In 1971, 11 months before I was born, the unthinkable happened. Ivan Koloff defeated Bruno Sammartino in Madison Square Garden for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship. The win ended Sammartino’s seven and two-third years reign.
While the “victory” shocked the business, it wasn’t long before Vince McMahon Sr. moved on from the “Russian Bear.”
Koloff lost the championship 21 days later to Pedro Morales, essentially being used as a “transitional champion” (as he was used to move the title from Sammartino to Morales without having the two fan favorites work against each other), much like Stan Stasiak and The Iron Sheik would be in later years. After the loss, Koloff remained a contender for the title but never reclaimed it, leaving the WWWF in 1971.
Fast forward 45 years later. Jinder Mahal is getting a huge push toward the main event and will face Randy Orton in the co-main event of WWE Backlash on Sunday night. The mid-card superstar who won a “six-pack challenge” last month to earn the right to face Orton for the WWE World Title, I cannot see Mahal as a serious player in the world title picture.
Koloff went on to the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions where he became one of the greatest heels in the mid-1980s peak of the business. Mahal is no Koloff and does not have the talent to do the same thing – acting as a transitional champion for someone like Shinsuke Nakamura.
Mahal’s rise on SmackDown Live is nothing short of mind-blowing. Used as a pawn of sorts while WWE figure out how to maximize its appeal in India, Mahal is the one who is being asked to carry the torch. The pay-per-view Sunday night does not have the “pop” it should – given that AJ Styles and Kevin Owens should steal the show for the United States Title. A match between the current champion (Orton) and Mahal makes little to no sense. I’m not trying to deflate Mahal’s ability in the ring, as few have improved as much as the former 3MB member since the start of 2017.
As I pointed out before, WWE is taking an angle – the promotion of a middle eastern heel – and building him to be the next big thing. The last time this company did this kind of quick burn was The Iron Sheik ushering in Hulkamania.
There is no Hulk Hogan waiting for Mahal should he win. Orton is a steady performer in the ring. Styles and Owens are bound to trade victories until SummerSlam. There is no other strong superstar to accept the belt from Mahal other than Nakamura on the roster right now.
Sami Zayn could be a go-between before a confrontation with Nakamura, but only to further put Mahal over.
The obvious message WWE is sending by pushing Mahal is money talks. The possibility of a strong Indian influence moving forward is the only reason to take the belt of Orton. If that happens, WWE had better have a plan how to move forward. Mahal had better be able to draw heat like The Iron Sheik and Koloff before him.
If not, this storyline falls flat and so might the potential of this company increasing its international cache.