Finn Balor vs. Elias Samson at Great Balls of Fire is just a stepping stone in Balor’s return to the Universal Championship.
One year ago, WWE brought Finn Balor up to the main roster, drafted him to Raw, strapped a rocket to his back and shot him to the moon. Next Sunday, he fights the Drifter Elias Samson at Great Balls of Fire. No titles on the line, no No. 1 contenderships, just a mid-card match to fill the space between Brock Lesnar vs. Samoan Joe and Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks.
Balor fans might feel blind sighted by his fall from grace but this is not the last that Balor has seen of the main event. He will surely be champion again by WrestleMania, if not by the end of 2017. One of his biggest obstacles is that it’s hard to buy Balor as an underdog, and it can be hard to root for him when this all seems to come so naturally. What Balor needs right now isn’t a championship, it’s a fight.
Too Much Too Soon
Babyface champions are hard to nail. Once the chase is over, the drama slips away from the story unless they can find another way to maintain it. The growth and struggle are over. That’s why so many babyface champions feel stagnant after a little while, and frankly, why Balor’s NXT Championship tenure was so lukewarm. Additionally, he won his shot at the Universal Championship on his first night on Raw. He defeated five of the toughest guys to do it.
It’s impossible to know where we’d be right now if he wasn’t injured at SummerSlam. However, he couldn’t burn that bright forever. His push may have been too much too soon. He is incredibly talented. His time on the indies has done him well. Is he ready to be champion? Of course he is. That doesn’t mean we were ready for him to be champion.
The mainstream audience, only a portion of which watches NXT, had all of a month to get to know Balor and why they should care about him. WWE essentially banked on us getting to know him while he held gold. That’s a risky move because when the WWE crowd doesn’t know someone, they can always find a reason to hate them. It’s a lot harder to get them to instantly like someone. He can get the crowd behind him with his theatrics and dynamic style, but for us to buy into the character, we need time. We need opportunities for him to show us who he is when he wins, when he loses, when he gets passed over. The crowd needs to get hooked on Balor as a character.
Enter Elias Samson
How do you give Balor a fight? You give him someone who has no business being in the ring with him but can surprisingly hold their own. Samson is exactly that foil. In Kayfabe, he’s just a dude who has wandered into a WWE ring and now wants a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, Balor has worked his whole life to get to this point. He knows what he’s doing.
His experience will shine in this matchup, and the fact that he’s giving Samson the chance at all speaks volumes for how his success hasn’t gone to his head. Can you imagine Rollins giving a guy like Samson a shot at him? Of course not, but for Balor that mentality of there being no fight too small for him is important. Samson wants to go? We can add him to the list, you know the one.
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At the same time, this shouldn’t be a 30-second squash match, because that doesn’t tell us anything about Balor. Samson has gotten the jump on him a few times, and he can do it again. Balor’s Achilles Heel is that he’s too wrapped up in the theatrics. He loves how much the crowd loves him, his entrance takes a good three minutes, and it is what defines him at this moment.
Much like Baron Corbin and Shinsuke Nakamura, Samson can take that moment away from him by attacking him in the middle of it. Once he takes Balor by surprise he can have the upper hand for part of the match. Samson also has a distinct size advantage on the cruiserweight-sized Balor. There’s no reason why this should be an even match.
Ultimately, Balor will prevail at Great Balls of Fire. He simply cannot job out to the Drifter. By the same merit, it’s not like a win over Raw’s resident jobber puts him in line for a title shot. Plus, Reigns already called dibs on SummerSlam. Instead of being about getting directly to the title scene, this match is about his character. This is a chance for him to show us who he is so that by the time we get to his title shot, we’ve bought in.
Balor might be a babyface, but is he a babyface who’s too into his own shtick? Does he take Samson too lightly, is he looking through Samson to the Universal Title? These are questions we need answers to, or Balor could easily become just another white meat face champion. How does Balor react to getting surprised, even embarrassed by Samson? His past matches have pointed to him becoming aggressive and laser focused. That’s exactly what he should do moving forward. It only takes the flick of a switch and Balor is an entirely different animal. If they can show that Samson unlocks that side of him through his general annoyingness, this match can elevate both of them.
It’s not always about championship matches and championship wins in wrestling. Sometimes, it’s just about moving forward.