Finn Balor, just like Prince Devitt before him is a great contribution to the pro wrestling community. There really aren’t any other ways to put it.
However, just like any other talent on any other roster, odds are that just as one has strengths, one has weak points to nullify.
Let’s take a look at what those are.
From Fergal Devitt to Prince Devitt to (now) Finn Balor, the man’s many incarnations have left one thing perfectly constant: you’ve never heard a single voice point toward a hint of laziness or unwillingness to go the extra mile.
In Ireland, as he worked to become an internationally-booked talent, he was also a trainer, getting young up-and-comers the tools they themselves would require to try their own hand inside a squared circle.
I talked briefly with an Irish wrestler and friend of mine, Danny Deans, who got his start training under Devitt: “Excellent coach. Pushed you to your limits and beyond. In 2004, when I shaved my head, his eyes lit up when he saw me and he went “You look like a Machine!”.
Curiously, Deans evolved into “The Mean Machine” a few years after that.
In Japan, he had a fairly quick rise up the ranks at both the Tag Team and the Junior Heavyweight. And New Japan puts a premium on work ethic, just like WWE does.
There is no question here. He is a consummate worker.
While Finn is by no means a weak talker per se, he is comparatively weak when we put him alongside people at the same level and above him on the card, like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Brock Lesnar’s Paul Heyman, Bobby Roode.
This is partly because he his character isn’t well very well-defined, an illness we can attribute to both him and the company. And partly because he simply isn’t as gifted a talker as those men.
If your character doesn’t have a well-established purpose, antics or traits the audience can easily relate to and your own ability to create fresh dialogue on the microphone is limited, we have to come to grips with the fact that Finn’s in-ring showing easily overtakes his showing as a talker, which is only serviceable.
However, Finn is one of the few major stars who, while not talking -as Stone Cold would say – like a silver-tongue devil, he has always amassed a very strong following among fans, casual and die-hard alike.
This is a product of a mystique only a charismatic worker can build, while delivering on it in the ring. Some refer to this as the “IT” factor.
In my heel opinion, Finn is a proprietor of it, as evidenced by the photo above, where you’d be hard-pressed to find someone not mimicking his pose.
While Balor doesn’t have a checkered past of injuries, his most relevant career injury remains one of wrestling’s most poorly timed setbacks.
In the match he became the inaugural Universal Champion, he suffered a shoulder injury it was impossible to work through. A devastating case of having all your ducks in a row, only for someone to steal them.
7 months later, in his second match, he was roughed up by Jinder Mahal in his first televised singles match, to the point where he was concussed and, again, shelved for his own protection and recovery.
While injuries are a part of wrestling, I know firsthand how seeing a promising performer get injured more than once – regardless of blame – can make you consider your options when it comes to where you place that performer on a card.
Because, if you put your guy in a pivotal role and he/she has a setback, the show will suffer more than the performer will for not being booked in a higher position.
It’s not that Finn is doing something wrong. It’s that other performers aren’t giving the booker the same kind of uncertainty. Given a choice between a prospect who’s been injury-free and Finn Balor, it’s easy to understand why Balor, for all his gifts, can be passed over while he proves he can stay just as injury-free.
If you’re playing Roulette and someone tells you it’s 10 bucks to bet on the number 15 and the same 10 bucks to bet on Black, you will rationally bet on Black, because you a higher probability of seeing return on your investment.
His in-ring mechanics are beyond reproach.
From his start, going through New Japan to WWE, his technique has never seemed anything but crisp and consistent. This is a major feather in his cap because, if you can wrestle a hell of a match AND make it 100% safe, you’re the kind of wrestler your colleagues will want to work with to bring the house down.
It also means that, with Finn’s popularity, he’s a smart bet to put on any card, because he’ll have the crowd engagement for both his entrance AND his match.
While Finn’s in-ring technique is pristine, one can argue Balor has to work on parts of his in-ring psychology.
He wrestles what you can consider the Strong Style Junior Heavyweight style, mixing high-flying, technical moves and dynamic striking.
No problem there: it made him a star in Japan, with great showings against the likes Taguchi and Ibushi and 2 Best of Super Juniors wins. It also carried into WWE.
However, as with many wrestlers today, there’s still a gap to mend in his presentation.
Imagine if Mark Calaway, who was hired by WWE to play The Undertaker, did so by wearing the Dead Man’s attire by still wrestled as he did in WCW/NWA, when he was booked as a roughneck heel.
What if there was no slow walk, no choking, no hands rested together after the Tombstone?
See what I mean? He’d look the part, but he wouldn’t act the part.
This is my problem with Finn Balor’s Demon, especially now that he is in a WWE that amasses thousand of years of combined pro wrestling experience, and should know better than to send someone to the ring with incomplete characters.
After a special entrance, where Finn slithers to the ring and looks ominously spaced out, he is 95-99% of the time wrestling as Finn Balor, not The Demon.
Some would say that it’s just paint. It’s just a schtick for the entrance. Then why does he trot it out when the stakes are high, when the feud is special, personal? Why do you air vignettes where he scarily morphs from human into Demon?
(Also, I would love to see said people defend a hypothetical Undertaker wrestling like a common agile big man with no Undertaker antics and body language in the ring… would the Dead Man just be a “schtick”…?)
Ideas like Undertaker’s Dead Man persona and Finn Balor’s Demon are supposed to look and feel special. The difference between them is that the first is a full experience, from entrance, to move set, to visual and body language. The latter is an entrance.
For Finn to reach the next level, I believe 2 things need to happen:
Once there is comfort that Finn can be invested in long-term, Finn can and should be placed in a long-term program to start testing him out in a more consistent main event role.
The first step to accomplish this can be taken now. Instead of pitting him in a bizarre feud with Elias or having him play second fiddle on a Kane-Strowman segment, give the man an opponent he can sink his teeth into.
A title feud with Roman Reigns (or The Miz, should he return and recapture the IC Title) or a more personal feud with The Bar, which would entail potentially stellar matches with Cesaro and the possibility of enlisting the help of a partner who can start helping Finn gain more traction in promos.
Or… consider a move to Smackdown, where Nakamura, Roode, AJ, Jericho, Owens and Zayn await.
As stated above, I think it’s more than warranted to take a fresh look at the Demon persona and make a complete character.
Have him perform in the ring differently than Finn Balor does. New moves, a different way of walking and looking, fresh taunts. In other words, everything that made The Undertaker a bona fide character instead of a schtick.
And let’s face it: Undertaker’s career is either over and immensely close to being. A new, mysterious, ominous presence would hit the spot.
Finn has buckets of potential but is staring at 3 walls he needs to clear: