With WWE just a few weeks away from a huge night of action inside London’s O2 Arena, the card is starting to build.
Away from the chaos of the ladder matches themselves, a blockbuster match has been made official: WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins will defend his title against Finn Balor.
This is not the first time the pair have stood across the ring from each other either.
Almost seven years ago Balor and Rollins looked to claim a victory over each other to become the inaugural WWE Universal Champion.
The outcome that night provided a launching pad for two very different career trajectories and proved that winning the battle doesn’t necessarily mean you win the war.
Andy Spoors looks back at SummerSlam 2016 and the paths that fate set both Superstars on…  

To The Main Roster

The phrase, a “sliding doors moment” found its way into pop culture in 1998.

Its definition? When a seemingly inconsequential moment alters the trajectory of future events.

Inconsequential may be the incorrect word for what went down inside the Barclays Center on 21 August 2016. But we’re not there yet…

After a stunning debut run on the main roster, Finn Balor found himself on the fast track to the main event and a collision course with another NXT graduate in the shape of Seth Rollins.

At the time, both men had very valid claims that they were the very best to have come through the black and gold brand.

Since his call up to the main roster, Rollins had written himself firmly into the company’s history books.

He was a member of one of the most dominant and popular factions in WWE history, The Shield, a WWE Champion, tag team champion, and the first ever Superstar to hold both the WWE Championship and the United States Championship at the same time.

His accolades were matched only by the level of ring prowess ‘The Architect’ showed on a weekly basis.

But for all his titles and popularity, the WWE Universe were seemingly ready for something new and shiny. Enter Finn Balor.

The Irishman was called up to Raw during the 2016 draft as the overall fifth pick, in an impressive show of confidence.

Fans that limited themselves to only watching Monday Night Raw or SmackDown, would have had no idea who or what they were gaining. They soon would.

On his very first night, Balor defeated Cesaro, Rusev and Kevin Owens in a fatal four way match, before beating Roman Reigns (the winner of a different fatal four match) to punch his ticket to SummerSlam and a chance to become the first ever Universal Champion.

Those that had seen his NXT matches, knew that Balor also possessed a darker side. A demon if you will…

Sliding Doors

Inside the Barclays Center, the main roster WWE Universe got their first look at Balor’s Demon King personna.

Face, upper body and legs covered in paint, Balor crawled and gyrated his way out of smoke and into the ring to stand opposite a bewildered Rollins.

A ferocious back and forth followed.

But one moment in the match was destined to go down in folklore as one of the biggest what if moments in WWE history.

A seemingly innocuous Buckle Bomb from Rollins to Balor sent the Demon King crashing into the safety barricade on the outside of the ring.

It was a riff of Rollins’ usual move that sends his opponents neck and shoulders first into the turnbuckle.

Here, Balor desperately tried to brace himself for the impact and threw his right arm out of instinct.

It would tear his labrum but you wouldn’t have known it at the time.

The commentary team barely mentioned it and even though the move happened only 3 minutes and 34 seconds in, the match continued for nearly 16 minutes. 

When the bell finally rang to end the bout, it was shockingly Balor who stood victorious.

The only clue to the major injury, Balor’s reluctance or inability to raise his new prize aloft with his right arm.

Just 22 hours later, Balor would be forced to relinquish the WWE Universe Championship and wouldn’t be seen on Raw until April 2017.

A Prince and A Visionary

From 2017 onward, both Rollins and Balor found themselves on completely different paths within WWE.

Balor found some success in the WWE midcard, capturing the Intercontinental Championship twice, as well as the US title.

Rollins, however, continued to have prominent placing on Premium Live Events, WrestleMania matches and championships.

Perhaps more importantly, over the years Rollins established himself as WWE’s go to guy.

Without holding a championship, he became a firm fan favourite and someone the company could rely on for great matches and to help establish other Superstars on the roster.

Balor, however, found himself in the familiar surroundings of NXT when returning to the brand in 2019.

Instead of his previous babyface personna, Balor returned with an edge that harkened back to his independent days, in particular his character in Japan.

Turning his back on perennial hero Johnny Gargano, it wouldn’t take long for the newly crowned Prince to ascend his throne in NXT.

One of the biggest advocates for the work taking place at the Performance Center, Balor would famously compare Raw and SmackDown to Hollywood but NXT as Broadway.

His second stay would last for around two years, including a 212 day stint as NXT Champion.

When returning to the main roster, Balor found himself in a feud with a red hot Roman Reigns, in which his Demon persona would be handed his first defeat in controversial circumstances.

An eventual alliance with Damian Priest, Rhea Ripley and Dominick Mysterio as part of The Judgement Day would set both The Prince and The Visionary on a collision course for this year’s Money In The Bank.

Although the destination is the same for the pair, their journey’s have at times been completely juxtaposed.

The highest of highs and the lowest of lows have hit both men in the last seven years.

But with the opportunity to run the clock back it is hard not to think what could have been.

Would Balor have gone on to become the face of the company had he not sustained that injury?

Would Seth have languished or would his talents have shone through? 

On July 1 we may not get the answer to those particular questions but expect another chapter to be written in the epic book of Balor vs Rollins…

Watch Money In The Bank live from the O2 in London, 1 July only on the WWE Network.