'Little sleep and living in airports is worth it all for the buzz' - Irish wrestling star Finn Balor
When a young Fergal Devitt first laid eyes on wrestling behemoths like The Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy on ITV World of Sport 30 years ago he knew his life journey would never be a conventional one.
His is certainly a road less travelled. At 5ft 11in and just shy of 200lbs, Devitt bares no resemblance to those giants of the squared circle but the Bray native has repeatedly refused to take no for an answer when mastering his craft.
After completing his Leaving Certificate he packed his bags for England with his pursuit of one day striking it big with the Vince McMahon-owned World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) looking an unlikely prospect.
"Wrestling sucked me in at an early age and it never left me, I've been enthralled with it my whole life. It was just something that was always inside me," the globetrotting grappler says.
"Going through secondary school in Ireland everyone was like 'what are you going to do when you finish school?' 'Are you going to go to college? Are you going to study business?'
"Well I kind of love wrestling so I don't see why I should study something else except wrestling. It was kind of a no-brainer, why would I waste my time on something that I wasn't passionate about?"
And now some 18 years later he returns to Dublin, under the guise of huge fan favourite Finn Balor, as the headline act in the WWE's NXT UK tour which hits the 3Arena tonight.
The homecoming is the culmination of a lifelong dedication to the game and the 34-year-old high flyer is quick to encourage all young would-be Irish wrestlers to chase their dream.
"There's incredible potential in Ireland. Just look at me, I was 5ft 11in, 10 stone soaking wet coming out of school and I had a dream that I wanted to be a wrestler," he says.
"And that time there was no wrestling schools in Ireland. If I can do it then there's no reason why anyone out there in the current day and age with wrestling having gone through another boom period can't do it.
"If the passion is there and it's burning you deep down inside then it doesn't matter where you're from. I was 16 in school being told that I couldn't be a wrestler, now I'm coming back to do a big tour, anything is possible.
"For me to be able to bring NXT back to Dublin is mind-blowing. To be able to do that with some of my closest friends in front of my family and friends is going to be an amazing experience."
Ireland is now a hub for combat sports and with Sheamus and Becky Lynch already blazing a trail, Devitt is primed to make his main roster debut and join fellow Bullet club members Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows and AJ Styles.
Fourteen-time world champion and current WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H has tipped Devitt for greatness and his unusual entrance and face paint are coming to a screen near you soon.
"I'm normally quiet, introverted and shy, I keep myself to myself and I find that when I hide behind the paint I'm able to let myself go more and can move more freely," he says.
"It kind of just helps me to take it to that next level, it channels my inner demon and helps me to live in the moment. What I thought would be a terrible idea has kind of morphed into this huge thing and who knows where it will take me to next."
Sports entertainment can be challenging career, however, and life on the road has beaten many wrestlers down through the years so Devitt tries to live in the moment.
"If you just understand what you have to do and realise that I'm not going to get much sleep, not going to get much time to myself but this is what I've got to do to make it," he says.
"The road is the hard part and the wrestling is the pleasure. It's basically like we're paying a tenant to be able to wrestle all over the world and to travel. I feel more at home when I'm in an airport than sitting at home.
"It's comforting to be on the road and sure it's tough with sore bones sitting on an aeroplane all day and jetting from town to town trying to find good food but I find solitude and almost enjoy the torture and penance."
To be a performer and feel "the most euphoric experience" possible makes it all worthwhile. He's living the dream, he's the one in the wrestling spotlight and he's feeling a buzz "like no other".
"For me, all I ever wanted to be was a wrestling fan. I was the one cheering and shouting and having the craic, singing the songs and counting the 1-2's and now they're out there doing that for me when I'm performing," he says.
"I still get nervous going out every night wondering 'do these people know me?' But I'm just blown away every night and when I walk out it's just crazy. It's an uplifting experience that I never take for granted."
NXT will be heading to the UK & Ireland this June on the following dates:
· Friday, June 10 – Sunday June 12 – Download Festival, Donington Park, Derby
· Monday, June 13, 7.30pm - SSE Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland
· Tuesday, June 14, 7.30pm - 3Arena, Dublin, Ireland
· Wednesday, June 15, 7.30pm - Echo Arena, Liverpool
· Thursday, June 16, 7.30pm - Bournemouth International Centre, Bournemouth
· Friday, June 17, 7.30pm - Plymouth Pavilion, Plymouth
Tickets are available via LIVENATION.CO.UK
NXT is available every Wednesday night live on the WWE Network