Before the journey began for several WWE talent, their skills were honed in gymnasiums, auditoriums, and crowds of a few hundred people, much like Finn Balor. They never wavered in the pursuit of their goals, and those roads they traveled helped them achieve the success they have today. “Before the E” ‘the E’ is inspired by a common nickname for WWE. To understand where talent is today, it is essential to know how they came to be part of World Wrestling Entertainment. This week we present Finn Balor & the evolution of The Prince – before The E.
Before the days of the man known affectionately as Finn Balor, Irish born and raised Fergal Devitt earned a name for himself competing not in the United States or even his native home of Ireland. Devitt gained notoriety competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling, as many have known as part of the Bullet Club. However, before we can look ahead at his career, it is essential to look back. At the age of 18, Devitt trained for NWA UK Hammerlock for a few years, and after he graduated, he began to compete in his home of Ireland and all around the United Kingdom.
Before There Was A Demon, There Was A Prince
A couple of years after the turn of the century, Devitt opened up his own promotion. NWA Ireland, tied to the NWA UK promotion. Here was also where he trained former WWE Raw and SmackDown champion, Becky Lynch. By 2005, Devitt at the 57th Anniversary NWA show captured the British Commonwealth Title. Devitt held the title on two separate occasions. Funnily enough, the man he lost the title too would be a man that would stand beside him and help build a rather significant faction. That man – Karl Anderson.
Soon after he then received a prestigious invitation. Devitt was invited to take part in the New Japan Inoki Dojo in the United States. It was at this time when he began to compete for local US independents. While in the US, he was capturing the attention of those in Japan. His performances were so impressive that he was asked to join their primary Dojo in Japan.
While his time training in Japan was significant, it would be competing in a tournament titled ‘Reclaiming the Glory’ to determine the new NWA World Heavyweight Champion that was also quite important. In that tournament, he faced off against people like TMDK member and former WWE talent Mikey Nicholls and former ROH and WWE Champion, Daniel Bryan.
The British Commonwealth Championship
When Devitt lost his British Commonwealth Championship, he officially signed his NJPW contract. A month later, he made his debut (unofficially) under the Prince Devitt name. Interestingly, as Devitt shared, the Japanese fans couldn’t pronounce Fergal and was thus renamed because of it. He also shared that he was initially slated to be called ‘King David’. However, many would have questioned someone of the monarchy being so young. At this point, Devitt was just 24 years of age. A few months after this, Devitt competed as the ‘second’ Pegasus Kid. It was a character that was quite popular several years earlier, as initially played by Chris Benoit.
Control Terrorism Unit
In August of 2006, Devitt returned to competing as ‘Prince’ Devitt, focusing on his Irish culture and became a heel. It was at this time where he teamed with the already established Control Terrorism Unit (CTU). As a squad member, losses began to mount up for Devitt until things all came to a head, and he was eventually disassociated from them. This was until he was given one last opportunity to prove his worth teaming with leader Jyushin Thunder Liger and coming out victorious.
However, an injury in 2007 sidelined Devitt for over a year. Upon his return, he recaptured the attention of CTU member and teammate Minoru Suzuki. By the Summer of 2007, CTU was no more. Together with Suzuki, the duo joined RISE and became known as ‘Prince Prince.’ It combined Devitt’s nickname and Suzuki’s nickname as the ‘Black Prince.’ Together the duo achieved success capturing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championship. This would become Devitt’s first most significant tag team championship.
Finn Balor & The Evolution of The Prince
On January 30th, 2009, Ryusuke Taguchi and Devitt announced they were going to challenge the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. After Minoru Suzuki departed NJPW, Devitt and Taguchi seemingly found one another. A duo of different cultures and languages came together for a common goal. While their intent and purpose remained, a constant was their size, stature, and age. On April 1st (no joke!) Devitt and Taguchi held a training session and stated that they would be known as Apollo 55. It was, in fact, pronounced ‘Apollo Go-Go.’ Devitt credits the name as a tie-in to his admiration for science-fiction and Taguchi’s nickname “Funky Weapon A-Go-Go’. In Japanese, the word ‘Go’ translates to the number 5.
When Minoru (Tanaka) left NJPW, myself, and Taguchi where seen as both similar in age and size and kind of thrown together by the office, I came up with the name myself. I’m really into sci-fi and space in general, so I wanted to incorporate that. 5 in Japanese is ‘GO.’ Taguchi’s nickname was ‘Funky Weapon a Go-Go!’ Jackpot. – Finn Balor
Together the duo captured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships on four separate occasions. They remained together until April 7th, 2013. At Invasion Attack 2014, after unsuccessfully capturing the titles for the fifth time, Devitt turned on Taguchi. This ended their four-year working relationship as a tag team. What was gone was Prince Devitt as we knew him. His place was the new ‘Rock N Rolla’ with Bad Luck Fale by his side as his ‘bouncer.’
Finn Balor | Evolution of a Prince
When I turned villain, the office wanted me to do something like a Double J cocky heel gimmick, but I wanted to put a modern twist on it. So, I showed them a few things, including TRON imagery, and then my AX endorsement, and it all tied in.
I had 2 ideas for the Dome. One was to rig the ring with lights the same as my jacket. But I felt that we had already done the lights, and I wanted something new. I was looking around and decided I wanted to be painted entirely black. That was what I thought was happening. Then on the day, the artist when with her own ideas, and it turned out looking like Carnage but was never meant to be. It was meant to be more like Venom. The paint turned out to be a blessing as it disguised the fact I had lost 10lbs in the 2 days before the Dome in the hospital with a vomiting bug. -Finn Balor
At the Dontaku 2013 event, Fale and Devitt defeated the former Apollo 55 tag team partner in Taguchi & Captain New Japan. Later on in the evening, Fale & Devitt were joined in the ring by ‘Machine Gun’ Karl Anderson and Tama Tonga. Together, the four men beat down a defenseless Tanahashi. It was at this time where they dubbed themselves Bullet Club. During his time as the leader of the Bullet Club, Devitt saw the faction grow. By the end of his tenure with the group, Doc Gallows and Matt & Nick Jackson, The Young Bucks, joined.
On Devitt’s final night with New Japan, we saw him face longtime rival and tag team partner Taguchi. Despite being attacked by Bullet Club members The Young Bucks, Devitt left that ring with honor. His career has seen the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Devitt had faced several injuries before his time in WWE and was no different from his current employer.
Over the past few years, Prince Devitt has been replaced with Finn Balor. During that time, the current WWE star has seen growth and success. As a singles champion several times over, Balor’s past in Japan is as much a part of him as his Irish heritage. However, when asked about the possibility of returning to the Bullet Club, he had this response below.
People still talk about Bullet Club, but Bullet Club, for me, that was like six years ago. You know how much I’ve done in six years? Last year alone, I wrestled 172 matches. I’ve evolved far beyond what I was doing in Japan.
This is a new version of Finn. This is the combination of the squeaky clean babyface in Japan, the Bullet Club heel in Japan, the squeaky clean babyface in NXT that carried the company for 292 days on his back, the guy who won the Universal title on his first pay per view, the guy who beat Roman Reigns on his first night, The Demon and every Demon entrance I’ve ever done; it’s a combination of everything I’ve ever done for the last 20 years. To call it a return to Prince Devitt/Bullet Club is an understatement. –Finn Balor on the return of a reformation of Bullet Club with him
Fans have seen him rise and witnessed injuries bring him down. Despite all of these obstacles, there is no denying that Balor’s success today came about because of his achievements before his time in the WWE. They were witness to Finn Balor and the evolution of a Prince in pro wrestling.