What ho chums! It's time for you to take your HSDoW medicine!
I have a confession, Cagesiders.
I have a particular distaste for this championship reign. When I think of it, bile begins to rise in the back of my throat. And there are several reasons for this, which we will get to in time. But one of the more petty reasons I hate this is that I actually advocated for this guy to win the belt at one stage.
Screw it, let's begin.
At WrestleMania 33 the WWE christened the dawning of a new era on SmackDown by dethroning the established star Bray Wyatt and giving it to an up and coming young tyro by the name of Randy Orton. After several great runs as a heel champion and a couple of mediocre-at-best ones as a face, Creative thought he was the man to have his hands raised as a feel good moment for WrestleMania.
And look, I understand Orton is a name. And yes, I also understand that he has an amazing face finisher- possibly the best face finisher pound for pound in the whole of the WWE (I would go so far to say it's gotta be top 3 in the world). But like everything in WWE, once they saw the "RKO outta nowhere" GIFs, the WWE managed to suck any spontaneity and fun out of it. And I get that the WWE is a business and profit margins etc., but what Vince seems to be doing is giving his audience a plastic wave machine when they had a day on the beach and remained mystified when they complain.
So the big question was, who would Orton face? Wyatt seemed the logical choice, but he was being moved to Raw in one of those "they-like-the-other-guy-more" moves that WWE does so subtly (thank God poor Bray hasn't had to deal with it since...). And yes, Wyatt and Orton did a car wreck of a match at Payback to close their feud where Bray evened the ledger (though not wallking away with the title cause...um...yeah).
And who would provide the assist?
It would be fairly safe to say that Jinder Mahal was up to this point a generic foreign heel in a company rife with foreign heel archeytypes. In fact, during his first run I don't actually think he was in a Championship match, let alone held one. To his credit, after he was released in 2014, he returned with a much leaner muscular frame that seemed to make him look like a bit more of a badass. However, at WM 33, he was only given what could be best framed as the 'Showbiz spot', eliminated last in the Andre Battle Royale when the 'Gronk' (I have been reliably informed that this is a football player of some description) interfered and cost him the match.
This seeming treading of water would cease however, when he won the #1 Contender's match to Orton's WWE Championship, beating out Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, Dolph Ziggler, Mojo Rawley and Sami Zayn. Harper would have been a logical choice- as he was betrayed by Orton in the first place. Ziggler and Zayn would have been fantastic workers for Randy to line up against, particularly in a big main event match. But Mahal? Well he had a talkable moment with 'the Gronk' and WWE was making a huge foray into Indian and South Asian markets in the next few months.
But while Orton and Mahal were not the most...headliner feud, it may have defied expectations and delivered something special. Until Jinder went and spoilt it all by stealing the damn belt.
Look, I'm not saying that a challenger stealing the belt is a riff worth plucking, but there needs to be certain parameters. It works when Stone Cold did it because he threw the Rock's IC belt into the river. It worked when CM Punk did it because he held the belt for 400-odd days and therefore felt aggrieved that some part-timer had waltzed in and taken it from him. But if you're a guy who hasn't had the championship yet and you're only want the championship to parade around with it you don't look formidable, you look...sad. Why would you risk being disqualified in your WWE Championship Match because you want to walk around with the championship a couple of weeks early. Unless of course you don't think you'd win.
And what was worse was that the next week Jinder had to give the bloody belt back the next week back to Orton by Shane O'Mac. And did he get punished in some way? Not really. Just had to face Sami Zayn. In what way was this good for anyone?! It made Jinder look like a sad insecure heel who had the maturity of a 5-year-old. It made Randy look like a tool who didn't really care about the title- y'know the highest title in the company (otherwise why wouldn't you have Randy looking around like a man possessed for his title?). It made Shane look like a substitute teacher, who wasn't willing or smart enough to use this transgression as a way to (kayfabe) punish Mahal and therefore raise the stakes of the match (wouldn't you at least tell Orton he could pick the stipulation?). And perhaps worst of all, it made the WWE title look no more than a belt, that could passed around with little fanfare or heat.
But there's more.
Look, I think we can establish that WWE are not the most...racially enlightened bunch of creative (and we will have MANY MORE WORDS on this as this feud continues), but there comes a point where if you are essentially baiting a crowd to boo because a person is speaking a language other than English...something is definitely wrong. And not just because it's morally questionable, but because the trope is so damn tired. If you're gimmick is that "I'm a rich foreign heel", then you'd better put an interesting spin on it. When Nakamura turned heel in 2018 and said the immortal "No speak English" line, it was both heelish and interesting because it didn't make the audience see Japanese as worse, but rather that Nak was a condescending prick. That's smart heeling. Speaking in Punjabi because it's a different language is not only dubious heeling, its lazy heeling. Because where do you go from there in order for the gimmick not to get tired?
