By The Andrew Bello / @WWPNBello
This is not an “Oh my god! I just love Finn Balor so much” piece. It’s worth noting that Finn Balor is not this author’s favorite wrestler. He isn’t even in my current Top 20, which isn’t to say that he couldn’t be once he’s been cemented as a main event mainstay. This is my attempt at an objective view of the characteristics necessary to be a top star and seeing them in this particular performer…and then some. The premise came from a reaction I had on WWPN’s Redzone in regards to The Demon King. I think in terms of current day wrestling, Finn Balor could, in fact, be the perfect babyface.
The heel/face dynamic is a fuzzy issue in today’s wrestling landscape. Some (myself included) feel that we are drifting further away from the conventional paradigm of “good guy vs bad guy”, but at the end of the day, the art form of professional wrestling itself cannot survive without some form of it. We will always need stars, but more importantly we always need heroes. With those heroes, inherently, there must be villains. This is why WWE always has, and always will, attempt to create stars in hopes that they become heroes. I believe they have one of those men on their roster currently. I’m not going to say that they don’t already know this, but Finn Balor is the perfect babyface. Barring further injuries, Finn Balor already is that hero that WWE is perpetually attempting to manufacture. They just need to present him as such, and they have to a degree, but this man can transcend professional wrestling, which could be part of the problem for WWE. There is a running theory that WWE worries about stars getting too big for their universe and leaving, a la The Rock. All said, whatever the infamous “It” is…this strapping, young, Irish lad has it.
When trying to find the perfect babyface, you must understand what makes a great babyface. Wrestling, or any form of storytelling, doesn’t always need to be Dudley Do Right vs Snidely Whiplash. Sometimes the differences between the two are more subtle like The Undertaker vs Mankind, or even more closely intertwined as was the case with Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho circa 2008. At the end of the day, professional wrestling is a business. They need to sell tickets, t-shirts and ad space. Fans don’t buy tickets to go see talent they don’t want to see or buy merchandise for performers they are not a fan of. Whether the centerpiece of your company is Bruno Sammartino or Stone Cold Steve Austin, it’s someone people want to cheer for. Even when “Hollywood” Hogan and the nWo were running roughshod on Monday Nitro, people cheered. The problem? You can’t make an “nWo” or a Stone Cold Steve Austin. These legendary acts are not made; they’re born. Not to get too existential, but it’s fate. The legends of yesteryear were the result of an unforeseeable concoction of look, personality, social climate, storytelling and charisma. Very little of it has anything to do with wrestling ability. As a business, you cannot sit back and await another perfect storm. The show must go on, and you need some form of bright, shiny babyface to put at the center of it.
Think of the great babyfaces in the history of WWE. The names Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena should come to mind. Another I’ll throw into that category, despite his short run, would be Daniel Bryan, as his rise was possibly the most heroic of them all. Bruno was a symbol for a growing immigrant population in New York during the early days of the then WWWF. He was a hero for all those chasing the American Dream (not Dusty Rhodes). Hulk Hogan was a real life Superman (at the time). He dawned bright colors, and he displayed superhuman strength and determination. Most importantly, he told his young audience that they, too, could be like him if they just said their prayers and ate their vitamins. In direct contrast, the next truly legendary top face to come along was a beer-swigging, middle-finger-waving, foul-mouthed redneck named Stone Cold Steve Austin. He wasn’t a nice guy, but he was lovable in that he stood up in the name of all of blue collar America that hated the daily grind of lower and middle class life, but most specifically, their bosses. The Rock aside, the next true “face that runs the place” started as a rapper and transformed into essentially another Hulk Hogan. That gentleman’s name is John Cena. Recognize. I throw Daniel Bryan into the equation for the simple fact that he was so beloved by fans that they actually altered the narrative through their undying love for a goat-faced vegan that refused to be held down. Thanks to the fans, he was not. What do all of these men have in common, if anything? Well, the one thing all babyface need first and foremost: likability. People loved Austin’s brash manner and Cena’s “Never Give Up” attitude. Daniel Bryan was showered with “Yes!” chants because unlike the faces of the past, he was like them. You would never look at this bearded, plaid-clad goober and think “This guy must be a world class professional wrestler,” yet he was. When he overcame the odds at WrestleMania 30, we all cheered because Daniel Bryan wasn’t the only person who won on that fateful night; we all did. Everyone that has ever been told they are too small, too young or not talented enough won that day. It was a win for the little guy, literally and figuratively.
