AllWrestling Weekly Power Poll 1/18: Finn-omenal Rise of Balor

WWE added some stunning surprises in what was a very eventful week on the build toward the Royal Rumble on January 27th at Chase Field in Phoenix.
Critically speaking, I thought RAW put together a stronger show than SmackDown for the first time in over a month or two. From start to finish, the Red brand had very few speed bumps while mixing in several twists that had a major impact on the Royal Rumble card and potentially down the line to WrestleMania. The most shocking moment came right off the bat when WWE wrote Braun Strowman out of his Universal Championship title shot against Brock Lesnar because the Monster Among Men evidently is not healthy enough to compete. This fed into the ultimate underdog storyline as Finn Balor emerged victorious in not one but two matches, including a main event Fatal 4-Way, to get his first shot at the Universal gold since he vacated it as its first holder two years ago due to injury. 
With that being said, SmackDown still put on a solid show, highlighted by Becky Lynch starting things off with more strong booking in an extended opening sequence with Women’s Champion Asuka and a match of the year contender turned in by Rey Mysterio and the newly minted “Andrade.” The main event also set The Miz and Shane McMahon up to look like serious contenders for the tag belts against Sheamus and Cesaro. 
Though there were lots of memorable performances, here’s a look at who was the best of the best in the WWE this week:
They Didn’t (Quite) Make the List

Rey Mysterio – By the way he and Andrade have flown around the ring the past few weeks, it’s hard to believe the lucha libre G.O.A.T. is 44 years old. The incredible diving headscissors takedown off the apron to the floor by Mysterio led an impressive move arsenal that included a Canadian Destroyer, a crucifix bomb and the 6-1-9 as he turned back the clock with a timeless performance. These two have brought out more in each other the past two weeks than what WWE showcased from them for most of 2018. 

Otis Dozovic – For a guy who didn’t wrestle a single match and combined for 5 minutes or less of screen time on two shows, he sure made quite an impression. The irreverent half of Heavy Machinery first wandered out on RAW to interrupt “A Moment Bliss” with Alexa and Paul Heyman so that he could drool over The Goddess before making a gross protein shake with tuna and raw eggs in the shell backstage on SmackDown that The Man deemed “a little weak.” It was a fun way to introduce casual fans who weren’t already familiar with Dozovic and Tucker Knight to the NXT callups in what was arguably two of the more memorable segments of the week. 

Mandy Rose – Though the segment in which God’s Greatest Creation lured Jimmy Uso to her hotel room in order to wreck Naomi’s personal life and marriage did not work on most levels, the one thing it did do was sell how low down and dastardly Rose is willing to take her character to hurt the Glow Queen. Recently, Vince McMahon was rumored to be high on Rose and the way she’s affected show storylines the past few weeks it’s likely a safe bet she’s in line for a big heel push soon. 

Drew McIntyre – Sure, the Scottish Terminator lost the Fatal 4-Way match to rival Balor, but he didn’t take the loss himself and was booked to look like the top baddie on the show. In the lead up to the main event being announced, McIntyre confronted John Cena and Vince McMahon on Big Match John’s use of “ruthless aggression” with McIntyre claiming he’s the only one with the right to use that phrase. McIntyre also laid waste to Cena and Balor with Claymore Kicks to end that segment. 
Top 10 List (Reverse Order)

10. WWE Champion “The New” Daniel Bryan – He had minimal screen time this week, ambushing AJ Styles on the concourse before being planted through a concession table full of hot dogs. However, he made due with only a brief cameo by continuing to effectively sell the animosity simmering in this rivalry since Bryan went the low-blow route on SmackDown from St. Louis days before Survivor Series in November to take the belt from the Phenomenal One. Those of you who frequent Twitter also may have noticed he fired off a few tweets perfectly crafted in tone and message with the Social Reformer/Radical Activist heel character he’s made by criticizing Styles and the WWE for encouraging people to eat hot dogs. The only other WWE Superstar more attuned to their persona right now is Becky Lynch. 
9. AJ Styles – Though he didn’t quite capture the magic Bryan did in his promo last week among the fans on the concourse, the Phenomenal One continued to exhibit the aggression and tenacity demanded in his recalibration called for by Vince. It’s a testament to both Styles and Bryan that they’ve both sparingly been in the ring since TLC but this feud still boasts one of the stronger builds of any on the Royal Rumble card. They’ve sold their contentious relationship effectively and efficiently in the little time provided to them each week.

8. The Miz & Shane McMahon – I’ve yet to meet anyone or read any indication online that the WWE Universe or critics want this storyline, but Shane’s birthday main evented and set up the co-besties as legitimate threats to the SmackDown Tag Team titles at the Royal Rumble. Predictably, Sheamus and Cesaro came out to interrupt the celebration. However, they got nothing but faces full of cake for their efforts. After wrestling Sheamus to pretty much a draw most of their singles match, The Miz goaded Shane into completing their revenge of the ambush on the A-Lister the previous week by having Shane O-Mac go Coast to Coast to plant cake all over the Celtic Warrior. With the amount of screen time this feud gets, we should be prepared to see Miz & Shane either win the tag belts or come apart at the seams and feud with each other at WrestleMania. 

