Jinder Mahal‘s seeming overnight ascension to the top of the card on Smackdown Live has been a polarizing angle within the WWE Universe. While many have applauded the bravery of WWE Creative for pushing a new star into a fresh new storyline, there are countless more that have decried the move as lacking foresight or backstory, especially considering that prior to his claiming of the #1 contendership for the WWE Championship, he was primarily used as an enhancement talent to other more prominent WWE Superstars. But if you follow Jinder Mahal’s story since he re-signed with the WWE in 2016, his narrative has been laid out quite clear – it’s just that by focusing so much on the match results instead of his character development, you end up missing the story that lead to his crowning moment in the #1 contenders battle royal a few months ago.
AUGUST 1, 2016: THE RETURN
Jinder Mahal made his surprise (although hardly memorable) return to the WWE as part of Heath Slater‘s storyline where he went undrafted in the previous Brand Draft, where he was competing (and losing) for a contract with one of the two newly exclusive brands, RAW and Smackdown Live. On August 1, RAW GM Mick Foley made another match for a RAW contract for Heath Slater, this time against his former tag team partner in 3MB from 2012 to 2014. Once again, Slater ended up on the losing end and Mahal defeated Slater and earned himself a RAW contract.
On September 12, Jinder Mahal finally addressed his absence from the WWE for over two years, claiming he had left to find “inner peace” after being angry for so long. He was a new man with a new focus and peace that he hoped would lead to greater heights in the WWE. While he would go on to defeat former World Champion Jack Swagger that night, Mahal would sadly go on to find the same struggling defeat he had endured in his previous tenure with the company. Throughout his first few months, Mahal would have brief feuds with the likes of Neville, Darren Young and Jack Swagger, losing more than he won.
DECEMBER 2016: THE RAGE RETURNS
In December, Enzo Amore was sent to Sensitivity Training class following an angle where he was locked out of the locker room in the nude and exposed himself to Lana. Also attending the class was Jinder Mahal – seemingly, his “inner peace” was found through on-going therapy rather than a spiritual enlightenment. But during this particular class, Jinder Mahal’s patience was tested when Enzo, WWE’s notorious loudmouth, trash talked Mahal, disrupting his two years of training. For those who follow any sort of WWE programming, it’s easy to see why – Enzo Amore has made a career of getting under people’s skin.
Later on that episode, Jinder Mahal would help out Amore’s adversary, Rusev, in getting even with Enzo, beginning an alliance that would last four months. It seems Jinder had once again re-discovered the rage he had fought so hard to contain and allying with one of the WWE’s strongest men, Rusev, seemed like a new way for Jinder to find his success in the WWE Universe.
Sadly, the tandem of Jinder and Rusev proved to be a failure – both men were too hot headed to stay on track and were on the losing end of their feuds with both Enzo & Big Cass and the New Day. The frustration over the pair not clicking reached a head with both men and in March, the two expressed their desire to return to singles action. On an interesting side note, while he was winless his entire four month run with Rusev, Jinder won his only singles match during that entire run, against former NXT Tag Team Champion Sin Cara, on an episode of Main Event in February.
MARCH 6, 2017: THE AGE OF MAHAL
Having lost his initial singles return the previous night at Fastlane ’17 against Cesaro, the following night Jinder Mahal would defeat Curtis Axel, in a match taped for Main Event (he would defeat Axel again a few weeks later in a rematch on Main Event as well). With his new found confidence, Jinder slowly began to gain the trust of the bookers and he was placed in high profile matches on RAW against Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, The Big Show, and Finn Balor, although he came up short in all contests. But he was improving a little each time, and showed he could work with some of the bigger stars.
WRESTLEMANIA 33: THE SEEDS OF DISSENT
At WrestleMania 33, Jinder Mahal would bring his newfound confidence and swagger into the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, where he would be one of the last two men in the match, before ultimately losing to Smackdown Live‘s Mojo Rawley – thanks largely in part to the interference of Rawley’s NFL buddy, New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski. Had it not been for Gronkowski’s interference, Mahal could have easily picked up his first major accomplishment in the WWE. The loss due to interference was the straw that broke the camel’s back and Mahal’s full rage was released.
Two weeks after WrestleMania, an enraged Jinder Mahal would face former WWE Universal Champion Finn Balor in a hard hitting affair, with Mahal knocking out Balor for a few seconds – unfortunately for Mahal, he failed once again to capitalize and The Demon King would steal the win.
THE PRESENT: THE BLUE BLOODED MAHARAJA
The following night, Mahal was sent to Smackdown Live as part of the Superstar Shake Up, and he immediately went after his WrestleMania antagonist, Mojo Rawley. Much like the Battle Royal ending, Gronkowski’s interference cost Mahal the win. But a strong showing against the 2017 Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner got him inserted into a 6-Pack Challenge the following week, where he would face off against Rawley, as well as Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan, with the winner becoming the #1 contender for Randy Orton‘s WWE Championship.
And it was during this match-up that the Maharaja arrived. He had tried inner peace, but that lead to failure. He had tried being a partner, but still found no success. During his 6-Pack Challenge, Mahal realized he didn’t need someone at his side – he needed people to watch his back. At the conclusion of the match, former NXT Tag Team The Bollywood Boyz – brothers Gurv and Harv Sihra – made their main roster debut and helped Mahal win the contest and claim the #1 contendership for the WWE’s top prize. The Bollywood Boyz – now renamed to the Singh Brothers – were the missing piece. Mahal would no longer be a lackey to a failed rockstar gimmick, a weak soul seeking inner peace, or the fall guy for a hot headed loose cannon. He would now be the Maharaja, and like any great maharaja before him, he needed his own court behind him. The Singh brothers would provide that security.
Since then, Mahal has been on a winning streak – first he gained redemption against Sami Zayn the following week. Then at the UK Smackdown Live tapings in London, England, Mahal paired up with Baron Corbin and Kevin Owens to defeat the team of Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and Sami Zayn, with Mahal getting the pin over the WWE Champion himself.
This past Tuesday, Jinder Mahal beat the Face That Runs The Place, “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles in singles action, as his confidence and momentum begins to grow leading into his WWE Championship opportunity this Sunday at Payback.
The tale of Jinder Mahal’s ascension to the main event of Smackdown Live isn’t a single act of a jobber suddenly being pushed without reason. It’s a tale of a man that has been on a years long journey of discovery trying to find out what he needed to become a player in the WWE Universe. It was not destined to be a lackey, a partner, or a man seeking inner peace. It’s where any maharaja should be. He needs to be a King.