Last night was so much fun. It's so easy to fall into a routine of nitpicking and trying to find cracks in a foundation. In media of any type, we do it all the time. It can be good for business, especially if we avoid the comment sections and just do the work and move on with our lives. Robust disagreement is a great thing, especially when it's civil, but admittedly, I don't want to live a life where my goal is to find the negatives in anything and everything.
RAW may not have been exactly perfect, but I was happy to give it an A+ rating and enjoy the ride. It felt fresh, from the announce work to the camera angles to the match length. We know there can't be title changes every week or four matches with heavy stakes, but it was an objectively strong television product.
Anyone who feared how Finn Balor might be used on the main roster need not worry. It's unbelievably clear they see him as a potential superstar. There's no other way to explain the shrewd nature of his call-up, his debut, and his first night in WWE. It could not have been done better, and those who were involved with it from the planning phase to the talent he worked with in the ring should all take a bow.
Let's break it down.
The NXT standout was taken as the first selection from that group, and the fifth overall draft pick. He was picked before both the Intercontinental and United States Champions, as well as former World Champions and consistent main eventers like Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. Anyone unfamiliar with his work before that night then knew he could be special, because there's no other explanation. They might have wondered whether he was really that good, but they noticed. It was one of the few things from the draft process that stuck with me a week later.
On the RAW pre-show on Monday night, the same Demon Balor video that played on the USA Network ran on the WWE Network. Before the main show took air at 8 PM ET, WWE tweeted that video out, saying RAW had its "own demon." It was a flurry of smaller details like this one that emphasized to the world that the acquisition of this superstar was different.
As RAW started and Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley announced the WWE Universal Championship and the two Fatal 4-Way matches that would lead to the night's main event, and ultimately to a date with Seth Rollins at SummerSlam, it was time to list the names. Most of the expected individuals were mentioned, and finally, where it made the most impact possible, "Finn Balor." Seth looked both surprised and a bit frightened as Finn stepped forward to be viewed by the worldwide audience for the first time. Seriously, go back and watch his face when Balor stands in front of him. Actually, just look at this:
Finn's debut match was the opening bout of the night, and he was put with three excellent workers, each with a different style. Of all these men, his spots were generally the featured bullet points. All four had moments, but Finn was the star. It was his flip dive to the floor that led to a commercial break. It was his running apron kick that led to one of the bigger "ooohhs" of the entire show, and it was a pair of sprinting corner dropkicks where the cameras were in the right position to make sure each looked devastating.
When it was time for Balor to shine, he was the centerpiece in the ring. He had room for the Sling Blade, and he had time with each of the other three participants where he could do intricate business with them. And Cole and Graves were all over his signature spots. Corey called it an upset, which made it a bigger victory. It wasn't a slight. It was more impressive, because it was someone stepping up to the plate and taking out a trio of veterans.
RAW started with Finn's match, and because of his win, it promised to the audience that this exciting newcomer would also be in the evening's main event. That's smart for two reasons, because it doubles down on Finn's value to the night, but also may have enticed viewers to stick around, because we're very much in the Balor honeymoon period.
Later in the show, the aforementioned Demon Balor video played, but not before a strong on-camera intro from the announce team. When it was time for the main event, WWE didn't just send Balor back out for the match. They gave him one extra segment, walking up to Roman Reigns and cockily informing him of the inherent luck of the Irish. It was face time with one of the biggest names in the industry, mere moments before meeting him in the ring.
The Reigns/Balor match was another good bout on a night filled with them. Again, we saw an unafraid Finn take it to the three-time former World Heavyweight Champion. Reigns sold for him, and Finn repaid the favor. All of the high spots looked good again, and Michael Cole seemed to raise the volume of his rapidly depleting voice a little bit more when Balor hit something important. Corey Graves' knowledge of Finn and his natural ability to help tell the analytical story while not taking away from the action only aided the proceedings.
Then, the finish. The corner dropkick again, and the Coup de Grace. Surely, Roman Reigns is going to kick out of th...
What? Oh my God.
A clean three count off the first finisher, just as he pinned Rusev in the opener. Keep in mind, the Bulgarian Brute hasn't been doing a whole lot of losing as of late either. This wasn't a debut. It was a freaking arrival. The commentators put him over huge, and then, after all WWE has done for this man over the past week, they weren't done. Tom Phillips wanted comments from Reigns at ringside after the defeat. Roman looks to Finn, celebrating in the ring, and he's frustrated. He tells us he hopes Balor goes on to defeat Seth Rollins at SummerSlam and becomes the Champion, because he wants another shot at him.
Finally, he says he has respect for Finn Balor as a competitor and a talent. And, he walks away, letting the victor have all of the camera before the show faded to black.
I can't recall a debut where more care was taken to make someone on his first night. Kevin Owens left John Cena laying, but he didn't beat five guys and get a trip to a SummerSlam main event. It's impossible for anyone to have watched that show and not realized Finn Balor has a future, to not see he's being given at least a substantial portion of the "New Era" ball. It felt far bigger than AJ Styles winning the post-Wrestlemania main event. This guy had 16 rocket ships firmly attached to his back.
When WWE takes criticism for not making new stars, it's often warranted, but on July 25, 2016, they have to be given credit for doing everything within their power to get this guy over as a major player. Considering how good he's going to look as he and Seth tear the house down in Brooklyn, he's about to have one hell of a month.
For Finn Balor (and especially for his Twitter followers), it was a long wait. But, it appears to be worth it. Without paint, he was given a shove, but not by a human being. He was pushed by a ten ton truck.
The man pinned Roman Reigns clean on his very first night. I don't give a damn about a wellness failure. This was his FIRST NIGHT. And, that was Roman Reigns.
From start to finish, it could not have been handled better.