WWE is taking over Barclays Center this weekend with SummerSlam 2015 on Sunday and “Monday Night Raw” the following night. But it’s not just the main roster that will be involved. NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn will air live on the WWE Network on Saturday night, highlighted by the NXT Championship match between Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.
Balor made his first appearance on the WWE Network in November, and he’s been one of NXT’s top stars ever since. After becoming a star in Japan, the Irish wrestler signed with WWE and won the NXT Championship just eight months following his debut.
In addition to being a part of SummerSlam weekend, Balor is involved in WWE’s charity efforts at Charitybuzz.com. The website allows fans to bid on various auctions that support “Answer the Call,” which uses proceeds to provide financial assistance to the families of fallen first-responders in New York City.
Balor spoke to International Business Times about his time in NXT, Saturday’s event in Brooklyn, his future in WWE and more.
You got a big reaction from fans as soon as you came to NXT. Were you surprised how popular you were with fans after coming from Japan?
I was blown away. I spent a lot of time in Japan. To me, I felt like my career was kind of marooned out there. I didn’t realize the extent of the reach that New Japan had in America and around the world. But when I came to NXT I was welcomed so incredibly. The first night I remember when I made my debut they flashed up on the screen "Prince Devitt," and the crowd at Full Sail popped like crazy.
That moment was one of the most gratifying moments of my career. Because I’m like "that wasn’t a waste of time out there in Japan because I really built something up," and now this last year here in WWE and NXT, it’s been an unbelievable year. I think we’re only getting started.
NXT has had a lot of great wrestlers, and a lot of people see you having the brightest future. Do you see yourself as being one of WWE’s next big stars?
I don’t really like to think too far into the future. I think NXT is really at the forefront of something here and there’s really been kind of a renaissance period. There’s a lot of new things happening, and I think NXT is leading the charge in that.
I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to be here. I want to be part of NXT, leading the charge. We’ve done a lot in the last year, but there’s a lot more to do. We’re taking NXT to Texas soon, obviously there’s a huge Brooklyn TakerOver show that speaks for itself, 13,000 people sold out, live on the (WWE) Network. Things are happening here in NXT and I want to be a part of NXT. I’m not in a rush to go anywhere.
Are you surprised that NXT has become so popular? Why do you think it’s so popular?
Honestly when I came in, I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t so popular, and it wasn’t being utilized and it wasn’t traveling. I know there’s a lot of logistical issues that go into touring companies and things like that. When I came in Sami Zayn and Neville were stealing the show everywhere they went. And I think maybe NXT hadn’t fully capitalized on the Network. The Network wasn’t as big as it is now, and you have that platform that the Network has given us. It’s really helped us expand.
Kevin Owens coming in, Hideo (Itami) coming in. There’s a lot of guys in NXT–Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady. Other guys coming up the card as well. Jason Jordan, Chad Gable showing they have tremendous potential. There’s Dash (Wilder) and (Scott) Dawson, the tag team division is solid. And the one thing about NXT is it’s not a one-man show. Top to bottom the card is stacked.
We’re always pushing each other. There’s a real team atmosphere and it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like we’re a team, we’re coming together, we’re working hard, trying to achieve something, trying to build something. I love being a part of it. I’m honored to be the champion, and as I said before, I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere, because I feel like this period that we’re experiencing in NXT is going to be looked back on in five-10 years as a revolutionary time, a renaissance time. The way we look back on how ECW transformed wrestling, I think NXT is going to transform wrestling.
The show in Brooklyn is probably going to be the biggest show NXT has had. Where will your match with Kevin Owens in Brooklyn rank in your career?
This match is huge. The Japan match was big, and I think the way everything happened in Japan, the stars aligned. Me and Kevin came in together, we became close friends, we went through a lot of the same struggles and problems adapting to life, not only in WWE, but in America in general. We went through a lot of the same struggles at the performance center together, coming up. Obviously we went our separate ways, and Kevin’s moved on to different things. But the way it worked out with me returning to Japan in the same building where I had my first New Japan experience and the arena that I had my last New Japan match in, returning there a year after saying goodbye to all my friends there, and having the title match there couldn’t have been written any better.
But for some reason this Barclays match feels so much bigger. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’ve done this by ourselves. This is NXT. The match in Japan was very much a WWE show. It was on the main roster. This is NXT advertised, NXT branded, and we sold out. We didn’t sell out on the day. We sold out more than a week in advance. And that’s not down to me, it’s not down to Kevin, that’s down to everyone involved in NXT. From the background staff, to the coaching staff at the performance center. For us and for me personally, that’s why it’s bigger than Japan.
You recently posted fan art of Paul Heyman on Instagram. Have you thought about what it would be like to work with Heyman or change your character in WWE?
I’m always thinking about different things. I’ve always got a couple of tricks up my sleeve. Let’s just say we have a lot of things planned for SummerSlam weekend, though it might not be related to what fan art I post on Instagram. But I’m sure exciting stuff will be happening the whole weekend. Not only NXT on Saturday, but we’ve got SummerSlam, an incredible pay-per-view on Sunday. Then "Monday Night Raw" and back to NXT. So who knows?
Tell me about your involvement in WWE’s auctions that support “Answer the Call.”
It’s an honor to be involved. I come from a town that doesn’t even have a full fire department or fire service, so being able to help some of New York’s bravest is a real honor. It’s a win-win situation because we get to help out and the fans get to be involved. It’s a great experience.
What we’re going to do is to bring some people down to the performance center, and we’re going to give them a full, guided tour. And then hopefully get them set up with some demon paint and let them get the full experience of kind of awakening their inner demon.