Down the rabbit hole we go...
I'd like to start this second part by talking a little bit about WWE wrestling in general. Y'see WWE, for the most part deals with the commodity of hope when it comes to feuds - either validating it when a face wins, or exploiting it when a heel does. Daniel Bryan's victory at WrestleMania 30 is a great example of the former - where the fans hopes and dreams for the Beard were realised. However, what is equally important but nowhere near as examined is the opposite side of the coin - where you have to essentially smash little kids' hopes and dreams into a million pieces.
It's a fine balancing act because when the weaselly heel wins you have to give the face an 'out' for the same kiddies to essentially say "if only" to make it seem like the valiant face would get them next time. Or another face. If the fan's hope snaps, then essentially the whole reign can be blown with it (Reign of Terror anyone?). So the real question is, how do you string people's hopes and dreams along?
Because they didn't with Jinder. But we'll get to that. We have other issues to cover first.
The SmackDown after Backlash Jinder came out complete with dancers and Indian percussion music, complete with amazingly colourful outfits. And, see this is where WWE boobed. Anyone with a memory longer than a lobotomised elk would recall that before Orton we had Bray Wyatt as SD champion- another colourful and larger-than-life character that we were supposed to dislike. Then there was face Orton in all his milquetoast glory, then there was this. So if you are a viewer, are you going to gravitate to the guy who's been around for 10 years and has essentially the same disposition all that time, or the cult leader with the cool lantern and the guy with exotic music and dancers.
Don't worry I'll wait til you make up your mind.
Y'see the first major issue with heel champions like Jinder is how do you elongate their feuds? With great wrestlers like a Daniel Bryan or a CM Punk people will come for the in ring action, while others like Jericho (notwithstanding the fact he is also a fantastic worker) the fans can be hooked on the mic work he does in between the matches. With Jinder I think what they were going for was a variation on the JBL WWE Title reign of 2004-05. However, there were a few key differences.
Firstly, the powers that be were willing to acknowledge that JBL...wasn't the most scintillating in-ring worker in the world and so if you were going to have him headline PPV's you would have to lean hard into the novelty aspect, as well as find workers that could help carry him to better matches. Look at the matches during JBL's time at the top and not only do you see a myriad of top-tier opponents (Undertaker, Guerrero, Booker T, Big Show, Kurt Angle, John Cena) but also a massive amount of gimmick matches (Last Ride, Barbed WIre Cage, Triple Threat, Fatal Four Way, I Quit). In this way, the stakes for JBL's reign seem to be continuously changing and also a) allowing the faces an out, while b) giving them a natural exit to other feuds. Of course, for this to happen you need a strong pool of established faces that can take the odd (albeit dirty) loss. SmackDown circa 2005 had this while SD circa 2017 had far thinner pickings. Sure their was Orton, but after that...? AJ Styles was US Champion and just been turned so that was difficult, Cena was paring his time back with the company, while Nakamura was still getting established after a scintillating debut (and we'll see next episode how they screwed that up).
Secondly is the fact that JBL, although he could (really) overstep with his promos at times, was willing to sorta be...the anti-Triple H champion by allowing himself occasionally to be the butt of a joke or a pratfall (his confrontation with the Undertaker to set up their SummerSlam match is good example of this). And while Mr Cornette is correct that funny doesn't sell tickets, when you have 4+ hours of TV to fill every week, occasionally they help to pass time that otherwise could become very tedious (see Terror, Reign of).
Thirdly is the fact that JBL's shortcomings were offset by the fact that there was a full-time champ on the other brand to take some of the spotlight. Whereas in 2017...
Because in 2017...you have one champion with oodles of legitimacy but everyone knows is not there for the long haul, and another who is basically a placeholder who is not only not the best worker, but doesn't have the other tools to his bow to make the week-to-week grind interesting.
However, once again, we can't discount the fact that JBL had Undertaker, Booker T and Eddie Guerrero amongst others to ignite the feud with and Mahal has charisma vacuum Randy Orton to grapple with when he was trying to get his title reign off the ground. This could be seen at Money in the Bank, where a match that saw Mahal actually getting on top of Orton and actually looking a pretty intense champion...and then Orton gets too obsessed with Jinder's offsiders and walks straight into another Khallas.
Seriously, what is the point of having babyfaces who don't attempt to learn from their mistakes? It makes them look like idiots and the audience look like fools for believing in them. They tried to justify this brain fade later by claiming that when the Singh Brothers attacked Randy's father (you know, the one he RKO'd into a car) Randy saw red and now he just wanted to hurt Mahal. Which would be fine...except he didn't really stick to this principle for long, seemingly going back to being content when he got his title shot at Battleground.
And here's the thing, there's nothing wrong with a blood feud, but you need to go through with it!! Otherwise all the impetus of the feud and the raised stakes of the feud just fizzles out. So Mahal agrees to a Punjabi Prison match. Yes, the guy who has relied on the Singh Brothers to retain decided it would be a great idea to have a match where these guys would be stuck on the outside.
