Monday, May 22, 2017

On Jinder Mahal, Randy Orton, and WWE's Fiat Narratives

Pictured: A wrestler who deserves to be a talking point, and Jinder Mahal
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For those who watched Backlash last night, you know Jinder Mahal is the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. For those who didn't, well, Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The guy who not 60 days ago was used as lubrication to facilitate the company's latest celebrity guest appearance is now the highest decorated full-time wrestler the land. The decision may have been questionable for those looking ahead when he won the six pack challenge for number one contendership (myself included), but strangely enough, the decision last night felt right. Could it have been the fact that it was a complete left turn? Or maybe that Mahal is a Person of Color Champion in a company that frankly has an embarrassing track record with non-White wrestlers? Or is the answer that finally, another dull Orton title reign is over?

So much of the chatter surrounding the decision centers around Mahal, and honestly, it's to be expected. Anytime WWE pushes a new guy, that wrestler gets the sniff test, but at the same time, the sniff test has seemed obnoxious when it came to Mahal. Part of that was because self-appointed Twitter tastemakers decided they were going to champion him because he wasn't an indie veteran or whatever, but then I came across a take from a vocal site about grappling saying that if Mahal were Bobby Roode, "people would be tripping over themselves praising his brilliant work." I've long since stopped paying attention to what that site has had to say about anything, so I don't know the context. However, whether it's being used to bash Mahal or pump him up, the only thing that needs to be pumped is the brake pedal.

The conversation around Mahal feels like it should be simplistic. He's a stunt booking that took off, and WWE for once went with the hot hand. Again, he was putting over Rob Gronkowski at WrestleMania, and last night, he was getting the John Cena Dueling Chant treatment. He's also a representative of an emerging market with 1.3 BILLION people. Even if WWE only gets a quarter of a share of India's population as it gets in America, that number will double the peak RAW viewership numbers of the last few years. And while Mahal isn't the best wrestler, he's far from the worst. Hell, he's not even the worst representative of India/Punjab to be pushed to top title level. It's WWE taking a shot on a raw prospect to try and build a market. Is it a transparent attempt at corporate diversity in the worst way? Absolutely, but none of that is Mahal's fault, and it's also not even the first time WWE has gone down that road. I am totally here for people lambasting Vince and Stephanie McMahon and their attempts at getting public applause without putting in any meaningful work.

But I feel like the biggest part of the equation is how repugnant a Champion and a wrestling personality Orton has been. Orton won the Royal Rumble and subsequently the Championship at WrestleMania based on reactions he was getting as both a feud partner and a stablemate with Bray Wyatt. How much of those reactions were due to him, and how much was due to a hot story with a suddenly motivated Wyatt? The key word here is "motivated." It's not a word one uses a lot with Orton, and for good reason. If you were going to build a sports entertainer from the ground up who would coast on name and the hottest finisher of the last 20 years with the innate ability to phone it in like his name were Alexander Graham Bell, you would get Randall Keith Orton.

That's not even taking into account his shitty social media presence. Look, everyone got mad at him when he took up his sword for Rip Rogers' shitty NO DIVES cause last week, and for good reason. A dude with corporate backing telling indie wrestlers their style is wack is a direct assault on small businesses and the wrestling industry in general. But in the grand scheme of things, that kind of advocacy is small potatoes compared to the right wing, pro-Trump bullshit he tweets and likes. Whether it be taking up the "All Lives Matter" cause in response to Black people begging for the police not to shoot them for jaywalking or driving with a busted taillight or retweeting noted plagiarist and a man what treats his jails like death camps in David Clarke, Orton has done a really good job showing his true colors as a human being, which made the feud where Mahal was written as a fucking bad guy for wanting diversity and inclusion all the more gross.

Of course, one should expect a company headed up by the husband of Donald Trump's Small Business Administrator to turn a blind eye to someone as morally decrepit as Orton. Hell, it continues to employ a serial bully whose warts would sink WWE if they were ever brought to light and proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. It's the continued insistence that Orton is the essence of wrestling, I'm sorry, sports entertainment that gets overbearing. Every time John Layfield repeats the rote line of how Orton is the quintessential WWE superstar, it makes me die a little inside each time, especially since Orton gets a fraction of the static for being ever-present that Roman Reigns, another POC, does. I'm not going to argue Reigns isn't omnipresent on RAW and that his push isn't extra as hell at times. But the big difference between Orton and Reigns is that Orton has never really shown the consistency that Reigns has. Reigns, whether or not people admit, is mostly good at his job. How many stretches of more than like a couple of months has Orton been at that level?

Maybe it's that Orton's been around for over a decade now and everyone is numb to him, but he's far more deserving of being a walking talking point than Mahal or Reigns or anyone else in WWE. If he's "better" than Mahal (who actually has turned out to be an above average promo and, despite his uncomfortable vascularity has the look and commanding presence), it's not by much, and Mahal has also not proven to be a total jackass or a phone-in special, at least yet. If anything, the reactions to him should range from happiness that he's a breath of fresh air on top to apathy to another below-average talent on top of a WWE brand.

But Orton continues to live well below his potential and appears to have a grotesque soul to go with it. If discussions are to be had, maybe they should be had about the Viper and why he gets shot after shot despite being guilty of so many things that not only fans seem to point out with others but that management seems to hold as larger requirements for other wrestlers without the name and investment. If you want someone to spew enmity at, do it at Orton.