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The Modern Day Maharaja Has Arrived!

It's sunk in now - Jinder Mahal is the WWE Champion. Isn't this outrageous?! No, it's actually not. It's a great move.

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Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP Images for WWE

It’s a fickle world we live in, and the most fickle of all people might just be wrestling fans. At the moment, there is quite the divide between those who quite like the unexpectedness of finding themselves with Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion and those who would rather see an American flag as the WWE Champion. I am most certainly in the former category. Taking risks can be rewarding but time is the tool with which this theory is often measured. If Jinder Mahal is to be taken seriously as a champion, he needs a string of good feuds, a different angle as a foreign heel champion and, maybe most importantly, he needs to be seen as a legitimate threat to anyone entering the ring with him.

Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship was, in a way, inevitable from the set up after he won a Six Pack Challenge on an April episode of Smackdown Live. Becoming Number One Contender was a shock as a lot of fans had assumed it was Sami Zayn or even Mojo Rawley’s chance to take given their on spots on the roster at that time. However, the rise of the Maharaja had been bubbling under the surface since the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania. Now, the image above may well seem like Jinder indeed actively being hindered, but it was quite the contrary. Mojo Rawley winning the match seemed baffling at the time but when you look back, it was Jinder Mahal who got the sweeter deal. Who lasted until the final two? Who got the celebrity heat moment, getting all up in Gronk's grill? Who actually gained more than the winner of the entire Battle Royal? Jinder. Mahal.

Since then, a whirlwind of dastardly heel tactics against former champion Randy Orton have taken Jinder Mahal right to the very top of the mountain and have breathed much needed life into the WWE Championship scene. With only a handful of Smackdown Live episodes gone as the champion, Jinder has been portrayed well as a new character – his celebration ceremony was actually pretty badass and he held himself well on the mic. The more you dissect this new Jinder Mahal as a superstar, the more it seems as if WWE may have potentially struck gold by placing the title on him. There are still flaws to his overall ability but then doesn’t that make him an even more effective heel to all wrestling fans already?

Looking back at Jinder’s title reign in one year will be interesting but until then, here are three things I believe he needs for the reign to be a success.

1. Building the Name

As the old adage goes, your reputation precedes you. Someone hears a name and thinks directly of the stigma attached to it. The very first thing that has been done with Jinder Mahal has been to remove the stigma that his own name used to be attached to.

Six months ago, Jinder Mahal was an afterthought of a superstar. He was that guy who used to be in 3MB. A jobber tagging with Rusev for some unknown reason. He was drifting more than Elias Samson. However, a potential emerging market in India meant an opportunity lay in waiting for someone, and who better than a wrestler with strong Indian heritage? A guy who could simultaneously portray a heel on one side of the planet and a face on the other? Whether this was on Jinder Mahal’s mind already or it was suggested to him, a change of attitude and physical appearance later, the rise of The Maharaja had begun.

The addition of ‘The Maharaja’ to Jinder’s name was an excellent idea. For a start, I don’t expect someone who calls himself the Maharaja to be a cowardly champion. It’s too grand a title to a) undermine by having him run away from challengers or b) simply waste on a fleeting champion. This is him now. This is his new identity. In self-proclamation, ‘The Maharaja’ not only oozes arrogance and self-importance – it also has an air of grandiosity to it that other nicknames or catchphrases don’t. It doesn’t feel as contrived as ‘Wrestling God’. It’s not as outright attention seeking as ‘I’m Awesome’. It carries a certain air of indignation to it, as if fans should truly revere rather than rebuke. It demands respect. For a heel, that is absolutely perfect. For a face – in India at least – it stokes the fires of patriotism.

2. The Right Feuds with the Right Wins

The success of the championship reign that Jinder Mahal has is dependent on how he performs across the board. Given that his Championship celebration was pretty damn cool overall, it could be a sign that he already has the segments outside of matches sorted. It’s in ring that feels most important at this stage, though. The feuds he has are the most important aspect now. Beyond Randy Orton, there are three viable feuds on the way to Survivor Series or the Royal Rumble that could help propel Jinder to proper main event heel status. I exclude Randy Orton of course because, well, let’s be honest - a) no-one needs to see Randy Orton as champion and b) what on Earth would be the point in seeing Jinder drop the title to him now?

First up, chuck Jinder right in at the deep end- John Cena. I cannot stress enough how important I think it is that we not only see Jinder Mahal versus John Cena, but we see Jinder beat him too. Dirty, clean, DQ, whatever. Hell, they put the title on Mahal out of nowhere so why not carry on in that vein? Cena’s journey to a record breaking 17th title reign absolutely does not need to happen right now. WWE needs to focus on continuously building a new line of main event characters. John Cena is clearly beyond that, and his place to win that elusive 17th championship is at a Wrestlemania or Summerslam, but certainly not this year. Jinder Mahal should keep the title against odds of his own if WWE wants to keep people invested in him as a champion or even just as a character. It would be such a waste to have Jinder Mahal be a flash in the pan champ.

