Craig Wilson, Brian Damage, Russ Morgan and Jamie Lithgow
It’s undoubtedly the biggest story in the WWE, the crowning of Jinder Mahal as the WWE Champion. In today’s Sunday Sermon, we look at Mahal’s push, discuss whether or not he is the right man to carry SmackDown Live and wonder how long he will remain champion.
Craig: The push of Jinder Mahal has certainly surprised me. I don’t think many batted an eyelid when he was initially let go whilst there was an element of surprise that he was resigned. I, and many others would have assumed that his signing had more to do with helping to pad out the rosters after the brand split.
Yet here we are, the reign of the Maharaja is underway in the WWE following Mahal’s triumph over Randy Orton last Sunday at Backlash, the SmackDown-exclusive PPV.
It’s been the talk of the wrestling internet since Sunday. With #dontHinderJinder trending worldwide and others citing it almost like a Jinderella story of former jobber turned champion.
But is it another example of SmackDown being the land of opportunity and that WWE can create new stars or is it a cynical attempt to assist with the company’s expansion efforts in India.
Brian: I think it has to do with both in my honest opinion. As Jinder himself said on SmackDown, there are about 1.2 billion people in India. Many just so happen to be rabid wrestling fans. Heck, just look at the Great Khali who is like a national icon over there. These fans are important to pro wrestling in general. I mean TNA (Impact) Wrestling is doing a TV taping there for crying out loud.
While Jinder may not be many fans ideal type of wrestler, there is a lot of marketability in him. The WWE has been excellent in their push of Jinder Mahal in such a short amount of time. The Punjabi celebration on SmackDown Live this week was excellently done. It really showed the importance and significance in his title win last Sunday. I would be really curious to see how the fans in India would respond to having Mahal as WWE champion. Would it be another case like it was 20 years ago with the whole Canada vs USA storyline?
Craig: Well, you had me on board at the mention of USA vs Canada from 1997…
The fact that there is such a market makes absolute sense. It’s a merchandising goldmine too. It’s definitely worth also mentioning the TNA aspect, there’s no chance that the WWE and Vince McMahon would have to want that company to have a free reign over such a huge market.
I would agree that the celebrations were well done and a good fun segment on SmackDown. By all accounts, also, Jinder is a really nice bloke who has worked hard to get to where he is. It’s also worth noting that although treated almost exclusively as a jobber on WWE TV, he was in the final to crown the first NXT Champion, where he lost to Seth Rollins. So, there’s clearly something there that perhaps some of us have yet to see.
Curious, though, to see where this goes. Is there an all-American hero for him to face in coming weeks and months or does the company go a different route?
Brian: In all honesty, they should go a different route and just focus on Jinder Mahal as the Indian version of the ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase or Alberto Del Rio. I think his gimmick would work better as just an arrogant rich guy who just so happens to be Indian instead of Jinder Mahal…an Indian heel.
It’ll be interesting to see just how long they plan on keeping Mahal champion. Will it be a significant amount of time or will it just be for a few weeks? What I do know is, the ratings for this week’s SmackDown Live were the best they have been in over a month on, it seems the Jinder Mahal experiment is working to their advantage thus far.
Russ: I don’t see any point in not making Jinder’s reign not legitimate, it could hurt the fan base in India that they are trying to firmly penetrate. I don’t think it would be wise to take the belt of him so suddenly. I think it’s cool to try something different and someone new to be the top guy, whether he’s the right choice only time will tell.
Jamie: I’m going to approach this from a different angle, and this may just be me that feels this way. I’ve not seen any wrestling in weeks, probably since the shows after WrestleMania. That said, the news of Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Title has been unavoidable. Am I interested, will I be watching SmackDown from now on? In a word, no. Again, this might just be me, but Jinder is that shit guy from 3MB. It’s cool that the WWE are making the effort to build a new star, but that doesn’t undo years of presenting the guy as a total jobber. Therefore, I hope he does have a lengthy reign as champ, otherwise, he could all too easily slip back into being a joke character. Essentially, I see him as a modern day JBL. I didn’t buy into him after he switched from Bradshaw to JBL, but over time and after a lengthy reign as champion, I started to take him seriously. That’s what Jinder needs for me to get interested in him, but I may or may not be alone with that.
As an aside, the cynic in me is wondering if the WWE have only just realised the guy is of Indian descent? Have Vince and Stephanie just looked at a map and noticed that India is fucking massive and thus it is home to loads of wrestling fans? Jinder has been in and around the WWE for years. He’s always been solid, if not exceptional in the ring. He’s solid, if not exceptional, on the microphone too. So why now? Why has the WWE decided to do a complete U-turn and present one of its low card acts as a top guy? Why not take advantage of the obvious marketability of Jinder two, three years ago when The Great Khali retired? I’m not bemoaning the fact that wrestling is about marketing these days, but nothing – other than the visibility of Jinder’s veins – appears to have changed since 2011 but all of a sudden, he’s gone from just another guy to prized asset.
Brian: I absolutely agree with you, Russ. It is nice to see guys other than the usual top guys get a shot at being WWE champion. I think him beating an old face at the top like Randy Orrin helped him a lot. I think if he had beaten a guy like say AJ Styles, there would have been a much more (no pun intended) negative backlash.
Craig: Brian’s point about the duration of reign is interesting. With the WWE touring India in September, is it fair to assume he keeps the gold until, and beyond then? If so, are we talking about until WrestleMania potentially? Or, if the numbers don’t improve a) in terms of SmackDown viewership and b) merch etc in India, do they go back to the drawing board or persevere?
Brian: I didn’t realize the WWE was going to India in September. That changes everything for me to be honest with you. Jinder will, in my opinion, remain WWE champion until that tour is over with. I mean to do all this and take the title away from him before touring India would make little sense. That’s not to say the WWE haven’t done questionable things in the past, I just don’t see the sense in it.
I see Jamie’s points as well with Jinder being skyrocketed from roster filler to all of a sudden WWE champion. My thoughts though are that what makes this so good. It gives the aura that anybody can be WWE champion at any time. Did you know that when Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton, he became the 50th different wrestler to hold that title?
I am also happy for the Bollywood Boys aka The Singh brothers. I never saw them doing much of anything on the main roster and for that matter at NXT or 205 live. Now, while being glorified lackeys, they are on television every week and appearing on main events. I am really happy for them. There are a lot of positives to Jinder being the champion that certainly outweighs the negatives.
Jamie: Agreed, there’s no way Jinder Mahal is not the WWE Champion at some point during the India tour. I’d like to think that he’ll hold it until then, but could easily imagine him dropping it only to regain it in India. That would be a heck of a story too.
I’m also in agreement with Brian about strapping a rocket to Mahal shaking up the established order in WWE. That’s part of the reason I don’t tune in every week. Coming out of Mania we had Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar as Champions, which is hardly new and exciting for a long-time fan. As a wrestling fan of many years, my default mindset is that, in most cases, if someone has been stuck at the bottom of the card for long enough then they’ll never make it to the top. But, every so often that changes. It took time for me to get used to the idea of JBL being a monster heel and top-level performer, but I got there. I hope Jinder can do the same.
I was initially not particularly excited by the prospect of Mahal as champion, but I’m starting to feel the optimism. I’m still not doing cartwheels, but I might check out Smackdown this week to see what all the fuss is about.
Russ: Obviously the “racist” heel type has had a long and storied history in wrestling, it is basically an easy way to get cheap heat. You could keep the strap on him until after the India tour, but could you imagine if he lost it prior and then won it back in India? That would be a story. I agree with you guys that having Orton give him a rub is nothing but positive.
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.