Is Finn Balor in Danger of Becoming WWE’s 2017 Version of Sami Zayn?


Is Finn Balor’s current booking direction a harbinger of things to come?

The recent booking of Finn Balor has raised a lot of questions. Despite being added into several multi-man matches, Balor doesn’t appear to have a clear-cut storyline or rivalry in place. Instead, Balor seems to go week-to-week winning random squash matches against lower-card wrestlers. Keep in mind that last year, Balor was one of the earliest Draft picks to RAW and its inaugural Universal Champion.

Balor now finds himself in almost the same position Sami Zayn was in at this time last year. During the spring and early summer of 2016, Zayn was embroiled in a bitter feud with perpetual archrival Kevin Owens, which led to some of the greatest matches of that year. Yet oddly, Zayn went from stealing the show at Battleground 2016 to being in a throwaway tag match on the SummerSlam pre-show one month later?

Does this same fate await Balor? While nothing is set in stone, a lot of recent developments in WWE might help us understand in which direction Balor’s career might be going.

It’s no secret that WWE’s main shows, RAW and SmackDown, aren’t anything like NXT. Not only are the audiences bigger, but the booking is also completely different. In NXT, Triple H runs the show, and that brand has flourished through his genius philosophy of presenting a wrestling show with stories intertwined within it.

Conversely, the main shows – especially RAW – have become more like scripted TV dramas with mild athleticism thrown into it. In other words, they follow the opposite style of what NXT represents.

Balor was an awesome draw in NXT, but there were forces that worked for him there that barely exist on the main roster. Not only did he have Triple H’s booking helping him, but he also had the NXT audience behind him.

That audience is more aware of non-WWE stars and products, and was thus more open to Balor adopting elements of his Prince Devitt character from NJPW.  On RAW, Balor has had to deal with an audience that doesn’t know him as well; it’s almost as if he’s had to start from scratch.

A big problem with this is that the main roster commentators don’t do a good enough of a job in selling the NXT call-ups as big deals. It’s often the case that they’ll mention the new NXT men and women as big stars from the developmental brand, but will fail to tell the audience why they’re big stars.

This was the case for Balor: he debuted on the main roster with some fanfare, but most of that came from hardcore fans that knew his star power from his pre-WWE days. The more casual audience wasn’t sold on Balor, and in some cases still hasn’t been, which has led to him struggling on RAW.

Another problem that has worked against him is bad luck. Balor won the Universal Championship, but had to forfeit it the following night due to a severe shoulder injury. Just like that, Balor’s main roster momentum was crippled, and his dream of regaining the championship he never lost has been a major struggle.

But this wasn’t the only problem of Balor’s. A few months ago, Balor was believed to have suffered a concussion at the hands of Jinder Mahal on RAW. This is a problem for Balor because WWE has done their best to take a ‘safety-first’ policy when it comes to concussions, and for good reason.

In other words, Balor returns from a months-long injury, wins his first matches back, and within less than a month’s time, he suffers a concussion. You can see how some in WWE might be worried that Balor might be injury-prone.

The main event scene is reserved for those wrestlers that are ‘long-term investments’, i.e. those that can draw the most and wrestle consistently without concerns of getting hurt or sidelined.

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As the pressure is highest on these wrestlers to draw on both live and televised events, they cannot be perceived as injury prone, as this would cause WWE several problems in booking, marketing, scheduling, etc.

This is the same fate that Zayn suffered when he debuted on the main roster as well. He injured his shoulder at the time of his debut, and was then sidelined for over half a year. While his momentum did recover eventually, it was hampered by other problems, which we’ll get into shortly.

Finally and most importantly, Balor has to worry about conflicting political arrangements backstage influencing his career. The main rosters are both influenced heavily by Vince McMahon and his innermost circle of loyalists. As such, Balor simply might not receive the same protection as he did under Triple H, and might also be relegated to a lesser position than the one he had in NXT.

This could explain why Balor, already a former World Champion on RAW, spends most of the time nowadays working quick squash matches against the likes of Curt Hawkins, Bo Dallas, Karl Anderson, among others. The powers-that-be on RAW have their own plans for the main event, and those plans don’t include Balor.

Zayn suffered a similar fate in 2016. He was an incredibly-popular wrestler that was stealing the show on almost a nightly basis during the first half of 2016. It was expected that WWE would capitalize on his growing popularity and appreciation for his hard work, but that never happened.

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Instead, Zayn was relegated to lower-card matches and dumb segments with RAW’s authority figures. In these segments, Zayn’s scripted lines made him seem annoying and awkward. The writers were, essentially, making Zayn as uncool a character as possible.

Reportedly, all of this stemmed from a belief backstage that Zayn was, to quote Kevin Owens, ‘anal’ about his wrestling matches, which angered the wrong people backstage, hence the radical change in creative direction for his character.

While Balor probably doesn’t have to worry about being booked exactly like Zayn (after all, Balor rarely speaks), but he does have to worry about the whims of the power-brokers in WWE. It’s these people that decide who wins and loses in WWE, and against whom.

While Balor’s win-loss record on the main roster remains impressive, that’s only a good thing if he’s in a consistent storyline that has some kind of long-term consequence. If Balor simply wins forgetful matches on a weekly basis against wrestlers that the audience knows rarely win themselves, it won’t help Balor in any way.

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Balor needs a storyline, a segment, a feud – something – to keep him relevant to the main roster. This audience isn’t as aware or forgiving as the NXT audience; they can turn on someone very easily if that wrestler is put into a bad storyline or not given one at all.

While Balor shouldn’t worry about suffering the exact same fate as Sami Zayn did in 2016, the threat of falling into midcard purgatory on the bloated RAW roster looms ever-present.