It's been almost two months since Finn Balor's return to WWE, and his ascension to the top of the roster has been infinitely slower than his lightning-fast rise upon his debut in 2016.
Since returning, Balor has taken pinfall losses to The Miz and Roman Reigns. It's in stark contrast to the brief undefeated streak that launched him to the Universal Championship last summer. He is mired in a star-studded Fatal 5-Way at Extreme Rules, but the main event's smallest competitor suddenly seems to have a slight edge to face Brock Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire.
Monday on Raw, Balor was the beneficiary a one-on-one conversation with Paul Heyman. Lesnar's advocate did everything he could to sell Balor as a viable candidate to upend the field at Extreme Rules, and nobody needed the vote of confidence more.
Of the five WWE Superstars vying to become No. 1 Contender—Balor, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns—the Irishman is the most uninspiring on the mic.
Wyatt, while he can be guilty of talking in riddles, is celebrated as an orator with a charismatic delivery that enhances his character as a brain-washing cult leader. Samoa Joe has manifested his own unique style, which incorporates quiet intensity with screaming madman, since his days in TNA. Seth Rollins, while he often comes off as trying too hard and can be hit-or-miss when it comes to connecting with an audience, is beginning to find his voice as a rah-rah babyface.
Then there's Roman Reigns. He will never be confused with an electrifying monologist such as The Rock or a smooth-talking playboy like Ric Flair. Still, he is a generational talent whose ability to elicit an extreme emotional response is second to none. And as WWE continues to embrace his polarizing nature, his ability to speak softly and deliver simple, direct messages has become a genre unto itself.
Balor's charisma is a quiet one, and his spectacular entrances—namely those when his body is painted—and intense staring can captivate audiences. His presence can be so powerful without needing to speak that when he does, it is marginally damaging to his mystique.
So to have arguably WWE's finest talker, Heyman, describe Balor as a potential opponent for a returning Brock Lesnar was a godsend for The Demon.
The story pretty much writes itself. Balor is looking to regain the Universal Championship he never lost. Heyman said he was most intrigued by the possibility of Balor vs. Lesnar, and in this field, that notion is just about dead on. In addition to fitting the narrative of The Demon getting his rightful shot at a world championship that he was forced to relinquish, Balor vs. Lesnar creates a David vs. Goliath showdown that no other outcome can match.
Rollins, the only other competitor who isn't a true heavyweight, has competed against Lesnar in the past. And while Rollins vs. Lesnar has a similar underdog vs. monster feel, a showdown between them is far less novel than one between Balor and Lesnar, who have never stood in the same ring together.
Heyman was right to choose Balor as the most intriguing contender for his client. Though Samoa Joe is the only Superstar in the match who has never won a world championship in WWE, it feels like Balor has the most to prove, if nothing else because of the length of time he was away.
Brock Lesnar's long absence is set to end soon. And Balor is emerging as a favorite to challenge him.