WWE Backlash 2017: Is Jinder Mahal a Placeholder for AJ Styles?


Does Jinder Mahal stand a chance against Randy Orton, or is he just filling time before AJ Styles takes an interest in the gold?

We’ve had several weeks to digest the news that Jinder Mahal has become the No. 1 contender to Randy Orton’s WWE Championship. Yet, as we settle into the notion that “The Maharaja” could potentially walk out of Backlash with the holy grail of sports entertainment, the idea still doesn’t sit well with a number of WWE fans.

Truth be told, you can’t really blame people for having doubts about Jinder Mahal as a top contender to the primary title on SmackDown Live.

The man’s win-loss record since returning to the WWE last year is absolutely abysmal, and his overall impact on the company has been even worse.

It wasn’t until he was the runner-up in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal that people finally started to notice Jinder Mahal, and even then, it seemed like a moment that would be short-lived until he got traded to Tuesday nights.

Since he won the six-pack challenge to determine a new challenger, the biggest question surrounding Jinder Mahal hasn’t been “can he actually beat Randy Orton?” or “will he be a main event player from here on out?”, it’s simply been “why?”.

Through weeks of discussion, the general consensus seems to be that there’s just nobody else on the roster suitable to take on Orton at such a minor pay-per-view.

Consider AJ Styles. “The Phenomenal One” had a career year in 2016 following his highly-anticipated WWE debut, and the action has yet to cease. With undying fan support, paired with unparalleled in-ring ability, there’s no reason why a man like AJ Styles shouldn’t be WWE Champion, or at least in contention for the strap.

No reason other than timing, that is.

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It’s widely agreed that the reason Jinder is getting a taste of the main event right now is because the WWE is holding off on AJ Styles until SummerSlam or thereafter, where the company will have a lot more eyes on its product.

SmackDown Live is playing the long game here, which is why you’re seeing a bona fide headliner in AJ Styles competing for the United States Championship instead.

It’s not on the same level of the Intercontinental Championship being the de facto main event title on Raw, it’s simply WWE’s way of saving the best for later.

The same can be said for Baron Corbin, who – albeit a phenomenal prospect as a future top heel for SmackDown Live – will only suffer from a main event loss to Randy Orton now since he’s not quite ready for a WWE Championship reign yet.

That is the theory, at least. But while we’re at it, let’s consider for a moment the possibility that Jinder Mahal isn’t just in this out of the luck of the draw.

Eliminate AJ Styles, Baron Corbin and any other worthy contenders from the equation and you’re not just looking at an unworthy challenger, you’re looking at the personification of what SmackDown Live has embodied since last July.

The “New American Dream” moniker is a little far, but if Mahal’s current status is good for anything, it’s for cementing SmackDown Live as the “land of opportunity”.

AJ Styles spoke on Talking Smack last week about the Superstar Shake-Up, and actually said something that fits quite well with Jinder Mahal’s booking as of late.

"“We make Superstars over here, that is what we do. You try to clean us out, we’re goin’ to build somebody up, we’re goin’ to put him on the spot, and guess what? You want a Superstar? This is where it’s made.”"

Jinder Mahal was a nobody prior to coming to SmackDown Live, and although most fans may not be giving him the time of day with regards to his potential for becoming the next WWE Champion, the brand’s track record for making stars is undeniable.

Alexa Bliss is the first woman to hold both the SmackDown and Raw Women’s Championships because of the immense heel work she did on Tuesday nights.

The Miz essentially brought his career back from the brink with his controversial promos on Talking Smack, quickly becoming one of the most talked-about wrestlers in 2016 as a result of his regular verbal conflicts with the likes of Daniel Bryan.

AJ Styles himself became one of the longest-reigning WWE Champions in recent memory as a result of being such a high draft pick for team blue last year.

The proof is in the pudding, and while the arguments against Mahal are certainly valid when you, it does no harm to look at the positives that come from his push right now as opposed to sticking with the “there’s nobody else available” argument.

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The man has done well thus far, garnering heat like he’s supposed to. We’ll just have to wait until Backlash and beyond to see how it pans out for young Jinder Mahal.