The May 10 broadcast of Monday Night RAW saw the return of former WWE champion Jinder Mahal. Mahal’s title reign is generally considered one of the more underwhelming in WWE history, but also saw some controversy: Mahal drew real-life heat from fans after making pejoratively charged remarks about opponent Shinsuke Nakamura. Although the dialogue was scripted, it was still widely thought that Mahal went too far beyond the boundaries of either good taste or a heel persona, at the time in 2017. A knee injury and subsequent surgeries kept Mahal offscreen and out of action beginning in 2019 and throughout 2020; plans for him to have a storyline with former 3MB teammate Drew McIntyre, and a face turn, were scrapped.
Mahal’s first 2021 appearance on WWE programming was on the streaming program Main Event, which features many midcarders on the RAW roster like Ricochet and Mustafa Ali. Mahal defeated Jeff Hardy, whom he also faced on May 10’s RAW.
Hardy is a veteran with a large and enduring fanbase, whose tag team matches with brother Matt Hardy, currently signed to AEW, revolutionized the ladder match format. He hasn’t had a win on WWE programming for quite some time, a curious situation for such a talented and storied performer. This streak continued when he faced Mahal again on RAW. Mahal walked the ramp flanked by new henchmen Veer and Shanky. Hardy started the match on the offensive, charging Mahal with punches and delivering a dropkick. Mahal caught him with a big boot kick, and quickly took him down to the canvas and got a cover on Hardy. Hardy got free, but Mahal’s assault had just begun.
Mahal delivered a series of elbow blows to Hardy’s shoulders, a vertical suplex, launched himself from the ropes to slam hard into Hardy, and delivered knee strikes to Hardy’s back. Hardy summoned his trademark grit and rallied back to his feet, and for a time was able to answer Mahal’s aggression with his own renewed momentum. Hardy kicked and clotheslined Mahal, and was able to land a double ax handle strike. While setting up for his signature twist of fate, Mahal caught him with a knee strike. From there, Mahal was dominant again, and was able to finish Hardy by hitting his signature Khallas, winning by pinfall. If the recent bouts between the two were devised to put Mahal over as fully recovered, in fighting shape, and ready to be a dominant force on the RAW roster, then Mahal’s two victories over Hardy in just a few days time served those optics. However, given Mahal’s rocky history, it remains to be seen how his return will be received in the long run. It is also early days yet to see if Mahal will be an aggressive heel, or a neutral face simply out to test his mettle in a good fight.
At least one major name on the RAW roster has expressed an interest in a storyline with Mahal: Drew McIntyre, two-time WWE champion, and Mahal’s former 3MB stablemate. On the Sunday Night’s Main Event podcast, McIntyre related that he saw the potential for a feud between the two born out of the vastly different receptions to their respective title runs. McIntyre became a breakout star of the company during the pandemic era, capturing the WWE championship twice in 2020. Mahal’s run, as previously stated, was panned. RAW has capitalized on the theme of locker room resentment over McIntyre’s meteoric rise before, for his feud with Sheamus, but it would be even more grounded in reality with Mahal.
Will Mahal’s return yield an impactful storyline, or leave viewers wanting? What creative direction is being taken with not only the former champion, but his companions Veer and Shanky, remains to be seen, but an impressive run for the three will no doubt be a good thing for the presence the WWE is trying to cultivate in India. India is the second-largest growing market for WWE programming, and in deference to this WWE held the Superstar Spectacle, featuring WWE superstars and Indian talent, in January. Jinder Mahal and Shanky-who was trained by Hall of Famer The Great Khali-appeared in the Superstar Spectacle. Plans have also been floated for an NXT brand in India. Although these plans now have to factor in the heartbreaking second wave of COVID-19 currently underway in India, it would still be smart money to keep the global audience in mind and utilize Mahal, Veer, and Shanky meaningfully.
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