Finn Balor Shoots on NXT, Bullet Club, Potential WWE WrestleMania 37 Match, More
All eyes will be on Finn Balor on Sunday when he defends his coveted NXT Championship against the ruthless Pete Dunne in the main event of WWE NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day.
Whether it was during his first few years in NXT or his most recent run, the TakeOver stage has always been where the Irishman has shined his brightest.
The upcoming installment should be no exception, though he'll have his work cut out when he goes one-on-one with the former NXT United Kingdom champion for the first time.
Since returning to his old stomping grounds in October 2019, Balor has done some of the best work of his career both in the ring and on the mic. He's beaten almost every opponent put in front of him and captured the NXT title for a second time in September.
His dominant reign has even caught the attention of men's Royal Rumble winner Edge, who confronted The Prince on the Feb. 3 episode of NXT and teased challenging for his title at WrestleMania 37.
Ahead of his highly anticipated title defense, Balor spoke to Bleacher Report about the bout, why WrestleMania is on his radar, his latest successful stint in NXT, wanting wrestling companies to work together more often, and more.
Check out the complete audio of the interview on the next slide and stick around for the highlights.
Facing Pete Dunne at TakeOver: Vengeance Day and His Favorite TakeOver Event
Since returning to NXT in October 2019, Balor has faced pretty much every notable name the black-and-gold brand has had to offer—except for Pete Dunne.
Until recently, they were always two ships passing in the night.
The two men are cut from the same cloth and are bound to have a hard-hitting affair for the NXT Championship come Sunday.
"I think the beautiful thing about the return to NXT is that all of my opponents have differed so greatly versus each other," Balor said. "I came in hot, there was stuff with Johnny Gargano, there was stuff with Matt Riddle, there was stuff with Damian Priest, all completely different individuals.
"I think with anything, with Pete, we probably bear the most similarities to each other compared to all of the opponents I've faced in this second run in NXT. He's someone who has definitely been on the rise the last couple of years, and I'm well aware of his abilities inside the ring. For me, it's going to pose a big challenge and I'm excited about it."
Vengeance Day has the potential to be an exceptional event. The Irishman has been a part of over a dozen TakeOver events since 2014, and although all of them have been special for different reasons, TakeOver: London at the SSE Arena in December 2015 is the one that holds a special place in his heart.
"For me, that was such a full-circle moment in my career," Balor said. "Obviously, I started my career in the UK, not too far from the venue we were at. Returning there with NXT and a lot of my friends and family were front row for that night.
"I had a great match with [Samoa] Joe, who is absolutely one of my favorite competitors. That was a very cool night for me for many reasons, not just professionally but personally, too."
If He Came Close to Relinquishing the NXT Championship Due to Injury
Shortly after he regained the NXT Championship on a Super Tuesday edition of NXT last September, Balor suffered a setback in his grueling war with Kyle O'Reilly at TakeOver 31. Despite successfully retaining his title, his jaw was broken in two places.
Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Wrestling Inc) reported at the time that the injury wasn't as bad as originally believed, though The Prince remained out of action for over two months.
However, Balor said that unlike his WWE Universal Championship win in August 2016, he was never in danger of having to relinquish the NXT title due to injury. Rather, it was always more a matter of when than if he'd be back.
The Irishman declaring the title vacant would have been terrible timing after Karrion Kross was forced to do the same thing just weeks earlier.
"Obviously, at WWE, we have such incredible doctors, and it was really down to them that I remained champion," Balor said. "There was a lot of confusion between doctors we went to locally that could have misdiagnosed the severity of the injury, and obviously with the return afterward, the window kept getting bigger and bigger.
"Originally, we planned I wouldn't be out for too long and it was the dynamic of the injury that prolonged it a little bit and the healing and stuff. That was really down to the WWE doctors and making sure I was 100 percent and protected at all times.
"There was never any doubt whether I would relinquish the title. Maybe in hindsight, if we knew how long it was going to be, that might have been different. But at the time, we always imagined it was going to be a much shorter time frame. That's how it went down."
Potentially Defending the NXT Championship at WrestleMania 37 and Facing Edge
For the first time ever, the NXT Championship is officially among the top titles the men's Royal Rumble winner can choose to contend for at WrestleMania. This comes after Charlotte Flair challenged Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women's Championship at The Show of Shows last year and won.
Edge appeared on the Feb. 3 edition of NXT to tease the possibility of him gunning for the gold on April 10-11 at WrestleMania 37.
And Balor believes that's a testament to how much the brand has grown over the years and how it deserves to be represented at WWE's biggest event of the year.
"I feel, and rightfully so, a lot of justification and thanks for a lot of the hard work NXT has done over the last couple of years," he said. "We've been building the brand, and it's really grown into a third individual brand of WWE.
