Recently on E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness, professional wrestling legends Edge and Christian welcomed inaugural WWE Universal Champion Finn Bálor to the podcast. Among many other things, Bálor discussed whether he thought he would end up in WWE, whether he was promised a WWE main roster spot after his NXT run, and when he felt like he hit his stride in NXT.
According to Bálor, WWE was not even on his radar when he was in the throes of his highly successful New Japan Pro-Wrestling run. While WWE called with offers over the years, Bálor never felt like it was the right time to leave NJPW, even when he finally made the decision to leave Japan in 2014.
"WWE never came into my mind at all. Like, I kind of adjusted my goals, and, like, I was watching [Yuji] Nagata, [Hiroshi] Tanahashi, [Hiroyoshi] Tenzan, like, from ringside every night, learning from these guys, so it became my goal to climb the ladder in New Japan and try to get as good as I can," Bálor recalled. "And I think I was two, two-and-a-half years, into my run in New Japan and Johnny Ace called me and said, 'hey, we have an opportunity for you.' I can't remember was the [promotion] was at the time. I think it was Florida. I just didn't feel like it was the right move at the time. I felt like I was just finally getting the hang of the New Japan style and trying to get a little bit of a run going and I didn't feel like it was the right moment [to go to WWE]. They came back, like, a couple of times over the years and it never felt like the right moment. Honestly, it didn't even feel like the right moment when I left, but I felt like my clock was kind of running out in regards to how many years I have left, like if that opportunity would rise again at the time."
Apparently, Bálor decided it was time for him to leave NJPW when he was offered only a two-year deal at the age of 33. The former Prince Devitt thought he may be too old to embark on a WWE run at the backend of his 30s.
"There [were] a couple of factors," Bálor explained. "I was 33 [years old]. Like, I had done the Bullet Club stuff. I felt that, like, I had been offered a couple of years beforehand and at the same time, Gedo, who is the [NJPW] booker said, 'hey, do you want to turn heel?' and I thought, 'oh, this is perfect - this gives me something more to sink my teeth into in Japan and it gives me the perfect excuse not to go to WWE.' And so we had kind of done the Bullet Club stuff. It went cool. They got plans for the future building on this and I was kind of thinking more long-term. And I remember asking - I'm 33 at the time and New Japan had offered me like a two-year contract - and I turned around and I said, 'that's a cool contract, but can we do it for 10 years?' And something to do with [the fact that] New Japan was owned by a video game company and that contract was only for five years, so they could only offer me a five-year contract. I was like, 'ah, that brings me to 38' and I've seen what happens to guys, to the wrestlers, when they get to be that age. When they start to get that age, they start to wean them off shows and slowly reduce their schedule. So I thought maybe it was time to kind of roll the dice with WWE because I felt like if I took at two-year contract at the age of , at 35, I might not be what WWE are looking for. so I felt like it's time to go."
With respect to Bálor's NXT run, the former NXT Champion said that William Regal was always his point person on going to WWE. Bálor divulged that he was told he was going to NXT first and would eventually go on to main roster if all went well.
"So Regal was sort of my point of contact. He was always someone who, like, put in a word for me. It wasn't until Canyon Ceman, who was the head of talent relations for NXT, reached out and Regal was obviously telling me as well, 'you'll go in,' and they were very clear from the beginning, 'you'll go into NXT. You'll start at the Performance Center. You'll be in NXT. You'll work there for a bit and if all goes to plan, you'll be called up [to the main roster].' There was no kind of like timeframe." Bálor continued, "I thought if I went to WWE, I should start at the bottom again, so I kind of knew that was the norm. I didn't necessarily want to go straight into RAW. It was a big enough adjustment working a different style in a different country for a different company in front of different people in a different ring. I was quite happy to go to the Performance Center."
In Bálor's opinion, he began to hit his stride in NXT working with Samoa Joe. Bálor shared that he started to understand what his WWE persona needed to be while working with 'The Samoan Submission Machine'.
"I felt like getting in the ring with PAC, I think he's one of the best in the world, and getting to do that match with him at TakeOver, a very Japanese style match, and I'm not sure if it was a TakeOver or just NXT [TV]. But that was a moment where I felt, 'okay, if I can continue doing this type of stuff, I'm sure we'll be fine.' But I think when I started hitting my stride was probably working with Samoa Joe. That's when I felt comfortable in the ring, more like myself. I felt like I started to adapt to what WWE needed me to be. So I think working with Joe for that long stretch really helped me step into the role of Finn Bálor as opposed to Prince Devitt."
Check out the podcast here or via the audio player below. If you use any of the quotes from this article, please credit E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness