The list of contenders for Brock Lesnar's WWE Universal Championship needs to begin with Finn Balor.
The title picture remains muddled as The Beast Incarnate awaits his first challenger. As the American Airlines Center's Twitter account announced in April, Lesnar will defend the belt at the Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view on July 9. Who will earn the right to take him on that night is still up in the air.
Everyone from Braun Strowman to Seth Rollins has expressed their desire to go after the universal title. Paul Heyman called out Roman Reigns on his client's behalf.
Strowman will be out for the next few months with an elbow injury, as Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet reported. That takes him out of the running for now.
As for Rollins and Reigns, Balor has beaten both men already. He also has the advantage in terms of win-loss record over them.
The story of him facing Lesnar would write itself. And WWE has the opportunity to truly treat Balor as special by pushing him to the front of the line of contenders and allow him to leave Lesnar reeling.
During the Payback PPV's kickoff show, Balor told The Miz that now his shoulder injury his healed, his goal is to be universal champion again:
WWE Universe @WWEUniverse
What is @FinnBalor's goal now that he's back on #Raw? Simple... "I'm going to get my title back!" #WWEPayback https://t.co/ve1j05dI8B2017-4-30 23:53:18
Letting him go after that goal is a logical move, his stature be damned.
A Counter to the Realism Argument
The idea of Balor holding his own against Lesnar is one some folks have trouble buying into.
WWE pits wrestlers who would be in much different weight classes against each other all the time, but this wouldn't be a light heavyweight facing a heavyweight. This would be David versus Goliath.
Crave Online writer Joshua Caudill is among those who have pointed out Balor and Lesnar's noticeable size difference:
Joshua Caudill @JoshuaCaudill85
Hardcore Balor mark but the guy is crazy small when compared to Brock Lesnar. #RAW2017-4-4 02:07:53
Caudill is right. At 6'3", 286 pounds, Lesnar will dwarf Balor, who is four inches shorter and nearly a 100 pounds lighter than the champ.
That physical disparity will be nothing new in the WWE world. The diminutive Rey Mysterio has defeated giants like Kane. Lesnar had a good 65-plus pounds on CM Punk when the two met at SummerSlam 2013, and in 2004, Eddie Guerrero (5'8", 220 lbs) knocked off The Beast Incarnate.
Balor vs. Lesnar wouldn't be an unprecedented matchup.
WWE would simply have to weave the size difference into the storyline. The company could sell it as an underdog-battling-a-titan tale. It can play up Balor's fearlessness and Lesnar's fearsome nature. The Conqueror can spend much of the match batting Balor around like a cat does a dead mouse.
Creativity can keep fans from focusing so much on how much bigger Lesnar is than his challenger.
Perhaps Balor recruits his old buddies from Japan in Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson to help him out. Balor could also transform into his demon alter-ego to help him even the odds.
Balor's argument for a title shot is ironclad.
The Demon King never lost the Universal Championship. Injury forced him to relinquish it instead. And when he returned, he never got a rematch.
Additionally, Balor's win-loss record is plenty worthy of the No. 1 contender spot. He boasts wins over Reigns, Rollins, The Miz and Jinder Mahal, who is the No. 1 contender for the WWE Championship.
Per CageMatch.net, he is 8-1 since joining the main roster last summer. That gives him a 2017 winning percentage that is far superior to that of his peers:
From their recent interactions, it's clear that WWE is building toward a battle between Balor and Bray Wyatt.
Should the Irishman score a victory over The Eater of Worlds, he would have an even better case for Universal Championship contendership. He would have knocked off four former world champs and the man facing Randy Orton for the WWE title on May 21. If that's not enough for a title shot, then what is?
Launching a Star
Balor is charging toward Raw's top tier. He's a rock star in wrestling boots, a gladiator who belongs on the cover of GQ.
In short, WWE has a hot, new commodity on its hands.
The company would be smart to elevate him to the universal title picture, to let him gain big-time momentum. Holding his own in a prizefight with Lesnar would be a boon for Balor, win or lose.
The Beast Incarnate has more power than anyone on the roster in terms of elevating an opponent. A win over Lesnar is a career-changer; a strong showing against him is a major boost.
Reigns helped prove himself as a top dog by going to toe to toe with him at WrestleMania 31. Beating the beast was arguably Guerrero's apex. And Rollins stealing the WWE title from Lesnar in 2015 catapulted him to the top of WWE in emphatic fashion.
WWE can give Balor a similar lift by having him step up to Lesnar and test him in the ring.
Reigns doesn't need that moment the way Balor does. He's a made man despite the stream of negative reaction he receives. Plus, a Reigns-Lesnar rematch can wait until WrestleMania 34.
Who should challenge #TheBeast @BrockLesnar for the #UniversalTitle: @WWERomanReigns, @BraunStrowman or BOTH?!? https://t.co/X13547CNPX2017-4-9 08:00:07
There's a case to be made for Rollins to take on Lesnar, but when they met at Battleground 2015, WWE portrayed the bout as a mismatch along the lines of a grizzly taking on a fox. Rollins spent much of the match trying to escape and survive.
Selling fans on the rematch will require building up Rollins more. Let him continue to take down Samoa Joe to do just that.
In the meantime, the first crack at The Beast Incarnate should belong to Balor.