There is no metric by which Jinder Mahal is a “deserving” WWE champion, if you prescribe to the idea that being the standard-bearer for that company is a position of prestige. Ratings have continued to stagnate during his rapid ascent, he has failed to sports-entertain in the ring even opposite sure-things like Cesaro, and Backlash’s failure to sell out in the usually rabid Chicago market suggests he may drive people away more than he draws them in. The minimum standard for being a “good wrestler” is whether you can perform without injuring your opponent, and it was only a few weeks ago that Mahal concussed the once-ascendant Finn Balor with a rudimentary forearm. Per Dave Meltzer, putting Mahal on top is a ploy to appeal to the burgeoning India fandom and hopefully convert their TV and social media interest into actual income.
It is probably a smart play, though the accelerated and slapdash way in which it was executed leaves a lot to be desired. In targeting India (and China), the WWE is insulating itself against a potential contraction in TV rights fees; the recent cutbacks at ESPN suggest there may be fewer bidders for the next big WWE programming deal, which is not what they need for their most important income stream when viewership has been on the decline. Those untapped populations and economies abroad offer the fed their greatest opportunity for genuine popularity growth.
Still, this is the toughest tough pill for WWE loyalists. Mahal was out of the WWE just a few months ago, and was not even enjoying the post-WWE salad days of big indie bookings that his more popular peers see. His return coincided with the brand split and a run on known guys for bigger stars to beat, and he has been losing ever since. It’s not like Mahal and his new unit with the former Bollywood Boyz offer new or unique storytelling opportunities to justify the hotshotting, either. No, there is no pretense left as to why he got the call, or as to what that gaudy gold belt denotes.
Earlier in the day—Before Jinder—Twitter was abuzz with images of WWE Hall of Famer (and apparent U.S. President) Donald Trump gripping a glowing orb alongside the president of Egypt and the Saudi king. Here was Trump, whose relationship to the McMahons we need not explain, participating in a visual metaphor that even Vince might have called a bit on-the-nose. Irrelevant of his relentless campaign against globalism, irrelevant of his past criticism of Saudi donations, irrelevant of his repeated insistence that the president must constantly denounce “radical Islamic terrorism” to whoever is in earshot, Trump embraced the hell out of that globe. You’ve never seen a better globe-hold. Jinder reaching the pinnacle was received with the same appreciation of the absurd: lol.
For all the breathless John Oliver segments or Quantico hashtag campaigns, McMahonism remains the cultural cipher through which Trumpism is decoded. The anti-globalism rhetoric of the campaign is deprecated, as is the notion that anyone can grab Vince McMahon’s brass ring given enough Will and Perseverance and a Special Connection with the WWE Universe. The laws of both of these universes are subject to the momentary whims of their rulers. The competence or readiness of the actors doesn’t matter as long as they fit the ideology, and the ideology opposing the will of the populace is by design. The only solid ground is the route toward more money and power for their figureheads.
Nate Harris is a wrestling tweeter and habitual hater from Chicagoland. He opines about AAW and Kristen Stewart films at @epitasis.