Why WWE Swapped Braun Strowman for Finn Balor as Brock Lesnar's Next Opponent

Since November, we've been gearing up for a mammoth Royal Rumble showdown between Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman at the Royal Rumble. But on Raw, WWE pulled a switch-a-roo and traded Strowman for Finn Balor, and apparently, that has nothing to do with the former's injury.

Just as Vince McMahon was stripping Strowman of his Universal Championship opportunity, conventional wisdom told us that it was because of Strowman's wounded elbow. But according to the Wrestling Observer Radio, this decision is more about circumstance than Strowman's surgical wounds.

Per The Observer, Balor vs. Lesnar has been the plan for several weeks. After losing to Lesnar at Crown Jewel, McMahon didn't like the idea of Strowman challenging—and ultimately losing to—Lesnar at the Rumble. According to the report, McMahon felt that Strowman lost momentum, and adding another big loss at the Rumble would damage his character. So instead of crafting a screwy finish to protect Strowman, the current plan looks to have Lesnar beating Balor and moving on to face Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 35.

McMahon reportedly felt like there were a limited amount of real options for Lesnar at the Rumble. But given the acclaim for his work with smaller opponents like AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, McMahon decided it was time to give Balor the shot.

Lesnar is said to want to work with Balor and actually hoped to have this match at last year's Rumble. However, reports came out indicating that McMahon didn't think that Balor was popular enough for such a stage. But in a year's time, Balor has cultivated a healthy relationship with the WWE fanbase and his inclusion at The Rumble has sparked intrigue.

Strowman is still not cleared to wrestle, and no one is quite sure when that will happen. His status for the Rumble is questionable at this time.

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For Balor, this is his shiniest opportunity since he became the first-ever Universal Champion in 2016. Since that moment, Balor has endured a rough patch. A significant shoulder surgery forced Balor to drop that title less than 24-hours after winning it, followed by a year-long absence to recover. Since returning, Balor ha bounced around WWE's card, but never sniffed the main event again. but he's back now, in and a recent interview with inside the Ropes, he may have told a prophecy for this moment.

"Obviously, the kid Finn Balor wants to face the Undertaker," Balor said. "And obviously time is running out with Undertaker, obviously who knows when his last match is gonna be or what his last match will be. But with what's on the line with The Beast, [Brock Lesnar], and how long is he gonna be around, we don't know. Honestly, I'd take either one."