Primo, Epico, Jinder Mahal and Reviving Talent on SmackDown Live

This week on SmackDown Live, Jinder Mahal became the number one contender for the WWE title and Primo and Epico defeated American Alpha.

I’ll give you a moment to process that sentence as I admit it does read a little harshly but nonetheless, like it or not, both of those things actually happened. The results, in particular Mahal’s win, have garnered quite a bit of negativity and there’s rampant discussions surrounding the decisions as we speak. The question seems to be not so much about the talents being used but more the method behind it. Is a new environment enough to completely revive talents that have struggled for so long?

I’m going to have to prepare myself to discuss this Mahal situation so first let’s get into the artists formerly known as ‘Los Matadores’ and more recently ‘The Shining Stars’. Heading into the Shakeup I expected a strong addition to the heel side in the tag division but I have to concede that I never really had Primo and Epico in mind. After one year of losing and being comedic goofs on RAW, The Colons have now been thrust onto SmackDown as a very legitimate threat, defeating the once seemingly unbeatable American Alpha in their in-ring debut. The response: absolute silence.

It’s important to note that Primo and Epico as talents are certainly skilled performers. Their in-ring work is very good and as was shown on Talking Smack, they have personality, even if not in a particularly flashy way. I’m all for putting time into reviving them as a team but this seems like a shortcut taken out of pure necessity. SmackDown just needs another heel tag team and rather than slowly rebuilding Primo and Epico, they instead went with an immediate win over Alpha, the theory being that it elevates them in one week more than squash matches ever would. The reality is though, Alpha simply haven’t gotten over and in the end no one was really helped.

Primo and Epico got zero heat because as much as it pains me to say it, people just don’t really care about American Alpha. They’re an incredible team but through no fault of their own have yet to connect with the crowd and that certainly won’t be helped by this loss here. More than that though, this result hurt the already badly struggling SmackDown tag team division. Only two months ago, American Alpha were dominating every team on the blue brand and now one of RAW’s least credible duos have beaten them in no time. I’m all for revitalizing Primo and Epico but this was too much, too soon and only hurt the other surrounding teams, especially Alpha.

Speaking of too much, too soon, Jinder Mahal is the number one contender for the WWE title. Brought back to be an enhancement talent on RAW post brand split, Mahal had played his role well enough and even slowly began to be used more seriously as his involvement grew. Mahal was still losing but was treated as at least competent on the road to WrestleMania and even finished as the runner up in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. At the time I assumed, like everyone else on earth watching, that Mahal’s spot that late was only for the Gronkowski finish but in hindsight, perhaps it was a glance into the future.

Next Mahal would seemingly injure Finn Balor before heading to SmackDown only to lose to Mojo Rawley in his debut, a match that once again featured Gronkowski shenanigans. I was certain that Mahal would be taking Curt Hawkins spot as SmackDown premier enhancement talent but fast forward just one week and he’s now the number one contender for the company’s top crown. Not only that but he’s even been given a pair of fall guys to take losses in The Bollywood Boyz, now rebranded as The Singh Brothers. Is Jinder Mahal now a main eventer and if so, when, why and how did this happen?

Similarly to the situation with Primo and Epico, I don’t have much of a problem with Mahal as a talent. It is what it is, he’s fine in the ring and on the mic and does bring some size. My issue is more with him jumping from a guy with zero purpose to one half a PPV WWE title match. Now in fairness, Mahal did actually get some heat and the fashion in which his victory came did seem a better fit but I still can’t see this being the best route for truly elevating him. I guess that brings us to the core of this decision though, is elevating Mahal really the aim here?

Personally I think that with AJ Styles already booked to challenge Kevin Owens for his United States title, WWE knows that Backlash is going to be their best chance to give Orton a successful defense without throwing away a marquee match. The other heel options are Ziggler, who is needed to put over Shinsuke Nakamura in spectacular fashion and Corbin, which would’ve made sense but I feel they’re going towards a Zayn match for ‘The Lone Wolf’. Shoehorning Mahal into an Orton match allows the rest of the card to feature those other matches and give it some depth, a constant issue for SmackDown exclusive PPVs thus far.

Either way, it was rather fascinating to see SmackDown try and revitalize two badly damaged RAW acts all in just one week. To conclude, whilst I appreciate the aim and almost admire the direct route they took, I think the response shows that a simple change in scenery doesn’t remove an already created perspective. For too long these talents have been treated as unimportant and any single win doesn’t solve that, it takes time. Patience is key and I just hope that the decision-makers don’t lose faith when these reboots inevitably don’t catch fire immediately as honestly, I’m all for maximizing any talents potential regardless of prior booking. One thing is for sure though, opportunities have arose and three careers currently stand at a pivotal crossroads, now it all depends on what comes next.

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