7. Nikki Cross – The first of the NXT callups to see ring time, Cross resonated as a dominant force in leading her team of Bayley and Natalya to victory in a six-woman tag match against The Riott Squad. Nikki bullied Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan all over the inside and outside of the ring. Bayley and Natalya provided only brief aid as Cross worked most of the match for her team. Combined with her impressive main roster debut on SmackDown against Becky Lynch at the tail end of 2018, this performance shows Nikki has what it takes to make an impact on the big shows. 

6. Sasha Banks – The Boss continued to shine in the role she should have had for most of the past year – RAW Women’s Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey’s most formidable challenger. Even though the two teamed up in a victory over Nia Jax and Tamina, Banks carried most of the ring work for the team before getting Tamina to tap in the Bank Statement. After the match, Banks took exception to Rousey assuming she’d win their match at the Royal Rumble and effectively sold more friction between the two heading into what should be Rousey’s biggest challenge to date. 

5. SmackDown Women’s Champ Asuka – If the champ felt intimidated by Lynch strutting around backstage, chucking car keys at Kayla Braxton and downing a protein shake with Heavy Machinery and New Day, she didn’t let on. Though the language barrier and odd mannerisms hamper her promos somewhat, Asuka came off channeling the unbeatable force that amassed the 2-year long win streak she enjoyed in NXT and the start of her main roster career. She abused Billie Kay in the ring, quickly throttling her into submission with an Asuka Lock to show The Man that she could be just as impressive or more so than her after Lynch defeated Peyton Royce. 

4. Becky Lynch – Though she’s not the champ, Lynch got the main man billing in the opening segment in a clear sign that WWE recognizes and embraces the tremendous fan support she has. I can’t recall a female Superstar ever getting the backstage driveup/extended opening segment treatment Lynch got. While some critics such as Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez panned the interview with Braxton and protein shake bit as pandering, I think it’s hard to argue with the way the crowd in Birmingham roared for Lynch for most of the first 20 minutes of the show. The match with Royce lasted too long because she hasn’t been booked strong enough for Lynch to take 8 minutes to put her away, but all in all it was another dominant booking and victory for The Man as she steamrolls her way into 2019.

3. Andrade – Though he lost 2/3 of his name, he gained a career-defining victory over Mysterio as it becomes more and more obvious WWE is finally booking the former NXT champ to have a bright future on the main roster. Showcasing tremendous strength and athleticism, Andrade and Rey stole the show as El Idolo put away Mysterio with a Hammerlock DDT for the second week in a row. However, this time the finisher had the added degree of difficulty of coming off the top rope. Though chopping “Cien” Almas off his name seems like a misstep to me, that was the only thing that didn’t go El Idolo’s way this week as he figures as perhaps a dark horse candidate in the Royal Rumble field. 

2. Intercontinental Champion Bobby Lashley – Apologies for stealing an iconic Bill Murray movie title, but I’m not sure What About Bob the WWE liked enough to put a belt around his waist. However, we’re about to find out after he got a big assist from hype man Lio Rush in defeating Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in a triple threat to claim the title on RAW. Lashley and Rush have clicked together over the past month and that chemistry may be what gave Vince the confidence in The Almighty he needed for easily his biggest win since his return to the company. On the other hand, this could also be seen as an acknowledgement that Ambrose was flopping as heel champ. Lashley and Rollins have had more chemistry in the past two weeks in tearing the house down in the ring and brawls backstage than any fire show in matches between Rollins and Ambrose. Finally, this sure looks like a sign that The Architect is on to chasing the Universal Championship as the overwhelming favorite to win the Royal Rumble right now. 

1. Finn Balor – Rumors circulated that WWE would be giving Balor a big push, but I doubt anyone could have guessed it would come this quickly. After the bombshell news that Strowman would not face Lesnar, WWE began slowly crafting the underdog rise of Finn throughout Monday’s show. Initially, Vince, in a nod to alleged real life doubts about Balor, questioned whether Finn could keep up with the “amount of beef” in the ring from the other challengers – McIntyre, Baron Corbin and John Cena. Then, the disrespect continued as Balor had to first wrestle in a challenge match against Jinder Mahal, who has been nothing but a laughingstock, comedy act since his return to RAW. However, the first ever Universal Champion proved his mettle in the main event Fatal 4-Way by hitting a Coup De Grace on Cena to get his strongest booking since injury forced him to give up the red belt 2 years ago the night after he beat Rollins for it. Cena then continued selling him afterward, saying he joined the fans in believing in Finn. Considering the other sell job went to Lynch on SmackDown, it likely means Balor may actually get a prolonged push in 2019. 
 

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