Jinder Mahal is no longer our WWE Champion. When AJ Styles' Phenomenal Forearm crashed down on him on the November 7 SmackDown Live in Manchester, England, a new champion was crowned. The place erupted as the curtain came down on the six-month title reign that many saw as damaging to the credibility of the WWE Championship.
The shock champion
Mahal defeated Randy Orton at Backlash on May 21 in shocking fashion. Few saw it coming; suddenly, this jobber who was once a comedy act in 3MB and was getting jobbed out to Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots at WrestleMania 33 just a month prior, now held the most prestigious title in the WWE. The decision was met with plenty of backlash (pardon the pun) and many saw it as detrimental and a devaluation of the title. Mahal was deemed unworthy and unfitting to be champion.
The main problem was the sudden leap from obscurity to the top. The week before he became number one contender to wrestling’s most coveted prize, Mahal lost in singles competition against Mojo Rawley. That is mind blowing. There was no gradual build, the rockets were just immediately strapped, and it just wasn't believable. Mahal was seen as average at best in the ring, and his promo skills were terrible. He was presented as the foreign heel who despised America and lauded his heritage as superior, a tired trope in WWE that should have died a death a long time ago.
Building a superstar
So why did the WWE take the decision to name him champion? A lot was made of the WWE’s expansion into India, and an effort being made to bring in many of the 1.3 billion people who claimed to be addressing in his weekly promos. Although Canadian, Mahal is of Indian descent, and his push to the top may have been done to give the second-most populated country in the world their very own poster boy for this global brand.
His growth in size and stature undoubtedly played a part in his rise to prominence. It’s no secret Vince McMahon likes his big boys, and it is clear from looking at Mahal he is no stranger to a salad and a monster gym session. Whether he gained that body through unethical methods is purely speculation, but it can’t be denied that a lot of hard work was put in to improving his physical appearance.
Despite the negativity surrounding the reign, strong efforts were made to portray Mahal as a legitimate main event performer. The dramatic entrance music, the unfolding graphic carpet down the aisle, the fancy suits, the introductions from the Singh brothers - this was all done to present him as a superstar. He was a legit heel also, which is hard to come by in modern day WWE. Fans genuinely despised him and wanted to see him be defeated, and the addition of the Singh Brothers as his lackeys to bail him out in matches for heat was a masterstroke.
Regardless of how good of a professional wrestler he is, he grew into his new role. As confidence grew, he carried himself more and more like a champion. While the delivery of his promos wasn’t setting the world on fire, he can't be held to blame for the garbage content he was given each week. It’s unfair to fully fault a man for doing the best with what he’s given. However, his matches with Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura were snooze fests, and while presented as a superstar and doing well in the appearance stakes, his in-ring work just is not up to scratch to perform at an elite level. I would hate to use the expression you can’t polish a turd..
The fall of the Maharaja
Mahal held the title for 170 days, which is longer than reigns of Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero, undeniable legends of the business. Many labelled his title reign as ‘boring’, ‘uninspiring’ and ‘flat’ and critics have named him among the worst WWE champion in history. The decision to switch the belt over to Styles did however come as a surprise, it seemed as though Mahal was set to carry the belt certainly for the company’s tour of India in a few weeks’ time, and even into 'Mania season.
Mahal was also set to go toe to toe with the ‘Beast Incarnate’ Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series in a champion vs champion match, set up by several promos between Mahal and Lesnar's advocate, Paul Heyman. So, what brought on this sudden change? Mahal’s reign hasn’t prompted the biggest spike in international revenue and business. During the first three months of his reign, international Network subscriptions increased by only 0.3%. It would always be a long-term plan to fully saturate into the Indian market, but perhaps the company has deemed the Jinder experiment a failure.
We will now be treated to Lesnar vs Styles at Survivor Series. This is a dream match in every sense of the word, and there seems to be much more interest in seeing this bout than the original Lesnar - Mahal meeting. The company seems to be pulling out all the stops for the upcoming pay-per-view, and perhaps viewed shifting the title as the best course of action to put on the best matches for the fans.
Will Jinder rise again?
What now is in store for the Modern Day Maharaja? It’s up in the air at this point whether he remains in the main event scene. There is growing speculation he will win back the title soon after Survivor Series, ensuring he is paraded as champion on the company’s tour of India; then again, maybe the creative team have lost faith in him and he will tumble back down the card into insignificance.
That would be a shame. As mentioned, he really grew in the role and although still not at a top level, he unquestionably improved as a performer. What he also proved during his time as champion is that he is a solid company guy, representing them well during media appearances and always eager to help promote the company in any way he could. Whatever your thoughts, and regardless of whether it was fully deserved, Jinder Mahal is a man who was given a shot, and he worked hard to prove he was the man who could fill that role. That is something to be commended.
What are your thoughts on Jinder Mahal’s reign as champion? What do you think is next for the Maharaja? Comment below and let us know!