There are three ways to look at the spectacular rise of the WWE's Jinder Mahal, who captured the WWE Championship at Backlash on Sunday night. It's either an inspiring story of an underdog made good, a crass bit of commercialism or a combination of the two.
Just a few years ago, the 30-year-old Canadian was what they called a jobber—a no-name wrestler whose sole purpose was to make his more important opponents look good in the ring. He did his job, losing in style to headliners like Undertaker and Kane, but he failed to make enough of an impact to stay around and the WWE cut ties with him in 2014.
After two years on the independent circuit, Mahal returned to the WWE in 2016, appearing largely on the WWE's lesser shows Main Event and Superstars. But when the calendar turned to 2017, there was something different about Mahal. He looked like this.
It's hard not to notice Mahal's physique in today's WWE when the brightest new stars are the pudgy Kevin Owens and the fit-but-not-ripped A.J. Styles, both of whom achieved stardom through hard work in the ring, not time in the gym. But for Mahal, it's that physique that appears to have spurred his rise.
It's also one of the reasons Mahal has so many haters. It's not hard to find wrestling fans accusing Mahal of pumping himself full of PEDs, which he denies. But it's not even the accusations of cheating that has won him so many detractors—this is WWE, not MLB—it's the notion that his allegedly artificially enhanced body, and not hard work, is the reason for the WWE's newfound favoritism.
Here's the argument made The Ringer's wrestling guru David Shoemaker:
He doesn’t deserve it. He didn’t work his way to the top with a series of great matches or deep character development. He flexed his way to the main event, seemingly gifted the spot by virtue of his newfound physique
Deserving or not, there's at least one thing other than Mahal's than his bulging biceps that deserves credit for his rise. The WWE is using him to make a play for the South Asian market, where it's looking to expand an already emerging presence. When a wrestler represents a chance to get a foothold in a market the size of India, the WWE isn't going to care if he put in his time to get the top—they're just going to put him there.
And it appears to be working, despite the tired foreign villain gimmick he's been saddled with. Here's the reaction from Hinidi commentators when Mahal, who is of Punjabi descent, won the title last night. Safe to say they're excited.