"I think all the titles should be held at the same level. That's definitely the way Edge sees it, and I think that's the way a lot of people see it. I have no doubt one day the NXT title will defended at WrestleMania."
The Rated-R Superstar is the definition of an opponent Balor never knew he wanted to face until the opportunity presented itself. The Irishman has long looked up to him, not only because of his accomplishments inside the ring but also because of the bond they share outside of it after Edge was forced to retire from the ring due to injury in 2011.
"[He's] one of the people I really admire for how gracefully he transitioned out of WWE and moved on to that next step of his life," Balor said. "We had spoken about that in depth many times, so to see him back now is very, very surreal. I never even entertained the possibility of us working together with his situation.
"For me, it's very exciting. Obviously, I've gotten to be in the ring with all of the top guys in WWE, and Edge is the one I have not been in the ring with, so that's a box I want to check. And if we can do it at WrestleMania, all the better."
Why Having NXT Represented at WrestleMania Could Be a Catch-22
Before facing Edge or anyone else, Balor is adamant about giving Karrion Kross his rightful rematch for the NXT Championship he never got upon returning from injury.
The former titleholder was forced to relinquish the belt on August 26 due to a shoulder issue, and The Prince defeated Adam Cole to claim the vacant championship two weeks later.
However, Balor believes getting the prestigious prize on The Grandest Stage of Them All would be a tricky situation, as it could conflict with the TakeOver event that is a big part of WrestleMania weekend.
"I think certainly Karrion is entitled to a shot," the Irishman said. "Obviously, I sympathize with him a lot in his situation knowing what he went through and having to relinquish the title through injuries. Me having gone through that same journey, I can definitely relate to that and understand that he deserves a title shot.
"Obviously, I would love for him to get it on the biggest stage possible. If that's TakeOver WrestleMania weekend or if that's WrestleMania, that's cool. I don't think we can take away how important TakeOver is on WrestleMania weekend.
"Do we want to impact NXT TakeOver by having the NXT title match on WrestleMania? I don't know. It's a catch-22 because you want NXT to grow and you want it to be involved in WrestleMania, but at the same time for the last five or six years, we've been building this brand on our own and our whole goal is to knock it out of the park at TakeOver.
"It kind of detracts from TakeOver during WrestleMania weekend by putting some title matches on WrestleMania."
The Prince feels putting the NXT title on the 'Mania card could have the opposite effect of what everyone is trying to achieve with the black-and-gold brand, but regardless of what WWE has planned, he's willing to make it work to the best of his ability.
"It might be a little bit counterproductive to what we're doing," he added. "That's not really my decision, but if they want to send me out there on TakeOver, if they want to send me out there on WrestleMania, if they want to send me out there on Monday morning in the parking lot of a supermarket, I don't care. I'm going to defend the NXT title."
Nearly Returning to Raw or SmackDown and His First NXT Run Not Being Long-Term
Returning to NXT in October 2019 was arguably the best thing that could have happened to Balor.
His career was at a crossroads on the main roster and going back to where it all began for him was going to further solidify him as the top-tier talent fans always knew he was.
Balor was last seen on the main roster at SummerSlam 2019 when he was squashed by "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt. It wasn't until late January this year that he did anything related to Raw and SmackDown again, when he performed at the Superstar Spectacle event, which also marked his ThunderDome debut.
There was never any timetable for how long he'd be in NXT when he originally went back, but he's been enjoying the ride and has no intentions of leaving again any time soon, despite previous talk of a return to Raw or SmackDown.
"The initial thought process was we'll go to NXT, see how it works out, and it might be three months, it might be six months, there's no real plan," Balor said. "I know there's been discussion back and forth a couple of times about whether I should go back to Raw or SmackDown, but for me, I'm very happy in NXT and I'm willing to give my heart and soul in NXT as long as there's a position there for me.
"Nothing's been concrete and there's been no set time frame on anything. It was more like, 'Finn, would you like to be a part of NXT?' 'Absolutely.' NXT is a part of me and I want to be there. As long as there's a position there for me, I'm very grateful for it.”
Balor signed with WWE in the summer of 2014 and was main roster ready from the get-go, hence why it surprised fans to see him stay in NXT for as long as he did.
"It definitely grew to be a lot longer than I had been led to believe at the time," he said. "There was certainly a hunger for me to outgrow NXT at that period in my life, and I wanted the challenge of Raw and SmackDown, and I wanted to be on Royal Rumble and Survivor Series and WrestleMania.
"There was more of an anxiety to move to the next level and push harder and move to what I perceived as a step too far in regards to going to Raw or going to SmackDown.
"Now, I feel very different in the sense because NXT has grown so much, and it really is an established brand. Also, I've checked all the boxes of the things I've wanted to do in my career. This is really something I can put my heart into. It's something I'm passionate about.
