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A Jinder Mahal Retrospective: Was It That Bad?

Carmine AntonelliNovember 15th, 2017Blog0 Comments »

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A Look Back on the 50th WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal

Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion was one of the most unexpected and controversial things to happen in all of wrestling’s 2017. At the start of the year, he was a jobber who was eliminated from the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (or, the ARMBAR) by Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, during the WrestleMania 33 pre-show. Then, 15 days later, the debuting Bollywood Boyz (later known as the Singh Brothers) assisted him in winning a six-pack challenge to become the new #1 contender for the WWE Championship.

SmackDown Live has enjoyed calling itself “the land of opportunity,” and nothing has solidified that claim more than Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship from Randy Orton at Backlash, and going on to hold it for 170 days. He was the 50th WWE Champion in the title’s history, and the first ever wrestler of Indian descent to win the belt… and everyone hated it.

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Well, everyone minus a very small minority. But in the eyes of many, Mahal’s title reign was doomed before it even began. The news was out that WWE was planning to tour India, and wanted to push an Indian superstar to help draw in viewers from that market. Many saw this as a pretty flimsy reason to turn a Canadian-Indian performer from a jobber to WWE champion practically overnight, especially when most WWE fans around the world tend to be huge fans of already established stars such as John Cena and Roman Reigns anyway.

Not only this, but many fans weren’t even sure if Mahal was a talented enough wrestler to hold the company’s most prestigious championship. At the time, Mahal had been released from the company once before, went on to wrestle in various unknown independent promotions, and came back to WWE after the brand split to be a jobber again; no one had seen him have a substantial match before his bout against Orton at Backlash.

While some already had their minds made up, others gave Mahal the benefit of the doubt, and withheld judgment until the big dance. Once the smoke had cleared, and the “Modern Day Maharaja” came forth victorious with the WWE Championship held high, wrestling fans across the globe proclaimed in unison, “…I mean…that wasn’t the worst match ever.”

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Mahal won the title after his new culturally harmonious henchmen took the brunt of Orton’s assault, before hitting Orton with a surprise Khallas. This left people with a sour taste in the mouth, but some such as yours truly thought that it was actually executed fairly well, considering all the factors. The Singh Brothers didn’t directly jump and scream to get Orton’s attention, like how a lot of Seth Rollins’ matches ended during the J&J Security days. Mahal was also attacked by Orton prior to the bell ringing in an assault that lasted for what felt like 2 or 3 minutes, and still was able to hold his own once the match had actually begun. All in all, it was a decent way to start a new heel title reign.

And then the rematches happened; Mahal and Orton faced off again at Money in the Bank, in what many fans would probably call a “Déjà vu Match.” I say this because the only noticeable differences were Orton not attacking Mahal before the bell, and Cowboy Bob Orton watching the match from the front row. The overall pace of the match, and the finish in particular, were very similar if not exactly the same as their encounter at Backlash.

The Singh Brothers went over to ringside to harass and eventually attack Cowboy Bob, which in turn unleashed the mild annoyance of Randy, who would go on to attack them both before being hit by another sneaky Khallas from behind. While it could potentially be argued that the first match was decent, so a repeat wasn’t a terrible thing, this made a lot of people upset. “Is this all we’re going to get until the India tour? … when the Hell is this India tour, by the way?”

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It was as if Shane McMahon himself wanted to see just how far he could push the stupid envelope; he agreed to let Orton have one more rematch, the catch being that Mahal was allowed to choose the stipulation. Ladies and gentlemen, I have two words for you: Punjabi Prison… this was easily the worst match of Mahal’s entire title reign.

When you take a champion that almost no one likes, put them in a feud with an uninspired Randy Orton, then dump them inside a structure that has never produced any good moments (aside from that time Batista turned into a tree frog), and then bring back the Great Khali for one night to help the heel retain the championship… you get all the ammunition the fans have ever needed to crown Jinder Mahal as the “worst WWE Champion of all time.”

As a defender of Mahal and his title reign, even I have to admit that this was the lowest point of it all; a match with a dumb stipulation, riddled with interference, and a return that just… sucked, was no way to win anyone over. Mahal became the most hated character on SmackDown Live; he may have even been the most hated character in all of WWE… and that’s when I started wondering if this was truly such a bad thing after all.

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But before the outrage even had time to set in, a new feud for Mahal was projected to arrive for SummerSlam… what’s that? Jinder Mahal will defend his championship at SummerSlam against… no… it can’t be. Is it true? Shinsuke Nakamura!? Will he be the one to save the fans from Mahal’s Groundhog Day title reign? Well… no. The Singh Brothers once again made sure of that.

What, you may be asking, was the difference between Mahal vs Nakamura, and Mahal vs Orton? The answer is simple: the name of his opponent. Other than that, it was all the exact same; same pacing, same distractions, same finish. No one is safe, run and be afraid. Also worth noting is that, 5 days before SummerSlam, Money in the Bank briefcase holder Baron Corbin cashed in on a weakened Mahal, only to lose after a distraction from John Cena. I just…

But back to Shinsuke Nakamura: he was not afraid! He would not back down, and instead requested a rematch at Hell in a Cell… too bad that the promos leading up to the aforementioned rematch were some of the worst promos cut in 2017 (and the year isn’t even over yet).

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For whatever reason, the writers of SmackDown were not satisfied with the heat that Mahal was receiving from the crowds, and as such came up with the brilliant idea of having him cut a long-winded promo against Nakamura, where he would go on to make fun of Shinsuke’s face. He would say that Shinsuke always “rooked” the same, no matter what emotion he was trying to convey. And yes, Mahal actually said “rooked” with a terribly racist Japanese accent. He would also go on to make jokes about Nakamura eating cats and looking like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid, to which even the crowd chanted “That’s too far.”

