Last night, the collective WWE Universe (and almost every internet fan on the planet) were left in shock and disbelief when a wrestler most considered to be an enhancement talent, Jinder Mahal, won the 6-pack challenge on Smackdown Live to become the #1 Contender to the WWE Championship, following the outcome of the upcoming rematch between WWE Champion Randy Orton and former champion Bray Wyatt.
At first, the move seems to make no sense whatsoever. Jinder Mahal has been primarily used as an enhancement talent since his return to the WWE last July. He became the pinfall lackey of Rusev for a brief spell, but Mahal was hardly a contender for any title on the either brand, let alone the WWE Championship. He started a feud with Mojo Rawley (and his NFL buddy Rob Gronkowski) during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale at WrestleMania 33 this year, but his career in WWE seemed in jeopardy following last Monday’s edition of Raw, when he inadvertently knocked out Finn Balor during a match up that was intended to highlight a returning Demon King. Instead, he was moved to Smackdown Live the following night as part of the Superstar Shake Up, immediately going after his WrestleMania adversary Rawley. It seemed to just be a sideways ploy to advance their narrative when Mahal was announced as one of the six members of the 6-pack challenge last night, as his opponent Mojo Rawley was also part of the match. But during the later minutes of the match, NXT and Cruiserweight Classic tag team The Bollywood Boyz (brothers Gurv and Harv Sihra) came down to ringside and assisted Mahal in winning the match and establishing himself as the #1 contender to the WWE Championship following the results of the Payback House of Horrors match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt.
So what gives? What prompted the sudden push and elevation of someone most assumed was just brought back to be an enhancement for newer stars?
THE HART FOUNDATION
Before we get into the rationale of Jinder Mahal’s ascension from bottom of the card to the main event, let’s have a look at something the WWE did in the mid-1990’s with huge success. The creation of the Hart Foundation 2.0.
Following the epic double turn that came out of the WrestleMania 13 match between hero Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and heel “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, former WWE Champion Bret Hart emerged as a disgruntled Canadian sick of the moral decay not only in the WWE locker room, but in the United States in general. His anti-American ethos grew and he finally announced that all he could trust was his family. He assembled a new Hart Foundation, with his younger brother Owen Hart, his brother-in-laws ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, and Hart dungeon graduate and family friend Brian Pillman. As the anti-American sentiment grew from the faction, it began to incorporate very pro-Canadian status, as the Hart Foundation began to compare the substandard ethics of America in contrast to the high moral fiber of Canada. The resulting impact on the audiences worldwide were astronomical.
The new Hart Foundation became the biggest heels in the America, feuding with the juvenile humour of Americans D-Generation X, with the thunderous boos against the Harts overshadowing the cheers of DX. But around the world, especially in Canada, the Harts received even louder ovations, where they were welcomed with open arms as champions who strove to fight the arrogance of the American people. They were the villains that Americans paid to see get beat up and the heroes that the rest of the world paid to see take it to the US.
The WWE has never had a faction with that much polarizing marketing appeal since. Until now.
JINDER MAHAL & THE BOLLYWOOD BOYZ
So what does any of that Hart Foundation stuff have to do with Jinder Mahal becoming #1 contender and the Bollywood Boyz helping him out? Well, if you can see past the television narrative, it may have quite a bit to do with it. And here’s why.
It’s no secret that WWE is in the process of expanding to being a global brand, beyond being an American company in foreign markets. Starting with the UK Championship, the WWE plans on setting up and integrating global hot spots with local performers to make the WWE a proper international company with WWE territories and stars specific to international regions. The UK is underway first, China has been worked on for the past year, and plans to expand into Asia and Mexico are also in the planner. But another huge region the WWE is currently expanding into is India. India is a HUGE wrestling market, especially for the WWE, where former WWE World Champion The Great Khali is revered as a national sports hero, on par with Rikidozan in Japan.
The WWE also recently appointed former Walt Disney India executive Sheetesh Srivastava as the new General Manager and VP of WWE India, with Shop WWE opening up in the country as well. WWE has big plans to start expanding in India, so having a strong Indian character – or faction – is one way to start the ball rolling. And start it has.
Mahal’s win made front page news on India Today, which is no surprise. Kayfabe in India is still very much alive and wrestling stars are treated with the same respect as cricket stars. There are apparently plans to flood Shop WWE with new Jinder Mahal and Bollywood Boyz merchandise to take advantage of his immediate push and the launch of WWE India.
With a growing international awareness, the WWE is now creating stars (or factions) to appeal to certain areas of the world, but who can be maximized in others as well. In Jinder’s case, he is now a major heel in the United States for his underhanded tactics, but his careful wording of his complaints – his higher education, family wealth, etc. – were all valid questions on why he was being booed. Concerns that could (and should) make him and his ensemble national heroes in India and the surrounding regions. There are 1.2 billion people in India alone – that’s a huge market to capitalize on merchandise wise.
With all of this now understood, it appears that Jinder Mahal and his new cronies The Bollywood Boyz could now be set to become another international faction with polarizing appeal globally, but who could be a huge money maker for the WWE in multiple facets. Just like the Hart Foundation did 20 years previous.
Main Photo: WWE