SmackDown Live has billed their brand as “The Land of Opportunity” ever since the brand split in the summer of 2016, and never before was the moniker more evident than this past week, as Jinder Mahal won a Six Pack Challenge Match to become the No. 1 contender to Randy Orton and the WWE Championship.
Mahal, a relative unknown on the WWE roster for the vast majority of his career, vaulted himself from the rare television appearance to the main event with one pinfall victory, albeit with a bit of assistance from the Singh Brothers, who interfered on his behalf, allowing him to pin Sami Zayn this past week.
In the aftermath of Mahal’s shocking victory and ascension from the lower tier of the roster, the fan reaction has been a visceral mix of shock and confusion. Many fall under the belief that Mahal’s push is if nothing else bizarre. Yet, it appears the WWE actually has a plan for this, with Mahal believed to align himself with the Singh Brothers, in an attempt to take the WWE Championship from Randy Orton.
Quite often as is the case in terms of professional wrestling, it’s all about the booking. Prior to Tuesday night, nary a soul cared much for Mahal on WWE TV if for no other reason than there was never a need to. His work ethic to completely transform his body has apparently won him some favor, as Mahal certainly looks the part of a legitimate star.
He has a unique gimmick in the sense that he can speak a different language and overall does not fit the cookie cutter mold of the typical WWE wrestler. Had he merely debuted in the WWE as what he currently is after this past week, there would be nowhere near the negative reception.
Maybe we all should have seen the writing on the walls. Mahal was the last man eliminated from the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania, which was no small feat, before stepping in the ring with Finn Balor during his last night on Raw. Normally, his arrival on a new brand would have gone unnoticed, but by switching shows, Mahal in a sense has gained a fresh sense start.
Stop for a moment and consider the possibility that Mahal might actually win the belt come Backlash. While his victory to become the No. 1 contender was a stunner in itself and immediately gave him credibility, actually winning the belt would turn him into a legitimate star on SmackDown Live.
Does it matter that the only singles belt Mahal has held in his professional career is the Prairie Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Championship? An independent promotion in Edmonton, Alberta, that is within the vicinity of his hometown of Calgary, Mahal has no experience carrying singles gold beyond those walls.
The biggest storyline he has been apart of with the WWE has been the trio of 3 Man Band, which never really caught on to its true potential. In fact, since the group dissolved, Heath Slater has gone on to become the inaugural SmackDown Tag Team Champion and Drew McIntyre has re-signed with the promotion and has immediately been pushed to the moon at NXT; Mahal was the last remaining member to have considerable success with the promotion.
In terms of building stars, this was an immediate way for the WWE to do so. Not since Damien Sandow held the Money in the Bank contract was an opponent for the top prize in the company punching so far above his weight, but creative will still have nearly a month to build Mahal up for his match against Orton at Backlash.
Another reason why this could work: the match won’t have to main event the show. Even if Mahal is to lose to Orton and come up short on his massive push, the United States Championship Match between Kevin Owens/Chris Jericho and AJ Styles has all the star power necessary to headline the show. While Mahal will get the credibility of fighting for the top prize, SmackDown Live has already shown their investment in Owens’ “Face of America” gimmick and would further give that championship a bump in prestige as well by having it be the main event of a PPV.
If nothing else, it appears the WWE has a plan. This was not just a haphazard victory with the hopes of the fans randomly catching on, as Mahal looks the part, has the henchmen, and has the gimmick to make a main event appearance make sense. Ultimately, as fans, that’s all you can ask for. Whether or not he can dethrone The Viper is another question entirely.