Finn Balor pinned Keith Lee to become number one contender to the WWE NXT Championship. Before we start complain, let’s first look on the bright side.
Before last night’s episode of NXT, plenty of fans (much like my colleague Zack Heydon) thought WWE would let Keith Lee continue his momentum he uncovered during Survivor Series weekend by making him the number one contender to Adam Cole’s title. If you ask a lot of people, they’d say that Lee not only should’ve became the contender, but needed to win the title next week.
That’s not what happened.
What happened was that Finn Balor stomped Lee in the chest to win the number one contender’s match. Judging from the current state of the Twitter TL, a lot of folks aren’t happy with that decision one bit.
If fans aren’t upset at the fact that Lee lost the match entirely, they’re annoyed that he had to be the one pinned during the triple threat.
But before we all get in an uproar about this, hear me out for a second.
Keith Lee had a star making Survivor Series weekend. Not only did he standout at WarGames on the winning side of the main event, but he pinned Seth Rollins and earned Roman Reigns’ respect the following night. It was on the PPV especially that Lee earned some new fans on the biggest stage he ever wrestled on yet.
The common perception seemed to be that WWE would start pushing Keith Lee to the moon from then on out. Even when he doesn’t have a title or even a number one contendership to show for it, a loss does not necessarily mean that push suddenly disappears.
One loss does not change how fans feel about Keith Lee and WWE aren’t brainless enough to ignore just how over he is with crowds now. The fact that WWE allowed Lee to pin Adam Cole during a tag team match the previous week means something as well. WWE wouldn’t let just anyone pin one of their top champions, which also explains why Lee did not need to win tonight.
If the number one contendership was for a future TakeOver match, then we may be having a different discussion, but it’s not. It’s for a match taking place on free television at Full Sail next week. A match that Cole, regardless of who he’s facing, always seemed destined to win.
Cole is red hot over with that belt. WWE aren’t likely to let that heat go to waste on free TV, especially against another heel in Finn Balor. They’ll likely save it for a bigger moment on a bigger stage where Cole can be vanquished by a white hot babyface. Lee could still be that white hot babyface if WWE plan for it later down the line.
If the goal really is to save Cole’s title loss for a TakeOver or a PPV, and if Cole is destined to retain on TV in the meantime, it’s probably for the best that Lee lost last night. No need to book Cole to beat Lee when he doesn’t have to. On the flip side, a Lee title win would be far more memorable and a bigger moment on PPV than on TV.
Speaking of Balor, keep in mind, Lee lost to Finn Balor. Not a lower tier Superstar with a credibility and stature matching Duane Gill. He lost to a former World Champion. First ever Universal Champion, as a matter of fact. Lee has nothing to be ashamed of in defeat and fans have nothing to be worried about. This isn’t a loss that makes Lee look weak or kill his momentum.
Sure, an argument can be made that he didn’t need to be pinned and Ciampa could have eaten the pin, but WWE can now build off the frustrations of fans in order to build towards a bigger win for Lee down the line. They’ve done so before with beloved babyfaces. Names like Becky Lynch and Daniel Bryan immediately come to mind.
Looking in Lynch’s case, before she won the Royal Rumble last January, I remember fans being quick to complain that she should’ve beaten Asuka for the SmackDown Women’s Championship earlier in the night.
A year later, Becky Lynch is not only the Raw Women’s Champion, but that Asuka storyline paid off as a year later, it’s made for a compelling new story where Lynch struggles to get her win back and continues to suffer defeats from Asuka in non-title tag team matches on the way to a potential one-on-one rematch.
Foresight is important. It’s not easy to see foresight in storylines like this, but just like Lynch’s loss to Asuka turned out to be for the best, the same can be said for Lee.
It may be hard to see now, but Keith Lee’s time will come. One day. But not today.
As frustrated as fans may be today to see Keith Lee lose, it will make it all the more satisfying when he finally wins.