KELLER & POWELL FLAGSHIP (12/5)
(Search "wade keller" to subscribe in podcast app)
Jinder Mahal is the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The same guy who just earlier this year was deemed as a like-for-like trade for Curt Hawkins. That guy just beat Randy Orton – you know, the guy who won the Royal Rumble this year. He’s now the World Champion. And I get why they’re doing it.
India is a big market and they are 100 percent right to put forth a strong effort to grow their presence there. Once WWE has a stronger platform for their coverage in China, the same will happen with all these Chinese wrestlers they’ve signed to the Performance Center.
China and India (a/k/a the brilliant term Chindia) represent massive potential for growth for basically any business that can establish a footing in either country. They’re not only super large markets, but they’re developing and growing markets. WWE absolutely should be using an asset like Jinder Mahal as a catalyst for them to expand their presence in India.
Here’s the problem, though. They’ve gone way overboard in their attempts to do so. Instead of being subtle and nuanced with it, they literally just woke up one morning and decided to focus everything on one objective. And because they’re being so one-track-minded with their googley eyes over what someone has clearly told them about the potential for growth and revenue in India, they’re being completely blind to any of the damage it’s doing in their home market (a/k/a the market where the vast majority of their revenue will always come from and the market that is on the decline at the moment).
I’m all for Jinder being pushed in order to bridge WWE’s growth in India. It’s a smart strategy; it’s just the execution that I hate. I hate the mentality that WWE can present whatever they please and that we as fans are fickle enough to forget what Jinder Mahal meant to the show only a few months ago. Built it up over time and give him a chance to improve and give us a chance to start taking him a bit more seriously. Do something more creative than the “evil foreigner hates Americans” character. Wouldn’t a successful babyface Jinder Mahal be an even stronger platform for WWE to grow in India? Or are WWE just banking on everyone in India hating American as much as Jinder does?
A large part of my reasoning for being so against this Jinder Mahal push is that it sends out so many terrible messages. You don’t have to be any good, it doesn’t matter what the fans want, and hey look what happens when you get a suspiciously ripped figure like Jinder’s that Jinder is being asked about even by India media. So without further ado in this edition of “Five Count,” I’m going to look at five lessons for WWE to learn from Jinder’s rise to fame, looking at the various messages that it sends out to not just the viewers but the wrestlers as well.
(1) You Don’t Have To Be Very Good!
The fact is Jinder Mahal sucks. I probably shouldn’t present an opinion as a fact, but man he just isn’t good at anything. Name me a good Jinder Mahal match. Name me a good Jinder Mahal promo. Heck, just name me something very specific that Jinder Mahal has done in WWE prior to this push!
He’s been given opportunities now in more prominent positions to prove any of his initial doubters wrong. He’s been given a more expanded personality, he’s been given a more defined character, he’s been given promo time in segments of importance, and he’s been given ring time with arguably the best wrestler in the world. Yet he still hasn’t produced anything to even give you something to latch on to in order to argue that given time he could be a good act. Not a great one, but a serviceable one who can add something to the show. Maybe he’s not ever going to be good enough to be a mainstay main event act hanging with the likes of A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, but maybe he could be a good hand as a heel in the mid-card. He’s not even that!
His character is such a tired worn out cliché of a pro wrestling heel. The ethnic minority foreigner who hates America. How original. It’s not even an original act on the exact shows he’s been on because Kevin Owens is doing the same damn thing. It’s not like it’s getting him great reactions either. It’s hard to even argue the reactions to his promos as being lukewarm.
He got a little heat after his initial win (this is where I’d usually put “after blah blah blah,” but initial win is enough), but since then it’s been a mixture of nothing and “What!?” chants. And his delivery isn’t at all good. His voice just isn’t commanding. There’s no oomph to it which makes it so hard for anything he says to really get a strong reaction because it’s like there’s one level for his voice and because he’s so obviously reading lines he’s said over and over all day to memorize; it doesn’t feel natural, so you don’t get any natural reaction from the crowd.
Any heat he has drawn isn’t good heat, either. It’s pointless cheap heat. It’s the type of heat that anyone can get. And if you don’t believe, then go watch James Ellsworth’s promo at Backlash. That got heat, right? There’s a big difference between going out in front of a crowd and being annoying versus getting genuine. Anyone can do what Ellsworth does and get a similar reaction. But what happens afterwards? Absolutely nothing. People are apathetic towards Jinder. Nobody wants to watch him. They don’t want to see him lose. And it’s not like there’s a great end goal for his run as champion. He’s not credible enough to really get a babyface opponent over and he’s nowhere near credible enough even now with the belt to give a rub to any babyface who beats him.
