We sat down with #1 contender for the WWE Championship Jinder Mahal earlier today. The Maharaja turned out to be far-flung from the brash heel character he plays on WWE television and instead, revealed himself to be a gentleman and one of the most genuinely nice people that I've interviewed.
We spoke about everything from his recent push to the main event, working with Randy Orton and his Indian heritage. Here are the highlights from our chat.
The whole of India is behind you ahead of your match WWE Backlash against Randy Orton. How does it feel to be representing India in the WWE?
I’m very proud to be representing India in the WWE. The Indian fans are very passionate about our product, they’re very passionate about the WWE and it makes me proud that I’m representing all of them on such a big scale and I hope I can become WWE Champion and make all of India proud.
I just want to thank Indian fans for always supporting me and being very passionate about our product.
What was it like to move to SmackDown Live and being pushed to the main-event scene almost immediately?
It’s been great. They say SmackDown Live is the land of opportunity and I think I’ve proved that it really is. The move has been great. When I originally debuted in 2011, I was on SmackDown. At the time, they were separate from RAW so I feel at home on SmackDown. It’s good to be back.
RAW is also a great show but I feel, for me, SmackDown is a better opportunity and I’ve run with the opportunity so far on the blue brand.
What the experience of working with Randy Orton like?
The experience is great. I’m on the European tour so I get to wrestle Randy Orton every night. I try to pick up points every time on how to beat him at WWE Backlash to win the WWE Championship. Working with him is great. He’s a legend in the business. As they say, he’s the legend killer but I think it’s time for someone new to challenge him.
I’m younger than him, I’m faster than him and I’m in better shape than him. I’m also stronger than him and don’t have any injuries so I think it’s time for a new WWE Champion.
What are your thoughts on the Singh Brothers?
The Singh Brothers are good. I’ve actually known them for a long time. They were wrestling in Canada before this and it’s good to see them on SmackDown Live also. They were on 205 Live and NXT earlier.
Now they’re helping me out (laughs) so it’s good that I have somebody in my corner watching my back.
What was the feeling like when you finally won the #1 contendership on SmackDown Live?
The feeling was great. With everything in perspective, I’m one win away from becoming WWE Champion. One win away from making all my dreams come true and changing my life. So if anything, it motivates me more.
I’m going to be more aggressive, I’m training harder now. Overall it’s a great feeling being #1 contender but I’m not the champion yet. That’s the goal – to be WWE Champion. The goal isn’t to become #1 contender but to become champion.
At Backlash, on the 21st, I’ll bring everything to Randy Orton and I will become WWE Champion.
You’re billed from Punjab, India even though you were born in Canada. Does it ever feel strange that the Canadian side of your upbringing is not showcased on television?
No, not at all. I’m Punjabi and speak Punjabi fluently and know all the Indian customs and everything. I learned Punjabi before I learned English in spite of the fact that I was born in Canada. So, I don’t feel like that.
There are Indians all over the world born in different countries but we all come from the same motherland.
While you were growing up, who were your favourite wrestlers and biggest influences? Is there any match that you still remember that had a profound impact on you?
My biggest influences were Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. When I was a little older there was The Rock, Mick Foley, and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
My favourite match of all time is the Iron Man Match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania. My other favourite match is Ricky Steamboat vs. Macho Man at WrestleMania 3.
You’ll challenge for the WWE Championship at WWE Backlash which will be a milestone in your career. Are there any other such moment from your career that you remember particularly fondly?
Yeah, the first ever NXT Championship tournament that WWE did. In the final match, it was me vs Seth Rollins. Unfortunately, I lost that match and Seth became the first ever NXT Champion.
That match is a big moment for me.
What was it like returning to the WWE like after your hiatus from the company?
It feels great to be back, especially after the position I was at. I was just floating near the midcard and the bottom of the card so it was good that I got to go away to find myself as a performer and improve upon myself, improve my body, improve my promo skills and in-ring skills.
Obviously, I’ve been back less than a year and now I’m the #1 contender so, in a lot of ways, going away was one of the best things to happen to me. Even outside the ring, I invested in real estate. It was an overall time of growth for me – both professionally inside the ring and outside.
It feels great to be back in the WWE. The locker room is different. There are a lot of guys from NXT now on the main roster, which is great. It’s great backstage and it’s kind of like a youth movement with young and new wrestlers in the spotlight.
Hopefully, I can take advantage of that because I’ve never been a champion in the WWE. So hopefully, Backlash will be the first of many times that I become champion.
Your physical transformation during your hiatus has been stark. What’s the secret behind your toned body?
The secret is consistency. I literally haven’t had a cheat meal in 3-4 months. I haven’t eaten anything I shouldn’t have. Even now, on the tour, I have my cooling bag with me and I carry 5 meals with me so that I eat every 2 hours. I eat 30/40 grammes of carbohydrates, 30/40 grammes of proteins with every meal.
Then there’s cardio 6 days a week and weight training 6 days a week. I also became straight-edge. I also do a lot of Olympic compound movements.
Then there are lots of basic squats, lots of push-ups and other exercises. Overall, from diet to exercise, I’m seeing good results. I’m going to keep getting in better shape because not only do I look better but I feel better.
I feel better inside the ring in terms of stamina and endurance, which is important if I want to become WWE Champion and have long matches every night.
Is there anyone on the current roster who’s a dream opponent for you?
Yeah, I would like to face John Cena. Hopefully, I will be WWE Champion when the time to face Cena comes.
Our last question for today, what’s the biggest difference between the SmackDown locker room and the RAW locker room?
The locker rooms are both the same. Everybody’s relaxed and supportive. I don’t really think there’s much difference between the two locker rooms. The wrestlers are very friendly on both brands. It’s a great atmosphere.
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