Reason No. 1: They’re world-traveled
NXT might be considered a developmental system for WWE, but that doesn’t mean Neville and Bálor lack seasoning. Before arriving to NXT, the Englishman Neville and Irishman Bálor competed for eight and 14 years, respectively, and during that time, they fought not only in their native countries, but also throughout Europe, Japan, the United States and Mexico.
According to Regal, this type of globetrotting — though a circuitous path to WWE — accelerates Superstars’ maturation as performers.
“Just traveling the world, and getting to live the highs and lows of what we do, makes you a better talent and a better performer,” Regal said. “And knowing what it takes to make it in Japan, the physicality of the Japanese wrestlers, it’s just a different world.”
Regal compared Neville and Bálor’s trajectories to those of WWE main roster Superstars Daniel Bryan and Cesaro.
“Those type of talents are used to being in difficult, strenuous situations; they’re used to the pressure of performing on a big stage,” Regal added. “Anybody who chooses that life and goes out there, it’s better for WWE because they’re more ready for the big show whenever they’re called up.”
Reason No. 2: They represent the death of the generic wrestler
The value of Bálor and Neville’s international exploits extends past their incredible poise.
“The days of just being a generic, punch-and-kick wrestler are pretty much over,” Regal said. “You don’t see those guys on our show anymore. Everybody’s very rounded, skill-wise.”
Leading the pack are Neville and Bálor. They’re frighteningly well-rounded — almost futuristic — and that goes hand-in-hand with their well-stamped passports. Neville and Bálor carry on a proud tradition of incorporating elements of different wrestling styles from around the world. In that sense, they share a lineage with names like Rollerball Rocco, Marty Jones and Tiger Mask. The unifying spirit is the same force Dynamite Kid rode into Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling in the 1980s, and that enlivened WCW’s cruiserweight division during the Monday Night War, Regal said.
“It should never have been classified as a weight class — they’re just exceptional talent, no matter what size they are,” Regal said. “It all seemed to spread from there, mixing the best of the best of the styles from different parts of the world. Neville and Bálor are definitely two fellows that continue that great tradition.”
Reason No. 3: They’re respectful risk-takers
So often, Superstars are brought into conflict because of a personal grudge. Over the years, the WWE Universe has seen everything from sordid love triangles to vengeful plots give cause to big-time matchups.
Not Neville vs. Bálor. Instead, these two respected peers are battling for a coveted opportunity at the NXT Championship. After Bálor secured his place in the No. 1 Contender’s Tournament Final, he celebrated not by talking trash about The Man That Gravity Forgot but, rather, by shaking Neville’s hand.
Don’t mistake mutual respect for timidity. Former NXT Champion Neville is in dire need of reclaiming the title, while Bálor looks to establish himself as a main-event player in NXT for the first time. One Superstar (Neville) seemingly creates new aerial maneuvers every time he steps in the ring, and the other (Bálor) so thoroughly shocked the NXT Universe with his metamorphosis at December’s TakeOver: R Evolution that fans are still buzzing about it.
Both men left high-paying jobs abroad to try to make it in WWE, and neither is taking his experience in NXT for granted. During a roundtable discussion last September, Neville admitted he “never really expected to be [in WWE].” Bálor, then fresh to NXT, called WWE “the great unknown.”
Don’t expect Neville and Bálor to shy away from taking big risks.
Reason No. 4: They’re mirror images
Wednesday’s No. 1 Contender’s Match is a first-time encounter in an NXT ring, but Bálor and Neville are no strangers to one another, both having competed before in the same organization, New Japan Pro Wrestling, at the same time. What this means for TakeOver: Rival is a high likelihood there will be incredible counter-wrestling from two prime competitors who have each other well-scouted.
It’s a predicament not unlike the semifinal match between Balor and tag partner Hideo Itami, a thriller that NXT fans greeted with chants of “We’re not worthy!” Can another Wayne Campbell-esque reception be in store for TakeOver: Rival? That’s to say nothing of their seeming parity inside the ring.
“There’s very little to pick apart between them, and that’s part of what makes the match so fascinating,” Regal said. “I’m so looking forward to it. They’re both incredibly good on the ground game, they’re great flyers, they’ve got incredible striking skills. With the exception of a few different moves they’ve each mastered as their particular thing, they’re the same. So, then it comes down to who wants it most.”
Reason No. 5: They’re leaders of a new ‘golden age’
Where were you the first time Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart tied up inside a WWE ring? Just like “Hit Man” and HBK revolutionized sports-entertainment some 20 years ago, Finn Bálor and Adrian Neville have the chance to do the same this Wednesday.
NXT’s tagline of “The Future Is Now” isn’t hyperbole. According to Regal, Balor and Neville are among the NXT talent that — because of their backgrounds and their exposure to sports-entertainment’s best and brightest minds at the WWE Performance Center — stand the chance of being “the best, ever.”
“You’ve got the best of the best of the guys now in NXT,” Regal said. “You’ve got them having trained in places all over the world, and they’ve got the best mentors available to them now. It’s really going to be a golden age of wrestling/sports-entertainment going forward.”
A key member of WWE’s recruitment efforts, Regal had Bálor and Neville on his radar long before either man signed with NXT. Even though they’re set to compete in a No. 1 Contender’s Match Wednesday, it still almost seems too good to be true.
“You wouldn’t have predicted it a year ago,” Regal said. “It’s a dream.”