Finn Balor‘s wrestling journey started years ago. The former Universal Champion was already a grisled 32 year old veteran with 14 years of professional wrestling experience when he debuted in NXT in 2014. Balor had been wrestling for New Japan Pro-Wrestling for eight years before signing a WWE deal. Perhaps, none of the aforementioned would have ever happened, if not for a fateful trip to the United States in 2004.
Balor opened up about the experience on the E&C Pod of Awesomeness, “A lot of people don’t know I actually came to the states in 2004 and that’s what got me to Japan….I’d been wrestling 5-6 years in the UK. Me and my buddy Paul Tracy, who I started out with, started a wrestling school in Ireland under the tutelage of our coach in England. We’d been running that for three years and running different spot shows and training camps. We had great students come through like Becky [Lynch], Jordan Devlin was another.”
The young Fergal ‘Prince’ Devitt felt he had peaked, but found something within that yearned for more, “I felt, at this point in my life, I had kind of peaked and maxed out. I was a big fish in a small pond and I wasn’t going to grow any bigger unless I got out of this pond.” That’s when the 23 year old decided to come to the United States, “ I had this idea, ‘I’ve got an aunt in Boston and I could get a three month vacation visa to go and stay with her. Why don’t I go and book some indies in Boston?’ That’s pretty much what I’d done. I went to Boston in September and started working indies out there.”
Balor became an instant sensation on the Boston independent scene and was getting booked regularly. He decided to follow some of his Irish and English wrestling friends to do a show in Nashville and that’s where Balor ran into Dave Marquez, who was representing the Inoki Dojo in California, “He sees my match and comes up to me after the show and says, ‘Hey man, I’d like to see you come out and train with us in California for a little bit.’”
Balor made the decision to travel west to California, however he faced the legal issue of an expiring visa, “I made the decision to go to California, but was only there for three weeks. I was coming up on my 90 day visa. I had to leave and I left on 89 days. I flew back to Ireland right around Christmas time. I was like, ‘This is it. That was my wrestling journey and now I’m back in Ireland and the little knowledge I picked up along the way, I’m going to hand it down to the boys that are at the wrestling gym.’”
That’s when Balor received a phone call that changed his life, “I get a call a couple weeks after Christmas, ‘Hey this is Dave Marquez. We really want you to come back out and train. We really thought you’d done well.’ I was like, ‘Hey man, I don’t got no money and I don’t got no money for flights or nothing.’ He was like, ‘We’ll take care of you. We’ll pay your flight, if you come and train.’ This was the first time someone’s flown me anywhere let alone overseas, so I get back on the flight.”
Balor was thrilled and readily accepted the invitation, but still had a legal issue of getting into the United States, “I get nailed at customs because they’ve got this Irish kid who was here 89 days on a 90 day visa and three weeks later, he’s coming back into the country. I get grilled at customs, but I kind of foreseen this, so I had Marquez right up this sheet of paper saying I was invited for a week to California to train at this training seminar. They finally let me in with this week return ticket that I had.” Balor was supposed to return to Dublin seven days later, but, living out a dream, ended up overstaying his trip.
The risk paid off for Balor, who caught the attention of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He received an offer from the president of the company, “‘Do you want to come to Tokyo for three months? You won’t really get paid. You’ll be a young boy. We’ll pay you in food and training. You can do the laundry and clean up after the other wrestlers and make the ring, basically do all the jobs that they don’t want to do.’” Balor responded immediately, “I was like, ‘Sign me up.’”
Balor’s experience in Japan was anything but easy. Despite doing laundry, setting up the ring, and doing all the other jobs main roster talent didn’t want to do, he was relegated to the opening match and always booked to lose. After his visa was yet to expire once again, Balor was approached by promoter and legendary wrestler Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, “Liger comes up to me and says, ‘I’m sorry you lose every night.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, no problem. I’m just happy to wrestle.’ He was like, ‘You come back?’ I was like, ‘Is that an invitation?’ He was like, ‘Yes. Please come back.’ I was like, ‘OK cool.’ I flew home to Ireland and two days later they sent me another visa and flew me straight back out. Pretty much that was consistently the thing from then on.”
Balor was a huge success in Japan. He was hitting his stride and pursuing a WWE career wasn’t so much as a thought, “WWE never came into my mind at all. I kind of adjusted my goals and I was watching Nagata, Tanahashi, Tenzan from ringside every night learning from these guys. It became my goal to climb the ladder in New Japan and get as good as I can.”
His own personal lack of interest didn’t stop WWE from pursuing Balor, “I was about 2.5 years into my run in New Japan and Johnny Ace called saying, ‘We have an opportunity for you to come down to Florida.’ I didn’t feel like it was the right move at the time. I felt like I was finally starting to get the hang of the New Japan style and finally starting to get a run going. I didn’t feel like it was the right moment. They came back a couple times over the years and honestly, it never felt like the right moment. It didn’t even feel like the right moment when I finally left, but I thought my clock was running out with regards to how many years I have left and if that opportunity would arise again.”
Balor did ultimately make the decision to leave NJPW for WWE & opened up about went into his thought process at the time, “There were a couple of factors. I was 33. I had already done the Bullet Club stuff. I’d been offered two years before hand and at the same time, Gedo, who was the booker said, ‘Do you want to turn heel?’ I was like, ‘This is perfect. Now I can turn heel. This is more to sink my teeth into in Japan and gives me an excuse not to go to WWE.’ We did the Bullet Club stuff. It went cool. They had plans for the future building on what we’d done in the last two years.”
Balor’s age was a major factor in his leaving NJPW, “I was kinda thinking more long term and I remember asking (I’m 33 at the time) and NJPW offered me a 2 year contract and I turned around and said, ‘That’s a cool contract, but can I have it for 10 years?’ It had something to do with NJPW was owned by a video game company and that contract was for five years, so they could only give me a 5 year contract. I was like, ‘That brings me to 38. I’ve seen what happens to guys when they get to that age. They start to wean them off shows. Maybe this is the time to roll the dice with WWE.’ I felt like, if I took the two year contract, at 35 I might not be what WWE were looking for. I felt that it was time to go.”
Balor signed with WWE and headed straight for NXT. He eventually made his way to the main roster and won a tournament to become the inaugural Universal Champion. Last night, he stood to to toe with Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. Balor gives his Japanese training credit for his success in the United States, “I don’t know in this industry what’s good and what’s bad anymore. I don’t claim to think I know what’s good or what’s bad. I feel very fortunate that I got re-trained in Japan. I’d done six years of that English catch style. It was very Johnny Saint-esque and I feel being re-trained in the Japanese style was a little bit more rugged and that definitely helped me stand out when I came to America.”
(Transcription Credit: Michael McClead, WrestleZone)
Finn Balor On How A Trip To The US Led Him To Wrestle In Japan