Monday, April 24, 2017

The Optics of Pushing Jinder Mahal Right Now

Mahal is the number one contender to Orton's title, but why?
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Jinder Mahal is the number one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship right now. I don't know if his title match vs. Randy Orton (or Bray Wyatt, I guess?) will headline Backlash or feature as support for the Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles United States Championship contest that's almost guaranteed to happen (unless WWE pulls a massive Charlie Kelly and gives the strap back to Chris Jericho), but it's definitely something that's going to happen. The timing seems curious at best. Mahal is coming off stooging at WrestleMania and his first show as a member of the Smackdown roster for Rob Gronkowski (and Mojo Rawley I guess), and before that was a barely-seen member of the RAW roster. Of pushes that came out of nowhere, this not only rivals but surpasses Jack Swagger's Money in the Bank win or Sheamus' quick capturing of the WWE Championship after coming to the RAW roster. However, at least both of those guys were relatively pushed. Why is Mahal getting his main event shine now, of all times?

The simplistic answer is that WWE is trying to expand into India and other untapped Asian markets. That answer makes a lot of sense, and if it were that easy, then it would be easier to swallow from a narrative standpoint. Anything that makes lily-white (for the most part) WWE more diverse in its top ranks is to be celebrated, and who wouldn't be happy for the people in Kolkata who get to see one of their own as top representative of one of WWE's two brands?
Photo Credit: @SK_ProWrestling
However, it's not like Mahal is a new signing with WWE. This go-around in the company is his second, and outside of his initial call to the WWE roster as a thorn in Great Khali's side, he's never been more than opening match fodder. WWE could have been cultivating him from start. It's not that Mahal is an inherently bad wrestler. Seeing the growth between his first appearance in WWE and now is measurable, and I'm not just talking about the growth of his massive musculature. Can I get a rimshot over here, drummer? Someday, he can be a wrestler who could carry an upper midcard feud without raising questions over whether WWE's actual intentions are good. Hell, the company could have been pushing people readier for the spotlight with more authority like the Bollywood Boyz. Additionally, couching Mahal's main event run as a crusader for diversity in a heel light against Randy "ALL LIVES MATTER" Orton feels racist as fuck, to borrow a phrase from several people on Twitter. So if WWE is trying to do earnest outreach to its Indian fans, it's coming across as exceedingly hollow.

Accusing WWE of ulterior motives isn't so much an overreaction as much as it's standard practice, since Vince McMahon, a legit insane man who runs on an engine of spite, greed, and eccentricity is the chairman, and he's fostered an inner circle of people who are just as small of a person he is on the inside if not more so. The real question to ask is which ulterior motives are behind the move to push Mahal to the main event under the guise of outreach and diversity? The first relates to intraoffice politics and the supposed struggle for power between McMahon and his son-in-law Paul "Triple H" Levesque, which brings up the other reason why it's curious to see Mahal getting shine right now. His last appearance on RAW saw him legit knock out Finn Bálor with an elbow that was just a bit too snug. Normally, that's not something that gets you a bigger push in WWE, especially in the post-Wellness era. I mean, Jack Swagger had pushes scuttled on two separate occasions because he legit injured Dolph Ziggler and Wade Barrett. WWE has precedent of punishing people who aren't working hard enough to, well, work their moves. Mahal's push could be a move from McMahon or from people in his inner circle who don't play nice with Levesque as a rib at best, since Bálor is a "Triple H guy." Obviously, this theory is based a lot on conjecture, so I wouldn't blame anyone for dismissing it.

The other theory feels more up to speed with WWE's business practices from the time it went national until now. While Impact Wrestling is a brand that means close to bupkiss Stateside, it has some cache with places worldwide, one of which is India. The company financed Ring Ka King, which accumulated the most total viewers of any wrestling program in history (thanks to India's billion-plus number of people and the lack of live, first run wrestling that airs there), and the company has always remained more popular in places overseas than at home. So it was natural that they'd announce a set of Impact tapings from that country, specifically in Mumbai.

Now, I doubt that the former TNA is competition to WWE, even in India right now, but don't tell that to McMahon, who has done his best to attempt to stick it to small companies that don't pose threats to him here either. Of course, the taping announcement happened days after the Mahal push started in earnest, but I mean, international touring doesn't happen overnight, and if you think WWE doesn't engage in industrial espionage, then you're naive at best. The impartial observer believes that competition makes business thrive, but to the monopolistic capitalist, any money that isn't coming into you is money wasted. So if Impact is going to tape shows in India, and you can't mobilize a tour that fast, wouldn't your trump card be to push a wrestler of Indian heritage to the main event as quickly as you could? If the other guy has thought enough to create a feminist Malibu Stacy doll that says inspirational sayings and all you had to do to outsell them would be to sell more was put a hat on yours, wouldn't you do it?

Then again, maybe WWE is pushing Mahal in good faith because management feels he's the best creative option going forward especially with regards to outreach in India. But all the other evidence points to something fishy going on, and Mahal's feud for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship being something less than on the level or because the company feels he's the best option to challenge Orton right now. Because I mean, if you can push a cold dude who hasn't been pushed for real in years and sandwiched concussing one of your cornerstone stars between getting punked by a football player, you do just that, right? Fuck if I know.