Finn Balor isn’t going to beat Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. I think we all know that to be true.
However, that doesn’t mean the Irishman’s huge night on Raw is pointless in the long run. Yes, Balor may be hugely unlikely to topple the Beast in a couple of weeks, but he’s reminded us all what a talent he is. Crucially, he also seems to have reminded WWE themselves.
There were multiple signs last night that WWE are willing to give Balor the sustained push he’s been sorely lacking since injury cut his Universal Championship run short. Let’s quickly run them down:
- Most obviously, the fact he triumphed over John Cena, Drew McIntyre, and Baron Corbin in a fun main event to become Lesnar’s new challenger.
- He won by pinning Cena, which despite John’s diminished role as of late, must still be considered a huge deal.
- Cena grabbed the mic and put him over to close Raw, which is about as clear a sign as any that WWE are interested in
- He won despite having to wrestle Jinder Mahal earlier in the night (a bout he also won, even though Mahal and his cronies jumped Finn during his entrance).
- Earlier in the show, he stood directly in front of Vince McMahon and vowed to show him why he’s got all the tools to be a major star.
So yes, Balor probably won’t emerge from the Royal Rumble as Universal Champion – but once WrestleMania season passes and Lesnar (presumably) leaves, Finn will likely find himself in a much better position. If that’s the case, we’re probably going to look back on this week’s Raw as a catalyst for a major career resurgence.
If this really is the tipping point for Finn, it can’t come soon enough. Despite his fresh-faced appearance (and insulting number of abs), Balor is now 37 years old, just a few months younger than Daniel Bryan. He doesn’t have too long left to make good on his unquestionable potential.
Frustratingly, of course, the fact that it’s taken so long doesn’t really seem to be Finn’s fault. Obstacles have always cropped up, whether in the form of poorly-timed injuries, or WWE simply losing interest.
Balor was pushed heavily in NXT, and delivered as one of the faces of the brand. He then exploded onto the main roster, immediately becoming number one contender to the newly-created Universal Championship, and defeating Seth Rollins to win the title at SummerSlam 2016. The Architect had only been back a few months after returning from the injury that had cut short his WWE Championship run. In other words, Balor had been entrusted with comprehensively defeating one of the company’s biggest stars at one of the biggest shows of the year – becoming the inaugural holder of a new world title in the process.
Of course, the good times didn’t last. Not very long at all, actually. Injury forced Finn to vacate the title the very next night on Raw, and since then, he’s never reached those same heights.
There’s been a consistent undercurrent of fan support for Finn during his long stint on the undercard, through uninspiring feuds with Bray Wyatt, Drew McIntyre, and a long rivalry with Baron Corbin. Occasional moments would remind us of Balor’s in-ring ability, and the fact he probably deserved a far higher placement in the pecking order – but they seemed to come about by accident rather than design.
A prime example was at TLC 2017, a show where Balor was scheduled to face Wyatt, only for injury to strike down several key members of the Raw roster. AJ Styles was instead drafted in to face the Irishman, an accidental dream match-up of former Bullet Club leaders. The pair put on a great show, and fans went wild when they too-sweeted in the middle of the ring afterwards.
For what it’s worth, Finn won that bout. Styles would become WWE Champion just a couple of weeks later.
Balor’s appearance at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool (an impressive victory over former trainee Jordan Devlin) seemed to be another of these flashpoints – a cool moment without much in the way of a follow-up. Instead, just two days later, Finn popped up on the other side of the Atlantic and made himself the new number one contender. In the space of a long weekend, 2019 looks as though it could be the Irishman’s year.
Of course, it’s important to look at the other side of the debate. As much as this seems to be a watershed moment, there’s every chance that WWE could forget about Finn again after the Rumble. The circumstances surrounding his rise to contender status don’t inspire the most confidence, it has to be said.
According to Dave Meltzer, Braun Strowman was pulled from the match because Vince McMahon didn’t want to weaken him with another loss to Lesnar. From a certain perspective, it could be argued that Balor is nothing more than a stand-in – another victim against whom Brock can fortify his dominance before a big WrestleMania payday.
Then again, on the same episode of Wrestling Observer Radio, Meltzer also implied that Lesnar himself has been wanting to work with Balor for a while. This could be a very good sign, if Brock’s previous performances against similar opponents are anything to go by.
Yes, an unmotivated Lesnar usually makes for a dull main event, but against smaller opponents with real workhorse credentials, he brings his A-game – often resulting in a fantastic match. Previous bouts against AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan bode well for the upcoming clash with Balor. Should the bout impress, this would hopefully help raise Finn’s stock in the eyes of casual fans (and WWE themselves) for the remainder of the year.
If (or when?) Lesnar bludgeons Balor at the Royal Rumble, don’t despair. His push probably won’t be over; we might just have to wait a few months to really see it in action.