But maybe this was all just to build up towards Mahal’s downfall at the hands of Nakamura. With a giant steel cage surrounding them in their next encounter, maybe this would finally be the day Mahal met his match. Oh, it’s not actually a Hell in a Cell match? Well, maybe Nakamura would still be able to see through Mahal’s tricks and… oh. He lost again. It ended in nearly the exact same way… again.

The Nords called it Ragnarok. Western civilization calls it Armageddon. No matter what name it took, it was clear that these were the end times; Jinder Mahal and his championship reign were the apocalypse personified. The Singh Brother/Khallas combination was unstoppable, and the WWE received a grim reminder on this day… or at least that’s what Mahal thought.

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It was at this point that the success had truly gotten to Mahal’s head, and he talked about himself as if he truly was a God reincarnated; he thought that he could defeat anyone, even the WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lensar. So the Modern Day Maharaja laid down the challenge for the Beast Incarnate: Champion vs Champion, one-on-one at Survivor Series.

Unfortunately, or very fortunately depending on your opinions, that match never came to be. Instead, Mahal made the mistake of starting a feud with AJ Styles. After sending each Singh Brother out to face Styles one at a time and then attacking AJ himself, Shane McMahon forced Jinder Mahal to defend his title against Styles on the November 7th episode of SmackDown Live.

This would easily stand out as Mahal’s best match for the championship, possibly even his best match ever. But one of the major factors that might lead people to make such a claim is the fact that the Singh/Khallas combo did NOT put AJ Styles away – Styles would get his foot on the bottom rope, and was able to keep the match going until eventually he hit a Phenomenal Forearm on Mahal and pinned him, becoming the new WWE Champion in front of an elated Manchester crowd.

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The evil had been defeated, and fans could not be happier. And that’s when I knew that Mahal had become one of the most effective heels in the current wrestling world, whether it was intentional or not. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a closer look.

If you look at some of the top heels in the wrestling landscape right now, you’ll see names like Kenny Omega, Pete Dunne, Kevin Owens, and Johnny Mundo. These characters are various types of horrible people, who do and say despicable things to elicit the most negative reactions they can from their audiences. And then they wrestle. These people wrestle well. Not just well, some of these names are considered amongst the best wrestlers in the world today, which fans recognize and love them for. Now for anyone who can already see where I’m going with this, let me say that this is not a bad thing – the world will always have a place for wrestlers like these, and frankly there should be more of them. But, I also believe that these characters are the biggest reason Jinder Mahal was an effective heel during his time as WWE Champion.

His promos were nothing special, just a slight variation of the foreign heel trope that we’ve all seen a thousand times. There were some differences, like how he didn’t directly hate America and instead thought Americans only hated him because he was foreign, but the differences were shallow. His promos were lackluster, sometimes even contenders for the worst promo of the year (I’m “rooking” at you, Shinsuke feud).

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You can blame his promos on the script writers, but his matches always felt repetitive… they felt boring, almost. And this made fans hate the fact that he kept winning. They hated that names like Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, and even Baron Corbin couldn’t beat this former member of 3MB. Looking at his matches, how is that even possible? Mahal isn’t exactly Eva Marie, but he has no business beating these people who are clearly better athletes than him, and I think this worked to his advantage.

I’m not saying every heel should wrestle a boring match on purpose, but it has been done before, and has proven effective; look at Timothy Thatcher back when he was the EVOLVE Champion, for example. He played the heel who would wrestle a slow and methodical match that fans found incredibly boring, before eventually winning over more enjoyed characters like Matt Riddle, Chris Hero, and Drew Galloway. And crowds hated him for it; I’m not saying this was the plan with Mahal, because I can’t know that for a fact, but his matches certainly had the same effect on people.

Unlike Eva Marie, it wasn’t a lack of basic wrestling fundamentals that made Mahal’s matches bad – it was the repetitiveness of them. It was the fact that he was wrestling in such a basic way, and yet he never lost. It was the fact that all he has to do was get hit long enough for the Singh Brothers to make a distraction before he could surprise every opponent with a Khallas to get the pin.

Whether it was intentional or not, Mahal’s style of wrestling attracted a lot of heat for him during his title reign. Of course there have been some fans that were simply not entertained by it in the slightest, and wanted to stop watching – if this was an intentional booking decision, then this should absolutely be avoided, but a lot of fans simply couldn’t wait to see Mahal lose, and to me that’s the mark of an effective heel.

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Notice I’m not calling him “the best” heel, or even a “great” heel. I think a lot of things could have been done differently during his title reign. For one, his promos could have used a lot of work. I blame the script writers for this, because over the course of Mahal’s run I did see moments where his delivery and personality were perfectly fine, like when he volunteered Sunil Singh for a match with AJ Styles. But 3 months of promos that called racism on a majority of American audiences, followed by a promo where he made fun of a Japanese man’s face and accent? That was just stupid. But in his loss to AJ, he stepped up his in-ring game, and I think there’s still potential there for a very good heel character.

In my opinion, Mahal should aim his focus towards the United States Championship before he reclaims the WWE title (assuming that ever even happens). This will give him more time to develop a heel champion’s personality, without being thrust into the spotlight with the company’s top prize. However, with his match against Triple H made official for the December 9th “supershow” in New Delhi, India, who knows what the future really holds for the Modern Day Maharaja?

All I know is, I’m one of the few who saw some sheds of light in what other fans would call a very dark period for the WWE Championship, and I look forward to seeing what else Jinder Mahal can do.

What are your thoughts on Jinder’s reign, now that it’s ended? Were you always a fan, or is hindsight 20/20? Let us know below!

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