Summon The Demon: The Story Of Finn Bálor’s Rise To The Top Of WWE

Two years. It has been two years since Prince Devitt left New Japan Pro Wrestling and debuted in the WWE developmental brand, NXT, and dubbed a new name, Finn Bálor. In those two years, Finn Bálor has had an extrodinary WWE run as he is the longest reigning NXT Champion in history and is the first ever WWE Universal Champion after defeating Seth Rollins as this years SummerSlam. Finn has not only held championships in his two years but he has put on phenomenal matches with some of the very best in the WWE such as Kevin Owens, Neville, Samoa Joe, and Shinsuke Nakamura. But not many know about Bálor’s past and where he came from before WWE. What did Finn do before becoming the NXT Champion? What did Finn create before becoming the first ever Universal Champion? Finn Bálor has had a prestigious career and it all began in his first home, New Japan Pro Wrestling.

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Finn Balor during his debut in NXT

Finn Bálor was not always known as Finn Bálor. In Japan, he was known as Prince Devitt and Devitt to this day is arguably the greatest non-Japanese wrestler to ever step foot in NJPW. However, before Japan, Devitt had already experienced the wrestling scene in NWA UK Hammerlock. After beginning to train at NWA UK Hammerlock, Devitt debuted for the promotion at the young age of 18 in 2000 and quickly won the NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight Championship, earning his first championship of many. After Devitt graduated from NWA UK Hammerlock, Devitt’ss wrestling career quickly took off as he began touring Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States in hopes of becoming one of the best in the world. Devitt reached another milestone in 2002 when he opened his own wrestling promotion dubbed NWA Ireland and helped train one of the biggest female stars in the WWE today and the current WWE Smackdown Women’s Champion, Becky Lynch. Devitt at the time was wrestling for small promotions and was not getting as recognized as much as he wanted, however, Devitt’s fate was about to change as New Japan Pro Wrestling was about to knock on his door.

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Devitt in a match with Dru Onyx during his time in NWA UK Hammerlock

In 2006, Devitt returned to NWA UK Hammerlock for the 57rh anniversary of the promotion and took on Dru Onyx and defeating him to win his second British Commonwealth Championship and after the match, Devitt’s future got brighter as he was invited to New Japan Inoki Dojo in California to train and further his career. Devitt began wrestling for many different promotions and due to his impressive work and talent, Devitt was invited to train at New Japan;s main dojo in Japan and began training in the Japanese style of professional wrestling starting in early 2006 which is when he lost the British Commonwealth Championship to a man he would come to have much more history with in the future, Karl Anderson. A day after losing the championship, Devitt’s career took a new turn as he signed a contract with New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). This signing would prove to be a huge benefit not to just the land of professional wrestling but to the man Prince Devitt himself.

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Prince Devitt during his early days in NJPW

In April of 2006, Prince Devitt officially made his NJPW debut against El Samurai and started wrestling with a mask and being dubbed the second Pegasus Kid and led to comparisons with the orginal Pegasus Kid, former World Heavyweight Champion, Chris Benoit. Prince Devitt began wrestling under his real identity and began his first true story, an apprentice under the heel group known as the Control Terrorism Unit (CTU). In a unique story line, Devitt began a losing streak and led the other members of CTU to not want anything to do with him anymore until he stunned not only CTU but the entire NJPW community when he pinned Wataru Inoue to lead his team to victory and solidifying himself as on official member of CTU. Devitt had found his place in NJPW and his momentum looked as if it could not be stopped until a terrifying knee injury put him on the sidelines for 5 months and taking him out of the Best Of The Super Juniors tournament. After returning from the horrific knee injury, Devitt came back better than ever with his fellow CTU member, Minoru, praising him for his improvement during his hiatus. Devitt’s momentum seemed to be stopped during his injury, however, what many didn’t realize is that Prince Devitt was just getting started in NJPW.

In late 2007, the CTU disbanded except for Devitt and Minoru who formed a tag team known as “Prince Prince”. The duo would prove to be highly beneficial to Devitt as the team won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships in January of 2008 which gave Prince Devitt his first taste of major championship gold. They would go on to hold the titles for a solid three months before losing the titles to Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro. The formation of “Prince Prince” and being a member of CTU was only the beginning for Devitt as the next few years of his NJPW career were about to become very interesting.

