Never say never.
The WWE got flipped upside down on Sunday night: Hundreds of thousands tuned in to the World Wrestling Entertainment Network to watch Jinder Mahal beat (now former title holder) Randy Orton to become the WWE Champion.
That's a sentence I never thought I would write and one that probably no wrestling fan ever expected to read.
Sure, professional wrestling is scripted and so anyone can become WWE Champion. But imagine how shocked you'd be if Jar Jar Binks turned out to be the last Jedi.
Yeah, it could happen, but you'd freak out, wouldn't you?
To become the No.1 contender to Orton's WWE Championship, Mahal shockingly won a six-man match earlier this month.
Why was that a shock? Mahal debuted in 2011, then after a year of doing little, he was put in the 3 Man Band faction, a comedic trio of three wrestlers who couldn't play instruments or sing (but insisted they were great musicians) and were beaten on TV each week. He was essentially used as enhancement talent, wrestlers whose job it is to lose to the more popular stars, in order to make them look good. He was let go in 2014, rehired in 2016 and until earlier this month you could count on one hand the matches he'd won.
In other words, he's been positioned as anything other than a star. On WWE's programming, he's been closer to an extra than a leading man.
And yet, with no foreshadowing he became a top contender for what's arguably the company's most prestigious title. Since then, he's found devious ways to beat everyone he's encountered (his character is written as a bad guy) and on Sunday he won the WWE Championship.
People. Freaked. Out.
The Indian goldmine
So what's this really all about? India.
Apple, Google and Facebook have all tried to tap deeper into the Indian market and the WWE is no different. The country will soon have over 450 million internet users and that number is expected to grow exponentially in coming years.
Meanwhile, the WWE hopes to eventually get around 3 million fans to subscribe to the WWE Network, with the number currently sitting at just over 1.6 million. You do the math.
India is fertile ground for the network. It's the WWE's third biggest TV market and contributes to WWE's social media following more than any other country. Despite this, a relatively small amount of the Indian population buy WWE merchandise or subscribe to the network, according to The Wrestling Observer.
So, after being treated like a nobody on WWE TV for most of his career, Mahal could be a huge cash cow for the company. And the fact that he's gotten into suspiciously good shape in the last year doesn't hurt either.
Given this framework, Mahal's win on Sunday night makes perfect sense.
Between 2006 and 2014, the WWE had The Great Khali to lean on. Standing at over 7 feet tall and starring in Hollywood films "The Longest Yard" and "Get Smart," the India-born Khali was a megastar in his home country. Back in 2006, the WWE went to great lengths to make that happen -- Khali scored a dominating victory over The Undertaker, one of the most protected stars in the WWE, after he made his debut.
But with Khali leaving the company in 2014, India has been without a star to cheer on. Mahal, despite being born in Canada, fits the bill. Listen to the WWE's Indian commentators reaction to the victory to see what the company's going for in the country.
Many western fans may be confused, even bemused, at the decision to put the strap on Mahal. But there are over a billion people over in India who may feel differently.
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