Injured Finn Balor traveling, recovering and "everything's on schedule" for WrestleMania

Finn Balor became the first WWE Universal Champion with a victory over Seth Rollins at SummerSlam. Nick Laham for ESPN

Even if Finn Balor is fit and healthy to be a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble in front of 65,000 at the Alamodome next month, it might make sense to hold off on his return -- for logistical reasons.

"Yeah, I'd probably get lapped on the way down to the ring if I didn't come out last," he said, laughing.

This Finn Balor, the one who sat in front of reporters, including ESPN, at a roundtable in a press conference at London's O2 Arena, is looking slick and sharp-dressed in a light blue suit; his appearance is a far cry from the "Demon King" we saw in his last appearance inside a WWE ring.

With his elaborate body paint and stunning entrance -- which takes him a fair few minutes to get to the ring -- Balor crawled his way down to the squared circle at SummerSlam in the Barclays Center on Aug. 21, where he beat Seth Rollins to become the inaugural Universal Champion.

The Irishman recently told a funny story on Sam Roberts' podcast that Sami Zayn thought he was refusing to lift the title in the air after the match because the crowd had been chanting "that belt sucks" following the unveiling of the red leather design earlier that night. Balor, though, had simply torn his labrum when Rollins gave him a running powerbomb into the barricade at ringside. Such is his physical and mental fortitude, Balor popped his dislocated shoulder back into place, got up and somehow finished the match, though lifting the title in the air proved a little difficult.

That right arm was in a sling the next day, when he spoke to ESPN before an appearance on "Good Morning America" in New York. Just a few hours later, he relinquished the Universal Championship live on Monday Night Raw. He has not appeared in a WWE ring since.

He had his surgery the next day in Birmingham, Alabama, where he has largely stayed, rehabbing the injury seven hours a day with a leading shoulder specialist in the hopes of making it back in time for WrestleMania -- admitting the Royal Rumble may come a little too soon for him on Jan. 29, 2017.

"You know, that's obviously a huge rumor, and I would never be one to fuel the rumor mills," he said with a smile. "But to be a surprise entrant in the Rumble would be a huge moment for me. I'm sure it would create quite a buzz.

"But right now, with the condition my shoulder is in, I'm not willing to risk sustaining any more long-term injury, just for the sake of two or three weeks. Since I got hurt, it was six months [out]. The target was to be back for WrestleMania. Everything's on plan, everything's on schedule."

He jokingly said there may be one way for WWE to tempt him back for the 30-man over-the-top rope elimination match, which traditionally provides its winner with a title shot at WrestleMania. "If the day of the Royal Rumble Vince McMahon says, 'You got your gear with you?' then I'm sure I'll be around," he said with a smile. But pointing to his injured shoulder, he added, "It's not something I want to risk unless I'm 100 percent confident that this is 100 percent."

From the high of winning his first world title in front of his parents, who had flown in to New York from Ireland, Balor suffered the low of being put on the shelf for six months.

What made it even more bittersweet was that he had only just been drafted to Raw in July's brand split, following two years in NXT. He still holds the record as the longest reigning NXT champion, with a 292-day run as the figurehead of WWE's developmental brand. He had risen to prominence on the independent scene by winning the Best of the Super Juniors tournament twice in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he also founded the Bullet Club and held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship three times over eight years with the promotion.

"I try and look at the positives in every situation," Balor added of his injury. "For me, the timing was bad, but it's given me an opportunity to step back away from everything and assess where I've gotten to up until this point. Hopefully I'm going to come back a little rejuvenated and a little fresher after time off.

"I've been wrestling full-time for 10 years. It's unfortunate. I wish it didn't happen. But it has, and you can't change the past. You've gotta make a positive out of the negative, and I think I've learned a lot about myself in the last couple of months, about what I value. I'm gonna come back a lot more rounded and focused than I was before. I'm excited about the Finn Balor that's going to come back, as opposed to the Finn Balor that I left behind."

The 35-year-old has enjoyed a bit of sightseeing, and even posed for his signature "Finn Freeze" in an Instagram snap taken at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

"There's been so many things I've wanted to do for so long that I've kinda always never had the time to do, or just never thought I would get around to it," he said. "I've been trying to tick off a couple of things on the bucket list."

As the old adage goes, travel broadens the mind.

He even went home to Ireland to see his family a couple of times, but, as he joked, he cut short his scheduled eight-day holiday to participate in the press conference last Thursday in London, announcing the new WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament, which will take place live on the WWE Network from Blackpool's historic Empress Ballroom Jan. 14-15.

Another stop on his recent personal tour of the U.K. and Ireland was Insane Championship Wrestling's Fear & Loathing IX show at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow on Nov. 20. He played the role of a special enforcer in the main event, as a replacement for Mick Foley -- the Raw general manager who could not make it to the show in person due to a clash with Survivor Series that weekend in Toronto.

"It was pretty surreal," said Balor. "I hadn't been in front of a crowd since that night at RAW, when I relinquished the title. Sometimes you get a little bit nervous. Do the people remember you? How will they react? And it was a great feeling to be back in front of a British crowd and a Scottish crowd.

"But for me, it was just good fun to be back in front of a wrestling audience. I had a great welcome there, and it gave me a little taster of what's to come hopefully in the next few months. It was something I thought I had said goodbye to, but it turned out it was really just a 'see you later.' It kind of tied in perfectly. Who knows where I might pop up in the future?"

Professional wrestling has made up Balor's life for the past 14 years. Trained in the U.K., he was spotted by NJPW scouts at a show in Nashville in 2005, before making the personal sacrifice of leaving home to train in the Tokyo "dojo" lifestyle.

"It's kind of nice to get a little break," he said. "Sometimes maybe when you take yourself out of it, you learn a lot more about yourself and maybe think about different ways of doing things.

"I think just not being able to worry so much about everything that's going on around you. I'm very much in a mindset that I take myself out of anything that I'm not involved in. I don't really pay attention to the news or stuff like that, or what's going on in politics. For me, I apply that same scenario to wrestling, because it's not important to me right now. What's important to me is getting my shoulder 100 percent. When I get a little bit closer to getting back in the ring, I'll be catching up on what I need to know. But for now, what I need to know is how to rehab my shoulder. That's what I've been focusing on."