Good evening, wrestling fans! Welcome to the newest weekly column on AiPT!, "Explain Like I’m Kayfabe." I’m your host, Brian Clements, and each week I want to take you into the stories we love and try to explain them, not using backstage intrigue, but through as much in-play reasoning as I can muster. I’ll explore potential reasons why certain superstars make it to the top and others suddenly turn to the dark side, destroying their partners, and breaking everyone’s hearts in the process. Sorry. I’ll save Tomasso Ciampa’s betrayal for another day. For the first installation of my new column, I’m looking right at the new top guy on Smackdown Live, WWE Champion Jinder Mahal.
“Kayfabe,” for the uninitiated, refers to the world wrestling’s storylines take place in. In real life, Jinder Mahal may have won the WWE Championship to help push the company’s presence in India. In kayfabe, Jinder Mahal won because he cheated and had his associated interfere in the match.
Jinder Mahal is WWE Champion. If you had gone back in time even six months and told me that, I’d have laughed hard enough to pop one of the myriad bulging veins on the Modern Day Maharaja’s biceps. Even three months ago, Mahal lost the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania to Mojo Rawley with an assist from Rob Gronkowski. His career PPV win/loss record, before his title win at Backlash, was 1-9. His only other PPV win was in 2012 where he and fellow 3MB member Heath Slater defeated Zack Ryder and Santino Marella in a dark match. His overall WWE record, according to the Internet Wrestling Database, is 80-373-5, a shockingly low sub-18% win record.
Mahal is certainly not the first surprise champion in the WWE. He is, however, the first WWE Champion with such a sub-par win/loss record. In looking back at the fifty men who have held the WWE Championship or its predecessors, all the way back to Buddy Rogers in 1963, no one even comes close. There have been short title reigns, including Kane’s one-day title run and Yokozuna’s short transition between Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan in the same show at Wrestlemania IX. Other surprising first-time champs have come recently through the Money In The Bank contract stipulation. The surprise, however, is mostly when the win will come, not if. Until Damien Sandow lost his chance against John Cena in 2013, the briefcase was a reliable way for a future champ to establish himself before shockingly cashing in at the opportune moment. Mahal’s win is (so-far) neither a short-lived fluke, nor a build-up for a new superstar on the top tier of WWE.
The big question here is why did Mahal even get a shot to get near the storied championship? His win of the number one contender’s spot as well as the championship itself were both thanks to assists from the Singh Brothers. No problem there. Outside interference has won and lost many a match over the decades. But, what got him into that number one contender’s match in the first place? On April 18, 2017, Mahal entered a 6-Pack Challenge match against Erick Rowan, Luke Harper, Mojo Rawley, Sami Zayn and Dolph Ziggler. How did Mahal earn his way into the match? Let’s take a look at each of the competitors.
Dolph Ziggler was the only former world champion in the mix, so he’s in no problem. Mojo Rawley won the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, so he earned some consideration. So far, so good. Sami Zayn is a former NXT champion, has a positive win/loss record and is undeniably one of the more popular Superstars in WWE. He is a perennial dark horse, but he still gets into the match. Now we get down to the final three: Rowan, Harper and Mahal. What are any of them doing in this match? If Smackdown Live GM Daniel Bryan and Commissioner Shane McMahon truly want the best members of their roster fighting for a title opportunity, why those three men? If you accept that the best three available wrestlers on the roster (Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin and AJ Styles) were feuding over the supposedly lower-tier United States Championship, who is left that could fill out this match?
By the time the Superstar Shakeup solidified the new rosters, very few true top-tier superstars remained on SDL. New Day had yet to debut on their new brand due to Kofi Kingston’s ankle injury at the hands of The Revival (#topguys), so Big E and Kofi are out of the discussion. Zack Ryder was also out injured. Chris Jericho left to go on tour with Fozzy after closing his battle with Kevin Owens. John Cena is currently inactive, so is Kane–one to film movies and get married, one to run for mayor of a small county in Tennessee. I’ll let you guess which is which. Rusev had yet to debut on SDL and was in a Twitter war with Shane McMahon over how he would be treated on his coming to the blue brand. Shinsuke Nakamura had yet to have any in-ring action in WWE (not counting his time in NXT, as per Dolph Ziggler). Tye Dillinger got big crowd reactions, but just wasn’t firing on all cylinders to get him anywhere near the main event scene. Everyone else on the roster is in a tag team or named Aiden English. So, in go Harper, Rowan, and Mahal.
At this point, once he is in the match, Mahal had a real shot. With the non-elimination format and the help of the Singh Brothers, Mahal took advantage of the opportunity and won the match, catapulting him to his shocking win at Backlash. After a great deal of press about his win, especially in his home country of
Canada India, the Modern Day Maharaja got a full-on “Punjabi Celebration,” really a Bhangra exhibition pulled right from Punjabi tradition, complete with dancers, musicians and authentic costumes galore. The YouTube video posted by WWE currently has over 3 million views, making it one of the most viewed videos on WWE’s channel last week.
Presenting an actual, authentic cultural celebration is new for WWE, but connecting with the passionate Indian fan base, both abroad and here in the United States, could be a welcome culture shift in the new era. How long Jinder will stay unhindered remains to be seen, but the crowd loves to boo this new villain, driving him and his message on to the Money in the Bank PPV where he will face Randy Orton once again. Hopefully this opportunity won’t pass Mahal by and we will continue to see more of the Maharaja and his exceptional scowl.