Jinder Mahal is the number one contender for the WWE Championship…There is no punch line here.
Mahal, who hasn’t won a match on television since September 12 of last year, will face Randy Orton for the title on Sunday, May 21 in the main event of Backlash. For the uninitiated, Mahal is pretty much the Glass Joe (Punch-Out) of WWE.
In fact, he was quickly disposed of two weeks ago on Raw by Finn Balor. Last week, however, due to the “superstar shake-up,” Mahal debuted on SmackDown in grand fashion. Mahal defeated Sami Zayn, Luke Harper, Mojo Rawley, Dolph Ziggler and Erick Rowan in a Six-Pack Challenge for the right to vie for the title.
A win by any of the other aforementioned wrestlers seemed reasonable. Mahal’s win was a complete and utter surprise. WWE deserves credit for taking a chance on a preliminary character, however, some fans are flabbergasted by the result.
I can appreciate going into a different storytelling direction because the same rotation of title challengers can get boring. To his credit, Mahal has worked very hard since his return to WWE as his physique along with his work in the ring have dramatically improved.
There are two problems, however, with Mahal being catapulted into a world title program. First, there was no build up or anything leading to the ascension of his character becoming a serious threat. He was a loser one minute and the next, a number one contender. Mahal lost so often, that becoming an instant threat makes the blue brand look weak. It sends a message that the Raw job guys are better than the SmackDown stars, which makes the show look inferior.
Second, WWE has an incredible track record for starting off new and unexpected storylines on a strong note, only for them to fizzle out before completion. This has occurred so often that fans don’t get excited for the next chapter and expect a train wreck.
So far, WWE has done right by Mahal. Last week, he won and cut a well-delivered promo. This week, Mahal along with his new running buddies, the Bollywood Boys, blindsided Randy Orton and stole the WWE Championship belt.
WWE has three more weeks to make Mahal look as strong as possible. If he takes an RKO before Backlash, he loses all credibility going into the show. Orton dropping Mahal with an RKO before their match will come off as a preordained vision of what’s to come, causing a decline in interest.
Dave Meltzer reported that the push of Jinder Mahal is due to WWE trying to capitalize on the market in India. The company has more social media followers in that country than anywhere else, including the United States. They also hired former Disney executive Sheetesh Srivastava to get a foothold in the country.
In the past, pushing wrestlers from other countries for similar reasons has never worked out in the long run. Eventually, their role on U.S. television is reduced while the magic of editing still makes them look somewhat strong in the wrestler’s home country.
Things could be different this time around as Jinder Mahal’s push from the bottom of the card to the very top is a rarity. Is Mahal’s ascension simply to fill a void between now and Backlash or do they have plans for him post Randy Orton? History says no but regardless of how it works out, I’m rooting for Jinder.
Ratings for last week’s episode of SmackDown fell to 2.493 million viewers, the lowest number in 2017. It would be easy to blame this on Jinder Mahal being placed as the show’s lead antagonist. WWE, however, had to be prepared for this considering that they made such a drastic change to their narrative completely out of left field.
Things always get worse before they get better and fans have to get used to Jinder Mahal in the top spot before they accept him in the role…but he has to deliver.
If he can knock it out of the park with this opportunity, while impressing the right people in the process, WWE might push other mid card acts who are deserving of an opportunity to appear front and center on the marquee.