Last week, my WWE Pushed to Punished series made its highly anticipated return to Bleacher Report after nearly six months. Here, I analyze past and present Superstars who were on the receiving end of a career-altering promotion, but ultimately met their inevitable demise.
In my previous edition, I focused in on the controversial career of former WWE Champion The Miz. In celebration of today's St. Patrick's Day holiday, I look to examine the WWE tenure of Ireland's own Finlay.
Before transferring over to WWE in 2001, Fit Finlay was a mainstay act in World Championship Wrestling (otherwise known as WCW) for the latter years of the 1990s. While there, Finlay was successful in capturing the WCW Television Championship.
Following the company's closure at the dawn of the decade, Finlay signed with WWE as a trainer, primarily working with the Divas for their matches. In 2005, Finlay stepped back into the squared circle for the first time in years, preparing for his eventual in-ring return.
At the start of 2006, vignettes began to air hyping his anticipated return to television, stating that he was an Irishman who loved to fight. A few weeks later, Finlay finally made his re-debut as a ruthless heel on the SmackDown roster, brutalizing Matt Hardy to the point where he had to be escorted out of the ring.
He made his first real impact no more than a month later, when he cost Bobby Lashley his match against JBL at No Way Out and effectively ended his lengthy winning streak in the process. This would lead to a feud between the two brawlers that would tie into the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 22.
After being on television for only two months, Finlay found himself already competing on the grandest stage of them all. Sure, he didn't end up winning the opportunistic briefcase, but he had a good enough showing that resumed his on-going push for the foreseeable future.
The boiling rivalry between Finlay and Lashley resumed after the event, with Lashley eventually defeating the Irish native in the semifinals of the 2006 King of the Ring tournament. At Judgement Day later that month, Finlay took yet another loss to Chris Benoit.
Regardless, Finlay picked up major steam heading into the summer season, as he would soon be joined by the Little Bastard (later known as Hornswoggle) to aid him in his matches. Shortly thereafter, Finlay would play a major role in the formation of the King's Court, also involving King Booker and Sir William Regal.
With the Court in his corner, Finlay pulled an upset victory over then-World Heavyweight Champion Rey Mysterio. Additionally, Finlay's golden aspirations were reached when he defeated long-time rival Bobby Lashley to win the prestigious United States Championship, which would be his first and only title victory in the WWE.
At this point in time, Finlay was finally being looked at as a valuable asset to the company at the peak of his career. Although he dropped the star-spangled prize to Mr. Kennedy that September, it only meant bigger and better things for the man who loved to fight.
Later that fall, Finlay entered the World Heavyweight Championship picture by targeting fellow Court member King Booker for the gold. While he was given a major opportunity at the title in a Fatal Four Way at No Mercy, he came up short of getting the job done.
Nonetheless, his hunger for the gold would not stop there, as his falling out with Booker would lead to a singles victory over the former five-time WCW Champion on an edition of SmackDown. He was involved in a Triple Threat for the title on the Friday night after Survivor Series, but his fate would be sealed after getting pinned by the defending champion, Batista.
By the end of the year, Finlay reignited his partnership with King Booker to target Batista and John Cena. At Armageddon, the devious duo were defeated by the rising World Champions in what proved to be Finlay's turning point.
Heading into 2007, Finlay was quickly demoted to a brief feud with The Boogeyman, whom he defeated at No Way Out in a tag team match. For the second straight year, Finlay was featured in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 23, but he once again was unsuccessful.
In the proceeding months, Finlay would be involved in a variety of feuds including the likes of Mr. Kennedy and Jamie Noble, but he began a solid feud with Kane that summer after spilling coffee on him. Despite the reasoning behind this feud, the storyline continued well into SummerSlam, where he was soundly defeated by the Big Red Monster.
Due to Hornswoggle's temporary move to Raw later in the fall to deal with his "illegitimate father," Mr. McMahon, Finlay's losing ways continued when he feuded with Rey Mysterio for the remainder of the year. With consecutive loses at both Cyber Sunday and Survivor Series, things weren't looking too good for the former U.S. Champion.
