Superstar Breakdown: Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal is one of the most controversial wrestlers on the SmackDown roster right now. His main event push and subsequent WWE Championship run have both been subjects of great debate among wrestling fans.
Yet while his reign has proven that old mantra correct – that SmackDown is, in fact, the ‘land of opportunity’ – the payoff for pushing Jinder Mahal hasn’t been what WWE was hoping for.
So with that being said, let’s break down the WWE Championship and see what he’s made of.
This is arguably the most noticeable aspect of Mahal’s wrestling character. Ever since he returned to regular WWE programming in December 2016, he has showcased a radically different physique from the one he had beforehand.
The now chiselled and highly-muscular Mahal looked completely different from before. This drastic change in appearance fueled widespread speculation that Mahal was either on steroids, human growth hormones (HGH), or both.
However, Mahal has since refuted any and all claims that he used any ‘enhancements’ to improve his body. Instead, he attributed these changes to a very hard work ethic that, apparently, didn’t go unnoticed by WWE’s top brass.
Aside from his physique, Mahal does have the other aspects of a wrestler’s look taken care of. He has an intimidating face and proper wrestling attire, which makes him fit the role of a heel wrestler more easily.
Unfortunately, everything else about Jinder Mahal leaves a lot to be desired.
Jinder Mahal’s actual in-ring abilities aren’t up to par with many of SmackDown’s top wrestlers. SmackDown has several top superstars whose in-ring talents far exceed those of Mahal: A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and even Randy Orton are all better wrestlers than Mahal.
The reason for this observation is that Jinder Mahal has yet to have a stand-out match through which he showed what he was capable of doing. The majority of his matches thus far have involved over-booking, outside interference, constant shenanigans, and an emphasis on special gimmicked matches.
In other words, anything other than a straight singles match in which Mahal would show off his grappling skills.
Mahal’s offence doesn’t look exceptionally painful, and he relies too much on outside interference to win his matches. His finisher, the ‘Khallas’ (a Cobra Clutch Slam, similar to the ‘Dream Street’ Ted DiBiase Jr. used to use) doesn’t look like a powerful move at all, much less one that has the power and potency to end a match.
This less-than-stellar wrestling ability is one of the several reasons Mahal’s main event push hasn’t been as well-received as WWE might’ve planned.
Promo skills & charisma
Mahal’s speaking abilities are average, at best. He spends most of his time speaking in an angry voice (accompanied by what seems like a permanent scowl on his face) and tends to switch between English and Punjabi.
This is a classic ‘evil foreigner’ speaking direction, but once again, it has failed to set the world on fire.
Mahal’s promos sound over-scripted and lack any natural emotion to them. Most of his lines are generic and recycled, following the general mindset of, ‘I am an outsider, and your country (usually the United States) is bad to my people/my country is better than yours).
It is painfully clear that WWE has been trying to make Mahal into an Indian version of Rusev, whom, you may recall, they pushed as a true monster that garnered major heat when he played a Russian nationalist.
As for charisma, Mahal has a long way to go before he really excels in that department. If charisma is all about keeping people in the palm of your hands through your words and actions and also keeping them engaged and interested in what you’re doing, then Mahal’s performances thus far have failed to demonstrate any good examples of charisma.
Mahal’s matches are relatively boring and void of any real heat. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally evil, and the ‘cheap’ things he does (such as having the Singh Brothers interfere in his matches on a regular basis) aren’t really ‘bad’ enough for the audience to care.
Jinder Mahal’s booking and presentation as a believable main-event-calibre wrestler hasn’t gone as well as WWE hoped for in the beginning. In the span of three weeks, he went from losing to Finn Balor (who was concussed by Mahal, ironically) in a squash match, to winning a #1 contender’s match for the WWE title, to winning the top prize on SmackDown.
Now, I understand that things happen quickly in WWE, but even for them, this is poor booking that screamed of lack of forethought. Mahal’s win against Orton was quickly perceived as a fluke and as a disappointment.
After all, how was anyone to expect that this guy, who had spent months being a jobber and lower-card wrestler (whose gimmick was being ‘the man that comes in peace’) to being on the same level as Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, and other top-tier wrestlers that has proven their credibility many times over?
Mahal’s sudden and unexpected WWE title win led to two dominant narratives over why he won. The first was that he was pushed solely because of his look. It isn’t a big secret that Vince McMahon likes tall, muscular men over smaller, less-chiselled men, even if the latter group is full of superior workers.
It challenged the fan expectation that hard workers and true experts in grappling would rise to the top. Mahal’s run has thus been interpreted as a twisted ‘throwback’ to an earlier decade when looks were more important than anything else.
The second narrative is centred on money. This argument proposes that the biggest reason for Jinder Mahal’s push was so that WWE could gain more of a foothold in what was seen as a highly-lucrative market in India.
The argument was that Indian fans would respond to WWE better (and thus, also spend more money on WWE’s product) if a top wrestler was of the same background as them.
Unfortunately, this mindset hasn’t really translated into regular success for WWE. As lucrative as the Indian market might be, WWE’s core audience is very much North American. And if fan noise and interest is any indicator, the overall response to Mahal as a top wrestler on SmackDown has been lukewarm, at best.
No matter what they try with him, Mahal simply isn’t taken seriously as a wrestler that got to the top because of his own hard work ethic. He has yet to have a good match on his own, and relies too much on outside interference to win and prove he’s a top-tier wrestler.
If you recall, Kevin Owens was booked in a similar way when he was Universal Champion: more as a coward that cheated and ran than as a believable heel monster. Mahal is being booked in the same way, and the fans aren’t liking it.
As long as Mahal continues to be presented in this way, then most fans won’t buy into him. The narratives of him becoming champion due to his look or due to the profit motive taking over common sense booking will prevail as long as Mahal stays the same.
Clearly, something desperate is needed to make Jinder Mahal feel like a proper champion and not just another Vince McMahon creative swerve that has long overstayed its welcome.
Final grade: C+
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