After two grueling matches and over an hour of competition, Finn Balor is the new NXT Champion. Who should be first in line to challenge The Prince?
On July 4, 2015, Finn Balor challenged WWE NXT Champion Kevin Owens at the WWE Network special The Beast in the East. Back in Tokyo, Japan, in the country where he’d made a name for himself as Prince Devitt, Balor toppled Owens and became the NXT Champion for the first time.
Finn Balor held the NXT Championship for a record-setting 292 days before Samoa Joe dethroned him at an NXT live event on April 21, 2016. Five years after winning the title, and over four years since last holding it, Finn Balor is finally at the top of NXT once again.
Balor first found himself in a uniquely challenging situation as one man in a 60-Minute Fatal 4-Way Iron Man Match. Balor faced fellow former NXT Champions Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, and Tommaso Ciampa in a match that ultimately ended with a tie between Balor and Cole.
That tie was finally broken, and a new champion crowned, as Balor went face to face with the man who’d broken his record 292-day reign by holding the NXT Championship for a mind-boggling 403 days. After over 83 minutes of action between two matches, “The Prince” Finn Balor emerged as the new NXT Champion.
Finn Balor becomes only the third 2-time NXT Champion, the first being Samoa Joe and the second being Shinsuke Nakamura. Now that he’s reclaimed the gold, there will be a target on Balor’s back, and who would be the perfect challenge for the new champion?
The first potential challenger is someone that has struggled to break through the pack in NXT. While we’ve never seen them face off inside a WWE ring, KUSHIDA and Finn Balor are very familiar with each other. They first shared the ring over a decade ago and frequently squared off during their time in NJPW.
Whether in tag team competition with Finn Balor (then Prince Devitt) teaming with “The Funky Weapon” Ryusuke Taguchi against Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA), or in singles competition for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, KUSHIDA and Balor were involved in 50 matches together in NJPW. Whether it’s a full-on rivalry or a one-off challenge, we need to see KUSHIDA vs. Finn Balor in NXT.
Speaking of people with history, the tangled web between Kevin Owens and Finn Balor goes all the way back to 2015. After failing to defeat Owens on an episode of WWE NXT, Balor brought “The Demon” with him to “The Beast in the East” and dethroned Kevin Owens for the NXT Championship. They followed it up with an epic main event Ladder Match at the inaugural NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn.
With the exception of one singles match on WWE Raw in 2018 that ended by disqualification, we haven’t seen Balor and Owens face each other one-on-one since Brooklyn. Owens also launched his main roster career off the back of Balor’s most devastating moment, as Owens captured the vacant Universal Championship that Balor had won and had to relinquish. The pieces are here, and seeing Owens return to NXT against Balor would be unforgettable.
While it may seem like an odd choice, Kyle O’Reilly is poised for a singles run whenever WWE NXT decides to let him loose. The former PWG World Champion and ROH World Champion has found himself focused on tag team action in WWE NXT, making it easy to forget that O’Reilly was ranked number 32 in the world on the PWI 500 in 2016.
It’s also worth noting that while he and his tag team partner Bobby Fish have almost the same amount of in-ring experience (15 years for O’Reilly, 17 for Fish), Kyle O’Reilly is ten years younger than him. At only 33 years of age, Kyle O’Reilly can be a future NXT Champion, and even a losing effort against NXT Champion Finn Balor could go a long way towards paving that road while giving us a magnificent matchup.
During the grueling 60-Minute Fatal 4-Way Iron Man Match at NXT Super Tuesday I that attempted to crown a new NXT Champion, the only man to pin Finn Balor was Johnny Gargano. While that pinfall came as a result of Tommaso Ciampa hitting Widow’s Bell, that technicality won’t stop Gargano from harping on his pinfall over the eventual NXT Champion.
While we’ve seen Gargano tangle with Balor recently, they’ve still only shared the ring three times. Their match at NXT TakeOver: Portland was the first time ever, and it saw Balor take the win. Their second, a triple threat for the NXT North American Championship, included Keith Lee who got the deciding fall. Their third was that Iron Man Match. There’s still a lot to work with between these two NXT stalwarts, and they’re sure to create magic inside the squared circle.
Finally, we have the demon that Finn Balor has never fully vanquished. Their history began back in 2015 as a team in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Despite being a new pairing, they went the limit and defeated Baron Corbin and Rhyno in the finals to win that tournament, but things went sour soon after when Samoa Joe turned on Balor and attacked the reigning NXT Champion.
Their unforgettable rivalry spanned three different NXT TakeOver events, with Balor getting the better of Joe at NXT TakeOver: London and NXT TakeOver: Dallas. Finally, at NXt TakeOver: The End inside of a Steel Cage, Samoa Joe did the unthinkable and not only dethroned Balor but became the only man who has ever defeated “The Demon” Finn Balor. Were Samoa Joe to return to NXT, “The Prince” might be forced to tap back in to that well to conquer his former rival.