Mention Jinder Mahal to casual wrestling fans and you’ll likely be met with reactions of “Who?”. Even if they know, it’s hard to pin down successes for one of WWE’s more often overlooked Superstar’s – a man who’s spent the better part of the last decade being the butt of constant jokes. But that’s now changing, and Jinder is, quite rapidly finding himself as a head heel on Tuesday nights – unthinkable even two weeks ago – and I’m loving every second of it.
To be clear – it’s not fans fault they’ve never given Jinder Mahal an honest look. WWE have spent years treating Jinder Mahal as an accessory to those around him, a chess piece with no real focus. From his time in 3-Man-Band (Where he was very clearly the third wheel) through to his return in 2016 – nothing has ever suggested that he was a wrestler with potential.
But then he almost won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale at Wrestlemania 33; and my goodness did everything change quickly. Not even a month later and Jinder is fastened into a rocket ship on its way to the main event scene, staring down Randy Orton and stealing his WWE Championship in the process. If we didn’t knew Vince Russo wasn’t backstage, we’d swear this was being pulled from the Attitude Era.
Here’s the thing though – it’s new, it’s fresh and it’s something interesting to mull over. Randy Orton as a Champion is a tale as worn as time itself – he’s beaten everyone in the main event scene at least once in the past. Put simply, fans don’t want to see him doing the same things over and over. They want excitement and the feeling that anything can happen. It’s why Braun Strowman is doing so well over on Raw at the minute – fans legitimately don’t know what he’ll do next. It’s the same with Jinder Mahal right now.
With Jinder, the element of surprise reminds me very much of Sheamus’s abrupt rise when he landed in 2011. There the Irish ass-kicker was handed the WWE Championship not several months after arriving – after finding himself in a hyper elevated position. That didn’t work in the long-term as WWE handed the win back to Cena eventually – turning Sheamus into yet another guy that couldn’t stick the landing.
This element of unknown makes for great TV. It makes the scene of Jinder and The Bollywood Express riding away with the WWE Championship all the more enjoyable. It means there’s more elements to this Sunday’s Payback match – as Randy Orton now has a reason to lose (and conveniently, WWE has a reason to not put the belt on the line). It means I’m waiting to see just what Jinder does with his freshly liberated Championship. All of this is good for WWE – it means fans are engaged.
Yes if you care about Championship pedigree, the likes of Mahal getting a shot might be seen as an odd choice (After all, would WWE roll out Jinder in a Championship match against Brock Lesnar?) and might even lower the belts pedigree. Then again, plenty of no-hoper’s have competed for the Championship over the years (Remember R-Truth’s brief flurry?).
It also helps to give more excuses for mid-card guys to get one-off title opportunities – something WWE hasn’t been doing in recent years. Back in the 1980’s/1990’s – there was a tradition of letting mid-card guys have runs against the Champion to see if they could hold their own. It was a way of testing out potential new main event talent, without giving them the Championship. This doesn’t really happen in modern WWE, as it’s usually the same 3-4 guys circling the Championship constantly.
One problem WWE has had in recent years is elevating mid-card talent to main event level. Part of this problem has been born from the company’s poor 50/50 booking – robbing potential breakout stars of their momentum. The likes of Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Miz and plenty more have never been allowed to keep their wins over the existing main eventers. Sure they’d pick up a win here or there, but they’d always have to pay it back in the end. Fans never saw them as genuine threats.
Do I think he’s winning the WWE Championship? Christ no, even WWE can’t be that silly. Jinder as WWE Champion would be a silly move and would backfire if he’s not taken seriously. But his success paves the way for others to follow. It gives me hope that, down the line, we’ll get the likes of Sami Zayn, Miz and other mid-carders in Championship matches.
In the meantime, I’m happy to sit back and enjoy Jinder-Mania for what it is.