Finn Bálor was approaching an unprecedented 300-day reign as NXT Champion. Enter a fateful night in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 21, and Bálor’s life took a dramatic turn. It was on that night that heated rival Samoa Joe defeated Bálor and captured the NXT Championship.
“It was definitely a feeling of surrealism,” Bálor revealed to WWE.com. “You tend to picture winning the championship. You always have the dreams and vision of how you are going to win, but you never imagine how you are going to lose. I remember feeling like an ant laying on the mat with Joe standing over me.
“I had the championship for 292 days, so that title became a part of me and who I was, and what I represented,” Bálor explained. “After all the hard work I put into NXT, and to suddenly wake up one day and realize that title, achievement and crown you’ve worked so hard for isn’t there, it forced me to start questioning my ability and whether or not I belonged.”
It seems only appropriate that Bálor will have a chance to rid himself of that doubt when he challenges Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship at NXT Takeover: The End… on June 8. Adding to those raised stakes is the fact that both men will compete for NXT’s most prized possession inside a steel cage.
“I realize the pressure is on and it’s gonna be a big match,” the challenger said. “This is my first time in the cage. I’m gonna be nervous going into it, but I work best under pressure. I thrive on nerves.”
History has shown that Bálor has indeed thrived in first-time scenarios. Last August, he successfully defended the NXT Championship in his first career Ladder Match against Kevin Owens.
“I’m going to have the same attitude I had in that Ladder Match,” Bálor insisted, “and I’m not going to leave anything behind.”.
To walk in Bálor’s shoes is to walk in the shoes of a man whose championship reign trailblazed a path on multiple levels, from winning the NXT Championship in Japan (where he solidified his international status as one of the top competitors in the world), to successfully defending it in London (where both family and friends were on hand to witness the stunning career growth of the Irish-born Superstar).
Yet perhaps most of all was the pride that Bálor had in leading the revolution that is NXT. “As NXT Champion, I was honored to lead the NXT expansion around the U.S. and internationally,” he said. “I loved being a role model – not just for our fans, but for everyone training at the WWE Performance Center, by leading NXT by example. It was a great opportunity that I took very seriously, and that’s what I consider one of the most important things about being a true champion.”
For now, however, the role of “true champion” is defined by the wrecking machine known as Samoa Joe. What kind of damage will Joe and Bálor inflict upon each other inside a steel cage? The answer most certainly involves brutality and aggression.
As for the former champion? His words toward the current titleholder are simple and direct: “The biggest thing Joe has to deal with is underestimating Finn Bálor.”