"I don't have that urgency or that need to move to that next level. NXT, Raw and SmackDown are all on the same level right now in my view. People may see that differently, but the way I see it, I get challenged even more at NXT because of the variety of opponents.
"I definitely don't have that urgency to move to Raw or SmackDown right now. I'm very much committed to what I'm doing right now in NXT."
Does He Ever Think 'What If' Regarding His 2016 Universal Championship Reign?
Balor accomplished quite a lot in a short span during his first month as a member of the Raw roster.
The Irishman was picked by the flagship show in the first round of the WWE draft on July 19, 2016. One week later, he defeated Roman Reigns in his debut match on Raw before going on to beat Seth Rollins at SummerSlam to become the inaugural universal champion.
However, a shoulder injury he sustained during the match put him on the shelf for the remainder of the year and forced his hot momentum to come to an abrupt halt. Aside from winning the Intercontinental Championship twice in 2019, he was never able to recapture that same magic on the main roster.
Despite that, Balor has no regrets over what happened, instead accepting reality for what it is and being grateful it happened so it could pave the way for where he is today.
"It happened, it was part of my story, and it was part of my growth," he said. "Going back to checking the boxes, I'm like this 14-year-old kid from Ireland with this dream to be WWE champion and I did it at SummerSlam, and I beat Roman Reigns in my debut on Raw and then Seth Rollins to win the title. Like, where can you go from there? You got to look at the positives and really that was it.
"That was the top of the mountain for me. I got there, it got taken away from me early, whatever, it happened exactly the way it was supposed to happen for me. I learned a lot from it and maybe I would've been in a lot worse position now if I had that run people feel I was robbed of.
"It's part of my story, it's made me a stronger person, and I'm not resentful for that at all."
Bullet Club Thoughts and Why He Wants All Wrestling Companies to Work Together
Almost eight years removed from its early beginnings, Bullet Club is as relevant now as it's ever been, largely thanks to the work being done across New Japan Pro-Wrestling, All Elite Wrestling and Impact Wrestling.
Balor also deserves thanks for getting the group off to a strong start during his days as Prince Devitt. He was able to reunite with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows later in WWE and still yearns for the opportunity to be work with them again.
"I think it's something that's really stood the test of time, and it's a credit to not only the original generation of myself, Gallows, Anderson, Tama [Tonga] and [Bad Luck] Fale but also the guys who came in after us whether it was Adam Cole, Kenny Omega and AJ [Styles]," he said.
"It's something I feel that's grown and transitioned, and people have gotten attached to it and bonded to it. It's something that's developed over the years in different forms. It's really cool to see how it's going right now."
Although Omega, KENTA, Gallows and Anderson have come together from different companies to represent Bullet Club, don't count on WWE or NXT joining the fun any time soon, if ever. That's how it's always been, but Balor hopes to break down that barrier as he sees no reason why it can't and shouldn't happen.
"I know there's a lot of cross-brand work going on, which is something I've been an advocate for for years," he said. "I don't feel like we should be limited to what our contract says or what company we work for. I feel like wrestling on the whole can be better if we all worked together, so if that means me going to Japan or me going to Europe or me going to Mexico, I'm down to do that.
"I'm all for the open-border policy, not just between countries but companies as well.”
How WWE Helped Him as a Performer, and Dream Matches He Wants to Have
The former Prince Devitt had a remarkable run in Japan, but his career was likely never going to grow until he graced the grand stage of WWE.
Sure enough, he's become a bigger star in WWE and NXT than he would have been otherwise. He's evolved as both a wrestler and an all-around performer, specifically on the mic, in recent years.
Balor says his comfort, confidence and consistency have come from his time in WWE, which has also prepared him for every possible obstacle thrown his way.
"I feel like I've become a lot more consistent," he said. "I've become a lot more comfortable when I'm in the ring. Definitely the sheer volume of matches that happened in 2016, 2017, 2018 before the pandemic helped me on every level but really with confidence in yourself that you know exactly what you're doing at all times.
"Working in Japan and working in Europe, sometimes you're limited to the amount of dates you can wrestle. A lot of the schedules were based around the weekend, whereas with WWE we would just go nonstop.
"I think, one year, I chalked up 172 matches in different cities all around the world. Just having that consistency has become second nature. You could wake up and be in a wrestling match and not be fazed at all."
As for opponents The Prince still wants to face, he kept his answer short and sweet by limiting it to three people he has always dreamed of sharing a WWE ring with: "The impossible one right now is Undertaker, the gray-area one is Triple H, and the very real possibility is WALTER."
Whether any of those matches come to fruition remains to be seen, but first, he'll have his hands full with Pete Dunne at NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on WWE Network.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.