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31 Days of Wrestling (12/2/16): Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship, SummerSlam 2016

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again when we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling this calendar year produced for us.

Today, we'll be focusing on a pivotal moment in the WWE landscape, which took place at this year's SummerSlam.


When Finn Bálor was finally called up to the main roster as RAW's 3rd pick in the WWE Draft, there were questions about what role he'd play on Team Red. Was he going to anchor the incoming Cruiserweight division? Was he going to reform the OG Bullet Club or better, feud with Gallows & Anderson? Or was he going to fizzle out and be forgotten the same way Neville became the Man that Creative Forgot?

All those doubts were put to rest when Bálor was inserted into the main event picture right away after winning two matches in his debut night on RAW en route to facing Seth Rollins for the inaugural Universal Championship at SummerSlam. In many ways, it was the most fitting path for someone like Bálor, on whose shoulders NXT was built over the last two years. Bálor's rapid ascent through the main roster was validation for both NXT's legitimacy as WWE's third brand and the WWE taking a chance and finally recognizing these stars and their worlds outside of the E's corporate banner.


While most fans still remember the underwhelming reveal of the actual Universal Championship belt and the jeers that Brooklyn showered upon it—whether or not it was deserved is totally your call to make—Bálor vs. Rollins was as epic a match as we could have gotten. Both stars were on the top of their game and had the added pressure of keeping the focus on the match, instead of the belt. Neither guy deserved to be crapped on that night, and for good reason. For all intents and purposes, that was Finn Bálor's coming out party, and Seth Rollins did a hell of a job legitimizing Finn on the main roster.

We all know how this story ended, though. Bálor unfortunately injured his shoulder after a Rollins Buckle Bomb, forcing him to relinquish the title as he is forced to be sidelined all the way until WrestleMania season. But given the way the WWE Universe had come to accept Finn and all that he is, if everybody plays their cards right, Finn Bálor could very well come back an even bigger star than when he got hurt. 

For what it's worth, Finn's short stay on RAW so far has proven that the WWE Universe is ready for the Demon King and his reign that has yet to come. Set your #FinnWatch. We're almost halfway there.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2016.

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