And as I said, WWE made a blood feud where the person who was supposedly enraged was the mainly passive one, while the one who was escaping by the skin of their teeth was upping the stakes simply because they saw some tenuous links between his nationality and a gimmicky match.
Or in other words, the WWE indulged in lazy storytelling.
And I'd love to say at least the match made up for it, but the thing is that Punjabi Prison matches are a) confusing both to look at and to understand, b) dangerous without looking that dangerous and c) really, REALLY hard to justify in today's day and age in terms of racial enlightenment.
The first of these points is emphasised as the announce team tries to tell the rules to an audience who just wanted to see some wrestling. Part c) was emphasised when Jinder was called the 'Pride of India' and had the pressure of 1.3 billion people on his shoulders before crossing to their Hindu announce table who kept on about the 1.3 billion people before JBL calls the Punjabi Prison Mahal's "home court advantage" (yes, we're really picking low hanging fruit here people)- despite never fought inside it before. It's like saying Rafeal Nadal has the home advantage if he was playing water polo in a Spanish pool...
Then to show the depth of their blood feud, the announcers point out how Jinder beat Orton in front of his father (gasp!) on Father's Day (double gasp!!). Laughably JBL then says that Orton has shown hubris in accepting the Punjabi Prison match, despite the fact that the two times he lost were due to the Singh Brothers' interference!!!! But sure, Orton has no idea what he's doing.
It's this total cognitive dissonance that already makes the match seem idiotic, with the announcers not sure how they should sell it. Jinder's the heel, but he can't be seen as one for marketing, while Orton is the face but we need Jinder to look good? It's a complete shitshow. All they do know is to put over the structure. It doesn't help of course that Jinder is so obviously playing the angry heel but the commentators seem to fawning over him at times.
So the match starts and almost straight away Jinder calls for a door to be opened, leading to the first boring mini-game of 'scramble for the door like seagulls around a plate of chips'. The annoying thing is that it doesn't make good wrestling, just a lot of boring low impact moves that go on for about a minute until the door closes and we wait til the next one opens so we can rinse and repeat.
So what we get for the first 7 minutes or so is a painfully slow match with 60 seconds of frantic, but muddled activity in between. Some of the 'brutal' highlights include a part where Orton...pushes Mahal onto the wooden structure, which is apparently the 'bloodthirsty' side of Orton (from a wrestler who punts people in the head). However, for all these moments- there are moments that could go oh so wrong, but don't look that great. At one point Orton suplexes Mahal into the inner structure, but because the structure doesn't give or make any sound it just looks...naff.
And because of all this the match doesn't feel epic - just slow. There is no real sense that two warriors are going to the well to defeat the other, because they can't even get out of the first fucking structure.
This is made worse by a moment of stupidity. So Orton hits the powerslam and the rope hung DDT and decides to ask for the door to be opened...only to stay to hit the RKO on Mahal (despite the fact it's the last door). Mahal counters into the running knee and leaves Orton on the ground. Mahal, instead of going out as the seconds tick down, decides to stay and hit the Khallas, which Orton counters into a RKO (a pretty good looking one, actually). However, the Singh Brothers (shock horror) come out and interfere, dragging Mahal out of the inner structure and keeping Orton in the inner one.
Now this does make some sense- after all with the last door closed Orton has to climb. But why do they reveal themselves at this point of the match rather than just at the start- particularly since they are under the ring and could beat the crap out of Orton?
In any case Orton manages to climb the inner cage and traverse (gingerly-as I say this is a dangerous gimmick) tot he outer side where Mahal and him trade punches whilst simultaneously moving down to a safe falling height. However even then Orton can't get the win because the pesky Singh bros pull him down and help Jinder beat him down. However once again Orton beats the odds and pulls Mahal back down from the outer cage wall, before the Singh brothers distract him for long enough to Jinder to hit him with a Singapore Cane (in a Punjabi Prison).
However once again Orton fights back, only to be distracted by a Singh Brother (who he drops 15 ft through an announce table) for Mahal to catch him. By this stage you may be sensing a pattern here that does little for anyone in this match and though the crowd pops for the big moments, by the end they are just strung out by the same ol' issues that Orton has had for the entirety of this feud, except multiple times in the same damn match.
The end is equally hilarious, with Orton suddenly being overcome by exhaustion and essentially standing on the same rung for about 50 seconds until Khali can get to the ring, then just about going over the top of the prison, but when Khali shakes it flipping back? Why didn't he not just go over the other side and win the damn title? It doesn't help either that Jinder essentially no-sells his injuries and scoots up and down the other side like a fucking mountain goat.
I hate this ending. I hate it because it was essentially that Khali came back to help a guy cause he was from the same country and that was seen as enough to justify. Because it drains hope from the fans. The fans know the Singh Brothers will interfere, but rather than find creative ways to re-use it or change the equation, the WWE jump the shark from difficult babyface task to impossible. After the second or third time the Singhs interfere in the prison the crowd no longer feel up, just numb- like they are waiting for the end. So when Khali comes out, it almost feels like a troll move on behalf of the company towards its fans.
