Samoa Joe versus Finn Balor (WWE NXT) Won Our Vote For 2016 Wrestling Feud Of The Year
When wrestling is at it’s finest, it’s the perfect art form. It’s a mix of storytelling and physicality that blends into something delightful for anyone lucky enough to be watching. A great wrestling match, and more specifically a great wrestling feud, depends almost wholly on the people involved. Writing, production value and the audience are all important, but if the two people involved don’t have chemistry and aren’t able to work together, it all falls apart.
For the year 2016, the premier feud in NXT and throughout the wrestling world was the battle between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe.
Like many great feuds of the past, the feud between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe started as a friendship. Balor even won the first ever Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in the fall of 2015 with an unlikely partner: Samoa Joe. Everything seemed peachy for the two former Indy darlings, but the spot that Balor currently occupied as NXT Champion was something that Samoa Joe desperately craved. The once promising friendship turned sour for good when Joe attacked Finn on a November episode of NXT, which lead to TakeOver: London, where Balor defended his title successfully against Joe in a fantastic match.
While the feud began in late 2015, 2016 ignited not only the fire within both competitors, but NXT as a whole. By the start of 2016, Balor and Joe were clearly the two top dogs in NXT, and for the first time since winning the NXT title back in July 2015, Balor’s title reign seemed to be in serious jeopardy. The funny thing is, many people questioned bringing Samoa Joe into NXT. He had the (deservedly so at times) reputation of being an uninspired wrestler, someone who used to have the passion and drive to be a top guy, but who was now past his prime and would fizzle out in NXT. Joe immediately proved everyone wrong, as the only thing more fiery than his in ring work were his intense promo’s. The Samoan Submission Machine was back to his destructive ways in the best sense possible, and Finn Balor stood directly in his way.
After beating Sami Zayn in a number one contender’s match in March, Joe was once again poised to take on Finn Balor for the NXT title. This time, though, the stakes were raised. NXT was running it’s first ever live special during WrestleMania weekend, and Samoa Joe was set to challenge Finn Balor for the NXT title in the main event.
Of all the matches Joe and Balor had, this one was my favorite, although it probably gets the least amount of attention. This was the same event American Alpha won the tag titles off The Revival, Shinsuke Nakamura debuted against Sami Zayn, and Asuka ended Bayley’s dream run as NXT Women’s champion. By the time Joe and Balor came on in the main event, the audience had already seen one of the best shows of the year. However, the two former friends still capped the night off with a great match.
The best combination these two exhibit, and there is a lot to love about their matches, is the mix of Joe’s strength and physicality matched up against Balor’s resilience. Balor wrestles much larger than he is, but when he’s in the ring with someone as physically solid as Samoa Joe, it really stands out that he’s only 190 pounds. Joe rag dolled him in this match, beating him from pillar to post, inside the ring and out, however Balor always responded. The match was also helped by some accidental blood on the part of Samoa Joe, and the blood running down his face while he angrily beat down on Balor is a visual I distinctly remember to this day.
My favorite part was the finish, as Balor countered a sleeper hold by Joe by running up the turnbuckle and pressing back against Joe, using his momentum to knock Joe backwards onto his shoulders to pickup the win. It wasn’t a dominant victory. The complete opposite actually; instead, Balor merely survived.
Their feud would continue after TakeOver Dallas, and in the most shocking moment in NXT history, with Finn Balor’s NXT title reign at a record 292 days, Samoa Joe would defeat Finn Balor for the title at an NXT live event. It was the most unexpected title change in years, not because Samoa Joe won, but because of how it occurred. Joe had dominated most of their two previous encounters, but thanks to The Demon and Balor’s overall resilience, he was able to win. This time, Joe had caught the demon-less Balor off guard, and now the journey he had been on since the fall of 2015 finally had a happy ending: Samoa Joe was NXT Champion.
Joe was now up 2-1 in the feud, and it was only fitting that Joe’s first title defense would be against Balor at the next TakeOver special. This time, Balor brought The Demon back for one last attempt at taking down Joe. This was also the first ever steel cage match in NXT, and the two put on their usual great main event match. Although Balor was game, he was now facing a new, fully realized and fully confident Samoa Joe. It took a second rope Muscle Buster to do it, but Samoa Joe had beaten Finn Balor for the second time, evening the feud at two apiece and vanquishing The Demon in the process. The name of that TakeOver special? The End, which was fitting both for Finn Balor’s NXT run and the feud between he and Samoa Joe. Five weeks later, Finn Balor was drafted to RAW, and Joe was preparing for his next feud with Shinsuke Nakamura.
The feud between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe helped solidify the NXT main event scene while it seemed like every other division was getting the praise and attention, and it officially put Samoa Joe back on the map as one of the best wrestlers in the world. For that, and many other reasons, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe was the best feud of 2016.
Others Receiving Votes For Feud Of The Year
Adam Cole vs. Jay Lethal, Ring of Honor.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Kazuchika Okada, New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, New Japan Pro Wrestling.