One Opinion on New WWE Champion Jinder Mahal
Backlash was a very mixed bag of a show, with few notable matches or moments of worth. That said, this is one PPV that will be talked about for quite some time to come, solely for the outcome of the main event match. In a somewhat surprise (more on that to come) upset, former enhancement talent Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton to become the WWE Champion. There’s really no way to explain that any further, so I’ll just get right down to it.
The match itself actually wasn’t that bad, which was the only expectation going in. Sure, it was far from good, but also nowhere near the worst PPV match this year. On top of that, there was a surprisingly vocal contingent of the audience supporting Jinder, which was refreshing after the nonstop negativity leading up to this match. I didn’t have a chance to watch much of the PPV the night it aired, but even for the little bit I did catch (Owens vs. Styles), I had a strange feeling that Jinder would be coming out on top. The pin was very abrupt, but came at the end of a nice sequence where Orton knocked the hell out of the Singh Brothers and laid both out with a dual rope-hung DDT. Jinder, of course snuck in for the finishing touch, and after the three count the result was final. Call me contrarian, but there was something so refreshing, so enjoyable about that kind of a surprise, unpopular finish that worked for me. After my initial shock died down, there was a lot to enjoy in the way the cameras sought out scores of distraught, disgusted fans. That was a great reaction to a heel victory for the championship, and it’s not the sort of thing you get to see very often any longer. In its own way, it was a great moment.
If I can make a long-reaching comparison, the Hulk Hogan of the 1980s was every bit as limited a performer as Jinder, and his rise and continued status at the top of WWE clearly played into the rampant patriotism of the time. Moving past that so-called Golden Era, it’s time that the company acknowledge their global audience and stop playing to the stereotypes they’ve dealt in for decades. This is certainly a business-oriented move, but it clearly reflects the fact that white males are no longer (and have not been for quite some time) the core of their worldwide fan base. That Jinder remains a heel while WWE attempts global expansion is another matter altogether. Also of note is the fact that the Singh Brothers, formerly the Bollywood Boyz, are cast as his flunkies, denying their talents as impressive cruiserweight performers. However, and this is very important to consider, there’s little to no indication that these performers’ ethnicities are the reason they catch such tremendous heel heat from crowds. Rather, it’s the abrupt nature of Jinder’s push that seems to raise the ire of his most vocal detractors, and that totally makes sense. There’s no indication beyond appealing to their Indian audience/market that Jinder is ready for this sort of a position at the top of the card (it isn’t my place to discuss whether he deserves it or not). And with my reference to Hogan, I’m not trying to begin to compare them beyond wrestling ability. Hogan could work a crowd like nobody else before or after, and how over he was unparalleled at the time. What I’m saying is that this is a post-Triple H, Roman Reigns world. That the company’s top choice will be at odds with the majority of their audience is almost a given anymore. And let’s not forget that the majority of that vocal audience is composed of white American males.
Face it, the Great Khali was the last attempt at an Indian crossover, and Jinder is nowhere near his level of awfulness in the ring. Plus, at least he shows more personality than the giant former champion. More importantly, this is a company who in its fifty-plus year existence has had only one African-American wrestler (that would be The Rock) hold its top title (the WWE Championship), and just a handful of minorities win that same prize. That’s something you don’t hear mentioned too often, and it's very important not to forget that. The fact that WWE is playing to a more global audience is a very good thing, particularly given the fact that most foreign and ethnic performers have been saddled with hugely offensive gimmicks, even in recent years. Come on, Shinsuke Nakamura is the first major Asian performer on the main roster not to be saddled with an over-the-top gimmick emphasizing his race. And I’m not saying that Jinder’s current Maharajah gimmick is without problems. And I certainly can’t deny that the appeal to Indian crowds feels like little more than a cynical, exploitative cash-grab. But I’m willing to sit back and watch how things are handled, and I want to see Jinder succeed in his role, because there could be a very interesting change of pace in store if this is pulled off successfully. There are more important things, both within and especially outside of wrestling, than seeing somebody that the majority approve of. Seeing the same bland, muscular white men in the top role ought to be a thing of the past, and opportunities need to be given to wider variety of stars from the company’s deep talent pool. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I expected WWE to fail and fall back on their offensive, old ways. But I don’t want that, and hopefully there are more people who agree that it’s time for a change, and if nothing else, Jinder’s ascent is certainly unprecedented.
Big Vin Vader covers professional wrestling for Pencilstorm. follow@bigvinvader