It’s time for a handful of WWE Superstars to step foot inside the most demonic structure in WWE history – Hell In A Cell. For my Spotlight this time round I really toyed with the idea of going with The New Day vs The Usos for the Tag Team Titles, if only to gush about them for having great matches time and time again. However, I do like to put the focus on matches that I feel have a larger significance to them. And this time round, that accolade has fallen to the WWE Championship match between Jinder Mahal and Shinsuke Nakamura.
I haven’t written too much about Jinder Mahal’s title reign. I was firmly in the camp that thought, from a booking standpoint, Mahal winning the WWE Championship made no sense whatsoever. I got that the reason for it was WWE looking to expand in India, but that doesn’t mean I have to think it’s a good idea based on the weekly shows. I think anyone can be a credible world champion, but you need to work them up to it, and Mahal was randomly pulled up to the top after a year of losing.
The issue wasn’t even necessarily Mahal’s ability in the ring or on the mic – by all means we hadn’t really had much of a chance to assess them since Mahal returned to Raw last year, because all he had been in was short squashes. It was a believability problem initially. And I don’t know if it’s still a believability problem, or if Mahal really just hasn’t risen to the spot, but people still clearly aren’t buying it.
On the other hand, you have Shinsuke Nakamura. A man who oozes charisma and star power from every pore in his body, who may have had one of the best debut matches under the WWE umbrella the company has ever seen. But arguably someone who hasn’t managed to capture the audience with the same “megastar” aura he had in NXT and Japan.
Personally, I think you could argue that Mahal’s presence at the “top” of the card, holding on paper the top championship in the industry, is hurting everyone else on the show, especially those in title contention around him.
I hate the idea of Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion, but I don’t hate his character. I find him completely, inherently uninteresting. The vast majority of the roster just look crisper than him in the ring, smoother, and can tie their character into their ring work more efficiently than Mahal. On the mic, he hasn’t acquitted himself to the standard we have seen in the mid-cards of years gone by, so there is nothing to suggest he should be at the top. But both these issues stem from his character. It is so uninspired, played out, clichéd, and frankly politically awkward (if not insensitive) that it is totally out of place in 2017 WWE. I had similar complaints about Rusev three years ago. I mean really, how is current Jinder different to any “evil foreigner” character ever?
I feel like this match-up is indicative of WWE’s constant battle between their mass market, global ambitions, and also their need to cater to their increasingly die-hard fanbase. Jinder Mahal is a way of tapping into a market that has the potential to be huge for WWE, his story from his life as a jobber – even getting released, nearly quitting the business, and brought back – to WWE Champion via a massive image shift and renewed work ethic should be a PR winner, plus there is the cold fact that he has a better grasp of English than Nakamura, and so can do more of the PR work that is required of a top guy.
Shinsuke Nakamura is an extension of the famed “indie darling” tag so many WWE stars have had. He is someone revered around the world for what he can do in the ring, and his personality is unlike anyone else in the company. He is an internationally proven commodity who was the face of NXT, and possibly ahead of anyone else when it comes to the admiration of hardcore fans.
So how does WWE balance their priorities? Nakamura isn’t going to help WWE expand into Japan any time soon, because New Japan is king there, and will be for a long time. But the WWE Championship doesn’t particularly feel like much of a prize anymore. Just look at the Hell In A Cell card, at best this is probably the third match from the top of the card, behind both Cell matches if only for the gimmick.
For me, the answer is clear. And not just for my own personal preference. Jinder Mahal has done nothing to help SmackDown ratings wise, or live attendance wise. His reign has presided over a complete lack of interest in the WWE Title picture especially, which has seeped into SmackDown as a whole. The fans just haven’t bought into him, and his continued presence as champion is only hurting every other contender at this stage.
I think the Jinder experiment – had it been done differently – was worth a shot. But it hasn’t worked, and it’s time to end it. Unfortunately, WWE have just announced a tour of India for December that Mahal and the Singhs are going to be on, and it really wouldn’t surprise me if WWE want to parade him as champion in his home country. But I really don’t see what Nakamura does next after a loss, or who Jinder’s next challenger would be. And would another loss to Jinder hurt Nakamura to the point he wouldn’t be able to recover this year? Could WWE be running the risk of ruining another potential star by keeping Jinder’s reign going?
For the sake of interest in SmackDown, the WWE Championship picture, and for making the WWE Championship feel like an attraction again – please WWE, end the Jinder experiment. Take the title off him now. It’s time.