There’s no doubt about it, on paper Finn Balor and Pete Dunne are two of the very best talents that WWE has to offer. Therefore, it could come as a surprise for some to note that these two men from east of the Atlantic have never squared off one-on-one in their careers.
However, come this Sunday that will no longer be the case as they do battle for the NXT Championship at TakeOver: Vengeance Day. This has not been a lengthy storyline by any stretch of the imagination, with the combatants only having their match confirmed last Wednesday. Despite that, it’s this writer’s opinion that we could well be treated to a very early Match of the Year candidate – here’s why.
Both of these individuals are history makers. Dunne and Balor both hold records for the titles that they’re most associated with. Balor has held the NXT Championship longer than any of the other 17 men to have held it over his two reigns. Very impressive considering the four-and-a-half-year gap between his first and second reign – managing to sandwich in a Universal and two Intercontinental Championship wins during that gap.
Similarly, Pete Dunne’s sole reign as the then-named WWE United Kingdom Champion spanned a staggering 685 days. It does seem as though current champion Walter will surpass that record but it shouldn’t be forgotten that a considerable chunk of the Austrian’s reign has taken place with no defences, due to the impact of COVID-19.
But why is all this relevant I hear you ask? Well, during those reigns both men managed to fit in some pretty memorable TakeOver bouts. Balor vs Kyle O’Reilly just a few months ago at TakeOver 31 was pure brutality, deservedly winning the NXT Match of the Year award for 2020.
And what British wrestling fan could forget the sheer beauty that was Pete Dunne vs Tyler Bate for the UK Championship at the first TakeOver: Chicago. It was voted Match of the Year for 2017 and was inexplicably denied a 5-star rating by Dave Meltzer by 0.25 marks – shame on you Dave, shame on you!
The point is, if there’s one thing we know about TakeOver’s, it’s that the platform brings out the absolute BEST in both Dunne and Balor. History is on their side to create an instant classic.
From an in-ring perspective, this is a clash of styles that AJ Styles would be proud of. Pete Dunne’s moniker, “The Brusierweight” is easily one of the most appropriate nicknames in WWE as it perfectly conveys his stature and style. He’s an old-fashioned British brawler, characterised by stiff strikes, submission grappling and that beautifully simple yet devastating finger snap which makes audiences wince every time it’s applied.
Balor is also adept at the stiff, brawler style but with a greater reliance on ariel prowess. His speed and agility are characterised best by his off the ground offence – shotgun dropkicks, sling blades, Pele kicks, suicide dives and of course the Coup de Grace.
However, their submission styles are what I think will be at the epicentre of this match. The current Finn Balor is ill-defined as a face, with much of his in-ring style resembling that of a heel. The Abdominal Stretch/Crossface combo Balor used to defeat Kyle O’Reilly at New Year’s Evil was a more brutal but welcomed shift from his usual finish. Despite this, Dunne is the recognised heel heading into this one which suggests we’ll see a far more meticulous and drawn-out submission showcase from the Englishman.
The only concern that I have for this match is a potential lack of build. When we look back at TakeOver show stealers of yesteryear; Gargano v Ciampa, Bayley v Sasha, we were treated to stories with lengthy builds. Many weeks, even months dedicated to telling a story – a process hailed by fans as something that NXT does particularly well.
Unfortunately, by the time we get to Vengeance Day, this match will have only had two weeks build. Not to mention the fact that Edge was very much a part of the initial interaction.
But despite all this, it can still absolutely bang. Let’s recap. This is a first time match up, both have had Match of the Year TakeOver performances, they’re likely to be given at least 20 minutes, plus it will be the first NXT title defence on a TakeOver since October so they ought to go big. No stipulations are needed. If we just get a straight-up one-on-one match, these two men can and will tear the house down. For the match to become an instant classic, outside influence should be kept to a minimum – I don’t mind seeing Lorcan, Burch and maybe even McAfee but they shouldn’t deflect our attention from the artistry we could be treated to.
It may not be the most anticipated TakeOver match of all time but if these two men are given the time they deserve, history tells us that we could witness the Match of the Year with Balor Vs Dunne.