Samoa Joe and Finn Balor are two of the more recognisable names on the WWE roster. Both boasting successful pre-WWE careers, they arrived at the WWE Performance Centre to much excitement. Finn, formerly known as Prince Devitt, arrived being regarded as one of the best in-ring performers in the world. Joe, perhaps even more recognisable – certainly in North America – didn’t need any introduction and was considered a master technician with almost two decades of in-ring experience. Initially, the two stars succeeded in translating their prior popularity into immediate success, both becoming NXT Champion – with Finn Balor setting the record (that still stands) as the longest reigning NXT Champion and Samoa Joe becoming the first ever two-time NXT Champion. Balor is a superstar who is an outstanding babyface. Much like Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles, he is a naturally likeable, smaller talent with an arsenal of incredibly athletic manoeuvres and the added experience of being able to work as a heel when needed. Samoa Joe boasts an impeccable technical arsenal and the ability to work as either face or heel, backed by a masterful grasp of the microphone matched by few. How, then, could WWE management possibly halt the momentum of two superstars so easy to book?
Fresh off of his epic encounter with Samoa Joe at NXT TakeOver: The End, Finn Balor debuted on Monday Night RAW as the fifth draft-pick of what was to be branded as the “New Era” of Raw and Smackdown Live. Samoa Joe remained in NXT as the newly crowned NXT Champion whilst Finn Balor quickly rose to the top of the RAW roster, beating the likes of Kevin Owens, Rusev, Cesaro and Roman Reigns in just his first night on the flagship show, earning himself a match for the freshly announced Universal Championship against Seth Rollins at SummerSlam. If you do remember 2016, you will recall that Finn Balor – in Demon mode – scored a clean win over Rollins and was crowned the inaugural Universal Champion. It certainly felt like a new era.
For Finn, a noticeably smaller performer and a perceived “internet darling” because of his incredibly successful career in Japan, winning the championship on his first attempt – beating company favourite Roman Reigns in the process – was an unprecedented, widely commended attempt by WWE management to freshen up a product which had long since become stale. However, an injury suffered during the bout meant that Balor would vacate the title the following night on RAW and be on the shelf until the following March, when he would return to assist Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn against Kevin Owens, Triple H and the man who ended his tenure as the longest reigning NXT Champion, Samoa Joe. With the Goldberg/Brock Lesnar feud taking place during this time, it became clear that Balor was not going to receive his deserved rematch for the title he never lost. In fact, he wouldn’t get an opportunity to reclaim his title until a Fatal Five-Way Extreme Rules Match in June of 2017, in which Samoa Joe would submit Balor with the Coquina Clutch. The Irish superstar would fail to enter the title picture again.
Enter Samoa Joe. Following his victory over Finn Balor at Extreme Rules, Samoa Joe would go on to have a memorable feud with Brock Lesnar, culminating in a relatively decent match at the inaugural Great Balls of Fire event. Joe would lose, however, and get a second shot at the Championship in a fatal four-way at SummerSlam, where Lesnar would pin Roman Reigns and knock Joe out of contention. Joe would suffer an injury shortly after his losing effort and remain out-of-action until the end of October 2017. After a couple of failed attempts at winning the Intercontinental Championship and a second injury, causing him to miss Wrestlemania 34, Joe would eventually move to Smackdown Live, home of former TNA Impact nemesis, AJ Styles, who resided on the roster as the reigning WWE Champion. Joe would fail to win the WWE Championship on no fewer than four occasions, making it clear that WWE management saw more potential in a Styles title reign than a Samoa Joe reign. Despite the four losses, Joe remained a popular (at least with the audience) member of the Smackdown Live roster and earned a place on Team Smackdown for the annual cross-brand tag team match at Survivor Series. Joe would be the first man eliminated from the match, suffering a Claymore Kick from Drew McIntyre within the opening seconds of the bout. During the same match, Finn would be the first man eliminated from Team RAW after being pinned by Rey Mysterio. Balor would be eliminated once more the following night on RAW after teaming with Elias and Strowman against what appears to be a new stable in Drew McIntyre, Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley. Like Joe the night before, Balor was also dealt a loss by a Claymore Kick.
With Joe being squashed in the opening of the Survivor Series tag team match and being at the back of the queue for a shot at the WWE Championship, and Finn having lost twice in two nights and being behind Strowman, McIntyre and others in the Universal Championship pecking order, where do they go from here? They are two extremely talented superstars with backing from the crowds. Finn is fortunate in that he has remained a RAW superstar since arriving to the main roster and can be rejuvenated by a jump to Smackdown Live during the next Superstar Shakeup. Joe, however, has failed in his pursuits for the Universal and WWE Championships on both RAW and Smackdown and is in serious danger of becoming an afterthought.
Regardless of poor booking, what continues to be true is that Samoa Joe and Finn Balor are two top WWE superstars capable of greatness. It remains to be seen whether they will be given an opportunity to prove it.