This all brings me back to Finn Balor. He has many of these same characteristics, yet he also puts his own spin on it. He has the determination of a John Cena, he has a humanly unachievable look like Bruno and yet he’s still a total badass like the Texas Rattlesnake was. As Balor walks to the ring, Corey Graves perfectly describes Balor’s appeal in a way that makes me unreasonably happy each time I hear it: “James Dean cool; John Wayne tough.” If that sentence alone doesn’t describe the perfect hero, I don’t know what does. These words could have just as easily described Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool before that nasty little incident that left him looking like “an avocado had sex with an older more disgusting avocado.” Even after that, he put on a cool-looking red suit and our love for the character only increased. In Finn’s case, he goes from looking like a Calvin Klein model to looking like a piece of demonic walking art that happens to be painted onto a Calvin Klein model. Balor carries himself like he is tough as nails, but we all know about his love for Legos and other nerdy forms of entertainment. This just makes him all the more endearing to both male and female fans of all ages which is precisely what one needs to do to become “the guy”.
Speaking of “The Guy”, Roman Reigns is, obviously, the one that is being primed for that top babyface spot. Whether some of us like it or not, Roman is over with the crowd. The kids and women love him while the grown men loathe him (generally speaking), but they all react to him. However, men are the most vocal and loudest fans. Even if 50, 60, or 70 percent of a given crowd is behind Roman, the television audience hears a chorus of boos. Unless the WWE and Roman can win over that vocal minority, he will never get the reactions that make for great moments in wrestling. The kinds of moments that top guys have. The type of moment you picture when you close your eyes and think back to hearing “Real American” and feeling the power of Hulkamania. Maybe, you think of the glass shattering of Austin 3:16 coming to whoop some ass. Regardless, Finn Balor’s entrances already seem iconic, and he’s done about 6 or 7 of them, at most, on WWE TV. Finn Balor is adored by that same minority that mercilessly boos Roman. He’s the trifecta. Women want him, men want to be him and kids want to grow up to be just like him. In 2017, it’s virtually impossible to be universally loved, but he’s as close as they have had in a while.
Even Balor’s “shortcomings” are positives. He doesn’t cut lengthy opening-of-Raw-style promos very well, but they made up for that in NXT with these incredible vignettes featuring his demon persona fading in and out of view as Balor explains his intentions heading into his next match. This creates a unique element to the Balor character, whether it be the leather-jacket-clad “Fonz” Balor or the Demon King. We can see that Finn Balor stands at a not-so-whopping 5’10” at best, but he carries himself with the same level of confidence that a much larger man would. Our eyes tell us that he’s overmatched, but our hearts tell us that simply cannot be. He is able to have a similar appeal to Daniel Bryan in that respect, but as I said one night on WWPN’s RedZone, this only furthers his aura, as visually he looks like an underdog, but at no point would you assume that’s how Balor sees it. He strides to the ring as only he can and whether he’s facing Roman Reigns or Samoa Joe, we know he’s going to bring the fight and his opponent is going to have to damn-near kill him to keep him down. His move set, or at least the one we’ve seen, is relatively limited. Other wrestlers his size are often doing all sorts of high-flying, flipping maneuvers. Balor’s Slingblade, Coup de Gras and 1916 are not the most impressive athletic feats to the casual eye, but he delivers them with such impact and gusto that they become more impressive and awe-inspiring than many more flashy moves.
At the end of the day, like I said, WWE is a business. They’ll run it how they want to run it. They may even see what I see, and could be grooming Balor for the very run I’ve advocated for in this article. I just don’t see how, outside of injury, how he isn’t going to be a hit. In the same vein as all of the great babyface that preceded him, he is loved by men, women and children. He’s got a great gimmick that can sell a ton of merchandise. He’s a nice guy who refuses to finish last. Again, I can’t say it any better than Corey Graves does: “James Dean cool; John Wayne tough.” I can’t think of a better formula for the face of the company, especially in this day and age.
The Andrew Bello is co-host of The RedZone as well as host of The NeXT level Wrestling podcast.