Finn Balor successfully retained his NXT Championship against Samoa Joe at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, defeating the Samoan Submission Machine for the second time in a championship match.
In theory, this sends Joe to the back of the line, which begs the question - who's next for Balor to fight?
With many established NXT names like Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, and Apollo Crews now on the main roster, many of the top names Balor could have fought are now no longer an option, which leaves many fans speculating about who the new number one contender will be.
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Balor could fight Joe again, but after two failed attempts, it's hard to justify why he deserves another chance and the match at Dallas seemed like the final chapter in the rivalry. So who's next for The Demon?
Let's begin with the obvious choice - Shinsuke Nakamura. The King of Strong Style entered WWE hotter than a meteor entering the atmosphere and captured a win over NXT legend, Sami Zayn, in his debut match. After a similar victory over Tye Dillinger on his NXT TV debut, Nakamura continues to win over legions of American fans, as well giving those who already knew about him plenty to be happy about. But will he challenge for the title?
In a backstage segment on NXT, Finn Balor was asked about Nakamura ahead of his match with Dillinger. It is unlikely that segment would have been aired had it not been to build a story between the two, so it looks likely that Shinsuke will be next in line for a title shot.
He might be new to WWE, but he's already an established name worldwide, and at such a young age too, so WWE might not be as worried about thrusting him into the limelight so quickly.
However, his age may also work against him; WWE might decide to push one of their own stars because they see a long-term potential in Shinsuke. However, with the massive momentum Shinsuke currently has and with beginnings of a feud already present on NXT, it seems pretty obvious that the sensation from Kyoto, Japan will be making big waves at Full Sail.
But, for the sake of debate, let's say that Nakamura isn't chosen as the number one contender and has a high-profile feud with somebody else before taking a shot at the belt. Who else is worthy of fighting for the biggest prize in NXT?
Let's take a look at the other big debutant at NXT TakeOver: Dallas - Austin Aries. Aries put on a strong showing against Baron Corbin in his debut and again on NXT, defeating Angelo Dawkins. Aries is another established name that's clearly over with the fans, but he also represents WWE's prime competition in TNA.
Yes, so-called "Mr. TNA", AJ Styles, is in a main event feud on Raw and Smackdown, but he's also been associated with NJPW, a promotion WWE are happy to mention. Aries' career has almost exclusively been TNA (bar his stint in ROH, another promotion WWE are tentative to mention) and that stigma could cost Aries a title shot.
If WWE has moved past their negative vision of former TNA stars, then it's entirely possible that The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived will challenge for the NXT title sometime soon. But, the more likely scenario is that WWE still feel threatened by other promotions' talent and Double-A will, unfortunately, suffer for it.
Another option WWE could consider, someone more homegrown, is The Drifter, Elias Samson. Despite a loss to Apollo Crews at TakeOver:Dallas (which was a dark match, so it could be washed over anyway) Elias has received plenty of attention in recent weeks.
With Baron Corbin up on the main roster and Samoa Joe, hypothetically, out of the picture, NXT needs a new top heel. Both Nakamura and Aries are too popular with the smart fans to be turned heel right now, so why not use someone who's already a heel - enter The Drifter.
I would have suggested Tye Dillinger for this rose, but his arrogant, narcissist gimmick isn't really a main event gimmick in the modern era, whereas Samson's wanderer persona is something new that could be explored further in a main event scenario. Whilst Samson stands an outside chance at best at facing Balor, he's still someone to consider if NXT want a new, homegrown main event guy. After all, isn't NXT all about making new stars?
Whilst it's horribly obvious, it's just impossible to see anyone else by Nakamura challenging for the NXT title next. He's over like crazy, an established name, young, immensely talented and on a roll in NXT, all of which are signs that point to Nakamura and Balor squaring off in the near future. However, if NXT are planning to have this future a little further down the line, then there are still a few alternatives to the King of Strong Style that would make for an excellent title feud.
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