WWE NXT: Analyzing how Finn Balor, Kyle O’Reilly brought out the best in each other

Finn Balor on the Oct. 30, 2019 edition of WWE NXT. Photo: WWE.com
Finn Balor on the Oct. 30, 2019 edition of WWE NXT. Photo: WWE.com /

Finn Bálor and Kyle O’Reilly had a championship match for the ages at WWE NXT TakeOver 31. Here’s a breakdown of their captivatingly brutal match.

Finn Bálor has racked up incredible performances at a machine-like pace since returning to the NXT roster on October 2 of last year. WWE NXT TakeOver 31’s shockingly physical bout with the Undisputed Era’s Kyle O’Reilly was another notch in the champ’s belt, but it was O’Reilly who delivered a particularly inspiring display.

Some fans, myself proudly among them, have preached the gospel of “Kyle O’Reilly is the best wrestler in the Undisputed Era!” since the group was formed in 2017. Generally speaking, I believe O’Reilly is one of the more underrated performers in WWE. His usual slot on the card and the recognition of his talent from fans both underrate him.

Fans are aware of his wrestling prowess and fun personality, but it is not often we see O’Reilly go thirty minutes in high-stakes singles competition. Therefore, the perception of O’Reilly’s full set of talents is blurred.

O’Reilly going toe-to-toe with Bálor in what was a thrilling contest was personally validating, but enough patting myself on the back; TakeOver 31 was about two of the best in the world clashing inside the WWE’s latest prison camp-themed venue. (Seriously, it feels like Vince and Triple H have spent some time in the Call of Duty Gulag, lately)

WWE NXT TakeOver 31’s main event was always going to be a classic

This match had the makings of a classic. Kyle O’Reilly, the longtime tag wrestler/faction member, set out to succeed on his own, unfathomably earning a title match by withstanding four other competitors in the first-ever gauntlet eliminator match.

We have seen this story work lately with Jey Uso and Kofi Kingston, and though it is more difficult to observe how exactly this story is resonating in the middle of a pandemic that prohibits the standard NXT Takeover crowd size, O’Reilly still did the work necessary to woo a massive crowd.

His offense, selling, and mannerisms shined. Selling came easy for Kyle, who took an absolute beating in this match. A rollover dropkick to the face from Finn busted his mouth. Streaks of Kyle’s blood trickled to both sides of his face, resembling clown makeup, but the battering he took from Bálor was no joke. The sweat bouncing off Kyle’s chest from absolutely thunderous chops by Bálor was only a hint of the match’s physicality.

If you’ve watched WWE programming long enough, you know what the word “methodical” means without ever having to look to the dictionary. That’s what this match was; a showcase of their methodical tempo. O’Reilly, the submission-style grappler, fought Bálor, the calculated and cold champion; the result was a match unlike previous TakeOver main events.

Kyle O’Reilly and Finn Balor put it all together with small details

They targeted each other’s arms, ankles, and knees, but the beauty was in their execution of moves like O’Reilly’s super-clean Regalplex and Bálor’s escape from a Kneebar into a Sharpshooter.

Small details were the glue that held the match together, I’m referring to moments like Finn moving his fingers on his left hand to regain feeling in them after being targeted by O’Reilly. The best sell of the match goes to O’Reilly surrendering during a strike exchange with Bálor after taking a spinning kick to his abdomen. Kyle charged up to strike back following the kick but the pain of raising his arm was so unbearable he instead dropped to the mat.

Though O’Reilly tried his best to wear Finn down, it was the champion who had him against the turnbuckles appearing unsure if he could or should continue. Bálor piled on Kyle with repeated stomps and talked trash while he was at it.

“I do this EVERY night… this is NO problem for me.”  Bálor insinuated the pressure of competing in this main event championship match was causing O’Reilly’s collapse. Finn Bálor was built for moments like these, according to Bálor, but his opponent would not be discouraged.

O’Reilly thrived during his own offensive onslaughts, executing beautiful combinations and submissions to the champ. He continued to focus his attack on Bálor’s knee, even jumping from the top rope knee-first onto the back of Finn’s knee. Both men were fixed on doing serious damage to each other’s limbs.

The mistake Kyle O’Reilly made in this WWE NXT Title match

Still, O’Reilly did not capitalize on the staggered champion. When Bálor struggled to stand following the attacks to his knee, Kyle took a confused pause, something the merciless champ failed to do earlier in the match. O’Reilly paid for it, of course, and was on the receiving end of a double foot stomp that aggravated Bálor’s already-injured knee.

Struggling to stay afoot in a corner of the ring, O’Reilly found his opening to make up for the mercy he showed Finn earlier. A brutal running knee straight to Bálor’s mouth looked like the beginning of the end for the champion.

As blood (and teeth?) appeared to slide out of his mouth, Bálor was subsequently folded in half by a German Suplex from O’Reilly, but Finn dug deep and dropped a second double foot stomp on the grounded O’Reilly. This lead to the Coup de Grâce from Bálor and a pinfall victory after a tremendously grueling and hard-fought match.

Next. WWE NXT TakeOver: Bálor and O'Reilly Remind Us Less Is More. dark

The story progressed past the final bell. Finn looked miserable holding his jaw in place as the blood flowed from his mouth. His disgust and disbelief that Kyle O’Reilly — hardly ever as relevant as some of his other Undisputed Era counterparts up until this point — had the audacity to step to the prince.

Bálor’s disgust simmered into admiration and deference for O’Reilly. The two shared a moment of respect for one another, a moment conceding that O’Reilly is a true player in the WWE. The silly air-guitar strummer often recognized for his general goofiness proved his versatility in one night against the NXT Champion. Finn Bálor and Kyle O’Reilly brought out the best in each other at TakeOver 31, and that’s undisputed.