In case you’ve been living under a rock or had zero access to TV or the internet – perish the thought – for the last week, we’re all aware that Smackdown Live has a new World Heavyweight Champion in the surreal guise of one Jinder Mahal. The Indian wrestler, who’s actually Canadian and currently plying his trade in the United States, has captured the top title on the blue brand in a stratospheric rise from what was seemingly oblivion.
The rumours began when the title match at Backlash was announced, that Mahal was going to capture the gold. The WWE top-brass and executives seeing the lucrative potential of having a champion hailing from and identifying with a country with a population of over a billion people. Perhaps this was an ideal opportunity to cash in on the Indian market, launch the WWE Network over there, perhaps the odd tour, and sit back while the money rolls in. We’ve been here before with the Great Khali, but no amount of Punjabi Prison matches were ever going to keep a man whose sole talent was being big as a credible champion.
The same allegation could be thrown at Jinder, but that would be unfair to say he’s so one-dimensional. He’s been in WWE for a good few years, taking a couple years off to work the independent circuit, before returning with a new look and seemingly new drive and purpose to be more than a lower-card, bit-part player. Fair play to the guy, and while I understand the complaints about his previous losing streak before being top of the pyramid, I’m happy for him and think this is a positive move for Smackdown Live and for WWE.
See, I don’t get the majority of hate and groans he’s been getting from some quarters in the WWE Universe. I don’t think this is a case of booing who they want – a-la Roman Reigns, but a case of; What? This guy? Really? THIS guy? What the hell is happening? Oh, this is it for WWE now. A new low. Well, in my opinion, by making Jinder champion, they’ve listened to the fans and responded to our gripes with the product.
Firstly, let’s look over to Raw. The biggest complaint about Raw in recent weeks from most fans? The absence of their champion. No Brock Lesnar and no belt on show seriously detracts from the product and the show itself. It’s been one of my main grumbles since Wrestlemania, and I’m unlikely to change that point of view even if he graces us with his presence once a month on TV. The title is important and it should be the most prominent prop on WWE programming. It should be THE prize every star clamours for. Hell, Triple H is sending replica belts to winning sports teams across the globe. Back on Smackdown and we have a champion who will be on TV every week. He will wear the belt with pride and he’ll showcase it as he should. What’s not to like?
Randy Orton as champion was a brief run, but there’s no denying the guy’s stellar career he’s had with WWE. Although Randy is usually at the top of the card and is a gifted performer, having him be the man who cut short the reign of Bray Wyatt before he was dispatched to Raw, wasn’t appealing to most fans. Is Randy a ‘safe’ champion? Sure, he appears on TV and can put on good matches, but he’s been champion so many times it wasn’t refreshing or new. I won’t go as far as to call Orton boring, but we’d seen it all before. How many of the fans have cried out for a new face of the WWE, a new champion, something different, a break from the norm? Jinder is champion, what’s not to like?
When Jinder lifted the belt aloft and news spread across the planet about his victory, the inevitable comments began: Why not Luke Harper or Sami Zayn or Nakamura as first time champions? Why not put the belt on Owens or Styles? At least they’re credible champions. It was better when Orton was the champ, rather than HIM. Poor Jinder hadn’t even got back to the locker room before this outpouring of rage washed across the internet. Give the guy a chance, eh? He’s obviously hungry and knows the fans will be taken aback by his win, so he’s going to work hard to prove them wrong and show he deserves to be in the top spot, isn’t he? What’s not to like?
We don’t know what the future holds and neither does WWE, they just do the best they can with what’s available to them. One positive aspect I think everyone can take from Jinder’s title win is that those in the locker room up and down the card, perhaps thought they could never reach the pinnacle of WWE, can look to Jinder and think ‘If he can do it, then so canI’. And they’d be right in thinking that. WWE history is littered with men and women who were in the right place at the right time and capitalised on the opportunity that came their way. Jinder is just the next in line and has capitalised on this golden opportunity.
Roman Reigns is booed because we see him as the guy WWE wants to be champion, not the guy we want to see as champion. He’s had it easy on the road to the top. Then if that is true, surely Jinder Mahal has had the exact opposite history? Never being protected, usually the fall guy and a bit-part player ever since he arrived in WWE. Should we therefore cheer this man who endured his multitude of losses, stuck it out, only to see himself finally get a chance to prove what he can do? Wrestling is a funny business, and the fans can be just as unpredictable. I wasn’t a Jinder fan before his title victory, but the least we can do is see where this is headed. Give the guy and WWE a chance to try something new with someone new, after all, that’s what we’ve been asking them to do, isn’t it?
What do you think? Should the fans give Jinder a chance as champion before passing judgement? Is a fresh champ going to shake things up, or should WWE have stuck with Orton? How long can Mahal’s reign last? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.