Once upon a time Eddie Guerrero won the WWE Title from Brock Lesnar and then retained it against Kurt Angel in a fantastic WrestleMania XX co-main-event. It was a storybook couple of months and it looked as though the company had found its new superstar to help carry the blue brand. Guerrero was apparently a ratings magnet with several key demographics, was beloved by fans casual and hardcore, could work both face and heel and had great charisma on the mic. He was as close to the total package as you were going to find in the post-Attitude Era WWE.
And then JBL happened.
The artist formally known as Bradshaw had spent nearly half a decade playing the part of a beer swilling, poker playing, cigar chomping brawler-for-hire, alongside long-time tag team partner Faarooq. Their backstage antics and natural comedic timing and chemistry made them easy to love. Think of them as the Attitude Era version of Breezango, only with a little more testosterone.
After years of toiling away in midcard obscuring, Bradshaw had finally landed on a hit gimmick. It should have been the perfect way to cap off a long career and in fact, the duo seemed to have their farewell moment at WrestleMania XX. A clean-shaven Bradshaw had already published a financial self-help book and was making appearances on cable business shows to talk money and business. It was a very different look from the one fans were accustomed to, but no one minded; he’d had his run in the sun and fans were happy to wish him well in retirement.
Except he just wouldn’t go away.
Faarooq was sent to pasture, but Bradshaw was repackaged into a Texified Wall Street tycoon. Fine, everyone thought. If he wants to try to make it as a solo act, after failing so many times, good luck to him. But apparently WWE higher up
s saw potential in the character and decided to go all-in on him.
The now-named “JBL” challenged WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero at the Judgment Day PPV, the first post-Mania show hosted by Smackdown. JBL won by DQ in a match now infamous for the amount of blood shed between the two men. Nevermind that, however: What’s not talked about is how protected JBL was in a match he technically won: The upstart main-eventer kicked out of multiple finishers and thoroughly dominated the smaller champion. The finish saw Eddie Guerrero DQ himself by beaning JBL with the title belt (which JBL brought into the ring) in full view of the ref. Eddie walked away with the title but it was clear JBL was not a one-and-done challenger.
Two months later they rematched and JBL won the belt.
A superstar who looked like the perfect paper tiger—a guy to be built up as a semi-credible looking challenger to give the champ something to do en route to his big feud at SummerSlam—ended up walking away with the most prestigious championship in wrestling.
And then he retained it against Undertaker. And then again Booker T. And then he beat all three. And then Randy Orton. And then Big Show. For over nine months, JBL won match after match, while fan unrest grew to a fever pitch and that seemed to reach new peaks every few weeks.
When his reign finally ended, JBL slipped away to the upper-midcard and became the superstar most expected him to be in the first place: A throwaway feud for a better champion; someone good enough to lose on PPV on an off-month show. In time fans came to look on the 2004-2005 era of JBL as Smackdown’s “reign of terror” comparable to Triple H’s run on Raw from 2003-2005. In time fans began to think of JBL’s championship reign as a bad idea that did nothing to elevate the title or increase viewership of the brand. In time fans basically forgot about JBL’s reign and assumed such an obviously poor idea would never happen again.
Let’s get this out of the way: Jinder Mahal is not JBL. He is not the second coming of JBL. He is not “this generation’s” JBL, or any such thing.
JBL had amazing talent on the microphone. He could cut a ten minute promo that kept you engaged all the way and left you begging for someone—anyone—to come down the ramp to shut his face. JBL had phenomenal “stage presence.” Despite a decade of steady on-screen work as a midcard comedy act, when he switched to his main-event persona he managed to effectively sell it and make the audience accept him as an upper-tier superstar. He may not have had much skill in the ring beyond brawling, but he was a heat magnet and kept the audiences completely enraged over everything he did, even if was just a headlock.
Jinder Mahal is none of those things.
Is he, by all accounts, a stand-up guy? Sure. Is he making the most of this amazing opportunity Vince McMahon has laid in his lap? You bet. Is he trying really hard? No question.
