Whichever history book will tell you the success of NXT, it will always be related to Finn Balor and the spotlight he put on it. His legendary entrances and matches here from 2014 to 2016 made NXT something different and special to watch. Many noticed when he was drafted to the main roster, that Finn Balor would have been happy to stay there a little bit longer. But the main roster fans were waiting for him.

In a matter of three years, he became the inaugural Universal Champion, a 2-time Intercontinental Champion, feuded with people like Baron Corbin or Bray Wyatt. The way he resisted in his match against Brock Lesnar remains unprecedented. Despite all he had done in the main roster, Balor surprisingly came back to NXT in October 2019, targeting a belt he has held the longest, combined reigns-wise. The Prince was back where he has always felt best and made sure the roster was aware of it.

SteelChair Wrestling Magazine had the chance to take part in a very French media call with the NXT Champion last week about the upcoming NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, where he will put the title on the line against Karrion Kross.

Do you consider Karrion Kross as one of the toughest opponents that you could ever have?

“Certainly one of the most interesting and unknown talents that I’ve ever been in the ring with but, with regards, toughest, that remains to be seen. We’ll find out that at TakeOver. I’ve been in the ring with a lot of tough guys, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, so we’ll find out at TakeOver how tough Karrion Kross is, and I’ll be able to answer your question after TakeOver a little better.”

Do we have any chance to see you coming back to RAW or SmackDown?

“There’s obviously a huge possibility in the future that will be back on RAW or back on SmackDown, but something that really interests me right now is a return to NXT UK. I’ve been very keen to wrestle Walter for a long time, and that match got taken away from us by COVID. Hopefully, the world is starting to return to a little bit more normality and, hopefully, in the future, we’ll get that match with me and Walter.

Is there somebody in particular that you haven’t already faced yet that you would want to face next?

“Someone who I admire in the ring is Timothy Thatcher. I think his style really challenges me, and it’s a good stylistic fit. I like to be pushed in different ways, we had a match a couple of months ago, but I feel like ever since then, Timothy has grown so much. Another match I would like obviously would be Kyle O’Reilly versus Finn Balor III, maybe we can get that trilogy. But then, there’s a lot of potentials, but right now, I’m very much focused on Karrion Kross, and I can’t look past that match.”

How would you compare this current run with NXT to the first?

“Very, very different. I feel like just so many similarities with regards to being pushed to the limits in the ring, but I feel like the brand has completely changed. NXT before was very much “us against the world” mentality, and now it felt like a team effort that we were all pushing for the same thing. Now it feels like it’s very much a locker room full of individual superstars that are all invested in their own careers and their own growth, more than the growth of the brand. So that makes it very cutthroat, very ruthless. You can’t really have any friends, so I certainly feel a lot more alienated, there’s definitely a bigger target on my chest in the locker room. It’s something that has helped push me harder in the ring. I feel like the level of talent in NXT is so diverse. We got big guys, we got strikers, we got high flyers, and it’s very challenging to kind of put yourself in all those positions every week. It’s been a challenge, and it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed.”

Do you feel like what was said to be a developmental territory has become the third brand of WWE and probably another part of the main roster?

“Absolutely. I feel like, in the first run with NXT, we were trying to build NXT as a third brand, but it was still very much a developmental brand, a feeder system, or a farm for RAW and SmackDown. Now I believe, thanks to the hard work of everyone over the last five years, that it’s really developed into its third brand. It’s a challenge to be in NXT, and this idea of “going back down to NXT” is wrong. I feel like it’s RAW, SmackDown, and NXT all on the same level, and talent should be interchangeable between all three brands. Hopefully, I’ve been able to prove that over the last year and a half with the move from SmackDown to NXT. If it was a developmental, now it really is the third brand with live TV every week, if that doesn’t tell you that it’s a third brand, then nothing will. So, yes, it is the third brand.”

Can going back to NXT be seen as a failure or a second chance?

“For me, obviously, in the first moments of returning to NXT, it was nostalgia, but really it was a challenge. NXT had changed so much in the time that I’d spent away and really grown into a third brand and really evolved its in-ring style that that’s something that I wanted to push myself against. Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Pete Dunne, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, they are all guys that I’d never been in the ring with before in my career. I didn’t enrol in SmackDown for maybe three or four years at the time, and I feel like I’d faced almost everyone on the roster. I wanted to keep pushing myself. I wanted to keep learning, and I felt like the move to NXT was a good move to kind of get myself out of my comfort zone and challenge myself against different competitors in the ring, so it definitely was a positive move for me.”

Will the Demon King be back at “TakeOver?”

“No chance.”

Has Triple H told you directly he was a fan of your work like he told some media about? How is it to work with him?

“Not directly, but I feel like myself and Triple H have built a good working relationship over the last six years I’ve been with WWE, there’s a mutual respect that we’ve built professionally. It’s something that I hope I can maintain and continue to grow over the next couple of years.

“Triple H is very hands-on with everything that he’s involved in, very knowledgeable, very smart, very calculated, and I feel like he’s someone who kind of sees the business a little bit differently than most people. He’s someone who I’ve learned a lot from over the last six years, so he’s been a big influencing factor in me and my career.”

How have you been living that pandemic situation with no crowd, then screens, and now screens and a mix of both, mostly when the “roar of the crowd” has always been a key factor of NXT success?

“Credit to WWE management and how they manage the situation. Obviously, it’s unchartered territories and a lot of people thought it wouldn’t be possible to have wrestling without a crowd. Credit to WWE and the producers who managed to continue to produce some weekly television shows live every week through the pandemic, which an achievement by itself. Taking the crowd out of the in-ring environment is something that’s helped me develop my style in the ring over the last year. Before we were wrestling and performing for a live audience and expecting an audible reaction, now it’s very different. You have to change the cadence or the tempo of your match to suit the fact that there is no crowd there. It’s been a huge learning experience not only for the producers but for the talent in the ring as well because we’ve had to kind of adapt our style to suit the environment. There’s no way you’re not waiting for a big pop, or “this is awesome” or “holy shit,” you’re just in there in the true essence, wresting and performing. I know there’s been a lot of hardship in the world. It’s been a terrible time for so many people, but for me, from a professional standpoint, it’s been a big challenge in the ring, and it’s something that has helped me grow. You have to try and take some positives, and that’s what I’m taking from it.”

Follow Finn Balor on @finnbalor.

NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver will air over two nights, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 April, on the WWE Network. Then, WrestleMania arrives, on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 April 2021, starting at 7 pm ET (midnight BST), broadcast live from the Raymond James Stadium, Florida, on the WWE Network.

Special thanks to Alex Sutton, Thomas, Jade, and WWE UK – All pics and videos courtesy of WWE