Heading into this Sunday’s WWE Backlash show, the reactions to Jinder Mahal as the #1 contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship have spoken for themselves:
I don’t see any appeal to him. Blatantly roided with the veins, his only move of note is the jumping knee, and a generic foreign heel gimmick that he adds nothing to.
Apparently, this 13-time world champion who fooled Bray for months can’t figure out how to protect himself against 1 angry dude with droopy nipples and 2 small Indian dudes with a thing for colorful dress shirts.
“Deserved” opportunity: Speaking of “deserving” the opportunity, there also seems to be a camp of fans who view Mahal’s push as taken from other superstars. There are many wrestlers capable of a major title feud on the WWE roster – do you think Mahal’s push is at the expense of another more deserving wrestler?
Ranging from a handful of thoughts outside the norm to accusations of steroid use and the go-to of “bland ring work,” many complaints have been lodged about Mahal getting the spot that many others would like to see one of their “chosen ones” occupy instead.
Of course, it may also be a reaction to WWE forcing a new star into the spotlight, much the way fans felt the company has done with Roman Reigns. In the case of Jinder Mahal, however, the reason seems to be an audience the entire wrestling industry has chased for the last few years – and a small part of a much larger strategy.
In late-April, Dave Meltzer reported on the Wrestling Observer Radio show that Jinder Mahal higher spot on the show is directly related to the company’s desire to gain a foothold in India. Just two days after Mahal won the coveted spot on the April 18 edition of SmackDown Live! From Louisville, KY, WWE announced the appointment of Sheetesh Srivastava as Vice President and General Manager, WWE India.
Obviously, the two moves made so close together are an obvious play, but the press release containing Srivastava’s appointment also makes it obvious why:
India represents WWE’s single largest regional contribution to the brand’s massive social media community of 750 million followers globally.
With a population of 1.311 billion as of the last count, that’s roughly 57% of the second-largest country – by population – in the world. This also means that, if we are to take WWE at face value in reporting their social media followers during their First Quarter earnings report back on May 4, the social media presence in India accounts for 97% of the company’s total social media followers around the world.
Expanding into India goes is a big move for WWE. But then, so is expanding their reach to the rest of the planet. A move WWE has already been making for quite some time.
It may have started with NXT. The company’s “developmental territory” grew into its own brand a couple years before Raw and SmackDown split again. WWE aggressively sought and signed independent and international stars such as Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Shinsuke Nakamura to build its credibility among loyal fans of pro wrestling (commonly referred to as “smart fans” or “smarks”).
In doing so, those loyal followers became even more loyal to the company’s product, purchasing network subscriptions even if for the sole purpose of watching that became the hottest show in wrestling. The United States had always been the company’s home territory, and NXT secured the most loyal among them.
Soon after that, the company began their international expansion by signing athletes from the largest country in the world to begin building that audience. The company announced on September 8, 2016 that they had signed seven new recruits from a four-day tryout held in Shanghai, with this Chinese contingent starting with the company full-time in January 2017. The first of those stars, Tian Bing, made his television debut at this past WrestleMania during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Thanks to performers like Marty Scurll, Pete Dunne, Jimmy Havoc and Mark Andrews, the UK became another international hotbed for pro wrestling. WWE wasted no time reaching for that audience when Tyler Bate was crowned the first WWE United Kingdom Champion during a tournament in Blackpool, England.
As many American fans had become aware of the performers in the United Kingdom, more value was given to their subscription as well. Paid network subscriptions, according to WWE’s 2017 First Quarter Results, grew to 1.574 million. The expansion was already paying dividends, and WWE is keeping that momentum going with another UK-exclusive special airing on the network today.
In the last few weeks, WWE have announced television deals in three other regions. The company has announced broadcast footholds in the Philippines, the Middle East (with an accompanying tryout in Dubai), and in Turkey.
It is a safe bet that WWE will gear their product toward appeasing these audiences as well like they have done with China, the United Kingdom, and especially India – their largest base of social media followers..
For those that think the company may live and die by US television ratings as they have been conditioned to do since Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro squared off each week, there is literally a whole world out there to explore. While some fans may see Jinder Mahal as the death of SmackDown Live! for whatever reason, WWE sees it as the opposite. Jinder Mahal’s place on the show represents tapping into a potential audience of over 1 billion people as part of a greater plan to reach for the remaining 6.5 billion on our planet.