I believe some reminiscing is in order. Picture this in your mind. It is Backlash 2017. The main event is WWE Champion Randy Orton defending against Jinder Mahal. The match ends with Orton ruthlessly attacking the Singh brothers, dropping one of them flat on their head on top of the announcer’s table. He gives them both a hanging DDT for their troubles. Jinder creeps from ringside, enters the ring, hits a Cobra Slam, and pins Orton for the 3 count in one of the more shocking WWE Title wins in the history of the title. How did we get here?
You might have known Jinder Mahal best for his stint in the jobber crew known as 3MB. He started out in NXT, but upon coming to the main roster, it seemed like he was destined to be a Zack Ryder like figure at best. There wasn’t anything distinguishing about him. He was from a foreign country. He hated people. But there have been hundreds of figures like that which has appeared in WWE before. Under the pretext of budget cuts, Jinder was released from his contract in July of 2014, before returning back in the summer of 2016. Jinder stated himself that in the interim of when he was gone from WWE, he hit rock bottom on the independent scene. He wasn’t eating right, he wasn’t motivated and he wasn’t satisfied. So he looked to rewrite his future, put down the alcohol and worked to make himself a better superstar. WWE came back around Jinder, and he eventually found himself on the RAW brand. Despite his return, he still wasn’t getting consistent television time and was still reserved in the time slots for the likes of jobbers and enhancement talent. He did get a spot on the WrestleMania 33 pre-show, but he lost the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal to Mojo Rawley. It looked like he didn’t make up any ground from when he initially left. But that would all change as he was moved to the Smackdown brand after the Superstar Shake Up.
Jinder won a number 1 contender’s match for the WWE Championship. Soon, that win translated into pinning then WWE Champion Randy Orton in a tag team match. Then, he defeated AJ Styles. How did this jobber who would constantly be shown in 2-minute showings all of a sudden keep up, and defeat, WWE’s elite? Many attribute it to the new muscular appearance. He had veins busting out from every part of his body, resembling an anatomical thunderstorm. He looked completely jacked and sported a look that Vince is famously fond of. Others viewed Jinder’s WWE Title feud as something for Randy to do before moving onto bigger threats later down the line. But little did we know what we were in store for at the Backlash PPV. Backlash 2017 was a mediocre PPV at best, riddled with average to mediocre matches and an overall feeling that nothing on the show really mattered. Except for the main event of course. The night ended with Jinder defeating Randy to win the WWE Title. He’d go on to hold it for approximately half a year’s worth of time before dropping it to now WWE Champ, AJ Styles. Was the gamble on Jinder worth it?
Whether or not the decision to put WWE’s most prestigious title on a man who had won less than a hand’s worth of matches prior to his Smackdown career was business-oriented or not is up for debate. It was being reported that WWE was exploring international markets, and that having Jinder would bring WWE more worldwide acclaim. But again, was it worth the six month experiment? Allow me to be frank with you.
Randy Orton is one of my favorite superstars of all time. He is actually one of the reasons why I got into wrestling. However, 2017 was a pretty horrible year for him, and that’s ironic considering he defeated Roman Reigns to win the Royal Rumble and won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Randy was more a beneficiary of circumstance. He won the Rumble simply because his name wasn’t Roman Reigns. He would have an interesting feud with Bray Wyatt that resulted in an absolutely horribly booked WWE Title match at WrestleMania that resembled an 8th-grade science project gone awry with all the projects of insects permeating the wrestling floor. Randy won in anticlimactic fashion by hitting an RKO sort of out of nowhere to win his 13th world title. The two would have a rematch, inexplicably not for the title for some reason, that Bray won, but in one of the most horribly booked matches, I ever bore witness to. So, needless to say, I was more than okay with experimenting with a run with Jinder. He wouldn’t be my first choice to be sure, but at least it was something different.
I instantly knew that my optimism of a different face in the main event scene wouldn’t be rewarded. All of his matches started to become extremely formulaic and unoriginal. The majority of his matches were dull and plodding because Jinder doesn’t have a diverse offensive moveset outside of stock offensive moves from any muscle-bound broot. Then, the Singh brothers would interfere and Jinder would always win from behind. This would be evident in his WWE Title matches with Randy and Shinsuke Nakamura. The sad thing is, that was the only story Jinder knew how to tell in the ring. He would wrestle average at best matches, and his opponents would constantly allow the Singhs to distract them, freeing them up for the same finisher time after time. The pinnacle of all of this incompetence was capitalized in that nightmarish Punjabi Prison match Jinder had with Randy at Battleground. It was far too contrived, far too long, devoid of logic, and to top it off, The Great Khali? Yeah, no.
All of this was going on while AJ Styles and Kevin Owens were feuding over the United States Championship, and while their feud wasn’t anything special either, it felt more important than anything Jinder did. Jinder was actually originally slated to face Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series in a champion vs. champion match, but I’m sure we all realized that the bigger and better match would be with Brock facing AJ, and that remains to this day one of the greatest impromptu decisions ever. Can you imagine what a Brock/Jinder match would look like?
The most concerning this to me about Jinder during his reign was the fact that he didn’t seem to improve. He just stayed in a holding pattern and nothing about him progressed with his title. If it’s the sudden shift from low-card jobber to main event guy, I could hardly blame him. The transition would be difficult for anybody, and he certainly didn’t ask to be in this position. He just happened to be the vessel of a long-term plan that WWE was looking for, and Jinder was the guy that evidently would make that plan work. That being said, the biggest issue was that the WWE Title was making Jinder feel like a big deal when it should be the other way around. We were conditioned to believe that Jinder was a main eventer because he held the WWE Championship.