So do washing machines.
Jinder Mahal, before his improbable WWE Title win back in May, was best known as the worst part of 3MB. He was this guy for crying out loud:
He’d been a mainstay at the bottom of the card, on and off for a number of years. In fact, when the new brand-split happened and Jinder Mahal started making appearances on Raw, I honestly didn’t know he’d been fired and rehired. Apparently he was gone from 2014-2016.
He returned as an able-bodied jobber to the stars, losing weekly to the likes of Neville and Sami Zayn; even Darren Young got a W on him. It’s not glamorous work being the guy meant to make other guys look good, but it’s a steady paycheck I guess, and in the brand-split era the smaller rosters needed such talents in particular. Mahal did his job (literally) well for several months before switching over to Smackdown. Things looked to continue on the blue show as they’d gone on the red one, with Jinder dropping matches of little consequence or notice from the audience.
And then the fool went and won the WWE Championship number-one contendership.
No one, and I mean no one, saw that coming but the moment he won everyone started saying “oooohhhh” at the same time. The WWE was looking to expand its business into India (population 1.3 billion) and had a tour of the country planned for later in the year. Suddenly it all made sense. This wasn’t about rewarding a midcarder (midcarder? jobber.) with a title run to see if he can be the next big thing. This wasn’t Edge in 2006. This was purely about business. This was about finding the best available guy, about putting the most prestigious title left in wrestling around his waist and hoping the Network subscriptions and ticket sales in a very narrowly-targeted segment of the audience would tick upward as a result.
The best available guy was apparently a Canadian-born ex-member of trio of air-guitarists.
He defeated Randy Orton thanks to help from his duo of goobers and very awkward, sudden finish. He then retained against Randy Orton in a punjabi prison match (that no one saw because no one can see anything outside that bamboo monstrosity, but no one was complaining because everyone was watching Game of Thrones anyway) thanks to help from his duo of goobers AND A
RUN-IN PLOD-IN BY THE GREAT KHALI THAT MADE THE INDIAN COMMENTARY TEAM LOSE THEIR MARBLES LIKE IT WAS KANE IN THAT ONE EPISODE OF RAW...and a very awkward, sudden finish.
It was at that point that fans started saying “okay, joke’s over.” Shinsuke Nakamura won the right to face him at SummerSlam and everyone assumed that would be the end of the line for poor Jinder. Guess what happened?
Go on and guess.
If you said “distraction by goobers and a very awkward, sudden finish” congrats.
A rematch is set for next month at Hell in a Cell, which might as well be called a “Punjabi Steel Prison” match because it’s going to end the same. The WWE doesn’t tour India until December. So expect more Jinder in the meantime.
This is what it felt like in 2004, while JBL held on to the WWE title month after month. The only difference is JBL had a compelling and enraging character that kept the audience invested in seeing him (eventually) lose. It was months before the majority of fans reached the “sick of it” phase. In fact, Cena’s winning at WrestleMania 21 came just as he was peaking and just as JBL was starting to fade. The timing couldn’t have been better.
We’ve already reached peak Jinder. Unlike JBL, Jinder is basically the same guy he was when he was a jobber (only more...swolle). It’s hard to take him seriously when he’s basically just the same old 3MB loser but with more mic-time. Fans had seen enough of him as champ after his celebration two days into his reign. Since then it’s been a slow, creeping death-march toward the day when he inevitably loses the title and slips back down the card to creative irrelevance.
In the meantime, talent that could be the focus of the brand (such as Shinsuke Nakamura) will have to keep losing to him, as the company sets its goal on the Indian tour, all in the name of justifying the time and energy that went into his title reign...a reign that was nothing more than a shameless sell-out of the only championship with any integrity that wrestling has left, in order to dangle a carrot in front of potential international clientele.
But at least his entrance is cool.
As always, I’m Matthew Martin: I love WWE but everything sucks and I’m never watching it again.
See you next Monday.