He can’t “go” in the ring, either. And that’s becoming more of a requirement than ever before in WWE with the loss of the casual fan and the increasing need to hang on to the remaining fans who are drawn in by quality wrestling. Sure, he could get by being a bang average worker if he had other things going for him, but he doesn’t have anything else going for him. If you’re at the point that you’re in a 10+ minute match with A.J. Styles and it’s not good, then you’re REALLY not very good at all.
So if you’re a wrestler and you have any sort of links to a developing country (you don’t even have to actually be from one!), don’t worry about actually being good at anything. Just the perception that you’re from a certain market will be enough to get you by. So to everyone out there in China looking for a good paying job in the entertainment industry with longevity and the promise of international fame, get yourself down to the Performance Centre, ask for Paul, keep yourself in good shape and then just kick back and relax as you rise to the top of your profession. Seriously though, to all those Chinese recruits at the Performance Center, don’t focus on being good, just focus on being better than the other Chinese guys are.
(2) Look What Happens When You Get A Physique Like Jinder’s!
Okay, first of all, I’m in no way accusing Jinder Mahal of taking anything that he shouldn’t be taking in order to get that physique. Whether he got to looking like that from dieting like crazy or not, he looks a particular way. And the fact that everyone looks at him now and strongly questions how he got to looking like that is exactly my point. He looks like what people think someone on steroids looks like.
What kind of message does that send out to people watching? WWE shouldn’t want people watching their show and refusing to believe that their World Champion isn’t taking illegal supplements to look so disgustingly ripped. And it really is disgusting. It’s not like Jinder has this dubiously acquired physique that is an absolute marvel to look at. It’s not a good look for a company that (a) goes to such great lengths to project the right media friendly brand image and (b) can’t afford to lose any more viewers. How do you think non-WWE fans are going to react when they go on a website and see the picture of Jinder Mahal with the WWE Title looking like he does? It’s just reassertion for anyone to hate on pro wrestling for being all about roided up wannabe fighters.
What about parents who see their kids watching this? It’s not a family-friendly image and it’s not a great message to be sending to both parents and kids that, if you want to be a wrestler shot to the top, this is what you need to get your body looking like. If the aim of this is to give WWE’s presence a massive boost in India, is Jinder’s physique really the physique that you want plastered all over a new market you’re trying to crack? Is that the physique that you want your brand attached to? Is that what you want all these potential new fans in India to recall when they think of WWE? Because that is what they’ll recall.
The aim is to make a large audience of new fans in India so the coverage of Jinder Mahal becoming WWE Champion will be the first exposure of WWE to a lot of potential new fans. That’s the first impression you’ll be making about what your brand is. You don’t get that first impression back, especially when people take that first impression and react negatively towards it. Will this be an issue that kills their expansion into the Indian market? Likely not, but it’ll definitely hinder it.
It sends out a horrendous message to other wrestlers, too. Yes the idea that you have to look a certain way to make it in WWE has been squashed to a large extent over the course of the last decade, but Jinder Mahal getting skyrocketed from literally the very bottom of the card to the top just so happening to coincide with him developing this new physique will undo so much of that good work. Put yourself in the position of a mid-level talent either already in WWE or with aspirations of making it to WWE. You’re going to be looking at Jinder and thinking, correctly or not, this guy was a nobody, got to looking like that, and now look at him. And none of those wrestlers are going to believe, true or not, that they’ll get that ripped through dieting like crazy.
WWE giving someone with a physique like Jinder’s a push out of nowhere to the very top of the card sends out a terrible message that will have negative impacts on people’s lives. It says to wrestlers (rightly or wrongly doesn’t matter) this is how you get to the top and it says to viewers this is the type of body that we endorse. Whether he got it through dieting like crazy or not is irrelevant when the overwhelming perception is that he got it through other means.
(3) Nobody Cares For Randy Orton As Champion Anymore
Randy definitely has value to WWE, there’s no denying that. He’s presented as a star and he’s received as being a star. No, he’s not the type of star who draws big numbers, but he gets reactions and working with him means something. He’s the type of hand that can be used to put somebody over in a significant way. However. ..
It’s not like most people reading this actually needed further proof that we’re just done with Randy at that level on the card, but we got it anyway. Randy on top as champion at this point is just a wasted spot. He’s not gaining anything from it himself. He’s made. Another title run isn’t giving him any more credibility or getting him any more over. At best it can be a good plot device to tell a strong story, but this title run wasn’t that. They put the title on Randy because he’s Randy. Which in theory isn’t the stupidest idea in the world, but putting the belt on Orton doesn’t make him a bigger draw than he was before. Randy Orton on a show third from the top working with a guy like Baron Corbin is no less appealing to anyone than Randy Orton main eventing as the champion working with a Bray Wyatt or a Kevin Owens. Maybe Randy vs. A.J. means a little more, but that’s for what Styles brings that nobody else does, not because of Orton.
