Throughout their careers, two men who have never faced one another will finally cross paths at NXT TakeOver: Portland. On October 23rd, Finn Balor appeared to be aligning himself with Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano in an effort to thwart the efforts of Adam Cole and the Undisputed Era. The result was shocking. Fans witnessed an unanticipated Pele kick by Balor over Gargano.
Ciampa looked on in disbelief as the undisputed era beat down on the former NXT Champion in the midst of this melee. Balor slowly rolled out of the ring and attacked Gargano with a shotgun dropkick into the ringside barricade. The result a completely wiped out Gargano looking dazed and confused. Balor proceeded to pick Gargano up and drop him on his head on the rampway.
Before we can effectively look at their paths chronologically, we need to touch upon their careers. At thirty-eight years of age, Balor is a veteran of the ring of nearly twenty years. His early training and development came during his time under Andre Baker and Kuniaki Kobayashi while competing in Europe and Japan. With a background in football (soccer), Balor has often used his strikes to wipe out each of his opponents. From his time competing for promotions such as NJPW, ICW, IPW: UK, and PROGRESS until today, Balor has grown both as a performer and an athlete.
In comparison, Balor stands across the ring from a man six years younger than him. Gargano is a veteran of fifteen years and learned his craft under JT Lightning and Josh Prohibition. While doing so, much like Balor, Gargano largely competed in the United States and Canada throughout his time in the ring. Also, like Balor, Gargano too has grown as a competitor and performing while in promotions such as Beyond Wrestling, SMASH Wrestling, EVOLVE, and AAW Pro.
Gargano has emerged as a man to watch every time he steps into a ring. With the support and adulation of the fans behind him, Gargano has risen to the top of the ranks in NXT. He has held the NXT Championship, NXT North American Championship, and been an NXT Tag Team Championship co-holder.
With NXT TakeOver: War Games set to take place shortly, Gargano was left battered, beaten, and unable to compete. Johnny TakeOver would be unable to compete in the event that he had become synonymous with being a part of. As time passed, Gargano’s absence appeared to strengthen that of Balor. Fans of the WWE may not be familiar with another side of Balor. One that was much darker and menacing. It was during a time where he was known as Prince Devitt.
During his time competing in Japan, Devitt embraced a smug character that was only concerned with himself. Each action was carefully crafted to showcase his dominance. All that is old again is once again new proves itself true as Finn Balor has now set his sights on battling Johnny Gargano.
How will this matchup unfold? When we consider how both of these men have a fighting style and spirit that is quite aggressive, the result should be stellar. If we look at the height and weight of both men, they are quite similar. Balor stands in at 5’11, with Gargano listed at 5’10. The weight generally fluctuates near the 200 lbs mark. With height and weight being quite similar, it’s the narrative of their rivalry that is the most intriguing.
For instance, Balor returned to NXT as the man that has come to reclaim his throne as the ‘Prince.’ In the case of Gargano, he was the beloved face of the promotion akin to what Sting was to WCW or Tommy Dreamer to ECW or even The Undertaker to the WWE. Gargano was the franchise that stepped up when others had moved to different brands.
Balor went from being the premier talent in NXT to become the inaugural WWE Universal Champion what comes about from this. Balor separates his shoulder and has to relinquish his championship the very next day in a sorry case of bad luck. From that point on, Balor was never either the WWE or Universal Champion at any point after his recovery. He held the Intercontinental championship.
However, his Intercontinental championship was short-lived and didn’t reflect the champion we had seen in NXT. He needed to be reinvented. In doing so, Balor became the man that we see today. Balor has brought back the Prince, which reaches into his darker side, unlike what the Demon hadn’t done.
Gargano had lost his opportunity at the NXT Championship. In a hard-fought feud with Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano came out on the losing end of their championship battle. After losing the title, it appeared as though Gargano was reflecting his future in NXT. The decision was made for Gargano to remain in NXT. In fact, the merchandise that showcases the Gargano emblem reads ‘NXT 4 Life’. His desire to remain on the brand also leaves open the return of the longest-reigning NXT Champion. While Gargano was seen as the one that continued to come close and not come out on top, that wasn’t Balor.
Finn Balor ascended to the top of NXT upon his arrival. After defeating Kevin Owens in Japan for the championship, Balor was now the flagbearer for the brand. This brings us today. Finn Balor and Johnny Gargano have attempted to get the better of the other by attacking one another. If it wasn’t Balor who unsuspectingly kicked Gargano, it was Gargano that attacked Balor with a steel chair.
Both men carry with them a passion and desire that is truly NXT. Their matchup at NXT TakeOver: Portland brings together veterans that are quite similar. Whether it is their style, appeal to fans, level of competition, and ability to tell a story, both Balor and Gargano are sure to set the stage for a matchup that will turn heads. Could this be an early candidate for match of the year?
It certainly could be. Imagine what type of magic these two will be able to create in the ring, especially since they’ve never crossed paths.