Is WWE holding back Finn Balor?
Since returning to our television screens the night after Wrestlemania 33, things haven't exactly gone to plan for the man many believed to be the "next big thing" in WWE.
Finn Balor had made a name for himself on the indie scene across the globe, many years before he even graced mainstream WWE programming. Whether it was enthralling small house shows in the UK and Ireland or igniting the crowd as Prince Devitt in Japan, he was a very recognisable face, even if it was sometimes covered in makeup.
By the time he reached NXT, he was a fully-fledged independent superstar, with more talent and drive than he knew what to do with.
This served him well in the years he was with the WWE network's flagship show and he produced numerous bouts that were easily contenders for 'Match of the Year', with the likes of Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe.
When he was finally called up to Monday Night Raw, the crowd exploded. It's been rare to hear that kind of a pop since the days of Stone Cold, a testament to the man's immense popularity.
Usually, the WWE takes it's time handing the smaller guys shots at the 'big time,' but not with Balor. Virtually straight off the bat, he found himself with a clean victory over Roman Reigns - WWE's poster boy work-in-progress - and a fantastic match with Seth Rollins at Summerslam, becoming the inaugural Universal Champion. This was a MONSTER push and it came from nowhere. Somebody had big plans for the man from Ireland.
Alas, injury got the better of the Irishman in that matchup and he was sidelined. Despite this, it was expected that upon his return he would reclaim his former glory straight away. Given his popularity with the fans, it would be silly not to. Right?
Sadly, this has not been the case. Since April, Balor has found himself in lacklustre feuds with the likes of Elias and Bray Wyatt, feuds which the audience simply aren't buying.
Yes, he has been involved in some excellent matches since his return, the major ones being his impromptu meeting with AJ Styles a couple of weeks ago and the Extreme Rules number one contender match, but these were usually few and far between. Which begs the question: are WWE holding him back, in more ways than one?
Balor has so much to offer to the world of professional wrestling and at Summerslam last year, it looked like he was going to bring that level of talent and charisma to the forefront of mainstream wrestling. That has not happened.
From a storyline standpoint, WWE's seemingly bi-polar handling of Balor speaks volumes about their lack of definitive intent with him as a character. For example, why have him topple AJ Styles in a wonderful match, only to have him destroyed by Kane of all people the very next night? It makes no sense whatsoever. Either give him the push or don't.
There are only two logical solutions to this conundrum: either WWE are intentionally keeping Balor treading metaphorical water, reserving him for a major push toward the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. Or, they have no plans to give him back the push that was robbed from him and they're genuinely stumped as to what to do with him. I'm sincerely hoping the reality is the former.
Now, let's take a look at the other side of the coin. When I say "Is WWE Holding Finn Balor Back?" I'm also referring to the success he could be having elsewhere in the professional wrestling universe. Yes, Balor has established himself as a prominent face in the WWE and is one of the very best talents they've got. But, if they don't start treating him like it, why shouldn't he look elsewhere?
It seems to be a trend as of late for major talent who feel they are being misused in the WWE to make a name for themselves with other promotions, which may offer them more opportunities in terms of main event success.
An example of this being Cody Rhodes, son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, who has been storming his way all over the world, before finally settling on Ring of Honor in the US where he currently stands as their reigning world champion and a popular one at that.
Rhodes has stated on more than one occasion that, not only has he been offered better matches and more success on the indie circuit, but that he has also been making more money than he ever saw from the financial titans that are WWE. When you put it like that, maybe jumping ship wouldn't be such a bad idea for Balor after all, if his dry run of poor opposition and even poorer booking continues.
However, I thoroughly hope it won't come to that. Balor is an exceptional sports-entertainer and his skills deserve to be seen on the widest possible scale which, at this moment in time, is with the WWE. Here's hoping they come to their senses and move him back into the title picture, or at the very least offer him better matches, before it's too late.