By Joshua Waddles
You can feel Jinder Mahal’s hate when he glares at the cameras, screaming his title as the “Modern Day Maharaja,” and he works the mic with such intensity he could share the ring with Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock.
But he’s not very good in the ring. This became agonizingly obvious during his match with John Cena, which fans took as a great opportunity to run to the bathroom or get on their cellphones, tweeting about how excited they were about Shinsuke Nakamura.
While Jinder Mahal’s lack of in-ring ability is certainly a factor in his inability to get over with the fans, he still should have been able to get the fans interested in spite of that. Jinder Mahal is a heel and meant to be hated. The WWE’s creative team failed to incite even this reaction (which should be second nature to them by now) and instead the fans are just shrugging their shoulders. This is due mostly to the booking just before Mahal won the belt, and also because of the crowded roster on SmackDown.
Before the post-WrestleMania “Superstar Shakeup,” SmackDown was the best WWE show by far. But then Vince McMahon poached some of SmackDown’s most interesting talents and put them on Raw. Fans were already smarting after Bray Wyatt dropped the World Title after only a month and the loss of so many favorites gave fans little reason to keep watching. The obvious exceptions would be AJ Styles and Kevin Owens, who came in from Raw and was well-used on SmackDown. Other favorites, such as Luke Harper and Sami Zayn, completely disappeared until just recently.
Jinder Mahal, on the other hand, had suddenly been given the most abrupt, artificial push fans had ever seen. Even the divisive Roman Reigns had an epic history with The Shield before the infamous Royal Rumble 2015. But Jinder Mahal went from the jobber faction 3MB almost directly to number one contender for the World Title, with only a brief time spent as Rusev’s sidekick against Enzo Amore and Big Cass. Unlike with Roman Reigns, fans mostly didn’t rage over this. The most common reaction was “What?”
It didn’t take long for the fans to figure out what; Vince McMahon wanted to expand the WWE Network’s sales in India.
WWE creative angers fans accidentally with their babyfaces the way they can only dream of angering fans with their heels. WWE execs would likely be thrilled if Mahal had stoked as much fan rage as Roman Reigns and judging by past history, his artificial push ahead of fans’ favorites ought to have made Mahal the most despised wrestler on the roster. But most of the fans’ favorites weren’t on SmackDown anymore. And while Mahal is no better in the ring that Reigns or Cena, he is a lot better on the mic, meaning the smarks that hated Reigns can at least appreciate Mahal for his mic skills.
It may be the strangest situation of any wrestler on the WWE roster; even with his limited in-ring ability, Jinder Mahal has all the tools he needs to be an A-list heel, but fans can’t even resent him for his artificial push. The fans who would have hated him for that push have mostly moved to Raw. The fans who still watch SmackDown sort of enjoy his mic skills, but could never get interested in his feuds. Especially since Mahal had to share a show with the AJ Styles and Kevin Owens feud, and this may be why AJ Styles won that belt at last. AJ Styles verses Shinsuka Nakamura sounds a lot better than Nakamura vs Mahal.
There were a lot of things the WWE could have done, and still could do, to properly use Jinder Mahal. There are other belts and feuds out there and Mahal might do great in a feud for the United States title. But even so, the problem with SmackDown’s crowded roster still remains. There are too many wrestlers and not enough time to showcase them all; a wrestler in the middle of a push might go two weeks without being seen except for a short monologue.
In the end, this is Jinder Mahal’s only problem: there isn’t enough air time for fans to get to know him or most of his opponents. Even when SmackDown was the favorite show, there just wasn’t enough air time for more than two or three feuds. And if the WWE wants the fans to get interested in him, they’re first going to have to find a way to get the fans interested in SmackDown again.