Finn Bálor is billed at just a hair below 6-feet tall and 190 pounds. When he speaks, there is no disguising his thick Irish accent. He doesn't fit the mold of the typical WWE superstar of any era, and yet, on his first night on the main roster, Bálor pinned the United States champion Rusev in a four-way match in his debut. Then he defeated the longtime heir apparent to John Cena's mantle as the top guy of the company, Roman Reigns, in a No. 1 contender's match for the newly christened top title of the brand, the WWE Universal Championship.
If you were to bring this potential scenario up to your friends or any knowledgeable wrestling fan 10 -- nay, even five years ago -- you'd be mocked for being an indie wrestling fan with a bit too much imagination. What Bálor accomplished on his first night in the company is the type of welcome mat you'd expect for a Cena- or Reigns-type of wrestler: big, strong, born and bred in America, with a look you can slap on posters from here to China. Bálor, while having a sharp look and a defined body, is not overly muscular or tall.
In the history of the WWE, generally speaking, non-American and Canadian wrestlers have been shoehorned, at one point or another, into the role of the dastardly foreigner who believes his country of origin is astronomically better than the one he's in tonight. After mocking the red, white and blue, someone like a Cena or a Reigns would rush out from the back, barreling down to the ring in an attempt to stop the rapscallion from defaming the United States.
With Bálor, the Irishman who made his name as Prince Devitt in Japan, Europe and many other locales outside of the United States, WWE didn't follow their typical path and bring him in as that kind of international heel. While the "evil foreigner gimmick" can still be seen to this day in the company -- The Shining Stars aren't going to let us forget Puerto Rico is so much better than the United States -- Bálor entered the scene as a full-on good guy.
After that one impressive night of a debut, he's set to take on Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the grand prize of Raw, which still appears to be the flagship show, post-brand split. Instead of giving Bálor a shillelagh or a leprechaun sidekick, WWE didn't simply shy away from Finn's heritage -- but they also didn't make it his entire character.
In his first few weeks on Raw, the WWE has highlighted and built upon Bálor's well-established NXT character and its long-standing duality. The split personality of Finn Bálor is a take on his name: "Finn" representing the mythical Irish hunter-warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill and "Balor" which is Gaelic for "Demon King."
On one side, you have the leather jacket-wearing confident veteran from Japan, who can out-wrestle anyone he meets. His other personality, the one he only brings out for marquee matches -- the Demon King -- is sadistic, putting Bálor in a state where he'll go through anything or anyone by any means necessary to win the match. The two personalities intertwine to bring us the kind of mythical character we don't see much of anymore in the WWE, outside of Bray Wyatt and the occasional appearance from The Undertaker.
From the colorful paint that dawns his body, to the spectacle of the performance he puts on during his entrance, the appearance of the Demon King, at least as it has been presented in the past in NXT, has been seen as a special event -- something Bálor only brings out when he needs it most against the greatest of foes.
When it comes to comparable wrestlers in the WWE, the aforementioned Wyatt is a possible cautionary tale for Bálor. While the wordsmith Wyatt is a natural storyteller in and outside of the ring, his constant string of losing feuds over the years has weakened his appeal at the main-event level. He can spin a tale of fear and despair like no one else today in pro wrestling, but what are those words worth if he continually ends up looking at rafters against the superheroes he promises to break?
What made the Demon King great in NXT is that Bálor won when he slipped into his dark character. Unlike Wyatt, where his entrance is usually the highlight for his character in his marquee matches, Bálor continually defeated the best NXT had to offer as the Demon King -- building a persona which fans knew they couldn't miss if a big bout was upcoming. It wasn't until the end of a blood feud against Samoa Joe inside a steel cage where the Demon King finally fell for the first time -- and it had to be to fulfill as significant a goal as establishing the new overlord of the NXT brand.
For Bálor to become a big star as a face, the Demon King needs to be handled correctly. Sure, the facepaint and entrance is a sight to behold, and it seems almost certain that kids will flock to the merchandise stands at SummerSlam to buy Bálor merchandise. But if the demonic character loses every main-event match he's in, like Wyatt has done over the years, you'll be left with a shiny exterior with no substance inside. Finn Bálor can lose close matches and come up short, but the Demon King -- the integral part of who Bálor is -- needs to be seen as a monster that can only be dethroned after a hellacious war of lost battles.
Bálor is a passable talker on the mic, but he's no Wyatt or even a wisecracking Enzo Amore. For him to succeed as the top face of Raw, he needs to be placed in situations where he can tell a story the best -- inside the squared circle, in a wrestling match.
If the WWE can build up the Demon King character, there is little doubt he can become an integral part of the company. Kids and teenagers are the main demographic they've been trying to appeal to for the last decade, or more, and the artistic, twisted side of Bálor is visually stunning. He doesn't need to stand in the middle of the ring for 20 minutes, insulting his foes with forced catchphrases. All Bálor needs to do is be suave and confident as Finn, and when the Demon King awakes, he's able to become a force that is seemingly indestructible.
Cena is beloved by the younger audience of the WWE. He has become one of the most visible and well-known athletes in the world, with his appearances all over every kind of media imaginable, in both a wrestling and nonwrestling role.
Not every fan favorite needs to be John Cena.
As we've seen with Dean Ambrose's well-executed run so far on SmackDown Live, you can be a different kind of character and still be seen as the top guy. For Cena, his all-American hero works. For Ambrose, his unpredictable, street tough personality fits. In Bálor's case, the switch between the heroic in-ring technician and the demonic sovereign can become something amazing (and lucrative), if directed correctly.
On Sunday night in Brooklyn, the lights will dim inside the Barclays Center and a thick white fog will overtake the entrance ramp. As Bálor's music hits a crescendo, the Demon King will emerge from the smoke, his hands and body lifted to the sky as a bright, heavenly light illuminates him and his mirrored followers match his movements from the audience.
The fans won't notice that he's a cruiserweight, nor that he is an Irishman who doesn't fit "the mold" of the prototypical WWE superhero.
What they'll see in front of them is one of the greatest performers of his craft on the planet -- and if it's done correctly, it could be the birth of a new superstar unlike any other in the WWE.