the bell rings to be in there performing to the highest of my ability. I feel NXT in its current form, because it's evolved a lot since I was champion four-and-a-half years ago, is a place where everybody I step in the ring with is for the first time. They're pushing me in a way people don't really understand."

    The Prince went on stress the importance of being challenged and constantly being pushed to his limit by all of the notable names in NXT. Everyone he takes on is entirely new to him, and thus his opponents have the advantage in that respect.

    It speaks volumes to Balor's greatness that, with minimal or no time to prepare, he's been able to contest classics with a majority of the roster and look terrific regardless of the result.

    "[Johnny] Gargano, [Tommaso] Ciampa, [Matt] Riddle, Damian Priest, all these guys you've seen me lock up with at a TakeOver was the first time I'd ever locked up with them," he said. "There was no training, there were no live events, there were no television matches, they're all big, big matches. That element of not knowing how someone feels, how they move, their nuances in the ring, their footwork, really gives you a sense of feeling that live in the ring. It's really a sink or swim mentality, and I feel like it's brought the best out of me as a performer in the last 11 months."

How Far Have WWE's Efforts Come with Diversity and Inclusion Since 2018?

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    Finn Balor made his debut on The Grandest Stage of Them All at WrestleMania 34, albeit not as The Demon. Rather, the entrance he made instead, which spotlighted the LGBTQ community and sent the message that Balor Club is for everyone, was much more impactful.

    Although he didn't walk out that night as the new Intercontinental champion, it was still an incredible moment and one that Balor holds in high regard.

    "I feel like that was such a huge moment in my career," he said. "That was my first WrestleMania, and a lot of people were expecting me to go to the route of The Demon, and maybe we could've done that and no one would've complained, but what we did that night was not only bigger than The Demon but bigger than me and bigger than wrestling. That was a statement about society and acceptance and inclusion and diversity."

    When asked about the steps WWE has taken with diversity and inclusion since that unforgettable entrance in April 2018, Balor remarked that it was one of the catapults that helped the company move in the direction of acceptance and that he couldn't be prouder of the progress that's been made.

    "I think that's influenced a lot of things in the time that's passed and it's a direction we need to continue to go," he said. "There's a lot of movements out there that need our help. I feel sometimes as a society that if we don't mention something that it's OK, but we really need to stand up and show our support for these movements and the Black Lives Matter movement recently and the Speaking Out movement recently.

    "These are things we need to actively show our support for, and I think the company has done an incredible job because society has had a lot of hard times recently," he continued. "Not only medically, but also psychologically and mentally. I feel like we need to make our platform and use our platform to the best of our ability to spread a positive message, and if I can do that in any way then I feel like that's my responsibility."

Who from Raw or SmackDown Would He Like to See in NXT?

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    There can be no doubt that Finn Balor has benefited big time from a return to his old stomping grounds in NXT. Prior to that point, he was involved in nothing of note on the main roster and seemed to be spinning his wheels.

    The Prince was just the latest example of someone who experienced a career resurgence from being back on the black-and-gold brand. Tyson Kidd went through something similar in 2014, and Emma also reinvented herself upon returning to NXT in 2015.

    Several Superstars from SmackDown and Raw could follow in Finn's footsteps and achieve that same success if they were to have a run in NXT, regardless of whether they were there previously or not. Balor mentioned that he hasn't been keeping up with the goings-on outside of NXT in the last year but feels every performer should want to push themselves to try something new and explore new avenues.

    "I'll be honest, I haven't left Raw or SmackDown since I left," Balor said. "I couldn't even tell you who's even on there. I'm fully focused on myself and fully focused on NXT. There's been so much I've needed to adapt to and study and learn in the sense of being completely encapsulated in the environment that I'm in at NXT that I haven't really needed to focus on anything else. I feel like everyone can learn and should want to learn and want to adapt and should want to challenge themselves. They should want to put themselves in different scenarios and different environments against different people, and I think everyone can benefit from that."

    Of all the people he'd want to see have a run in NXT, Balor revealed that Randy Orton would be his top choice, if only for the matches it could produce, including against himself.

    "I don't know if this is someone who would learn from it, but someone I'd love to have in NXT is Randy Orton, because I feel like he's probably the best performer of the last 10 years," he said. "He's someone I look up to a lot and I know a lot of the NXT locker room looks up to a lot. He's someone I feel would have a huge impact on NXT that would start a ripple effect for the next five or 10 years. I've been in the ring with Randy before, but if we could do that in an NXT environment, I would love that."

When Will We See the Demon Again?

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    The Demon has been as big of a part of Finn Balor as anything throughout his six-year run in WWE. He introduced his alter-ego at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution in December 2014 and proceeded to use it on almost every TakeOver special from that point forward.

    Balor didn't bring back The Demon as often once he joined the main roster, only using it on special occasions. Since returning to NXT one year ago, The Demon hasn't been seen at all, but that doesn't mean it's gone for good.

    He assured fans that they haven't seen the last of The Demon, but it may be a while before he sports the signature face paint again. When he does, he hopes it will be for high-profile matches against three of the biggest stars in WWE today.

    "I feel like The Demon is something that's very personal to me," Balor said. "I'd definitely like to get back to The Demon vs. The Fiend. I definitely want The Demon vs. Brock Lesnar. I want The Demon vs. Braun Strowman. But right now, I feel with the position I'm in, it would be a step backward. I'm riding the momentum of the work I've done as The Prince for the last 11 months, and I want to continue to ride that momentum. I feel like there will be an opportunity to bring The Demon back in the future, but that could be three, four years from now."

    In the meantime, he has his sights set on being the best version of himself and continuing to elevate NXT to that next level through the exceptional work he's been doing as of late.

    "There's a lot of other things I want to invest my creative juices in, and creatively The Demon takes a lot out of you," he said. "It's something that can sometimes limit me as far as what I'm able to do, and right now I want to focus all my creative energy on when the bell rings what I'm doing in the ring. I don't want to jeopardize that right now. I'm really proud of the matches I've been involved over the last 11 months since I returned to NXT and the variety of styles I've been able to adapt to. I don't want to jeopardize that for any reason. Right now, I'm very much focused on Finn Balor the Prince."

    Catch new NXT champion Finn Balor in action Wednesday nights on WWE NXT at 8/7c, only on USA Network.

       

    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.