Randy working third from the top with guys like Corbin can be beneficial, though. It’s far less frustrating for fans who want their guys at the top and not the tired old routine of Vince’s guys being pushed ahead of the guys the live crowds are rooting harder for. Orton vs. Jinder as the first step towards Jinder getting a big push to the title would be a good starting point further down the card. Randy’s a big enough deal that beating him means something to the viewers watching and fans have always been more accepting of him slightly further down the card when he’s not main eventing.
All the evidence that you needed for this were the reactions at Backlash. Nobody wants Jinder Mahal as World Champion. I know there are plenty of people amusing themselves with the situation, but the reality is that Jinder isn’t anyone’s choice for that role. Nobody (relatively speaking, not literally…) wants Jinder to be champion ahead of A.J. Styles or ahead of Kevin Owens or even ahead of Sami Zayn. Yet given a choice between Jinder and Randy, so many people chose Jinder. As in JINDER MAHAL. Fans resorted to ironically cheering for Jinder just so they’d have something to root for. Fans were positive about the decision because it was something new. The “anyone but Roman” mentality at the Rumble finally came full circle with fans now being accepting of “anyone but Randy” as champion.
(4) WWE Doesn’t Care What We Want
Breaking News alert! Okay, I know this isn’t exactly news to anyone, but it’s worth bringing up yet again in the wake of Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal main eventing a PPV. If you think that you are in any way fighting the good fight to get your favorite wrestler pushed harder than they currently are, then just stop right now. You’re not going to make a difference. You’re not going to stop WWE pushing who they want in favor of who we want to see pushed. Booing their guys won’t make a difference. Getting behind your guy won’t make a difference. Losing 20 percent of your TV audience won’t make a difference either because the reality is that, despite all of WWE’s troubles, they’re really not in a disastrous situation. It’s a bad situation, yes – a very bad one, in fact, relative to where they could be – but the reality is that, while they’re quite obviously bothered by declining numbers, they’re nowhere near bothered enough to drop their beliefs and try something new.
So by all means, keep rooting on Sami Zayn, keep buying your Kevin Owens merchandise, and keep talking up A.J. Styles on the internet. It won’t make a difference, though, because until WWE decides that they want to make a push in the Arabic market or the Canadian market or the Christianity market, they’ll continue to do what they’re doing with them and they’ll continue to push their guys over them regardless of how over they are, how good they are or even how credible they are.
(5) Smackdown Is The Land Of Opportunity!
That’s one way of looking at it and obviously the way that WWE want us to look at it. But what it really is, is the land where geeks and jobbers rise up the card and end up in title matches.
Not everyone who watches WWE will watch regardless of what happens or because they’re watching for good wrestling regardless of who’s involved. A lot of fans watch to see stars, and a big part of being received as a star is being presented as a winner on TV. For the more casual audience swayed by star power and old school kayfabe “nonsense” like wins and losses, Smackdown is a show full of losers right now.
I mean, say that WWE isn’t appointment viewing for you but it’s something you loosely follow and watch if something takes your fancy, what’s going to be your reaction when you tune into Smackdown and see that Jinder Mahal and Breezango are challenging for titles and a faction of Natalya, Tamina, Carmella, and James Ellsworth are standing tall as Smackdown goes off the air. None of that is exactly the type of content that grabs viewers back into a show. In fact, it’s the type of content that drives viewers away from a show. The four episodes in May have been the four least watched episodes all year and two of them have even fallen below the viewership from the same week in 2016 which didn’t even have the benefit of being live or having an exclusive roster.
What does it say when guys who are total losers on Raw come over and start beating all of Smackdown’s most featured acts. Since the brand split we’ve seen super awesome wrestler but total loser Sami Zayn come over and beat heavily pushed Smackdown guy Baron Corbin; we’ve seen total geeks Primo & Epico come over and beat former Smackdown Tag Team Champions American Alpha; and worst of all we’ve now seen the guy who would job out in a couple of minutes to all of Raw’s top acts come over to Smackdown and run straight to the very top of their show. The message it’s sending out to viewers is that Raw is the big leagues and that you can be a small fish in a big pond on Raw, but once you get drafted to “the land of opportunity!” you suddenly become a big fish in a small pond because you’re apparently facing much weaker competition that you can actually now beat!
I’ve argued for making more of your roster and creating more respectable acts that viewers look at as having some credibility and not as being total losers. But at the same time you don’t get to suddenly flick a switch and decide: Okay now we’re going to push this guy and everything they did before this moment in time now doesn’t matter. You don’t get to just overnight decide that Jinder Mahal is now a credible world champion that will have a positive impact on the show. It’s a process and you don’t get to just skip over stages 1-4 and head straight to the end.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: FIVE COUNT: Five lessons WWE should learn from Payback from Bayley to Cameramen to House of Horrors