Over the past few years, there has been a sharp increase in independent wrestlers joining the WWE. Former universal champion Finn Balor was one of the first superstars to get signed by WWE after making a name fore himself on the independent scene, and he recently talked about his journey to the WWE on an episode of Not Sam Wrestling.
Balor started his career in 2000 at the age of 18, competing for independent promotions in Europe. He joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2006, and he rose to become an undeniable star. He spent eight years as one of the top superstars in NJPW before signing with WWE in 2014 and joining NXT. Balor said every experience in the indies prepared him to become the superstar he is now. Despite taking a long, hard path to the top wrestling promotion in the world, Balor said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I am humbled for that. I can only speak on my path. I believe that there is a lot to be said about doing things the hard way, and I feel like in my career I have done things the hard way the entire time. At the same time, I had a great time doing it. It never felt like the hard way, but it just felt like the long road. There was never any shortcuts taken, which has helped me become the performer that I am today and it helped me remain composed and calm in tight pressure situations for RAW and pay-per-views," Balor said. "The whole process has definitely benefited me, so if people didn't believe at one point, and maybe some still don't believe right now, but all I can say is that I started on the bottom at the indies and I started at the bottom in WWE, and now I performed at Summer Slams and at WrestleMania's, and now we are getting ready for WrestleMania again in New York. It has been a wild ride."
Balor revealed that he actually received offers from the WWE long before he signed with the company. He said he knew he wasn't truly ready to join the company when he was younger, and he believes he wouldn't have lasted in the WWE if he did.
"The offer was actually there when I was 26, 27 and 28. Every year they came knocking. I had done two years in the New Japan Dojo and was kind of starting to establish myself in New Japan. There were a couple of phone calls made and offers were on the table. For me, it never felt like the right time," he said. "Honestly, when I finally came I didn't know if it was the right time either but I had to roll the dice at some point and so I am the kind of person where I am never ready until I am actually doing it. Sometimes you have to be brave and make that decision and take that risk and definitely it would have been a lot different. When that first phone call came when I was 26 and accepted the WWE offer back then I don't think I would still be here now. I am very happy with the way things evolved with my career and the slow progression I have made year by year, so I wouldn't change anything."
Balor said he didn't join WWE when he was younger because he felt like he had a lot more to accomplish in NJPW, but he would constantly wonder if he would never get another chance to make the jump. When his star power grew thanks to title reigns and the rise of the Bullet Club, Balor felt it was the right time for a change. He said he wanted to challenge himself to see if he can climb the ladder in another company.
"There was a combination of things: I felt like I had pretty much done everything that I needed to do at New Japan, personally. There were storylines that were pitched around that I was going to get into, but I didn't really feel like it was going to be any sort of different stuff. Then I was 32 years old and was thinking, well if I do another two years with New Japan would the door still be open in WWE? That was almost five years ago and the landscape was a lot different back then. They were a lot into the younger guys," he said. "Every time the opportunity had came up it never felt like the right moment but I think when it came up that time kind of towards a year and a half where I was part of the Bullet Club stuff, when the opportunity came I felt that it was the right time to go. I had kind of peaked and maxed out. Not only professionally, but personally and mentally I needed a change. I had been in Japan for eight years and had done everything that I could to get to the top of New Japan so I felt that I needed a reset and start at the bottom and get myself a new goal and a new drive and a new target to set my eyes on. At the time it felt right, and things have worked out so far."
Balor will face Drew McIntyre at WWE TLC this Sunday. Wrestling Inc. will have live match-by-match coverage of the event.
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Not Sam Wrestling with an h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: Not Sam Wrestling
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.