What’s a pro wrestling heel in 2017? Is it a supreme athlete with questionable motives? Is it a mean and mad monster or is it even someone that in the fans minds, simply doesn't belong in the spot that they are currently filling. I guess in the ideal promotion, it’s all of those things. Variety is best for everyone and a mix of characters creates dynamics that are both engaging and refreshing so in reality, there’s really no right or wrong and it’s all just a matter of preference. With that being said, this past Tuesday confirmed for me that Jinder Mahal, though not perfect, is the kind of heel that can still play a role and a major one at that.
Firstly, I want to keep this viewpoint centered purely around what goes on inside the ring as to be quite frank, I think the discussion surrounding Jinder’s character and promos has run long enough. Personally, I did feel that Mahal was consistently hamstrung by the dialogue given to him and the one-dimensional route they usually took things negatively affected his overall presentation in my view. I don’t say that because I found any of it offensive as honestly, I didn't whatsoever but even still it did quickly become a little tiresome from my vantage point.
However, I maintain that as an in-ring villain, Mahal was somewhat of a throwback and did a lot of things very well. To me Mahal fit the role of a heel that would once upon a time garner major heat and as has now been proven, a character that can still bring emotion out of a crowd, especially with his title on the line. When Mahal wrestled, his offense was simple and basic. Any casual viewer watching on wouldn't have seen his performance and immediately praised him as an elite ‘wrestler’ as he instead slowed the pace and when at his best, worked a body part persistently.
What this means is that as the match approached its climax, the audience not only wanted the babyface to win but they almost expected him to because after all, it’s only Jinder right? Well when Mahal came out the victor whether it be due to Singh Brother Interference, his own finisher or some other shenanigans, it angered the audience. Now hold on, I’m fully aware that most people reading this will quickly halt me there to explain that their anger wasn't due Jinder’s villainous work but instead his supposed lack of talent but I ask you this, why can’t they be the same thing?
When the referee counted three and Mahal’s arm was raised, the general response was “the other guy is much better” and/or “Jinder shouldn't be champ because he sucks.” Well everyone is entitled to their opinion but to me, that in many ways shows how effective of an in-ring heel he was as WWE champion. Regardless of the reason why, people genuinely wanted him to lose that belt and when he won they felt robbed or cheated. Now I guess it depends on who you ask but surely that’s kind of perfect is it not?
To be clear, Jinder’s reign was far from perfect. I am one of the few wild men that will readily admit that he thoroughly enjoyed the bulk of Mahal’s rivalry with Randy Orton and to me their matches very much showed why the aforementioned formula can work. At no point did the audience see Jinder as Orton’s genuine equal and nor did they ever see him as a deserving champion which made the Singh Brothers involvement all the more infuriating, especially in front of Randy’s hometown crowd at Money in the Bank.
Were those matches 5* classics? No but they wasn't intended to be. They were simple, well worked title bouts that established Jinder as a heel champion worth booing and personally I enjoyed them, Punjabi Prison excluded of course. The Shinsuke feud was a miss though, that I won’t argue. On the microphone it was unsurprisingly flat and in-ring the pair didn't seem to gel until the very end of their blow-off match with Mahal’s old school heat heavy heel style not really complimenting Shinsuke who seems much better suited to a back and forth formula.
I have zero issue conceding that at times it felt like the audience was losing interest and perhaps they were but even still, this past Tuesday’s title match with AJ Styles showed why a heel like Jinder can still be so valuable. I’ve said before that in my view, AJ is the finest in-ring performer I’ve ever seen but the other side can’t be ignored. You only get a response like the one seen in Manchester this week when you have a heel champion that people truly want dethroned. The audience was passionately rooting on the hero to conquer the villain and I don’t care why that is because regardless, it’s still wrestling perfection and always will be.
As a heel, AJ Styles was a wonderful WWE champion and he brought entertainment on every level but in our heart of hearts, did any of us ever really want him to lose? I certainly didn't. Why? Because we all watched and immediately recognized that quite simply, he was better than his peers and possibly the greatest performer in the wrestling world. Did he have incredible matches? Absolutely and for that reason I still view him as a great champion but I guess my point is, just because Jinder was a different kind of champion, it doesn't mean that he wasn't an effective one in his own way.
To conclude, I’ll reiterate the point I begun this with: there’s no right or wrong and everyone wants something different from a heel in 2017. With that being said, I have no choice but to completely understand why many hated every minute of Mahal as champ but I do and will continue to maintain that Jinder did his job well when that bell rung and made people root for his foes all the more passionately. Regardless of why, the audience believed Jinder was undeserving and with each tainted win and understated performance, Mahal furthered that perception. The result: an overjoyed crowd as he was finally dethroned by their beloved hero. If you ask me, that’s a pretty refreshing thing to see in the fickle world of modern pro wrestling.