Finn Balor is no longer the NXT World Heavyweight Champion. Long live Finn Balor, holder of the title longer than any of his six predecessors.
All hail the new king, Samoa Joe.
If you’re just joining us, on the evening of April 21st, Samoa Joe defeated Finn Balor at an NXT house show (!) in Lowell, Massachusetts. Originally the match was supposed to be a standard, run of the mill house show contest, main-eventing a loaded card for the fans in New England. But something strange happened on Wednesday, during the NXT TV broadcast. Announcers Todd Phillips and Corey Graves were pitching the upcoming touring schedule, and Phillips made special mention of the title match happening in Lowell. That’s when Graves chimed in with “anything can happen on those house shows!” It was an odd comment that seemed unusually teasing. WWE’s basic policy for house shows is that they are not canon, good guys almost always win (to send the crowd home happy) and everyone is usually a little more relaxed and silly. WWE announces the dates and locations but doesn’t pay the results of any mind on their TV broadcasts.
But every now and then something happens. Back in 1992 Ric Flair dropped the WWF Championship to Bret Hart at a house show in Saskatoon. Diesel later defeated Bob Backlund for the WWF Title at Madison Square Garden. Years later Edge would walk away with the Intercontinental Championship at a house show in Toronto. Christian also won the IC title at a house show, defeating Booker T in Des Moines. A few other titles here and there (tag titles and a women’s title) changed hands, but those are some of the big ones. They are very rare though and have only involved a World Title on the two occasions I just mentioned (Hart and Diesel).
And now we have the next big title change.
To go back to the build up of the Lowell show, it wasn’t just Graves’ commentary that had fans saying “hmm,” it was the buzz from wrestlers on social media too. NXT performers were promising a night to remember and that they were excited to be a part of the Lowell show. I mean, I’m sure Lowell’s a swell place, but there had to be something up. Turns out there was.
In the main event of the evening, Joe and Balor put on a clinic similar to their bout at Takeover Dallas (sans the ref-stoppages for spilled blood). The only difference was the finish, which saw Balor apparently injure his ankle, only for Joe to pounce, hit the muscle buster and secure the 1-2-3 victory.
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Let’s talk this out.
First of all, fun fact: Samoa Joe won his first TNA World Title…in Lowell, Massachusetts. So either this is just God once again revealing Himself to be a pro wrestling fan or that’s a whale of a coincidence.
Second: Good for Joe. He’s been an absolute machine since turning heel and I really thought he deserved the title in Dallas so I’m glad to see him win it here. The question is where does he go from here? All the focus is going to be on Balor (more on him in a bit) but as of this moment Samoa Joe is the man in NXT. Who is going to be gunning for him now? There really is only one big name. Shinsuka Nakamura is the dream match. I have to think Triple H has the patience to hold off on that until Brooklyn (which will be the next big NXT Takeover). In the meantime, I would expect Joe to take on some paper tigers on NXT TV and maybe face Austin Aries at the next Takeover event (to be held at Full Sail). And if that is the case, can you imagine a time traveler telling you a year ago that the WWE Network would one day see an NXT Title main event match between Samoa Joe and Austin Aries? What world is this? What wonderful glorious world is this!? Joe vs Hideo Itami is another match that is going to be straight-fire and I’ll be looking for that one just as soon as Hideo is ready to return. We haven’t had a true heel champ at the top of NXT since Bo Dallas, and he was a comedy act. Joe is a monster. This is very exciting.
Third. *gun fingers gun fingers gun fingers!* This has to mean Balor vs AJ is happening immediately. The story sets itself up perfectly. AJ thinks Karl and Luke are his boys but they are going to turn on him at Payback, costing him the title. Balor will then be revealed as the man pulling the strings and the feud will kick off. As for Balor apparently injuring his ankle. That, to me, feels like a work to throw fans off the trail. They are going to try desperately to keep Balor’s reveal a surprise, but you know fans are going to be chanting for him as early as Monday night. I fully expect Balor to be revealed at Payback (or possibly the Raw-after), leading to a feud with Styles. I don’t think WWE has the patience to hold off on the feud until SummerSlam, either. If they really wanted to, they could build and build until SummerSlam and stretch it until Survivor Series, with a Bullet Club vs “team AJ” match, but that’s more of a 1980’s WWF thing. Modern day WWE is all about immediate results, so this is how they will let AJ move away from the title scene while saving face, keep the belt on Reigns so he can continue being heelish, and introduce Balor to the main roster. So many moving parts here and all of them are exciting. I wouldn’t be shocked if Balor debuts as early as THIS Monday (the go-home show before Payback), and though I’d like to see a little more patience from WWE, at this point I’m ready to let them tell the story. They’ve managed to turn me from cynic to fan, so now I’m ready to play the wait-and-see game and give them benefit of the doubt that I give NXT.
Fourth. This is going to be great for the NXT house show business. They basically have two models: They run a Florida-only circuit that mostly features rookies. It plays to crowds of around 300-500 people. But recently they’ve started a touring circuit with their TV talent, at venues that seat upwards of 2,000. This is still a very new brand and endeavor so a big and shocking title change like this will give the shows an “anything can happen” vibe that you need to entice people to lay down money for tickets. WWE cameras were on hand to tape at least some of the match, so I’d expect we’ll see highlights as early as this Wednesday, but still, the next time NXT comes to town, it’s going to be a lot harder to say no to going.
Fifth. Just WOW again. That they did this on a house show is the most telling thing. I mean all of this may end up fizzling out like old soda, but let’s just think of this in best case scenario terms, alright? Chyna and Prince just died. We need some happy thoughts. Best case scenario is, yeah, Finn is getting called up and so they hotshotted the title to Joe. The reason would be because they want Finn to debut as a heel and not have to worry about turning him heel on NXT to keep the NXT tapings consistent with the live Raw storylines. Right now NXT TV is finishing up their tapings from Axxess during WrestleMania weekend. Incidentally Finn Balor was not present for those tapings. Most assumed we’d see a vignette or a backstage interview or something, but now it all makes sense. So why do this on a house show and not just give the title to Joe at Takeover? They could have given Finn a farewell ala Sami Zayn during the Axxess taping and then brought him up to Raw as a heel. The best guess I can think is they didn’t want to tarnish the undefeated streak of “The Demon.” It’s a money gimmick and one that, unlike some NXT characters, has potential to translate perfectly on the big stage. Can you imagine seeing The Demon at WrestleMania? Can you wait 11 months? Now, granted, in NXT we saw The Demon four times a year, tops. Vince McMahon is not going to be so conservative. Ideally we’d see The Demon at SummerSlam, WrestleMania and a couple more times in big PPV matches. But let’s not kid ourselves. Nothing is sacred in WWE: Expect to see The Demon every month on PPV, occasionally on Raw in a big match, and even on Smackdown every now and then when the show needs a boost. They will probably run with an undefeated streak but it’ll be broken within a year. Prepare yourself for that now and then just enjoy the ride in the meantime.
Bonus sixth. WOW!
NXT was already must-watch wrestling TV. It was already the best wrestling show to follow. And now we’ve had three straight weeks of very good Monday Night Raws. Could it be…? Dare we say it…? Could this be a real turning of the corner for WWE?
I dunno. But I know WWE Payback has more intrigue (and arguably a better card) than WrestleMania. It’s going to be a wild night in Chicago next Sunday.
In the meantime…
Hail to the king.