A homecoming for any pro athlete is special. To accomplish a championship in front of that hometown crowd makes it even better.
When Finn Balor recently beat Kevin Owens to win WWE NXT gold in Japan, the famous Tokyo Sumo Hall erupted with applause, cheers amid a standing ovation. Although not born physically in Japan, Balor’s successful pro wrestling career did birth in the Land of the Rising Sun.
“It was an incredible night,” Balor said. “You can talk about happy endings, but there’s no way it could have been any better than the way it actually turned out. The word ‘surreal’ is kind of over-used, but for me it really was a surreal experience. I’m so familiar with that building itself.”
Tokyo Sumo Hall is home to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where Balor made his first big mark in the business.
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“The first time I’d ever seen a New Japan Pro Wrestling show, I worked in that building as a young boy holding the ropes for the senior wrestlers and carrying their jackets back and forth to the ring,” he said. “I also had my final match for New Japan in that building.
“So to return a little over a year later with WWE and challenging for the NXT championship, the feeling for me was like the coming together of two parts of my life. It was something I left behind and then this new chapter in my life finally getting started. Having the two brought together made it the most special night in my career.”
As Prince Devitt, Balor built quite a following and a sound reputation, wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“New Japan Pro Wrestling is a company that took me in as a young man. I was 24-years-old, and they treated me as one of their own,” he said. “We trained in the Japanese style, not only wrestling but life and respect and the code of honor. They transformed me from this big ole Irish kid into the man I am today. Not only was it a lot of lessons in the ring that I learned but also a lot of lessons about life outside the ring.”
Winning over the Japanese fans is a challenge, especially for a foreign wrestler.
“Similar to the way New Japan took me in as a company, the fans also took me in like I was one of their own,” he said. “I think it definitely helped the way the company treated me as a Japanese young boy that the fans became endeared to me as one of their own, and to be seen consistently over eight years as opposed to some of the other foreign wrestlers who were seen sporadically for a month every six months, I think it was that consistency that really helped me endear myself to the fans, and they endeared themselves to me. I’m very thankful for all the support.”
Balor beat Owens for the NXT title on the Fourth of July during a WWE Network special.
“We flew from Washington D.C. to Singapore and wrestled there, and after the show, we flew straight to Tokyo, and we slept for three hours,” he recalled. “There wasn’t really time to think about things or dwell on the situation, but there was a little bit of nervous apprehension, before I went out there, wondering whether the fans would react the way they used to, especially to this new character [Finn Balor] and this kind of new style I’ve adapted.
“When I went out there, it was like I hadn’t missed a beat. Fourteen months later, it was like no time had passed at all.”
And before the match began, Japanese fans showered the ring with colorful streamers.
“The streamers are a moment in my career I will never forget,” Balor said. “I was crouched down in the corner, and the ring announcer was about to call my name, and I see the streamers coming into the ring. I had no intention of actually standing up, but I said to myself, ‘This is too good of a moment to miss. Get up there and enjoy it.’ That was a really cool moment. I think it took everyone by surprise, and it took a couple of minutes to clear the ring.”
The streamers indicate who the fans are supporting, rooting to win; so they were very pleased with the match’s outcome as was Balor, of course. Winning the NXT title is a huge accomplishment for him.
“I think in years to come, when I look back, it will be one of my crowning achievements,” he said, “but right now I’m trying to look forward to what I’m doing, and what I’m doing right now is really trying to build NXT as a brand, helping build a brand with a lot of exciting talent.
“I want to be one of the leading forefathers in building this exciting brand that I think is the place to be in wrestling right now. It’s got that cool aura about it, and I want to be a part of it and help it grow.”
Internationally renowned, this Irish-born talent became a hot topic of conversation -- part of a collection of talented indie wrestlers (Hideo Itami, Adrian Neville, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor) signed to developmental by WWE. Paul Triple H Levesque, the Executive Vice President (Talent/Live Events/Creative) for WWE, spearheaded a plan to form, mold, shape new talent -- the WWE way -- at a state-of-the-art training facility.
Ribbon cutting occurred during the summer of 2013 for the WWE Performance Center in Orlando.
With the Performance Center housing a diverse mix of wrestlers -- men and women from beginners to experienced who are developing, learning from a quality staff -- the company introduced NXT, the next generation of WWE superstars and divas.
Because of Hideo Itami, Adrian Neville, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and more, NXT is reaching new heights. It’s not just a development platform for WWE; it’s becoming its own successful brand.
Owens beat Zayn for the NXT title. Prior, Zayn beat Neville for the belt, and currently Balor beat Owens for NXT gold.
