So, Jinder Mahal is the new WWE Champion, defeating Randy Orton at Backlash on Sunday to capture his first title. It’s surely a polarizing move. Some will love WWE’s attempt at “shaking it up,” while others will criticize WWE for once again “forcing” someone down the throats of the audience, or piling on Mahal’s sudden new physique as the reason for his meteoric push.
Truthfully, both sides are correct.
Like any television show or movie franchise, wrestling fans will complain about everything. For some, Mahal winning the WWE Championship is the company finally putting over a new talent, and giving a new guy the chance to rise to the top.
Let’s face it, Randy Orton was not a good WWE Champion. He’s not a good babyface. Fans don’t connect with him and numbers for SmackDown were dwindling during his run with the title.
There are other reasons for those dips besides Orton — WrestleMania hangover, for example — but WWE shaking things up with a big move like this could help spark some interest in the show again. Regardless of the reason, the status quo wasn’t working.
It could be that Mahal is simply a transitional champion, with a new babyface (AJ Styles or Shinsuke Nakamura) in line for the title later this summer. Or, it could be that Mahal is in line for a 10-month run. It doesn’t matter. You can’t have it both ways. You either want to see the company try something difference, or you don’t.
That being said, there’s reason for concern with this push for Mahal. There’s no mistaking his “new look,” let’s put it. When he returned after the brand split last summer, he was big (he’s 6-foot-5) but he wasn’t cut like he is today. Photos from his return last summer show, for lack of a better term, a much flabbier Jinder Mahal.
Now, I’m not one to critique someone’s body. Believe me. But there’s also most mistaking some of the signs here, and the poor message it could send the WWE locker room. Jinder Mahal suddenly looks like the Ultimate Warrior circa-1990, and now he’s suddenly pushed to the WWE Title. Weird, right?
And again, I’m not a doctor, but there’s also no mistaking Mahal’s bumpy-looking back, and I don’t mean his suddenly double-in-size trap muscles, either. It all points to some form of enhancement. Maybe it’s simply a “new diet” and hitting the gym, but nowadays, people aren’t going to accept that. Whether or not Mahal is guilty of PED use, he’s going to be accused of it, and there are definitely some signs there.— Robbie Fox (@RobbieBarstool) May 22, 2017
My personal opinion: who cares? It’s wrestling, not the Olympics. It’s 2017 and guys know the risk of long-term PED use. It’s their bodies.
But also, what message does it send the rest of the WWE locker room? No, WWE isn’t handing out steroids to wrestlers backstage. But is this not sending a message? The softer, more-smushy Jinder Mahal was not even a midcarder. The ripped-to-shreds, back-acne Mahal is your new WWE Champion. It’s a very subtle clue to the other wrestlers that this body type is what Vince McMahon wants. It’s what he’s always wanted.
That’s the biggest issue. Again, these are grown, adult men. They know the risks, but they also see the potential reward. You can say to the media, for PR purposes, that you admonish the use of steroids in your locker room, but what kind of example is the company setting?
And again, I’m not emphatically stating that Jinder Mahal is juiced to the gills. I have no idea. But there are some signs there, and whether or not he is actually on PEDs, there is going to be the perception among the fan base, and more importantly, other wrestlers.
So whether you love this move, or you hate it, you’re probably right.
Shinsuke Nakamura beat Dolph Ziggler
This was not the way to debut Shinsuke Nakamura. The match went on way too long and he sold way too much. They have positioned Nakamura as someone really special, and in his first main-roster match, he’s selling for most of it against a guy who has been beat up for most of his career. I would have preferred to see Nakamura make a big statement here, and go over with a convincing win to establish himself on top of the SmackDown babyface roster. Instead, they positioned him in the same spot, roughly, as Ziggler.
The Usos beat Breezango to retain the SmackDown Tag Titles
Good match, and while it’s a guilty pleasure, the comedy stuff is getting over. The crowd was into Breezango’s comedy, but the Usos retaining was the right call.
Eventually, this will transition to Usos/American Alpha. It’s just a matter of time.
Sami Zayn beat Baron Corbin
Upset of the night.
Zayn was once again playing the underdog role, but it clicked here and he finally got a win. You need to do that every once in a while. The underdog can’t always lose, because then he goes from the underdog to just a crappy, loser wrestler who never wins.
Corbin looked to be positioned strong coming out of WrestleMania, and while he was dominating most of this match, the loss could be a sign that they’re holding off on a big push for him.
Natalya, Tamina & Carmella beat Charlotte, Naomi and Becky Lynch
Interesting result with the heels going over. Also, disappointing that they didn’t tease much with where Charlotte was siding. The only thing that might make some sense here is if, on Tuesday, Charlotte goes heel again by blaming the loss on her teammates. If that’s the case, then this finish made some sense, and the lack of hinting where Charlotte really stands could be WWE’s way of trying to get fans off the trail of where they’re going with her.
Kevin Owens beat AJ Styles by count-out to retain the U.S. Title
I liked the count-out finish a lot. Obviously, it’s something that WWE used quite a bit 20 years ago, but it’s fizzled out in recent years. Owens worked over Styles’ knee and his leg ended up getting caught in the announce table. It’s the right result. Owens losing the title didn’t feel right, and neither did Styles losing clean, so they came up with something alternative and it worked fine.
Luke Harper beat Erick Rowan
Very physical match, but they had a hard time hooking the crowd after a solid 20-minute match between Owens and Styles right before this. Both guys threw some very stiff shots, but their characters have lacked some development, which I think hurt the crowd reaction. There wasn’t a lot of investment there, and WWE hasn’t given fans any reason to invest in either guy.
Jinder Mahal beat Randy Orton to win the WWE Title
The beginning and end to this match were really strong, while the middle of the match was slow and very tactical. Mahal is an old-school heel in that regard. He doesn’t do a lot of cool, flashy moves, but he’s a heel, so he’s not supposed to.