When Fergal, Prince Devitt signed with WWE in 2014 the Irishman had some trepidation.
After 14 years honing his craft and making a name for himself around the world, was joining sports entertainment leader the right move to make? The answer to this question became clear. It was a resounding yes!
He emerged on NXT television as Finn Bálor.
The new recruit drew buzz and a growing following in a short amount of time. Then on July 4, 2015 during the Beast in the East special on WWE Network from Japan it was Bálor who captured the NXT championship from Kevin Owens in front of an audience who watched him most of his career. The 34-year-old holder had come full circle.
“Life hasn’t really changed as far as who I am,” Bálor said.
“You still have to carry yourself day-to-day a certain way, whether you are NXT champion or not. So not much has changed, but the schedule has been hectic. I’ll admit that, but it is part of representing the company and what we are doing at NXT. That’s my responsibility now, and I’m happy to do it.”
Bálor will clash with Owens again in a ladder match Saturday, Aug. 22 from a sold-out Barclays Center at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. The champion and challenger began their respective WWE journeys around the same time, making it all the more interesting.
“I wouldn’t say there is a lot of added pressure,” Bálor said.
“Obviously, what we did in Japan was viewed by a lot of people and was a great spectacle. For me personally, it was one of the highlights of my career. It couldn’t have gone any better. I spent eight years in Japan and made this unsure decision to actually move to WWE. That ran in my mind whether I should come. Then I went through a pretty difficult adaptation to not only the Performance Center, but Florida, U.S.A., WWE. It was all very uncertain. I kind of went through all that with Kevin.
“Then a year later we return to [Ryougoku] Sumo Hall, the same building I had my first match in New Japan Pro Wrestling and the same arena I had my last match in New Japan. I invited all my friends. A year later I am back there with WWE and the NXT championship on the line live on the WWE Network. That story could not have been written any better.
“For some reason, going into TakeOver, the match feels so much bigger this time. I think it’s mainly due to the fact that in Tokyo it was a WWE show where TakeOver is an NXT show. We sold more than 13,000 tickets in Brooklyn. It’s NXT. We don’t just have a match or an act on the show. We are the show. We are excited to be in Brooklyn as a team, and we have to deliver.”
Bálor enjoys the camaraderie in the NXT locker room.
“I really feel it’s a team effort,” he said.
“That’s the beauty of NXT and why it’s so successful. It’s not a one-man show. There is tons of talent all over the card. Hideo [Itami] got hurt unfortunately. You have Sami Zayn. You have so many up-and-comers in Jason Jordan, Chad Gable. You have Enzo [Amore] and Big Cass doing incredibly well at the moment. You have Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder. There are guys that are great, top-to-bottom all over the card like Tyler Breeze and Baron Corbin as well. We have a huge supporting cast. Don’t be mistaken. Brooklyn is not just me and Kevin. It is NXT. Everyone is going to get the opportunity to see exactly what this brand is all about.”
The emerging superstar describes his experience so far as a rollercoaster. He has learned to be ready for anything and make the most of every opportunity. Among those is his inclusion in the upcoming “WWE 2K16” video game and the Demon’s first action figure.
“There was a lot of uncertainty when I came here whether this was the right decision or wrong decision,” Bálor said.
“There were some downs in the beginning and that swung around. I made my debut and got a little bit of my confidence back. Things have been on the up-and-up. Every child has played video games growing up and played WWE games. To be part of a video game, it’s an unbelievable experience. I got the opportunity to do all the motion capture with 2K. They were amazing. Then I’m shooting a game commercial with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I then get a call that I’m going to Comic-Con the next day.
“I get to Comic-Con, and they tell me we have action figures coming out. I didn’t even know I was meant to be in L.A. to be with Arnold. I flew to L.A. and meet Arnold Schwarzenegger and then go to Comic Con. They show me drawings of action figures they are doing this year. So to say things are surreal is a huge understatement. I’m almost pinching myself every day. I’m sitting here at home and there is one of my WWE NXT t-shirts sitting on my chair. I can’t even believe that. It’s been an incredible year, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”
Bálor credits WWE for rolling out the proverbial red carpet and bending over backwards for him. He also appreciates the hospitality from his co-workers and easing his transition.
“WWE realizes it can be difficult for foreigners to adjust to life here and have really been accommodating with that,” he said.
“I’m very grateful. I was helped by nearly everyone at the Performance Center, but one man I have to mention is Matt Bloom. We spent a lot of time together in New Japan. He came to Japan a few years prior to me. After his run with Tensai, he started coaching at the Performance Center. I must say if it wasn’t for him I’m not sure I would have lasted.
“He took me in and got me settled in. He helped me get my driver’s license. He helped me adjust to life in the United States. He is now head coach at the Performance Center. I can’t speak more highly of Matt Bloom and the help he gave me. With regards to in-ring work, Terry Taylor worked with me closely and helping me to adapt my style in NXT. I’ve had a lot of help top-to-bottom and am grateful for everyone.”
Bálor hasn’t just impressed fans with his athletic ability. The superstar raises the bar during big shows when he enters arenas as the Demon. It’s an alter-ego that sees him in full-on body paint. The visual could easily be right out of a comic book. The lucky winner of a Charity Buzz auction online can have their face painted just like Bálor and have lunch with him.
“I’m kind of this shy and introverted kind of person,” he said.
“I’m not one to hog the spotlight too much. Similar to when you put a mask on, you get that confidence. It’s the same when I put the paint on. I kind of come out of my shell a little bit. I channel my inner-demon. So it kind of helps me let loose and be free and flow a little better creatively. It helps me be me with the volume turned up a little bit.
“With the Charity Buzz auction, it’s incredible to be involved in and helping the Fire Department up in New York. It’s an unbelievable charity. The situation we get to be able to share the body paint experience with the fans, bring them down to the Performance Center for a fully guided tour. We’re going to help them channel their inner-demon and maybe get them in the ring and get a couple of pictures. Who knows what will happen?”
Bálor’s otherworldly persona draws some similarities to The Undertaker when it comes to striking fear in the hearts of opponents. WWE teased the idea of an encounter between the two on their website not long ago. The Demon is up for the challenge if it ever happens.
“That would be a dream match for me to see Finn Bálor versus The Undertaker,” he said.
“It really doesn’t need to be explained more than that. I’ve been very fortunate to talk to Undertaker when I first came in here. We talked about entrances. He gave me a lot of advice that helps me to this day. So I’m very grateful for that. Maybe I’d play a couple of mind games with the Deadman. It would be a little bit fun.”
- Watch Finn Bálor defend the NXT championship against Kevin Owens in a ladder match 9/8CT Saturday, Aug. 22 at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn on WWE Network. Title holder and challenger will also be part of a NXT panel discussion for fans to attend earlier in the day.
- Watch SummerSlam 8/7CT Sunday, Aug. 23 on pay-per-view and WWE Network.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.
Photos Courtesy: WWE