WWE NXT: Why Finn Balor watched all of Seinfeld during pandemic - Sports Illustrated

Why NXT Champion Finn Bálor Fell in Love With Seinfeld During the Pandemic

Growing up in Ireland, Finn Bálor had never seen an episode of “Seinfeld.” When his wife suggested they watch it, he was immediately hooked.
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Finn Bálor is the reigning NXT champion and one of wrestling’s most elite performers. He is master of his domain, so to speak. 

Bálor, who is 39-year-old Fergal Devitt, has spent the bulk of the past two decades chasing his wrestling dreams. A journey that began in Ireland has taken him around the world—seemingly from Milan to Minsk—and included stops in England, Japan and now the United States. But he has spent the past few years better connecting with the world around him, and a priority has been finding time to relax with his wife.

With the world still battling COVID-19 and WWE unable to tour, Bálor has spent more time at home than he has in his professional career. One of the highlights has been binge-watching the best Netflix has to offer, like the Spanish series Money Heist, and he also made time for a recommendation from his wife.

“My wife thought I was really going to like Seinfeld,” Bálor says. “I’ve been a huge fan of comedy my whole life, especially English/Irish comedy where the humor is very fast, but I had thought Seinfeld was more along the lines of Friends or Cheers. I thought I’d watch one episode but wouldn’t ever get super invested in it.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with comparing the work of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer to Friends or Cheers, but the acclaimed “show about nothing” has few peers in television. Seinfeld reimagined the structure and delivery of a sitcom, seamlessly intertwining the story lines of four characters in a way that had yet to be presented—and has yet to be duplicated.

“I’d never seen an episode before,” Bálor says. “Growing up in Ireland, it wasn’t on TV. When I came to the U.S., I didn’t have cable and I didn’t watch much TV. But because of my wife, I gave it a chance.”

Bálor’s maiden voyage into Seinfeld was watching two episodes from the show’s sixth season: “The Chaperone,” an exceptional episode for Kramer, and “The Big Salad,” which put a bright spotlight on the neurosis, paranoia and brilliance of George Costanza.

“I wanted to start deep into it,” Bálor says. “Starting later in the series allows a good sense of how the actors play their characters, so we started with Episodes 1 and 2 of Season 6. I watched those two episodes, and I was completely hooked.”

“It was absolutely priceless. So we went all the way back to the beginning and watched the whole thing in chronological order from start to finish.”

Starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards, the show found a creative blend of comedy and absurdity of the everyday to become the definitive New York sitcom. A creation of television savant Larry David, Seinfeld set a new standard for television excellence despite receiving a lukewarm response at first. The show still generates endless discussion and references more than two decades after its final episode.

“I had no idea how much the show influenced other TV shows,” Bálor says. “I’d seen comedies in Ireland and England that I thought were innovative and hilarious, but when I went back and checked the time stamps, I learned a lot of those stories were first used in Seinfeld. It’s reached so many different corners of the world, and it completely stands the test of time. I love it.”

Naturally, Bálor found parallels between Seinfeld and pro wrestling.

“The show is based around four people, but I became very aware that they only really have three characters in a scene,” Bálor says. “One person leaves and goes to the bathroom, or Kramer goes back to his apartment. They’re tagging in and out the way they keep it rolling and keep it moving.”

If you ever hear a reference in NXT to “these pretzels are making me thirsty,” “yada yada yada,” or double-dipping, the source won’t be hard to trace. Just like the championship belt he wears in NXT, Bálor believes Seinfeld is gold.

“George Costanza was absolutely incredible,” Bálor says. “Even when he wasn’t involved in the dialogue of the scene, or if he’s just in the background, he was so great. The show is amazing. It’s a piece of art.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.