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Prince Devitt with his Apollo 55 partner, Ryusuke Taguchi

After Devitt’s time with Minoru was up, Devitt teamed up with Ryusuke Taguchi to form the team known as Apollo 55. To this day Apollo 55 is arguably one of the greatest tag teams in NJPW history and it isn’t hard to understand why. Apollp 55 had a very successful run during their time together and won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships on multiple occasions, however, that was not the only highlight for Prince Devitt as his recognition and undeniable talent was beginning to pay off as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship was starting to creep closer to Prince Devitt’s hands.

In 2009, Apollo 55 defeated the Motor City Machine guns to claim the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships to give Devitt his third reign as a tag team champion in Japan, however, the singles career of Prince Devitt was about to pick up as he took part in the 2009 Best Of The Super Juniors tournament. Devitt exceeded expectations as he won his block in the Round Robin stage of the tournament before going on to defeat one of Japan’s best, Kota Ibushi, in the semi-finals. Prince Devitt reached the finals of the tournament after a stellar run, however he was defeated in the final round by Koji Kanemoto but Devitt’s momentum was at an all time high and would continue his run as one of Japan’s best talents when he took part in the 2009 Super J-Cup. Devitt once again reached the finals of the tournament but was once again defeated, this time by Noamichi Marufuji. During the rest of 2009, Devitt and Taguchi would continue their reign as tag team champions until being stripped of the titles for not defending them for 30 days. 2009 was a successful year for Prince Devitt but it was in 2010 where Devitt reached his full potential and it all began with the 2010 Best Of The Super Juniors tournament.

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Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi (Apollo 55) as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions

The year 2010 was always destined to be Prince Devitt’s year. After coming inches away from winning the 2009 Best Of The Super Juniors tournament, Devitt redeemed himself when he entered the tournament in 2010 and coming away the winner after defeating Kota Ibushi in the finals. The tournament victory meant Prince Devitt was guaranteed an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship match which he would receive at Dominion 6.19 on June 19th, 2010. Prince Devitt reached the top of the mountain that day when he defeated  Naomichi Marufuji to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship for the first time in his career. Devitt’s gold rush didn’t stop there as he and Taguchi defeated Koji Kanemoto and El Samurai to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships on July 19th to begin their second reign as tag team champions together. Devitt was on top of the world as the Junior Heavyweight Champion and and Tag Team Champion and in August that same year, Devitt entered New Japan’s biggest tournament of the year, the G1 Climax. Devitt once again exceeded expectations by winning four of his seven matches in the Round Robin stage of the tournament but failed to advance by just one point. As the year came to a close, Devitt remained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, however Apollo 55’s title reign came to an end to the hands of Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi but it would not be long before Apollo 55 regained those titles and as for Devitt’s single career, his momentum was still gaining speed.

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Prince Devitt as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion

After losing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships to Omega and Ibushi, Devitt would get a form of redemption when he defeated Ibushi at Wrestle Kindom V, Japan’s WrestleMania, to retain the Junior Heavyweight Championship and if that wasn’t good enough, Devitt and Taguchi reclaimed the tag team titles at Fantastica Mania after defeating Omega and Ibushi. Devitt continued his hot streak of defending the Junior Heavyweight Championship against many challengers such as Taka Michinoku and Low Ki. Even as the champion, Devitt entered the 2011 Best Of The Super Juniors tournament and went on a seven match win streak to win his block and advance to the semi-finals. A glimpse of a possible split between Apollo 55 was shown after Taguchi defeated Devitt in the semi-finals of the tournament to advance to the finals where he would lose to Kota Ibushi. Devitt’s reign as the Junior Heavyweight Champion ended at Dominion 6.18 when the BOSJ winner, Kota Ibushi, defeated him for the championship to end his reign at 364 days. Devitt had a historic run as champion and he would go on to win the belt two more times before something happened to Devitt. Devitt had a change of character and a change of attitude. Devitt’s time with NJPW was coming to an end before he was offered the opportunity to have a change of heart and form something that would change the wrestling business forever. Prince Devitt was about to turn heel and put everything he once knew and did behind him to form what we now know today as, Bullet Club.

