When the WWE announced their “Brand Extension” and the live draft nature of how they would separate the roster there was a lot of speculation about how they would go about introducing the longest reigning NXT champion ever to the main roster audience. What they did was draft Balor in the first round and then on his first night on Raw give him a win over Rusev in a fatal four-way and then over Roman Reigns – giving him the opportunity to become the first “Universal Champion” at SummerSlam.
The way they have handled Balor, a 190-pound Irishman, is quite frankly amazing. WWE normally reserve this level of push for the bronzed Adonis’ like Roman Reigns, Ryback, and John Cena – people who are larger than life, muscle-bound men – not a guy you could walk past in the street without noticing.
Those who don’t know much about Balor may be wondering what the big deal is, so allow me to wax lyrical for a moment… Balor debuted in NXT at the end of 2014, but before then he was a standout in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and the pride of the Irish and British wrestling scene. When Balor arrived in NJPW he took up the name Prince Devitt and began to rise up the ranks among the junior heavyweights. His biggest accomplishment though – above the multiple championships, 5-star matches and tournament victories – is that Prince Devitt was a founding member and first leader of Bullet Club, the incredibly popular and successful faction of foreign heels that have been slowly filtering into WWE.
He had a place in the history books of wrestling before ever coming to the WWE, and a presence and confidence in the ring that a few can match. While WWE fans have only seen the cool, leather jacket wearing version of Finn Balor, those who followed his independent work and NXT journey have seen the other side of Balor.
WWE gave fans a taste of it with the amazing package they put together on Raw. Finn gave fans, and Seth Rollins, a guided tour of what his name means and teased his alter ego that was so insanely popular in NXT. I won’t spoil the surprise for anyone not in the know, but SummerSlam should be an amazing show for Balor.
Which brings us to the next point – Finn Balor, a man not even a month into his Raw career, will be in a title match against Seth Rollins! How has this even happened?
Rollins has been groomed for success since joining WWE. As part of The Shield he ran riot over the roster. He was the one selected to turn and break them up in 2014 and has since been one of the pillars the company has leaned on. He was the #1 overall draft pick and is so good at playing the cocky, arrogant heel that he managed to get the crowd booing him again after his return from injury in the space of just one promo. Rollins is superb and among the handful of obvious names to be the first to hold the Universal Championship – but Balor is just a new guy with only two televised matches under his belt. The key comes from WWE’s attempt to re-energize the fan base and win back those who have drifted away in recent years.
“The New Era” has promised a lot in WWE, but it has a lot to make up for. Previous NXT champions have come in with a bang only to quickly fizzle out and be lost in the roster. Bo Dallas, Neville, Big E – they all had a tough time finding a spot on Raw and being able to translate their NXT style and persona to Raw. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have had an easier time of it, and while Owens has held the Intercontinental Championship twice since debuting last year he has been kept well clear of the main event.
It was long thought by wrestling pundits that Balor was a future superstar and top guy, but for WWE and Vince McMahon – who have long favoured huge physiques and talking over quality ringwork – the idea that they would push a guy like Balor so hard and fast to the title match is incredible. Even that they might put the Universal Championship around the waste of Rollins is amazing. Seth himself is billed at 6’1”, 217 lbs, that’s not exactly Hulk Hogan or The Rock.
WWE have had a few stop-start moments with “The New Era”, and for a while it looked like it might go the way of the “Divas Revolution” and quickly disappear, but with Balor facing off against Rollins, Apollo Crews getting a shot at the Intercontinental Championship and the blistering success of Enzo Amore & Big Cass, SummerSlam may be the moment when “The New Era” truly kicks off and the age of the demon begins.