“Kevin Owens is a tremendous competitor, and he’s proven that not only in the last year but in 15 years previous to that,” Balor said. “Me and Kevin have went through a lot together. We came into NXT at the same time. We experienced some of the same problems, adapting to a new environment, but we got through it together. So I think it was very fitting that it was myself and Kevin [wrestling each other] in Tokyo.”
Balor believed his little brother or his mom were the first to congratulate him via text for winning the NXT championship. He also received congratulatory wishes from fans and friends as well as some higher-ups in WWE.
“Beating Kevin Owens, someone who I became very close with the first six months we were in NXT, and taking the title from him, it was a really special moment.”
In Japan, at Tokyo Sumo Hall, against Kevin Owens...
“Every factor played a part,” Balor said, “the building itself, the opponent, the date being so close to one year from the time of me leaving there, I really couldn’t have written the script any better.”
Balor, 33, signed with WWE in May 2014. Very good in the ring and getting there good, too. His dark, mysterious ring entrance while sporting elaborate face and body paint help him stand out. It’s his statement, and fans enjoy it.
“The face and body paint are something that I’ve been doing for a long time,” he said. “It’s kind of grown and evolved, and I continue to tweak it. It’s never going to be one set pattern or one idea. Right now I’m sticking with color scheme black, red and white, but in the future, you never know what it will be.”
He continued: “I’m quite an introverted person and shy and reserved, but when I put the paint on, it definitely helps me channel the darker side of my personality...I feel like more of myself, when I’m wearing the paint...Once the paint goes on, I’m really feeling the character, and I’m really trying to channel that inner dark side that I have.”
Balor began training at NWA UK Hammerlock and debuted for the company in 2000 at age 18. He soon won the NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight Championship. He began touring Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In mid-2002, Balor opened NWA Ireland, his own wrestling promotion in Ireland, with Paul Tracey. The company became the sister promotion of its British counterpart under the same banner. As part of NWA Ireland, Balor trained numerous wrestlers including NXT standout Becky Lynch, also of Irish descent.
From The YouTube Video Archives
2014 Interview with Fergal Devitt (now Finn Balor)
in NXT after he just signed with WWE
WWE NXT in South Florida
WWE’s NXT will make its debut in Miami and West Palm Beach in July, after visiting Fort Pierce.
NXT has become a Florida institution from the opening of the WWE Performance Center in Orlando to the action-packed WWE Network shows and live specials filmed at Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park (near Orlando), to the exciting live events throughout north and central Florida.
Now, South Florida will get its chance to see the next generation of WWE up-close and personal.
Appearing are new NXT champ Finn Balor, NXT women’s champ Sasha Banks, NXT tag champs Blake & Murphy with Alexa Bliss, Tyler Breeze, Samoa Joe, Becky Lynch, The Vaudevillians (Simon Gotch & Aiden English), Bull Dempsey, Enzo Amore & Big Cass with Carmella, Baron Corbin, Dana Brooke, Uhaa Nation, Tye Dillinger, Bayley, Solomon Crow, Charlotte and more.
“NXT the brand has grown tremendously, since I’ve been here,” Balor said. “I’ve never been to Miami; I’ve never been to West Palm Beach. On July 23rd, we’re in Fort Pierce, which is half way down, and then July 24th we’re in Miami, and July 25th were going to West Palm Beach, and we’re excited to bring our NXT brand down there.
“I’ll be leading the charge proud as the champion with a huge supporting cast -- Tye Dillinger, Blake & Murphy, The Vaudevillians, Bull Dempsey. The whole crew will be there, and we’re excited to go to South Florida.”
Fort Pierce has drawn good numbers, good crowds, and NXT has returned there.
If NXT draws well in Miami and West Palm Beach, it will also look to return to the 305 and 561, so get your tickets and your popcorn.
NXT in Miami
WWE’s NXT makes its Miami debut on Friday, July 24 in the Fieldhouse at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables, 33146. Call 305-284-8686.
NXT in West Palm Beach
WWE’s NXT arrives in West Palm Beach on Saturday, July 25 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, 650 Okeechobee Blvd., 33401. Call 561-366-3000.
Both live events begin at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for the Miami and West Palm Beach shows are on sale.
Ticket prices start at $20.
Go to NXTTickets.com or
NXT in South Florida
starts in Fort Pierce
WWE’s NXT returns to the Havert L. Fenn Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23 at 2000 Virginia Ave., Fort Pierce, 34982. Call 772-462-1521.
NXT on WWE Network
Catch NXT on WWE Network 8 p.m. ET Wednesdays and on-demand.
NXT on tour
NXT on NXT
Visit http://www.wwe.com/shows/wwenxt for everything NXT and tour dates.
Pro Wrestling On the Web
YouTube jim varsallone (jimmyv3 channel)