A month has passed since Jinder Mahal abruptly and unexpectedly became the No. 1 contender to the SmackDown WWE Championship. With the big match now only several days away, the question which has become more present with each passing week is whether WWE is really going to go all the way and have Mahal take the title off Randy Orton.
While this is a natural question with any championship match, it’s an especially intriguing one in this case. After all, it is not as if Mahal found himself in this spot after a long trek to the top. A little over a month ago, you were at the bottom of the barrel if you were examining Mahal’s run in WWE. Only a step above the series of jobbers WWE brought in to be squashed by Braun Strowman last year, Mahal at least had a full-time contract.
Clearly WWE has specific plans in mind for Mahal, and there was a big rush to get them going. It is no secret WWE has intentions of business growth in India this year, which has obviously drawn connections to Mahal’s sudden push.
While Mahal is a native of Canada, he is of Indian descent, making him the first Indian WWE performer of note since The Great Khali. And if you’re going for business growth in a foreign market, the tried-and-true method of having a prominent figure to represent said market is familiar with everyone. The Singh Brothers, formerly The Bollywood Boyz, being uplifted as Mahal’s cronies is another move which is not considered mere coincidence in this regard.
The significance of the concern rests in the fact Mahal’s push was so out of leftfield. And it is not as if Mahal was a mainstay of the midcard who was handed a big opportunity to finally take the next step. Again, Mahal came from the deepest depths of the roster.
Now in only a few days, Mahal will get a shot at the WWE Championship, a title many think he has a very real shot of winning. That booking decision would technically make him the face of the SmackDown brand, and one of the two top guys in all of WWE. Imagine that.
His odds of winning seem to increase precisely because his main event thrust was so abrupt. If Mahal had been slowly pushed over an extended period of time like most any other WWE performer, most would not pick him to win his first WWE Championship opportunity. But if he is not slated to win, why the great big push? What was the point?
Of course, the possibility is there that Mahal loses in some controversial fashion at Backlash, or the match ends in a way where the title does not change hands, setting up another match down the road to extend the story. But the principle would remain the same, despite the delay. Mahal’s recent push seemingly becomes pointless without him winning the title.
That is the issue, though. All of this seems pointless without Mahal winning the title, but Mahal becoming the new champion is rife with problems. This is the same championship AJ Styles and John Cena spent the last third of 2016 elevating with their fantastic feud, making it the most prestigious belt in WWE by far. The same championship with lineage that goes through the decades back to Bruno Sammartino. Sure, Bray Wyatt and Orton dampened that prestige with their feud that crashed and burned at the end, but at least Orton is holding it now and his name carries weight on its own given his extensive WWE career.
Now, you want to put that title on Mahal? The same guy who was a complete WWE jobber two months ago? Who struggled to even appear on weekly WWE television? And whose routine opponents consisted of such touted names as Jack Swagger, Curtis Axel, Sin Cara, and Darren Young?
Fans can accept that the Orton-Wyatt feud fell apart at the end and ultimately hurt the championship, but the idea should then be to work on recovering it. Putting the title on Mahal, with the objective reality of his WWE career until very recently, is difficult to be qualified as anything else other than an enormous burial of the WWE Championship.
The unfortunate truth is fans probably should not be surprised to see Mahal as new champion by the end of Sunday. If not Sunday, then sometime in the next few months, which changes nothing in terms of the issue at hand. Because WWE has booked itself into a corner where the only logical result is Mahal eventually getting the big title victory.
Not only is Mahal clearly not anywhere near the same level of talent as his fellow main-eventers both with his in-ring abilities and his character work, but it strongly comes off like these moves are more about a cash grab in India by WWE than anything else, regardless of the harm it does to the product in terms of quality. And bar the slim chance of WWE just dropping the whole program altogether and moving on like nothing happened, it has gone too far to turn back now.