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By Mike Johnson on 2019-01-15 10:38:00

Last night's Monday Night Raw featured a surprising twist for fans when Finn Balor replaced Braun Strowman in the role of challenger to WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at the 2019 Royal Rumble.

As I discussed last night in an Elite audio update following Raw, we have been told there were several reasons for the change. 

One, Braun Strowman has still not been 100% cleared for physicality by WWE.  While the expectation has been that he will be ready by the Rumble PPV, we are told that WWE had decided to go with Balor at least several weeks ago.   There was a feeling internally that now was not the time to beat Strowman and if he lost to Lesnar, it might hurt his momentum and long-term viability as a top talent for WWE.  So, WWE effectively decided to paint themselves out of the corner they had trapped themselves in and save Lesnar vs. Strowman for another time.

There was also a feeling that even if Strowman was cleared and good to go, that Balor vs. Lesnar, with the obvious David vs. Goliath overtones, would be a better story and would be a better match for the PPV.  If you remember the No Mercy 2018 bout between Lesnar and Strowman, one could certainly argue that Balor would certainly be stronger as a challenger in terms of match quality. 

WWE has been quietly building Balor in recent weeks in anticipation of making the move as well as trying to build the babyface side of Raw.   We are told it was not a last second decision and was not something the company was forced to do by outside forces.  It had quietly been the plan for some time.

The real questions coming out of the move are:

*Where does this leave Strowman in the build to Wrestlemania?

*Does WWE now slot Strowman inside the Royal Rumble match?

*Will the audience take to Balor in that role after a long period where he was not being utilized in a strong position from a creative standpoint?

*Where does Balor stand after the Rumble match?

*Who's next in line to challenge Lesnar post-Rumble?

All interesting things to keep an eye on as we head into Phoenix.



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