What a month for Finn Balor.
It seems like it was just yesterday the Demon was stuck in mid-card purgatory with Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin.
It kind of was.
On a November 5 episode of Monday Night Raw, Balor took on Lashley in a singles match and lost. In a November 12 episode of Raw, Balor took on Ziggler in a singles match and won. On a November 26 episode of Raw, Balor took on both Ziggler and Corbin in a handicap match and lost. Spending a month in the Corbin-Lashley-Ziggler rotation of death and despair is something I’d wish on no professional wrestler. At least for The Revival, there is no question how Vince McMahon views them. With Balor, it is more complicated.
That is what makes Balor’s sudden and surprising elevation to the WWE Universal title picture so interesting. On one hand, if Vince wasn’t a believer in Balor, would he have really pulled the trigger on him over Seth Rollins at SummerSlam years ago to become the first Universal champion? On the other hand, that was almost three years ago and Balor hasn’t been champion since.
So how does Vince view Balor? We know he views Rollins as a top guy; we know he views AJ Styles as a top guy; we know he views Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, obviously, as top guys. If Vince were a real believer in Balor, would he really allow Balor to spend months at a time messing around with Jinder Mahal’s and the Baron Corbin’s of the world? When Vince likes a wrestler, you know, because it’s obvious. Do you remember the last time Braun Strowman was pinned on an episode of Raw?
This kind of booking is intentional. Outside of a few chinks in his armor -- the Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar feuds and that ill-timed heel turn -- Strowman has been protected. His issue is simply Vince doesn’t like him *as* much as two other active competitors -- Lesnar and Strowman. For Vince, Strowman has been protected just enough to step into the Lesnar role, if necessary, but as long as he is able to have both, he is going to stick with Lesnar. (As he should, as Lesnar is a better worker, a better draw, and a better decision every day of the week and twice on Sundays.) At least for Strowman, he knows he’s the next man up once Lesnar finally exits the company for good.
The kind of booking for Balor has never been intentional. Balor has found himself in the same zone Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Edge, Christian, Chris Jericho and more all found themselves in before him. It is the “This Is Fine For Now” zone, where Vince is OK with pushing you for a few months as a pseudo, top-of-the-mountain guy, but once he can go back to one of His Guys, Vince McMahon is going back to one of His Guys. There are the Roman Reigns’s, John Cena’s, The Rock’s of the world, and then there are the Balor’s of the world.
If you are going to watch Raw and Smackdown Live every week, if you are going to get emotionally invested in the characters on the main roster, you have to keep Vince McMahon’s preferences in the back of your mind. Of course the Summer of Punk was going to end with Kevin Nash and Triple H. Of course Bryan kicked off his insane return to the ring with Big Cass. Of course Roman Reigns was on pace to break Hulk Hogan’s WrestleMania main-event streak. Vince is inconsistent with most characters on his television shows, but Vince is never inconsistent with His Guys.
Balor is not one of His Guys.
So why did so many fans get emotionally invested in Balor vs. Lesnar at the Royal Rumble? Even if Balor had pulled it off, then what? A loss to Strowman a few months later at WrestleMania to cement Strowman is Lesnar’s replacement? A loss to Rollins a few months later at WrestleMania to get us closer to Rollins vs. Reigns at SummerSlam? As cool as it would be to see an Eddie Slays The Beast moment again, would it have been worth it with how well we know Vince McMahon? At best, Balor is a transitional champion in the WWE. Why salivate over a Balor moment when it that is exactly all it will be -- a moment? Balor isn’t going to get the AJ Styles treatment on Raw, especially with Strowman, Rollins, Lesnar and Reigns all still being in the picture, so why make things worse for fans dying to see Balor get his chance to be the Top Guy?
Vince pulling the trigger on Balor would have been cool, and, more importantly, fans would have wanted it. But as we saw on the Monday following the Royal Rumble, Balor is back where Vince thinks he belongs -- mid-card hell with his old friend Bobby Lashley. But hey, I heard All Elite Wrestling is hiring