NXT No More: It’s Time For Finn Bálor To Return To RAW
On July 24, 2016, Finn Bálor debuted on WWE’s flagship program Raw. Bálor had just spent two years with the company’s developmental brand NXT, where he had a successful run as champion and headlined multiple events. As a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and two-time winner of the prestigious Best of the Super Juniors tournament, Bálor seemed overqualified for a position on what was ostensibly a feeder roster. But his presence at the Performance Center changed NXT for the better, and he soon became one of the biggest stars WWE’s black and gold brand had ever seen. His promotion to Raw was a no-brainer, and at 35, he was in danger of having his best years slip away from him before having a chance to prove himself on the main roster of the biggest professional wrestling company the world has ever seen.
Finn Bálor: A Raw Superstar
As soon as he was called up, it became evident that WWE had big plans for the Irishman. He defeated Rusev, Cesaro, and Kevin Owens in a fatal four–way match on his Raw debut, and beat Roman Reigns later in the night and earned an opportunity to compete the newly established WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam. At SummerSlam, Bálor defeated Seth Rollins to become the inaugural Universal Champion … but dislocated his shoulder in the process. The following night on Raw, Bálor was forced to relinquish the gold in order to take time off to recover from his injury.
For Bálor’s career, the injury was disastrous and his Universal Championship run that never was will forever remain one of pro-wrestling’s greatest “what if” stories. Many fans assumed that Bálor would pick up where he left off once he returned to full fitness, but even after he returned from the sidelines, he was unable to recapture that SummerSlam glory. His two runs as Intercontinental Champion were largely forgettable, and for much of his main-roster tenure, it seemed like the company had no idea what to do with him.
NXT Gets Its Prince Back
Fortunately, in Bálor’s absence, NXT had evolved from an outright developmental system into a third brand with a weekly show on the USA Network. The decision was made to send Bálor back to NXT to inject the brand with a large dose of star power that could potentially help it win the Wednesday night ratings skirmish with AEW Dynamite. In the years that Bálor had been gone, the NXT roster had changed significantly, and Bálor’s move created several tantalizing potential matchups. Much like his 2016 move from NXT to Raw, Bálor’s 2019 move back to NXT was a no-brainer.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact Bálor’s presence had on the popularity of NXT during his second stint. It’s obvious that he was a huge asset to the brand during his initial run, but NXT struggled to attract more viewers than Dynamite throughout his second run with the company. His second reign as NXT Champion was enjoyable enough, but it may not have happened at all if Karrion Kross had not been forced to relinquish the title a few days after winning it (ironically due to a shoulder injury).
NXT eventually moved to Tuesday nights while Bálor was champ, and he lost the title to a returning Karrion Kross soon after. His attempts to regain the championship on a recent edition of NXT were futile, as the dominant Kross proved to be too formidable a foe for Finn to overcome. It seems unlikely that he’ll get another shot at the title while Kross carries it, and although there are still a few exciting up-and-comers on NXT’s roster that would greatly benefit from the Bálor rub, it seems as though his second tenure on the black and gold brand has reached its logical end point. It’s fair to say that NXT is in a better place now than when Bálor first arrived. He steadied the ship and legitimized the brand. But his work there is done.
It’s Time For Finn Bálor To Return To Raw
The time is right for Bálor to return to WWE’s flagship brand. The roster hasn’t changed too much since he left, but throwing Bálor into the mix would really shake things up a bit. Right now, the WWE Championship is Raw’s main title. Bálor is of course, a former Universal Champion. But that title currently belongs to the “Head of the Table” Roman Reigns, and any high profile wrestler moving to SmackDown at this point is just going to be fodder for the man who is arguably the most dominant heel in the business today. The WWE Championship picture seems a little more fluid. To be sure, Bobby Lashley is no pushover, and with MVP by his side, he will be difficult to beat. But unlike a long Roman Reigns title run, a long Lashley title run is not a forgone conclusion.
To top it off, Raw is crying out for fresh(ish) blood. With the imminent return of live crowds, WWE desperately needs to mix up its rosters and create new feuds. Bálor has scores to settle. Goals to achieve. Titles to win. Bálor needs Raw as much as Raw needs Bálor