WWE Must Make the Most of Finn Balor's Return to the Main RosterJuly 17, 2021
WWE loaded up the July 16 edition of SmackDown, both for the return of fans and as the go-home show before Sunday's Money in the Bank pay-per-view event.
Yet there's a chance nothing will come close to the importance of Finn Balor's return.
Balor's entrance is just made for a live crowd, of course. And that was a big emphasis on Friday night—getting as many major pops as possible. But the way the announcers talked about Balor, it seems he's set to be a player on the blue brand.
Which is perfect, in a word.
We're talking about a Superstar with best-in-the-world upside. He was the inaugural universal champion, has plenty of classic feuds under his belt and now has two unforgettable runs in NXT. It was starting to feel like only a matter of time before he made his way back up to the main roster, and it's safe to say WWE pulled the trigger at the most impactful time possible.
Balor—though he didn't need the help because he's already adored—made his big return in the middle of a rant by Sami Zayn and kicked the tar out of the detested character, much to the approval of the fans. That's probably a good starter feud for Balor as he gets back into the swing of things on the main roster.
But the real target is the main event.
Balor is an obvious eventual foil for Roman Reigns at the top of the card. He's headlined entire programs by himself before, so it's only a matter of time before he works his way up. Reigns will blow through his current feud and likely get a part-timer like a John Cena for SummerSlam.
After that, though, Reigns will need a long-term feud to keep him occupied. Because, as things stand now, there's zero reason to take the title off the top guy in the company who only feels like he is just getting started with this new heel role.
Talk about a fun story, too. Balor and Reigns have plenty of history they can tap into for it, never mind the personality shifts for both since fans have last seen them together on the main roster at the same time. Maybe even sprinkle in a Money in the Bank briefcase for Balor to keep things interesting.
A hidden wrinkle to Balor coming up to SmackDown to consider: He can take a loss to Reigns and be just fine. It might seem like a premature thing to bring up right now, but he's one of those Superstars who won't take a ton of damage with a big loss. There are plenty of other potential dream feuds for Balor to nab after a title challenge—highlighted by a matchup with Edge that WWE absolutely needs to do.
All of this is to say SmackDown was the right choice. Balor going over to Raw wouldn't have made a ton of sense. The main-event scene over there already has a "midcard purgatory" flair, and a Balor-Bobby Lashley feud just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Speaking of purgatory, though, WWE has to handle this right—and fast. Fans have seen the company drop the ball plenty with NXT call-ups, to the point it feels more likely to see a promoted star go on to flop than actually turn into the next big thing. Balor can't arrive on SmackDown like this to be merely stuck in the tag division before cooling off and eventually seeming like a candidate to go right back to NXT.
WWE, after all, just handed itself a main-event Superstar with program-headlining upside free of charge. It's an "embarrassment of riches" sort of move at a time when the company has serious problems building headlining stars of its own, hence the constant leaning on part-timers for big shows.
If handled properly, Balor could carve out some unforgettable stories fans will enjoy, plus maybe earn WWE some much-needed praise and trust from audiences. Think, less "smiley guy who does flippy things" like the tail end of his last main-roster run and more of his heelish persona from NXT.
At the risk of saying something WWE has totally done before in similar circumstances, it's really hard for the company to mess this up. Balor is a rare, world-class talent. He's eternally over with fans (look at that entrance again). Nobody really moves like him. Few his size have stood credibly in the ring and taken Brock Lesnar to the limit. Nobody has a finisher like him. And don't forget the supernatural side—The Demon character has all the potential in the world to keep things fresh and interesting.
But, as always, it's on WWE to get it right. So here's hoping his promotion to SmackDown was with a long-term plan in mind, not just for a cheap pop from a live crowd before aimlessly throwing him in feuds. We can give WWE the benefit of the doubt with Balor on this front—his first main-roster feud saw him become the first-ever universal champion over names like Seth Rollins before vacating the title because of injury.
If there's more of that type of booking on the way, SmackDown now has two larger-than-life presences to headline it for the long-term—and as far as Balor and Reigns are probably concerned, it's only big enough for one of them.