And for all that I would have been ok if the prick who now had some significant heat on him thanks to the travesty of this feud with Orton soon lost the title to a guy who could a) wrestle and b) ooze charisma and mystique. Someone who was not defined by their nationality, but rather used it as a facet of their make-up. If only SmackDown had one of those we would not have had to wait til AJ.
Oh wait, they did.
Stay tuned for Part 3 where my ire gets turned to full bore...
Also stay tuned for my Booking Fantasy series- the first on Bret Hart's First WCW year should be coming out very soon!
#1 Owen Hart vs Stone Cold @ SummerSlam '97
#2 December to Dismember 2006
#3 The Fingerpoke of Doom
#4 The Scott Steiner vs HHH Feud
#5 Ryback vs Mark Henry @ WrestleMania XXIX
#6 Bret Hart vs Vince McMahon @ WrestleMania XXVI
#7 The Jerry Lawler/Michael Cole Feud
#8 The Curtain Call
#9 Bash at the Beach 2000
#10 Royal Rumble 2014
#11 Warrior/Hogan II @ Halloween Havoc
#12 The Cena/Laurinatis Feud
#13 The Firing of Ric Flair From WCW
#14 The Brogue Kick of Doom
#15 Lesnar vs Goldberg @ WrestleMania XX
#16 Immortal Revealed @ Bound for Glory 2010
#17 Sting vs Hogan @ Starrcade 1997
#18 Triple H vs Booker T @ WrestleMania 19
#19 The Corre
#20 The Undertaker vs Big Boss Man @ WrestleMania 15
#21 Jeff Hardy vs Sting @ Victory Road 2011
#22 Road Wild 1999
#23 The John Cena/Kane Feud of 2012
#24 Hulk Hogan's Mancow Interview of 1999
#25 CM Punk vs the Rock @ Elimination Chamber 2013
#26 The Reign of Bill Watts in WCW
#27 The Claire Lynch Affair Part One And Two
#28 Triple H vs Kevin Nash @ TLC 2011
#29 The Cactus Jack Amnesia Angle
#30 Hulk Hogan Leaving TNA
#31 HBK vs Hulk Hogan @ SummerSlam 2005
#32 David Arquette: WCW Champion
#33 Katie Vick
#34 nWo Souled Out 1997
#35 The Vampiro/Sting Feud of 2000
#36 Once in a Lifetime, Episode II
#37 The Angle/Jarrett Feud of 2010/11
#38 The McMahon/Lashley Feud
#39 The Shockmaster
#40 CM Punk vs Ryback @ Hell in a Cell 2012
#41 Hulk Hogan vs Roddy Piper @ Starrcade 1996
#42 The WWE Championship Reign of Diesel
#43 Cena vs the Wyatts
#44 The Main Roster Run of Emma
#45 The WCW Run of Bret Hart
#46 John Cena vs the Miz @ WrestleMania 27
#47 The Lone Wolf AJ Styles
#48 Alberto Del Rio vs Jack Swagger @ WrestleMania 29
#49 The Transition of Mike Awesome from ECW to WCW
#50 The Dolph Ziggler Conundrum Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five
#51 The Rise and Fall of Damien Sandow/Mizdow Part One and Part Two
#52 DDP & Jay Leno vs Hollywood Hogan & Eric Bischoff @ Road Wild 1998
#53 Triple H vs Randy Orton @ WrestleMania 25
#54 Lord Tensai
#55 LOD 2000
#56 Sid Vicious vs Scott Steiner @ Starrcade 2000
#57 Bret Hart vs Yokuzuna (feat. Hulk Hogan) @ WrestleMania 9
#58 Royal Rumble 2015
#59 The Crucifixion of the Sandman
#60 Brock Lesnar's First Year Back in WWE
#61 Bo Dallas' Main Roster Run
#62 Vince Russo vs Booker T for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship
#63 Randy Orton vs the Big Show @ Survivor Series 2013
#64 AJ Styles vs Abyss @ Destination X 2010
#65 EV 2.0
#66 The Summer of Punk Part 1; Part 2; Part 3
#67 The Lex Express
#68 Goldberg's first WWE Run
#69 Paige's Main Roster Run 2014-2016
#70 Seth Rollins' First World Title Run
#71 Hulk Hogan vs Sgt Slaughter @ WrestleMania VII
#72 Sting vs Abyss in a Last Rites Match
#73 The Undertaker vs Big Show in the Punjabi Prison
#74 Ric Flair vs Hollywood Hogan @ Uncensored 1999
#75 Roman Reigns' Road to WrestleMania 32 Part One, Part Two. Part Three
#76 Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice @ WrestleMania VIII
#77 Muhammad Hassan
#78 Sheamus' World Heavyweight Title Reign
#79 The Ghastly Match
#80 Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton @ Wrestlemania 33
#81 Goldberg vs Steiner vs Nash @ New Blood Rising'
#82 The Lesnar/Angle/Big Show feud of 2002
#83 Aces and Eights
#84 Dean Ambrose vs Brock Lesnar @ WrestleMania 32
#85 Jinder Mahal: WWE Champion Part One