Jinder Mahal’s Sudden Rise: The Right Idea with the Wrong GuyWrestling Features Jinder Mahal
From the jump, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon have trumpeted SmackDown Live as “The Land of Opportunity,” where anybody who wants to can become a superstar, a champion, or at least buy a double wide trailer. It’s nothing like that wasteland on Monday nights, run by that petty, nepotistic Babylonian Queen Stephanie McMahon (yes, I know Kurt Angle’s in the driver’s seat now, but remember the Caligula like madness of his last GM reign?)
The Six Pack Challenge match this previous Tuesday was, if nothing else, a validation of that belief. Only one participant had been a world champion before (Dolph Ziggler), while the rest were either brand new to the title picture (Erick Rowan, Jinder Mahal and Mojo Rawley) or had gotten close but missed out (Luke Harper and Sami Zayn).
To everyone’s shock, Jinder Mahal got the win with the help of the Bollywood Boyz, and now looks to main event Payback for the WWE Championship, once Randy Orton finally gets disentangled from Bray Wyatt and sends him back to Raw to look for his mojo again. The surprise of the victory, along with the fact that he screwed the favorite Sami Zayn out of the win, angered the audience something fierce. If you don’t believe in “go away” heat, or simply listened to that reaction without any context, you’d maybe think Mahal could pull off being a top heel, or at least could be worthy of main eventing a secondary pay-per-view before getting RKO’ed back into his proper spot on the card.
Worrying about whether Mahal is believable as a top heel might be pointless, though—who even still cares about that today? The most passionate wrestling fans want to cheer a wrestler or character chiefly because they actually like what the person does in the ring and on the mic, and to hell with whether or not they’re actually the good guys in storyline. It’s why I own and cherish my Bullet Club, Pentagon Jr and Joey Ryan shirts, even though their spectrum of morality ranges from flinging people via penis power to blood drinking and arm breaking.
Of course, this is Jinder Mahal. The fans aren’t clamoring for him. Not only is he not particularly exciting as a wrestler or a character, but he’s spent almost all of his career as enhancement talent. He’s had no hint of a push in the weeks (or even years) before, and nothing much has happened to him other than when he knocked most of Finn Balor’s teenage memories out on Raw last week. His post-victory promo, where he said that Americans may not accept diversity but they WILL have to accept him as champion, sounded like he swiped it from Rusev’s promo notebook sometime during their partnership. (It’s almost like they just gave Mahal the push they were planning for Rusev before he got hurt.) Rumors are also swirling that Mahal’s push is primarily geared to drum up business in India, one of WWE’s top international targets. And in what surely can’t be a coincidence, when he returned after last year’s brand split, he was suddenly one of the most shredded guys on the roster, with the physique of a professional bodybuilder.
Making new stars is vital, and something WWE has been bad at for years. Mahal’s sudden ascendance isn’t the kind of starmaking WWE should be doing, though. It’s another example of the company failing at basic storytelling and refusing to pay attention to what the fans want. SmackDown might be “the Land of Opportunity,” but this isn’t the kind of opportunity anybody was asking for.
Sam Jackson writes for Cracked. Looper and Grunge, and just about anybody who wants him. He’s on Twitter @darwinaward44.