Jinder Mahal’s Absence From Survivor Series Shows His Place in WWE
In the middle of the WWE Survivor Series drama, one man’s absence remained painfully inconspicuous.
When Charlotte Flair mouthed "You'll never beat me!" to Alexa Bliss, mowed her down with a Big Boot and proceeded to lock in the Figure 8 submission hold for the victory, she wasn't just etching her name under the winners' column for the night. She was also emphasising that no matter how hard Bliss tried, there would always be a distinction in the WWE between a stunning, thoroughbred performer who had wrestling in her blood and a talented superstar who had made the absolute most out of the opportunity that she was presented with.
By way of emphatic statements, however, it was far from the only one made by a Champion at WWE Survivor Series.
It was a night when the US Champion, Baron Corbin, outgrew his big-match blues and turned a corner with a convincing victory over the Miz, his mid-card title counterpart on Raw.
It was also a night when the Usos, now accruing somewhat of a reputation for putting on hard-hitting classics, outfought Sheamus and Cesaro to cement their standing as the most dominant Tag Team Champions in the WWE today.
Hell, even Universal Champion Brock Lesnar did enough to dispel the notion that he is lazy, working an absolute blinder of a match with the truly phenomenal AJ Styles.
But in the middle of all of this, one man's absence remained painfully inconspicuous.
Funnily enough, up until a mere 12 days ago, that man had also been the undisputed WWE Champion for nearly six months straight.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
When Jinder Mahal shocked the world at Backlash on 21 May, defeating 13-time World Champion Randy Orton for the WWE Title, it was met with reactions ranging anywhere between utter disbelief and uninhibited delirium, depending on which part of the world you call home.
Most fans felt that his unprecedented promotion up the ranks upset the status quo too much. After all, Mahal had risen to little more than enhancement talent status in his previous 4-odd years of service to the WWE.
Even if they wanted to push him into the rarified air of the WWE Championship picture, building him up gradually by collecting a trail of victories would have been the way for the WWE to go.
Instead, Jinder Mahal was involved in a run-of-the-mill storyline that was going nowhere with Rusev one day and before we know it, holding down a future Hall of Famer’s shoulders for a three count the next.
Some others, however (mainly from India) were downright chuffed that a man who wasn't a freak of nature novelty attraction, could actually speak comprehensible Punjabi and didn't look like he would trip over himself every time he walked, was in possession of the WWE Championship.
To them, it was WWE's way of acknowledging a pro-wrestling mad country where kayfabe is still very much alive and kicking and where you mightn't be too surprised to stumble across a John Cena temple along the way.
Torn between the two schools of thought, I myself belonged to a select contingent of fans that held their peace; who were willing to play along with the WWE and defer on passing judgement until the entire situation had worked itself out.
As someone who grew up in awe of Stone Cold's unbridled aggression, the Rock's uncanny ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand and Triple H's sheer badassery, I could definitely relate with the idea that only a handful of Superstars had the 'it-factor' to occupy the World Title picture; that the WWE Championship wasn't a trifle to be handed on out a whim to just about anyone.
Then again, as an Indian who shares the same roots as the man whose waist the WWE Championship adorned, I couldn't help but feel a surge of nationalistic pride well up in me every time "Oh Sadi shan vekho, Man sman vekho" would echo across arenas.
But watching Mahal defend the WWE Championship against the likes of Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura over the course of the past few months, I hardly realised that the most poignant impression he would leave on me would be on the one occasion his entrance music didn’t sound out at all.
For all intents and purposes, it appeared as though Jinder Mahal had relinquished the WWE Championship to AJ Styles just so that the Phenomenal One could go on to have a 'dream match' against the Beast Incarnate at Survivor Series.
It seemed to be a pretty straight forward decision by the WWE too; Survivor Series is traditionally one of the company’s biggest pay-per-views of the year and quite honestly, AJ Styles was just a more ‘over’ Superstar than Jinder Mahal, whichever way you look at it.
Mahal, however, put a more optimistic spin on proceedings, claiming that while it was the first time he had slipped up in the last six months, he was itching to set the record straight again at the earliest opportunity.
But the inescapable bottom line was that the WWE had decided against booking him as Brock Lesnar's opponent at the event.
And that told a sobering tale of its own.
Jinder Mahal’s stratospheric push had coincided with the company’s foray into the one billion strong Indian market. And it would appear that he is little more than a conveniently placed cultural commodity that they can utilise towards that end for the time being.
Keywords being time being.
With his omission at Survivor Series, however, I think the WWE finally revealed its hand with Jinder Mahal. It would seem that for anything to do with India, the Modern Day Maharaja was an experiment they were willing to embrace. For everything else, he was a risk they weren’t willing to take.
That said, there is little doubt in my mind that he will again win the WWE Championship before Triple H and company arrive in Delhi for the Live Event next month. (After all, he is advertised for the event as the two-time WWE Champion)
The most pertinent question in this whole situation, however, is how much longer he will hold on to it for after the WWE concludes its business in India.
Thankfully (or not), we may not even need to wait until then to find out the answer to that.
If Survivor Series was any indication to go by – and I dearly hope I’m mistaken here – it would seem that the sound of silence is something that Jinder Mahal may have to get used to after all.
(A student of psychology, Aditya Rangarajan's passion lies in the thrill-a-minute realms of combat sports and pro wrestling, where he uses his experience in the matters of the mind to glean insightful, unique and thought-provoking perspectives.)
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