Pro Wrestling Rankings Jan-18: Balor to return to the top for the first time in years
Professional wrestling, like life, can change on a dime and this week, there is no greater example of that than Finn Balor. While WWE had quietly focused more on the former Universal Champion in recent months, he had not been in the mix creatively in a long time.
That all changed this past Monday when WWE storylines dictated the removal of Braun Strowman from his match against Brock Lesnar at the 2019 Royal Rumble in Phoenix. Over the course of three-hour broadcast, Balor went from being on the fringes to right back in the thick of it with victories over Jinder Mahal and then John Cena. With Cena endorsing the Irish star, Balor is poised to return to the top of the promotion for the first time in years.
There are lots of questions to be answered, but this week, two things are known: Balor vs. Lesnar should be a hell of a match and Balor rockets to the top of the FITE rankings. The weeks ahead will tell the tell as to whether this is an aberration or a new trend, but this week, the Demon reigns supreme.
Since migrating back to World Wrestling Entertainment from Impact Wrestling, the Bobby Lashley experiment has been met with mixed results as the killer instinct that had been the defining characteristic of Lashley's Impact Championship run had all but disappeared.
The addition of Lio Rush as his mouthpiece was a massive step back in the right direction and this week, Lashley had one of his best performances to date since returning to WWE, capturing the Intercontinental Championship in the process.
With a victory over both Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in a Triple Threat match, Lashley is now entrenched as one of the top stars of WWE's Raw brand – a great position to be in as the road to WrestleMania begins.
The Man continues to be the straw that stirs the drink for the WWE Women's division and this week, headlined a series of live events before defeating Peyton Royce in an entertaining bout on Smackdown Live.
Lynch's swagger and work ethic has continued to enrapture global audience. She has single-handedly captured the imagination of everyone watching as she heads towards her Smackdown Women's Championship challenge of Asuka at the Royal Rumble. With Ronda Rousey on the horizon, Lynch stands tall above everyone across the field of competition. The race is to escape the strong shadow Lynch brings with her, but that is a shadow forged in years of blood, sweat and tears, one that will be near insurmountable to overcome. She's the Man for a reason.
With the formation of All Elite Wrestling and 2019's churn of talents moving from one promotion to another over the last several weeks, there have been some major talent signings.
One of the biggest came with a shock as Rush, one of the top stars in all of Mexico signed an exclusive deal with Ring of Honor. The heart and soul of Los Ingobernables in Mexico, the signing sadly means the premature end of Rush's run in Major League Wrestling, but it also opens him up to have a much larger role in Ring of Honor.
This signing changes the entire paradigm of Ring of Honor and places a globally renowned talent within reach of major feuds, top championships and dream matches for ROH fans. This move cannot be overstated in its importance.
JOHN CENA & THE YOUNG BUCKS
Since returning to World Wrestling Entertainment between film projects, John Cena has settled into the role of elder statesmen for the promotion.
This week, he was the one endorsing Finn Balor after being defeated by him on Monday Night Raw. Over the weekend, he was exciting fans at live events against Baron Corbin.
Cena has morphed from controversial to welcomed, becoming something of the gatekeeper providing his approval for the next series of stars. While he'll be competing in the Royal Rumble, Cena's role is a top supporting one and it's a role he's settling into with gusto and class.
FENIX & PENTAGON JR.
The Lucha Brothers have been tearing it up in rings across the United States and Mexico for years and became legitimate stars after being popularized on The El Rey Network's Lucha Underground.
The duo has left an array of awe-inspiring matches and memories in their wake and as 2019 kicks off, they have become one of the most in-demand duos globally. Already reigning as the MLW Tag Team Champions, Fenix and Pentagon added yet more gold to their trophy cases this week with a massive win over LAX in Mexico City for the Impact Tag Team Championship.
With a performance so grand that fans were throwing money in the ring out of respect, the sky is the limit for a team that truly soars through the stratosphere.
The former MLW Champion has left a path of destruction in his wake over the last several years, but the one thing that perhaps prevented him from leaving an even bigger imprint on the world of professional wrestling were his contractual obligations to Lucha Underground, which prevented Strickland from being able to compete on a truly national level.
This week, Strickland announced he is finally a free agent once again, immediately becoming one of the most in-demand talents globally. With expectations that he may be WWE NXT bound, Strickland is either going to have an amazing victory lap or is going to show the world what a full, unbridled Shane Strickland has to offer. No matter the final destination, "The King of Swerve" is about to take fans for a ride.
With a WWE UK Championship reign of well over 600 days, Pete Dunne may be one of the most remarkable talents in the world of professional wrestling today. For much of that run, "The Bruiserweight" has been the foundation of WWE's NXT UK brand, bringing it from sporadic events to a regularly broadcast weekly series.
This past weekend, Dunne successfully defended his championship against Joe Coffey, main eventing the first-ever UK Takeover in Blackpool with a performance so physical, it would have been safer to have been in a car crash while competing in an MMA bout.
Dunne has been the gritty, dirty centerpiece of the NXT UK brand and as 2019 progresses, he's going to be the measuring stick that all champions globally are compared to.
The WWE Hall of Famer and former WCW World Champion has pretty much everything that one can ask for in life, but this Saturday on FITE, he'll be seeking out one more victory inside the squared circle.
When Booker steps into the ring at Reality of Wrestling's Last Stand live on FITE from Texas, he'll take on brash upstart Rex Andrews. It will be a test, as his last singles bout in the United States was February 2012 but the one thing that never changes for a champion is his ability to stand tall and fight with all his heart.
This weekend on FITE, a champion will stand tall, win lose or draw.
WWE's "Boss" brought the fire inside the ring and on the microphone this past week on Monday Night Raw. Just days after Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey named Banks as her dream match opponent, Banks made it clear that their Royal Rumble encounter is going to be about pushing the boundaries.
As the issues between champion and challenger are heightened leading into their showdown in Phoenix, Banks grabbed the reigns to remind the world that she, not anyone else, is the center of the women's division. With perhaps her biggest match in years against the former UFC star, Banks is poised for yet another round of greatness.
By: Mike Johnson
Every week here at FITE, we feature the Top Ten ranked personalities in the world of professional wrestling. Unlike other combat sports, pro wrestling cannot be measured in just wins and losses, especially when the drama and excitement of the genre is specifically based around not just the physical performance, but the excitement level created by its combatants. Thus, our top ten measures the most newsworthy performers in the business, who's momentum drives not just their own career paths but the promotions they compete for.
Mike Johnson is the lead reporter for PWInsider.com and has been writing about professional wrestling since 1996. He can be found on Twitter @MikePWInsider and MikeJohnsonWrites.com.