We are nearing five months into Jinder Mahal’s first reign as WWE Champion, and it has been a divisive one, to say the least. One on hand, the WWE have tried to build someone into a superstar, with their previous inability to do so being a constant criticism over the past few years. On the other hand, his positioning as the WWE Champion has been highly problematic to the creative direction of SmackDown. This has led to questions over the success of his title reign, with a debate being made over whether he is a failure as WWE Champion.
It’s easy to see the criticism of Jinder Mahal as classic hatred of a bad guy, but that’s not what’s happening here. Even as a convincing heel, Jinder has come up short. With each passing week, it’s becoming sadly clear that Jinder’s reign has been a major failure. Not only that, but it is still a lingering problem that WWE needs to rectify quickly to improve their product and its revenue in and outside of the United States.
Impact on the market in India
A major reason the WWE wanted to put their main strap on Jinder was to push their expansion into India.. Wanting to break into the Indian market, they felt that having someone of Indian descent as an ambassador to India could be a smart business strategy. Since he became the WWE Champion, Jinder has not proven to be the needle mover in India, as WWE Network subscriptions have gone down and Jinder’s YouTube numbers have not stacked up to the likes of AJ Styles or Kevin Owens.
For example, on the July 11th episode of SmackDown Live, Jinder Mahal’s match with Tye Dillinger, as of October 4th 2017, had only 595,000 views on YouTube. Compare this to a segment with a pull-apart brawl with Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin, which was a mid-card feud at the time and you’ll notice that Shinsuke and Baron had 617k views by the same time. It is a problematic sign for the WWE Champion to be getting lower numbers than a cold mid-card feud. When compared to a segment with Kavita Devi, an inexperienced Indian woman from the Mae Young Classic whose video of her match with Dakota Kai did 7.5 million views on YouTube and was released a month later, it becomes more clear that Jinder simply isn’t holding anyone’s attention.
To further the point, WWE Network subscriptions have gone down in India since Jinder has been champion. While the programming could be to blame, it is worrying that the company is losing business in a target demographic. Furthermore, Jinder Mahal’s merchandise sales are lingering in the middle of the pack. Whilst not being near a John Cena or an Enzo Amore is understandable, Jinder’s merchandise sales are lower than Sami Zayn, a man positioned as a lower card act who often isn’t even featured on the weekly episode of SmackDown Live. Lastly, recent live attendence at SmackDown Live events has been lowered, including half the stadium being empty at the Oakland episode of SmackDown. These alarming figures surely indicate that Jinder has not been the financial success that they had hoped for.
The booking of Jinder Mahal
Jinder has been booked in the typical fashion of a modern heel WWE Champion in the sense that he is a cowardly heel that needs help in the form of The Singh Brothers to win his matches. Since his ascension, he has won just one match without help, which was against Tye Dillinger on the July 11th episode of SmackDown.
Since then, most of his matches have followed a familiar formula; Jinder gets pummeled, Singh Brothers’s distract the babyface, getting willingly beaten up by the likes of Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura, and finally Jinder takes advantages to take the win. WWE, whilst being at the least consistent to his previous character in that he cannot win cleanly, has not positioned Mahal to be a credible world champion. This is a bad way to get a champion over, as fans tend to sway towards dominant personalities over the cowardly heel (such as John Cena, Goldberg, etc.).
Even when WWE has had other cowardly heels in recent years, they’ve been able to prove themselves capable when the chips were down. Look no further than the recent championship reigns of Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens, both of whom often relied on outside help, but they also picked up convincing wins on their own and showed themselves perfectly capable. If it looks like a heel can win without help, but chooses not to, it makes them even more hateable. Unfortunately, Jinder’s inability to appear a legitimate threat has made many fans lose interest.
Beyond his in-ring booking, Jinder has also been given many baffling segments that have been inconsistent with his character. A major character arc of Jinder Mahal has been that he has been critical of America for not celebrating diversity, and he often cites bigotry as a reason that he receives an unfavorable crowd response. Whilst that is a fine, if not a little outdated, as a character, WWE have booked Jinder in recent memory to be a bigot himself, making racial jokes towards Shinsuke Nakamura on several recent episodes of SmackDown Live.
Now, racial heat could’ve worked towards the right crowd, but Jinder used this in front of Oakland, California (known for having a strong Asian community). This was so egregious that the Washington Post ran a story about Jinder’s promo going ‘too far’. Positioning Jinder Mahal in this way is not smart as it only makes the crowd want Jinder to go away, or want to leave themselves to not have to hear him. Good heels make the crowd want to stay and watch them get pummeled, but Jinder hasn’t been able to make that feeling spread. WWE needs to read the crowd in this situation as a bad fan reaction only hurts the presentation of the shows.
Where do you go with Jinder?
Jinder Mahal, whether you like him or not, has not had a successful title reign. His YouTube numbers have been dire, he has failed to make a substantial imprint into the Indian market, and he has been booked to be a hypocritical coward. Whilst Jinder is expected to hold onto the title until WWE’s tour of India in December, WWE may take the title off of him early due to his abysmal drawing power. Jinder Mahal’s failure to captivate the audience or improve on his in ring ability when given a spot should be a cause of concern for the WWE.
In terms of Jinder being pushed as their top Indian star, Kavita Devi’s YouTube success and the fact that he has failed to make his mark in the Indian market tell a clear story. Whilst the WWE shouldn’t completely give up on Jinder, they need to make an effort to make Jinder a more relatable figure in the Indian market. Presenting him as a wealthy aristocrat who antagonizes Americans and critiques their bigoted views isn’t the right way to get a character like Jinder over. Maybe he can be a crusader of bigotry, showing the virtues of a diplomatic relationship with India. Maybe he can have some sort of relationship with Kavita Devi, who obviously has a buzz around her.
Whatever they do with Jinder, it is ultimately futile as this current reign will be deemed a failure no matter where they go with Jinder as they have not booked him in a way that has been captivating to the Indian market. Coupled with his limitations as a performer, the WWE will need to show more consideration when pushing an unproven commodity in the future.
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