Kevin Owens: Balor's debut overdue but worth the wait

Finn Balor won the NXT title from Kevin Owens in Tokyo on July 5, 2015, and held it until April 21, 2016. WWE

Kevin Owens knows a little something about making a strong debut.

But while Owens laid out John Cena in May 2015 after less than nine months in WWE's developmental territory NXT, the man he would eventually drop the NXT title to three months later -- Finn Balor -- had to wait more than two years before making the step up.

His debut was well worth the wait.

The No. 5 overall draft pick for Raw, Balor -- whose NXT title reign of 292 days is the longest in history -- earned a WWE Universal Championship shot against Seth Rollins at Summerslam by pinning Roman Reigns during his debut. Not a bad birthday gift after turning 35.

"Yeah, of course it was long overdue. I think everyone knows that it was long overdue," Owens told ESPN when asked about Balor's first night on the main roster on July 25. "But I also think in a way it was necessary for Finn to stay in NXT for as long as he did."

Owens was part of a truly talent-filled NXT roster during his tenure, and the dedication of the team was on full display with each and every call-up.

"When Finn, myself and Hideo Itami started there, NXT was definitely on the rise," Owens said. "Not just because of us, let me make that clear, but because everybody involved was working so hard, from the performers, to the coaches, to management -- Triple H, Canyon Ceman, Dusty Rhodes -- all those people working on NXT.

"NXT really built some momentum and became something pretty special. Then Hideo got hurt and I got called to the main roster. Neville got called up as well and he was a big part of NXT, and Sami Zayn got hurt. That could've taken the wind out of NXT's sails a little, because at that point we were the focal point. Then within a month four of us were gone and Finn was the only one still there. Without Finn, I don't know if NXT would've reached the level it has today."

The NXT family and fans waited for Finn's NXT experience to end, but week after week, Finn was the mainstay in Florida. Fandom grew, merchandise was sold and a superstar was born.

"Everybody there works so hard to make it into something, but you always kind of need one person to hitch your wagon to," Owens said. "Finn was the guy for it. It was pretty obvious he was -- look at how big NXT has become, and now look at how Finn did on his first night on RAW.

"He's gonna be in the main event of Summerslam. That's pretty incredible. So it makes sense they kept him as long as they could -- who wouldn't want to have Finn Balor on their roster for as long as possible?"

Several other big names from NXT were not called up in the WWE draft, including NXT champion Samoa Joe and his Takeover Brooklyn opponent Shinsuke Nakamura. Bayley made her pay-per-view debut at WWE battleground but remains on the NXT roster and will face Asuka for the NXT Women's Championship at the Barclays Center. Many believe she's carrying the NXT torch as Finn did before her.

"I don't know why they're still down there, but I'm sure there's a reason for it," Owens told ESPN. "To be clear, NXT is a great place to be at, you know what I mean? ... Obviously everybody aspires to be on Raw or Smackdown. That's why they sign with WWE, because they want to be able to perform on that stage, and at Wrestlemania and Summerslam. But I was in NXT for six months and it was some of the best times I've had in my career. I think Finn would say the same."