This Sunday, The Demon will make his long-awaited return to challenge Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship at Extreme Rules. Unfortunately, it's starting to feel like nothing more than a brief detour for The Tribal Chief ahead of his match with Brock Lesnar at Crown Jewel on Oct. 21.
Some fans may not see this as a big deal because Reigns vs. Lesnar is always presented as a marquee match. In fact, one could argue this was always the natural culmination of the champion's reemergence with Paul Heyman as his special counsel. That's a fair point because this was always the most intriguing story to tell because of all three men's shared history.
However, it would have been nice if it didn't come in the middle of The Tribal Chief's blooming yet on-off feud with Finn Balor. There is so much more WWE could have done with the former NXT champion's second move to the main roster and this program. That's not to say it hasn't been entertaining, but it doesn't seem to have got out of first gear yet.
A Mess of Stop-Start Booking
This is mostly because the Irishman's mission to regain the universal title has never been the main focus on SmackDown. Initially, he got caught in the middle of John Cena's latest foray into pro wrestling to confront Reigns.
Everyone knew the star of The Suicide Squad would end up in the ring with The Tribal Chief at SummerSlam even though he had already accepted Balor's challenge. WWE predictably flipped the script with a nonsensical segment. On July 30, Cena signed his name on the challenger's contract and foisted himself into the match at the pay-per-view.
On the surface, this was a great way to stall and use a more high-profile matchup at The Biggest Party of the Summer. But it also unintentionally made Balor look daft and left him without an opponent for the event. He finally gained his shot at the title on the Sept. 3 episode of SmackDown in a match that unsurprisingly ended with a DQ finish.
There was hope when WWE teased the return of his alter ego, The Demon, as the show ended. The mythical persona appeared on the following episode in Madison Square Garden, creating buzz for the upcoming showdown at Extreme Rules. Then, the company bafflingly announced Reigns will face Lesnar at Crown Jewel and killed any suspense around his match with Balor.
Sure, there's still a chance that The Demon could emerge victorious this weekend but the odds seem pretty slim. As stated early, a confrontation with The Beast Incarnate always seemed like the intended goal and that hasn't changed.
Could This Be Deja Vu for Balor and His Fans?
Balor is unquestionably one of the most influential wrestlers of the last decade. His time with New Japan Pro-Wrestling put him on the map and his first run on NXT helped to lead the brand out of obscurity. So, it seemed like he was on pace to be a major star on Raw.
As the fifth overall pick in the 2016 WWE draft, he was off to a great start. On the July 25 episode of Raw, the 40-year-old coincidentally pinned Reigns to earn his chance to become the inaugural universal champion. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Demon went on to defeat Seth Rollins at SummerSlam and win the title. Sadly, he was forced to vacate it the following night. The jump to the main roster turned out to be a real mixed bag over the next three years, and that's what makes this current scenario so frustrating.
Fans have been hoping to see him reach the expectation set for him and reclaim the universal title since he relinquished it. Instead, he stumbled through a series of drastic peaks and valleys and never quite rose to the top of the card again.
During his second stint with the black-and-gold brand, Balor effectively reinvented himself. In the process, he even captured a bit of the magic from his heel character as the original leader of Bullet Club. The two-time NXT champion delivered some of the best work of his WWE career as he cemented his legacy as one of the brand's preeminent flag bearers.
Still, he couldn't stay there forever and put on bangers with Kyle O'Reilly. As much as many of us didn't want to admit it, the fear that we would enter familiar territory when he left was palpable. So, it's troubling to see someone so gifted starting to fall into a similar pattern on SmackDown again.
It's way too soon to predict gloom and doom for Balor. After all, he has only been back on the blue brand for a little over two months. But it's still disappointing to watch in the buildup to what should have been an anticipated match this weekend.
Again, The Demon could leave Extreme Rules as champion but the inevitable clash between Reigns and Lesnar will loom heavily over their encounter. Whether WWE realizes it or not, that will make it hard for some viewers to truly invest in the outcome.
At this point, Balor has earned the right to be more than what appears to be a pit stop on the way to the true destination.