Finn Balor’s heel turn was a genuine surprise last Wednesday on NXT. That development should lead to increased attention on the product this week, as NXT continues to battle All Elite Wrestling on Wednesday nights for ratings supremacy.
One of wrestling’s premier talents, Balor enjoyed some memorable moments in WWE, though the company was hesitant to ever put him in position as champion after he was injured during the match at SummerSlam 2016 in which he won the Universal Championship. (Balor was forced to relinquish the title the following night on Raw.)
Balor also served as the first centerpiece for New Japan’s Bullet Club, becoming the top heel in the business that was not employed by WWE. He made the jump to NXT in 2014, then defeated Kevin Owens on the Fourth of July in 2015 on a WWE Network special that took place in Tokyo, igniting a 292-day reign as champion that remains the longest run in NXT history.
Balor spoke with Sports Illustrated about his heel turn, his return to NXT, potential fits for a Balor Club in NXT, and how he feels about competing against AEW.
Justin Barrasso: At the time of our first interview together in 2015, you had just joined the NXT roster and were working out every day at the WWE Performance Center in Florida. You’d mentioned that NXT head trainer Matt Bloom had converted you into a New England Patriots fan and a Tom Brady fan. Are you still watching Brady?
Finn Balor: Man, I can’t tell you the last time I watched American football. I watched futbol on Sunday, and my team Tottenham got beat by Liverpool, and that made me pretty pissed off.
Obviously Bloom had me become a Tom Brady fan, but I don’t know my arse from my elbow when it comes to American football. My American football knowledge goes about as far as Mojo Rawley and Baron Corbin used to play football.
JB: Moving back to wrestling, you have greatly evolved from the performer that once led Bullet Club in New Japan, but moving forward, it will be must-see television to watch you as a heel in NXT. What can we expect moving forward?
FB: A lot of times we can look into our past to try to predict our future, but the way my mind is working right now, I can’t predict what I’m going to do in the next 20 minutes let alone weeks or months. As I continue to evolve, maybe I’ll have a better grasp of what I’m about to do. I’m just taking it one step at a time.
JB: For the Balor character, the heel turn allows you to show off even more versatility. Why is returning to NXT, a landscape you already dominated, the right place for your character, especially as a heel?
Balor: Everybody talks about ‘Finn going back to NXT’ when in reality I’ve gone back to who I was. I’d been caught up in the bubble of WWE and what they wanted me to be and how they expected me to perform as a character, and I took some time off to re-evaluate who I am and where I came from. I re-evaluated what I want to do and what I want to achieve, and I decided the best thing for me is to be true to who I am.
I don’t fit the mold to play corporate ball and please everyone. I need to please myself, so I’m going to shake the trees and see what falls out.
JB: You haven’t played the role of a heel since April 2014. After you dropped Johnny Gargano, how did the reaction from the crowd feel to you?
FB: That was emotion. It’s very easy to walk out and get a reaction from a crowd, get a pop or a ‘This is awesome!’ or a ‘Holy s---!’ But to generate shock and create real emotion is something that is very rare. At the end of the TV show, they hit my music. When I went backstage, the producer told me that the only reason they hit my music was because there was zero audible noise in the venue. People were so in shock that there was no noise, and they were afraid that was going to translate poorly on TV, so they hit the music. The plan was to go out to boos, but that’s not what we got. We got pure, emotional silence.
JB: You had some incredible moments as a heel while leading Bullet Club in New Japan, but this is a much different opportunity in NXT. What excites you most about your renewed edge?
FB: People still talk about Bullet Club, but Bullet Club, for me, that was like six years ago. You know how much I’ve done in six years? Last year alone I wrestled 172 matches. I’ve evolved far beyond what I was doing in Japan.
This is a new version of Finn. This is the combination of the squeaky clean babyface in Japan, the Bullet Club heel in Japan, the squeaky clean babyface in NXT that carried the company for 292 days on his back, the guy who won the Universal title on his first pay per view, the guy who beat Roman Reigns on his first night, The Demon and every Demon entrance I’ve ever done, it’s a combination of everything I’ve ever done for the last 20 years. To call it a return to Prince Devitt/Bullet Club is an understatement.
JB: WWE chose you to return to NXT, lending the show a form of star power and a commodity that exists nowhere else in pro wrestling. That is a major weapon in the ratings battle against AEW. As a competitor, what does it mean for you to be the featured part of a show competing against AEW?
FB: I don’t know if we’re competing with anyone. The only person I’m competing with is myself from yesterday. I’m trying to be better than who I was yesterday. On this Wednesday, I’m going to be better than I was last Wednesday. That’s the way I approach life and that’s how I evolve. I don’t worry about what other people are doing. I’m focused on the brand I’m currently working for.
People talk about going back to NXT. For me, NXT is the purest form of wrestling on this planet in every sense. To be able to step in that ring and do what I do best, with no restrictions whatsoever, is the greatest honor I can have. So I’m treating this like an opportunity to help evolve as a performer and help change the game again.
JB: Looking a few months ahead, if you are the NXT champion, would you advocate for defending the title at WrestleMania? Should NXT talent be part of WrestleMania? Or would you rather focus on that weekend’s TakeOver?
FB: I don’t know if I’ll be on SmackDown this Friday night or Raw next Monday night. The way WWE works is a machine that is beyond my comprehension. All I know is that, right now, I’m with NXT. I don’t know how long it’s going to last.
NXT is its own brand. SmackDown is on WrestleMania, Raw is on WrestleMania, I don’t see why NXT shouldn’t be part of WrestleMania. Obviously, we have our own unique TakeOver events, and those are a completely different atmosphere from WWE pay-per-views, but I don’t see any reason why an NXT championship match cannot be held at WrestleMania.
JB: Do you have a plan to add to Balor Club?
FB: There are a couple people I’ve been thinking about. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’m very, very, very interested in AOP. Those two guys are two of the meanest guys in this business. If I have a chance to create a Balor Club in any brand, I’d want those guys backing me up.
JB: Just to clarify the storyline, Finn Balor is not a part of The Undisputed Era?
FB: We’ll wait and find out on Wednesday night.
JB: Adam Cole is an outstanding champion for NXT, Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar are the two world champs in WWE. That doesn’t include Kazuchika Okada in New Japan, Chris Jericho in AEW, Rush in Ring of Honor, and Nick Aldis in the NWA.
If you reclaim the NXT title, where will that place you in the current hierarchy of champions?
FB: It’s more important to be a man of dignity than it is a champion. Championships are important, but there are more important things. Regardless of whether I have a championship belt around my waist or not, I am one of the, if not the, best in the world.