And before I get onto the match I just want to stop to say that this by no means all Mahal's fault. After all, he was handed a gimmick, a stable and rocketed to the main event in the space of about 8 weeks. Orton on the other hand has been here before as a face and...oh dear.
I don't mean to harp on Randy but it really pisses me off when old school wrestlers bemoan the lack of good heels these days, saying they don't carry heat. Some of this may be true but tell me this, is it easier to gain heat beating the shit out of Stone Cold in 1997, or Randy Orton 20 years on? Which brings the crowd up again and again as a face? If heels can't garner that much heat, maybe part of it is that for the past 10 years, so many WWE faces have essentially been vaccums, sucking the life out of any feud.
Anyway, onto the match...
The major issue with the match is of course the fact that neither wrestler is what you'd call 'nimble'. Sure, Orton is silken smooth, but not fast and Mahal...well we'll get to that. The introduction to the match is...odd in the fact that it would seem that Jinder is the face by the fact that the commentary seems to want to convey that "he has been on the outside looking in" and "he is carrying an entire nation on his shoulders" (to a chorus of boos).
Before the match even starts Orton is on top of Mahal (in a really cool fake-out sort of way) and thus the match starts off at a pretty good clip (though the bell hasn't actually rung yet).
Eventually, after beating ten tons of crap out of him, Orton bundles Mahal into the ring and we get a minute where the ref asks Mahal if he wants to continue and Mahal looks somewhere between angry and constipated. Eventually we get the bell rang though and Mahal proceeds to be...beaten up by Orton again.
And look, I realise that everyone wants to see Orton give Mahal his comeuppance. It's just that if this is the guy you're putting the title on...wouldn't you want him to look a bit dangerous? Indeed, it takes Orton essentially sauntering up to Mahal and being pounced upon before Mahal gets any offence, where he begins targeting Orton's shoulder, which makes the pace slow down.
The funny thing is, when Orton gets the ascendancy again, the pace doesn't quicken up, but slow even further. There's a bizarre spot where Orton gives Mahal a European uppercut and Mahal...sorta jogs to the ropes in one of the weirdest selling acts I have ever seen before jogging back, getting hit with another uppercut and doing the same thing again.
All of this suggests that Orton is operating in first gear. In a World Championship match. And sure, you could tell the story of Orton being complacent, but I have seen molasses move faster than Orton does in this match. Mr RKO-Outta-nowhere is about as 'outta nowhere' as a zebra in a shopping mall.
And speaking of timing, there are moments that are clearly off. One point Orton throws Mahal against the ropes and is obviously setting up for the big powerslam...only for Mahal to get his arm tangled in the ring rope and thus mess up the timing, to the point where Mahal essentially has to then run off the ropes to try and cover his mistake and Orton has just throw him over the top rope to improvise.
It also doesn't help that we get about five awful looking submission spots where the babyface has to slowly overcome and power out of it. One or even two in a big match can bring the crowd to their feet and harness the emotion of a big spot. But five? It just screams 'rest hold' and sucks any life out of the crowd. I timed the fifth one of them and I was pleased to find out that I wasn't going insane- it did in fact go for over a minute and a half.
Finally, Orton actually finds some speed and hits some signature moves and it looks like he is going to hit the RKO...before Mahal rolls out of the ring to the protection of the Singh brothers. So Orton, rather than wait for Mahal to come back in like a smart wrestler would do (he rolled out after all...) does the natural WWE idiot babyface thing and follows, where he is ambushed by Mahal after the assist from the Singh bros. And then what makes this worse is that two seconds later after he hits the RKO and they have dragged Mahal to outside the ring he does it again, proceeding to dump both of them over the announce tables (including one quite scary looking bump that even Orton looks a little sheepish at). But then, does he go and bundle Mahal in the ring and finish him off? No, he decides that the Singh brothers haven't suffered enough because...reasons?
And look, I know this all supposed to pop the crowd before the ending and make Orton look strong but it looks dumb. It looks like Orton forgot what was at stake and so when Mahal creeps up from behind and delivers an awkward looking Khallas for the win it just feels stupid.
I said at the beginning of this article how Vince seems to drain anything organic out of things and replace it with his own artificial reality in order to control it. As Jinder Mahal paraded around in the ring, with the camera cutting between opened mouthed fans I am reminded of that. Because there is no real story here, no fan movement, no groundswell that dictated this booking decision. Instead what we have is Vince having a plan driven purely by marketing pragmatics. And as we will see soon, fan sentiment has little to do with it as this feud goes from bad to oh so worse.
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action
Article Four: "WHY AUSTIN DAMMIT?! WHY