Jinder Mahal’s reign as WWE Champion is over. It was an unlikely reign that ended abruptly, as this week’s tape-delayed edition of SmackDown Live saw A.J. Styles take the title off of Mahal.
Lasting 170 days, the longest run for any WWE Champion since the recent brand split, it was a mostly panned title run. The repackaged superstar was just never able to resonate with the WWE Universe. But not for a lack of effort.
Mahal received a considerable push from the WWE. The same company that released him just two years prior had now pushed him all the way to the top of the Blue Brand. An unprecedented decision given that the Championship was taken off of Randy Orton — who had just claimed victory at both the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania.
The trouble became transitioning Mahal’s push into any real success.
The top championship became a midcard draw, as Mahal struggled to provide marquee matches. His promos were centered around a perceived prejudice by the WWE Universe, a charge that never translated particularly well given the current political landscape in America. The matter was emphasized on numerous occasions, as various Punjabi celebrations were organized with the deliberate intent of drawing heat for Mahal. As viewers often criticized via social media, Mahal was being booked in a way that encouraged fans to berate an entire nation’s culture.
His promo work did see eventual improvement, as he gained more confidence behind the mic and his promos became more about the unlikeliness of his reign as champion. Which was a considerably more plausible argument for the WWE Universe, given his surprising new role in the company.
But as Survivor Series approached and the Champion vs. Champion matches were announced, a collective groan was audibly heard by the WWE Universe as fans expressed displeasure for the match at the top of the card. Jinder Mahal would square off against the Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar. While this type of match has become synonymous with WWE booking, it became increasingly difficult to imagine this match drawing any positive reaction whatsoever. About the closest plausible outcome would be for the main event to become a complete squash match, wherein Lesnar demolishes Mahal. This is completely out of the question, though, given the WWE’s current booking for Mahal.
Styles would be an infinitely greater opponent for Lesnar at Survivor Series and the match requires almost no build whatsoever. This is a match that we already want to see. Of course, that’s supposing SmackDown’s go-home show for Survivor Series doesn’t take another surprising turn with the WWE Championship. Which at this point, I would consider highly unlikely.
So, what’s next for the self-proclaimed Modern Day Maharaja?
The mistake would be to simply bury him. While it would certainly be cathartic for the WWE Universe to watch Mahal slowly regress to his prior Three Man Band booking, it would also make for the most wasted storyline-potential in recent memory. The key to establishing Mahal anywhere near the top of the card will require very careful booking in the coming weeks.
Mahal will undoubtedly request a rematch for the WWE Championship. But that will have to wait until the Clash of Champions event in December. The trouble here will ultimately be that Mahal will have just missed out on being champion as the WWE comes to India. I’m really not sure that this poses much of an issue, as Mahal would likely still draw as the main event for the show.
Of course, before all this, there is the pesky question of Survivor Series. The logical decision would be for Mahal to join the 5-on-5 elimination match. Regardless of whether SmackDown wins the match or not, Mahal would need only display a strong showing. However, the announcement was already made that John Cena will serve as the fifth man for Team Blue thus ultimately eliminating this possibility. However, this could serve as the potential long-term set up for a feud between Cena and Mahal, given a confrontation over the matter between the two on next week’s live show.
Then there’s the question of whether or not Mahal should recapture the championship. It would seem like is a possible outcome, especially given the rumored plans for Mahal to drop the championship to Cena at next year’s WrestleMania. The unlikeliness for his return as champion would be the poor booking this would create for A.J. Styles, who will almost certainly lose to Lesnar at Survivor Series. Would it be plausible for Styles to win the championship two weeks before Survivor Series, only to lose to Lesnar, and ultimately drop the title back to Mahal? Regardless, Styles vs. Mahal will be the inevitable booking for the foreseeable future.
After the dust has cleared and his pathway to the WWE championship has closed, Mahal would be well positioned for a title run that would more properly fit his place in the company. A United States Championship reign would be an almost perfect fit for the Maharaja, as the WWE would be able to further build his credibility as a champion caliber superstar and provide a more likely opportunity for Mahal to succeed.