Later in the night at Survivor Series, Finlay made an appearance by protecting Hornswoggle during his match with The Great Khali. Over time, this would slowly turn Finlay into a fan favorite, and give him more exposure on Monday nights.
At Armageddon, Finlay shockingly overcame the odds by defeating former World Champion The Great Khali following the use of his illegal shillelagh. He also participated in the SmackDown Elimination Chamber at No Way Out, but he was eliminated by Undertaker during the bout.
After JBL left Hornswoggle a mangled mess following a Steel Cage match on Raw in early 2008, Finlay set his sights on the Longhorn Loudmouth on the road to WrestleMania 24. During the course of the storyline, Finlay would later admit that Hornswoggle was indeed his son (if it wasn't obvious to viewers already).
At WrestleMania, Finlay rightfully received his first singles match at the event in a Belfast Brawl against JBL, but he fell victim to the vicious Clothesline From Hell despite interference from Hornswoggle.
A few months later, Finlay would be sent packing to the ECW brand via the 2008 WWE supplemental draft along with Hornswoggle. Upon their arrival, they challenged The Miz and John Morrison for the WWE Tag Team Championships at both Night of Champions and the Great American Bash, but they came up short both times.
For the remainder of the year, Finlay challenged for the ECW Championship on numerous occasions, but he was never able to walk out with the belt around his waist. However, he was at least able to defeat Mark Henry in a Belfast Brawl at Armageddon.
Finlay's push was briefly renewed in early 2009, as he was the first Superstar to give then-ECW Champion Jack Swagger his first televised loss. With that victory, he was given a well-deserved title shot at No Way Out, but once again he failed to capture the championship.
Although he once again qualified for the MITB match at WrestleMania 25, the chances of him emerging victorious this time around grew slim. He suffered an injury that May that kept him sidelined for only a month before returning the following month and attacking everyone in sight.
After failing to capture the ECW Championship at the Bash, he was traded back to SmackDown without Hornswoggle that June. He would remain without direction for months on end before engaging in a minor feud with Drew McIntyre that saw the latter pull out the victory at Survivor Series.
In January 2010, Finlay wrestled his final televised match against Batista in a losing effort. He was effectively removed from television thereafter and became a full-time trainer once more.
Unfortunately, Finlay was fired from his position last May after controversially allowing The Miz to interrupt the signing of the national anthem at a house show. Finlay has spoken out on the issue numerous times since then, respectfully saying that his termination was uncalled for, and I can't help but agree.
Of course, when he first arrived in WWE, he wasn't looked at as the future of the business, but rather an experienced veteran who would help put over the young talent to the best of his ability. In the first year of his tenure, he was able to become one of the most ruthless and barbaric heels in the company at the time before his ironic Irish luck would take a turn for the worst.
Similar to the case of William Regal, giving Finlay the World Championship was entirely necessary, but his time spent in the main event scene could have been drawn out for another year. Finlay paid his dues over the 20 years he's been wrestling, so releasing him in the fashion they did was tasteless, in my opinion.
While he did make a popular fan favorite for a short time, it was quickly played out, and it was only a matter of time before he once again "embraced the hate," as Kane would say, and reverted back to the Belfast Brawler that we first saw in 2006.
Last September, I had the honor of meeting Finlay at a local wrestling event and getting his signature on my toy Intercontinental Championship belt. I found him to be a very friendly guy that didn't deserve some of the abuse his character took in the later years.
Being as old as he is, I don't believe we'll ever get to see Finlay compete in a WWE ring anytime soon, but if things blow over in the near future, then there's a possibility he could make an appearance or two. After all, Sheamus did steal his patented Celtic Cross finishing maneuver, and that feud practically writes itself.
Thanks for reading, Bleachers, and I'd greatly appreciate your feedback towards my Pushed to Punished series in order for me to continue to pursue it. Additionally, drop a comment below with your thoughts on Finlay and other other Superstars you'd like me to analyze in future editions of my series.
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