Second challenger to the throne – Sami Zayn. The Underdog from the Underground versus the Modern Day Maharaja. The guy everyone knows is good enough to win the big one versus the guy who… erm… is Jinder Mahal. The perfect set up for an audience leaving an entire arena wholly dissatisfied with seeing Sami lose his first big opportunity and letting them hate the heel even more. Quintessential WWE writing. Sami’ll get another chance, no doubt, but they should hold fire on that one. Keep the title on Jinder.

Finally, Big E. Now, this might seem a little out of the left field but, really, The New Day are so good at what they do now that there’s no reason they shouldn’t start chasing singles gold too. Don’t split them up, but a stable chasing singles gold is always fun to watch. The dynamic between New Day and Mahal and the Singh Brothers would work perfectly in a wrestling capacity. Comedy versus seriousness is a well-trodden path but, executed well, it can produce excellent angles. There’d be plenty of opportunity to utilise all six men in matches, too. Big E would be a hugely popular challenger, and it would be crushing to see him defeated. Perfect fodder for a heel to feel even more heat.

Given that the projected storytelling over these three potential feuds, plus concluding the Randy Orton storyline, could take us to around six months of Maharaja magic – roughly Survivor Series – the time would be right then for a new champion. Jinder Mahal’s job would hopefully be done.

3. The Indo-Canadian Factor, or the New ‘Foreign’ Heel Strategy

‘Foreign’ heels always seem to have a difficult time establishing a voice for themselves beyond insulting Americans. That’s the formula to follow according to WWE though – heel berates America, face defends the United States of America’s honour. In the end, ‘foreign’ heels will fall victim to a patriot because ‘Murica is the greatest country on Earth, right?

Au contraire. This is 2017. Trump’s 2017. Things are different now.

Far be it from me to point out the obvious, but pretty much everyone has access to the internet and could quite easily find out that Jinder Mahal is not only not ‘Murican, but he was born and bred in Canada too. Is that not just absolutely perfect for a heel in America? “Boooo, you’re not ‘Murican! Wait, you’re Indian and Canadian too?!” *Gears stall in the brains of the patriot type fans.* “…BOOOOOOOO!”

WWE isn’t the best at acknowledging that their fans could show initiative like this, but if they displayed a little 21st Century awareness and brought full heritage into Jinder’s character it could certainly add a new dimension to run with. The ball is obviously in WWE’s court with this one though so all that remains is for them to read this article and have a think about it…

Anyway, this is an opportunity that hasn’t really been fully utilised in new era WWE. Jinder Mahal is a heel in the US, no question about that. He’s a face in India - media outlets there clearly paint it that way. Wrestlers are almost always faces in their home countries. So, if a large portion of the WWE audience is American, maybe Jinder Mahal should portray anti-Americanism in the same light as Trump’s opposers? People roast Trump’s America, people act superior to ‘dumb Americans’, people revel in facepalming when America gives birth to any stupid political moment these days (see: ‘covfefe’, for instance); is there room for Jinder to adopt this methodology instead of the same old ‘you are all inferior to me, I am the greatest of all time’ foreigner gimmick? If Jinder implemented some of the trending stories in US politics commenting on how dumb and weak it makes Americans look, would he then resonate more with fans outside the US? Would it intensify his heel status within America? Who knows. The jury’s out whether or not this would get a green light in a company that has (in)famously been inclusive of Donald Trump in the past. It would, however, represent a newer take on how to focus attention on Jinder Mahal as the champion without fans simply resorting to hurling insulting and inflammatory names at him simply because of his un-American status.

Above all else, Jinder Mahal needs to be a memorable champion. The company risked propelling him so far into the limelight with seemingly little to no reason for doing so besides wanting more positive exposure in India. Jinder himself needs to make sure that fact is riding on his coattails and not the other way around.

How To End The Reign Of A New Main Eventer

Potentially some far out postulating amongst three things there, yes. But this is pro wrasslin’ after all, and pro wrasslin’ is not in the business of making sense all the time.

There are so many ways in which his title run could be successful. Clearly the Singh Brothers were a massive part in Jinder securing number one contendership and capturing the WWE Championship from Randy Orton at Backlash. Flanking a champion is fantastic for their young careers and to be thrust into the spotlight this early they need to make every moment at the top count.

They work to Jinder’s advantage visually too; he is just so much bigger than them physically that he looks dominating. They’re going to be present for his entire reign presumably so taking advantage of their presence at every opportunity is a luxury to make the most of.

Beating more top level stars on PPVs is essential, engaging with the eventual Money in the Bank briefcase holder on some level would be smart, carrying on as champion for longer than 3 PPVs would help. Meeting Raw’s champion at Summerslam for a backstage face-off would do him wonders too, especially if when facing Brock / Samoa Joe / whoever, Jinder Mahal did not back down, or perhaps even got the best of an exchange.

The Modern Day Maharaja is essentially a blank canvas to work with. This version of Jinder Mahal is there to be created from the ground up. The opportunities are there to mould a top level heel. As always, we live in hope, but its hope that kills. I hope WWE have the courage to run with Jinder at the top for a while. When he does eventually drop the title – AJ Styles or a retuning Chris Jericho, perhaps? – it’d make his whole run that much sweeter.

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