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Prince Devitt and his new bouncer Bad Luck Fale during Devitt’s run as a heel

Flash forward two years. Prince Devitt is IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and facing off against Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event of New Japan’s 41st anniversary event. In a match that Devitt lost, it was what would happen in the following weeks that changed Devitt and the land of wrestling forever. Devitt began acting cocky and arrogant towards his opponents and fellow tag team partners except for Taguchi whom he remained friendly with until April 7th, 2013 at Invasion Attack when Apollo 55 challenged Time Splitters for the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. After Apollo 55 failed to claim the gold, Devitt did the unthinkable and turned on his partner of five years, Taguchi, and turning heel for the first time since his days with the CTU. Not only did Devitt turn his back on his friend and fans but he debuted his new bouncer, Bad Luck Fale. Devitt’s stunning actions and heel turn was the beginning of something special for professional wrestling as two other men would join the duo of Prince Devitt and Bad Luck Fale in their quest to own NJPW. This was the creation of Bullet Club.

On May 3rd, 2013, Devitt defeated his former partner Taguchi in a tag team match also involving Bad Luck Fale and Captain New Japan and it was later that same night that saw two new partners of Devitt’s, Tama Tonga and Karl Anderson, join in on an attack on Hiroshi Tanahashi and joining the group that would be dubbed, Bullet Club. In an interview with Chris Jericho, Devitt explained how Bullet Club was Devitt’s creation and the reason behind the name claiming since Karl Anderson was nicknamed, “:Machine Gun”, and Devitt using the phrase, “I’m a real shoota”, the name Bullet Club was created.

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Bullet Club in it’s early stage with Devitt, Karl Anderson (left), Tama Tonga (right), Bad Luck Fale (back right), and DOC Gallows (back left)

Devitt entered the 2013 Best Of The Super Juniors tournament and won all eight of his matches in the Round Robin stage to win his block due to outside help from his stablemates. Devitt would go on to defeat Kenny Omega in the semi-finals and Alex Shelley in the finals to win his second Best Of The Super Juniors tournament. As Devitt was already the Junior Heavyweight Champion, he wanted to make history and do something no other man has done in NJPW. Devitt wanted to hold both the Junior Heavyweight and Heavyweight Championships at the same time. The IWGP Heavyweight Champion,  Kazuchika Okada, accepted the challenge of Devitt and gave him his title match on July 20th, 2013 and even with outside interference from Bullet Club, Devitt was unsuccessful in his challenge for the Heavyweight Championship. Devitt’s rivalry with Okada and Tanahasi was put to rest and a new challenger for the Junior Heavyweight Championship rose in former champion and opponent of Devitt, Kota Ibushi.

After a fourteen month long reign as Junior Heavyweight Champion, Kota Ibushi defeated Prince Devitt at Wrestle Kingdom 8 and it was that moment that showed that Devitt was on his way out of NJPW and his final feud with the company was against his former brother and partner, Rysuke Taguchi. In his final match for NJPW, Devitt fought his former partner at Invasion Attack 2014, one year after the breakup of Apollo 55. During the match, Bullet Club turned on their leader Prince Devitt and led to Taguchi defeating Devitt in his final match. The two former partners shook hands as Prince Devitt was ready to leave Japan and begin his new life.

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Prince Devitt and Rysuke Taguchi shaking hands after Devitt’s last match for NJPW

The date is May 15th, 2014 and Prince Devitt has left NJPW and signed with WWE. On September 25th, 2014, Prince Devitt made his NXT debut alongside Hideo Itami to help fight The Ascension and in that process, Prince Devitt was no longer Prince Devitt. The man many knew in Japan had a new name and a new identity. The WWE Universe was introduced to who we now know as, Finn Bálor.

And the rest is history. Finn Bálor would go on to become the longest reigning NXT Champion in history while having many great matches with Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, and many others. Finn Bálor would make more history as he would defeat Seth Rollins at this years SummerSlam to become the first ever WWE Universal Champion before having to vacate it due to the horrific injury suffered in that match.

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Finn Balor during his entrance at NXT: Takeover Dallas as NXT Champion

Finn Bálor’s career is truly remarkable and in the two years he has spent in the WWE, he has already achieved more than what anyone could have thought. His rise to the top of wrestling will be appreciated forever as he gave us one of the best things in professional wrestling, Bullet Club. 

Finn Bálor is currently out of action with the torn labrum he suffered at Summerslam but with pictures and videos of his progress, Finn should be back sooner than later and when  he does, expect Finn to be better than ever as he is sure to be coming after the WWE Universal Championship.

Finn Bálor hasn’t just reached the top of WWE but he has reached the top of professional wrestling as a whole. Finn isn’t just a star. Finn is an icon.

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Author: Caden Moran

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