As Tuesday night's edition of SmackDown Live came to a close, Jinder Mahal raised both arms, veins pressing through the walls of those mammoth arms, and stared into the camera. He uttered a few fighting words to a rattled Randy Orton, then swaggered back down the ramp and into the locker room.
Predictably, Mahal made a last-minute appearance moments after Orton had finished off Baron Corbin in the main event. And predictably, the underdog in Sunday's upcoming pay-per-view championship match beat down Orton in an effort to bring some more suspense to what is hardly a title bout screaming with excitement.
Still, Mahal is the man of the moment, the prize-winner in a show that revels in its land-of-opportunity shtick. But the question remains: Does Mahal have the chops to be a big-time star in this business? Can he be a longstanding champ or, at the very least, a fixture in the inner sanctum of WWE's roster for the foreseeable future?
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) May 17, 2017
Let's make a case for and against him and then decide:
The case for Mahal
1. He's got the look: Indeed he does. We already mentioned his arms and those veins. But what about his traps, lats and delts? Mahal could pretty much give every other performer in the WWE a lesson in ab anatomy as well. Physical appearance means something, even if the overall look in today's roster appears more pedestrian than it did in the mega-muscle world of yesteryear.
2. He's bad-guy material: Look no further than his cronies, the Singh Brothers, as Example 1 of what it takes to be a legit heel. No one likes sidekicks. Especially those who remind you of that pestering mosquito circling your head that just won't go away no matter how many times you swat at it. Mahal's persona is not likeable by nature, and no matter what he does or says, he's not going to garner many sympathetic fans.
The case against Mahal
1. His shtick feels like a stretch: Mahal's Iron Sheik anti-American act is jaded jingoism. Why not just play up his unlikable character more organically. You don't need to have a reason for fans to dislike you -- they just don't. Ask, say, Roman Reigns. But even someone like Corbin has an innate sense of antipathy that feels more natural. Mahal's concern moving forward isn't going to be whether fans dislike him, but whether they care.
2. He's kinda boring: Mahal moves methodically, if not slowly. The pace of his overall matches are sluggish. Even Tuesday night against AJ Styles, one of the most dynamic performers in WWE, there were few "wow" moments. Mahal is strong, but he's not a ruthless beast in the vein of Braun Strowman or even Reigns for that matter. Mahal doesn't have a lot of moves in his repertoire. Again, the concern is whether the audience will be more apt to hit the concession stand or take a bathroom break rather than watch Mahal as time goes on.
3. He rose to the top too quickly: Seriously, how did someone with a winning pedigree along the lines of the Gobbledy Gooker become a thing overnight? OK, that's an unfair comparison, but what is true is that fans don't care too much for performers who haven't worked their way out of the trenches. And further, because of Mahal's sudden change in storyline from jobber dude to No. 1 contender, there is not an established, interesting backstory, either.
As you can see, the score is 3-2 in favor of the case against Mahal. What can't be overlooked is that Mahal really doesn't have many in-ring moves or crazy athleticism to grab our attention. If this were the NFL combine, Mahal might win the bench press competition, but put him in the series of agility drills, and he's likely to drop to the later rounds.
But on the flip side, Mahal is still green and with plenty of time to grow. Clearly, the WWE creative team believes in him and sees his potential. Mahal might be better off relegated to mid-card status for some time and work on his act and interaction with fans. Earn his way back to the top.
Still, SmackDown is the land of opportunity, and Mahal could someday be that top guy, but rushing him to the pinnacle of WWE only seems like the first step in burying him in the long run.
Hits and misses
In the past two weeks, Breezango has spent how long in the ring? Maybe five or six minutes total? But their act is getting better by the day. With their weekly Fashion Files segment, you could make the argument they are the most entertaining personalities on either Raw or SmackDown.
James Ellsworth's act and attire can't be overstated. It's as if rapper John Cena circa early 2000s and the Spirit Squad decided to raise a child together. Ellsworth has lost a good amount of steam since his storyline with Ambrose ended, but his level of levity never fails, as he showed in the six-person women's contract signing Tuesday on SmackDown.
- WWE (@WWE) May 17, 2017
Given the star power, egos and disjointed pairing of Charlotte Flair, Naomi and Becky Lynch, you have to wonder whether they can co-exist come Backlash, especially after the chaos that ensued Tuesday, allowing Carmella to pin Naomi in a non-title match. The odds of one of them turning on another, leading to a losing effort seems promising. And with all the effort the creative is putting into making the "Welcoming Committee" a formidable trio, it's hard to imagine this less-accomplished faction will come up short at this point.
Rusev, anyone? Didn't the Bulgarian Brute warn us last week that his SmackDown debut would come Tuesday night? At least he had a good, um, excuse:
- Rusev The Ruler (@RusevBUL) May 17, 2017
In a last-minute announcement, Sami Zayn said he will take on Baron Corbin at Backlash. "What happens to a guy like that when he comes across a guy like me?" Zayn asked, as if he had forgotten who he is. Well ... let's see. He's been smoked by Mahal, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and Strowman in recent months. So there's that.