When I think about Finn Balor/Prince Fergal Devitt, I think of Ryback.
And not just because it’s entirely possible that the same guy who does The Big Guy’s singlet airbrushing likely does The Demon’s body paint.
With his personality (or more specifically, his refreshingly personal/personable promos and relatable backstory) but four inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter, the kind of fans that hate Ryback would likely be the same people singing his praises and complimenting him on his improvement in nearly every aspect of his craft.
He is treated instead as the big dumb (though ultimately nice and surprisingly/relatively smart) football player that “somehow” made it into their AP Chem class. Too likable to be ridiculed openly, but also too reminiscent of the people that they feel “deserve” to be treated poorly  to be given the mild appreciation he probably deserves.
On the flip side of this dynamic is Devitt, a comically handsome (and it must be said, preternaturally gifted) performer who has captured the hearts of a certain segment of the audience. This in spite of being, like Pope John Paul II before him, the “real enemy”: marketably good looking, with a charming accent and flashy moves, all with minimal American indy stink on him make him the platonic ideal of the future WWE superstar.
But, because he’s 5’10” soaking wet and didn’t spend his entire career under the WWE umbrella, he’s seen by some to be a kind of, if not savior, mildly messianic figure. This, of course, is not to place a value judgement on either performer or the fans that appreciate them, but underlie the fundamental face that Finn represents: size plays perhaps the largest role in a given career; not just in terms of how one is presented by the company but in fans’ interpretation of a character.
There are, ultimately, worse things – like having GOLLLDDDBEERGGGG chanted at you (which seems to be decreasing for Ryback, thankfully) – but in an increasingly accepting world of professional wrestling, the idea that we’d still be judging performers on their size in either direction feels wrong. If Finn and Ryback are both ready-made main eventers, why one is treated like a conquering hero and the other like the court jester can say a lot of scary stuff about the way fans view themselves and the people they want to admire.
What should be more frightening – or great, depending on how you look at it/feel about American independent wrestling — is that he also provides a blueprint for the company going forward in terms of talent acquisition. Having essentially already raided the cupboard, the WWE will begin looking towards overseas markets even moreso than they already have as they attempt to make themselves into a genuinely global brand, and not simply the most popular brand in a global “sport”.
And unlike, say ROH, Finn’s old stomping grounds of New Japan Pro Wrestling represent not a Pacific Coast League level challenge to WWE’s MLB-esque American dominance but a Nippon League Baseball alternative for those incapable or unwilling to attempt to view an equivalent version at ungodly hours of the day.
Waking up at 4 in the morning to watch Shinsuke Nakamura fight Kota Ibushi doesn’t mean you won’t also then watch a WWE Network Special or go to a Live Event at some point in that weekend. You’re just a junkie with a habit at that point, not a self-proclaimed sommelier of sport entertainment using your “discerning” palate to decide which promotion most deserves your money.
So, in a way that Daniel Bryan and CM Punk only got as a result of DVD sets and fleeting mentions, Finn Fergal Devitt Balor gets to have a past that doesn’t cut into the WWE’s bottom line. His history – separate from its connection to someone else, like Owens-Zayn – works the same way Ichiro did: less like AAA stats than a testament to the long road he’s travelled to get here.
But that long road, along with being a massive part of his legacy, may ultimately be his undoing.
At 34, even a liberal estimate of his potential longevity puts his prime right now. And while NXT champion is quite an accomplishment that can seemingly lead to much greater success in the future, he better get it done quickly.
However, if anyone is able to have success at this (relatively advanced) age, it’s a talent like Finn Fergal Devitt Balor. Transcendent, dedicated, and the total package looks/talent-wise, worst case he’s a trailblazer.
In the best case, a star. In either scenario, at least he’ll be leading the way.