Exclusive Q&A: Finn Bálor speaks on his epic Raw arrival
The question was never if Finn Bálor was going to arrive on Raw; it was always when. A five-tool player who held the NXT Championship for a record 292 days, the Irish-born Superstar has been seemingly simmering just under the radar for months now, waiting for his opportunity to shine on WWE’s biggest stage. After being drafted at No. 5 overall to Raw, Bálor finally got that opportunity. His debut this past Monday (his birthday, coincidentally) was about as perfect a night as he, or anyone, could have asked for: He defeated Cesaro, Rusev, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns all in the same night to become one of the No. 1 contenders to the new WWE Universal Championship. He’ll battle Seth Rollins to see who will earn that brand-new title at SummerSlam, but as Finn’s road to the championship match begins, WWE.com caught up with Raw’s newest sensation to get his thoughts on his epic debut.
WWE.COM: First off, a belated Happy Birthday to you, and congratulations on the debut.
FINN BÁLOR: [Laughs] Yeah, unbelievable. I can’t even try and describe the feeling of what happened Monday. It’s quite surreal, to put it mildly.
WWE.COM: Your debut was the source of a lot of speculation and rumors. Now that it has finally happened, did it live up to your own expectations of how you wanted to arrive on Raw?
BÁLOR: I guess it’s always something I’ve imagined was going to happen eventually, and I think it far exceeded any expectations that I’d ever imagined. I always had this kind of vision that I’d be turning up as a surprise, maybe an interference or jump the barrier. But the way it all happened was exactly the way it was meant to be. I’m glad my debut wasn’t left up to my imagination, because it wouldn’t have been anywhere close to being as good as it was on Monday night.
.... Worth the wait? #Real— Finn Bálor (@wwebalor) July 26, 2016
WWE.COM: What did it feel like to get that reception from the crowd in Pittsburgh?
BÁLOR: Yeah, incredible. NXT has been in Pittsburgh a lot, and to stand on that stage at the beginning of Raw and get the “Finn” chants really helped put a lot of anxiety and nerves at ease. NXT is its own kind of animal, and you’re never quite sure how much of that transfers over into WWE and into Monday Night Raw. To get that response instantly was a big reassuring pat on the back from fans saying, “We got you, dude.” I was happy about that.
WWE.COM: And you’re going to be one of the first Superstars to challenge for a new title. That has to feel pretty good, too.
BÁLOR: Yeah, man! To say it’s a fairytale is an understatement, the way everything has panned out. I spent two years at NXT and a lot of times questioned, "When is this going to happen?" or "Is this actually going to happen? Am I going to make it to Raw?" For what felt like such a long wait, now everything seems to be happening so fast. It has made literally every minute of that two-year wait worth it. I’d wait two years again just for that opportunity to walk out on Raw and have the same kind of feeling I had last Monday.
For the longest time, there's been a kind of mutual respect/competitiveness between myself and Seth.
WWE.COM: Pivoting to NXT for a second, you had said for a long time you wanted to be a leader in that locker room and help guide it for as long as you could. Now that you’re transitioning to Raw, looking back, how do you think you left NXT versus how you found it?
BÁLOR: You know, it’s a very bittersweet moment. Going to NXT, obviously, the goal is to make it to Raw or SmackDown Live, and now that the opportunity came up to be on Raw and challenging Seth Rollins for this new WWE Universal Title, I’m kind of looking back and going, "Man, what about NXT?" I still miss the boys and I still very much feel a part of it.
Wrestling has a funny way of regenerating itself, and I’m sure in the past a lot of people have asked questions about "Who’s going to replace Sami Zayn in the locker room?" or "Who’s going to replace Kevin Owens in the locker room?" People always step in. There’s a lot of hungry up-and-coming talent in NXT that I’m sure will be more than willing to step in and fill my boots. Shinsuke Nakamura, obviously. Oney Lorcan, who I think has enormous potential to be not only an in-ring talent, but he’s a natural leader of the locker room. In the next couple of months, I think he’s going to be a real breakout star for NXT. Rich Swann is there as well; he’s a real good up-and-comer.
[There are also] the names people won’t have heard of, guys like Riddick Moss; he’s someone who started the same day as me at the Performance Center, but he was a transfer from football with no wrestling background. He has made incredible leaps and bounds, and he’s really a team player and will be a real locker room leader in the future. So, Finn will move on, but NXT is in good hands, you can rest assured.
WWE.COM: Moving to SummerSlam, this will be the first time you wrestle Rollins, correct?
BÁLOR: That is correct. It will be the very first time I’ve wrestled Seth. You know, [Monday] was the first time I’ve been in the ring with Rusev, it was only the second time I’ve been in the ring with Cesaro, and it was the first time I’d been in the ring with Roman. It was a lot of firsts on Monday night, but I’m sure there will be plenty more firsts to come. There are a lot of guys in WWE I’m eager to lock up and wrestle against.
It was a lot of firsts on Monday night, but I'm sure there will be plenty more firsts to come.
WWE.COM: Is there one guy in particular you’re looking forward to facing?
BÁLOR: You know, you’re gonna think I’m making this up. But for the longest time, there has been a kind of mutual respect/competitiveness between myself and Seth, I think. We’d done a panel the morning of [NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn], and it was something we touched on that when I was in Japan and Seth was in the independents in the United States, we’d always hear each other mentioned in the same breath, and it was like, “Who’s better?” We’d never really had a chance to challenge each other one-on-one, but it was something that was always very much in the back of our minds.
We both take a lot of pride in our work and are very competitive, and of course we both want to prove to each other that I’m better than him or he’s better than me. But he’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time in WWE. He’s definitely the number one person I’m looking forward to wrestling, and it just so happens to be at SummerSlam.
Even me saying that sentence is still kind of hard to believe. The fact that I’m facing Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the WWE Universal Title, I’m still trying to get my head around the whole thing, so bear with me! [Laughs]
WWE.COM: Apart from obviously winning the title, what goals do you have for yourself?
BÁLOR: You know, wrestling has been a funny old game for me. I’ve never really had a plan. I started when I was 18, and all I wanted was to have my first match. And then I wanted to have another match. Then, after a couple of matches were under my belt, I wanted to work in Japan. I ended up spending eight years in Japan, and then I wanted to have a shot at WWE. I came to NXT, I fell in love with the product and I wanted the NXT Title. I went after the NXT Title, won it and defended it for 292 days, and that became very much my main focus.
Transitioning to Raw, the goal obviously was to debut on Raw. I’ve done that now. So obviously, the next goal is to become the first WWE Universal Champion. I can’t really picture anything past SummerSlam right now, [other than to] just continue what I’ve been doing and keep moving forward. I still feel like I’ve a lot to give to the business and I want to keep doing what I’m doing.
I'd wait two years again just for that opportunity to walk out on Raw.
WWE.COM: People have already started calling you the face of the future, or one of the faces of WWE’s New Era. Does talk like that put any extra pressure on you to deliver?
BÁLOR: You know, people are always going to label you as something. People can label me as the face of the future, but I’ve been doing this for 16 years. For me, this is nothing new. I’m very assured of my ability when I’m in the ring. Sure, I’m new to Raw and I’m new to WWE, but I’m not new to being in the ring. In the ring, I consider myself quite capable. I can handle myself. That’s a very flattering moniker, to be called the face of the future, and hopefully I can live up to that. But for me, you know, it’s my past, present and hopefully my future. Wrestling is my life. So for me, it’s not just the future. It’s literally everything I do.
WWE.COM: Thanks. And now, we can finally say, we will see you Monday.
BÁLOR: [Laughs] See you Monday!