All eyes are on Sunday’s WWE SummerSlam when the best of the best take it up a notch at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the arena that plays host to the company’s biggest show of the summer and no one is more excited for that moment than WWE Champion Jinder Mahal.
He wasn’t supposed to be here, according to the WWE Universe. He has never even been on the card for a SummerSlam event. But things changed when he became the No. 1 contender on SmackDown Live and ultimately defeated Randy Orton for the WWE title at Backlash in May.
“I wasn’t actually expecting to take the championship that match,” Mahal said. “I think it was a moment that really shocked the WWE Universe. Right after I won the championship, they showed some of the faces in the crowd and their jaws were hitting the floor [laughs]. That was kind of my reaction when I found out.”
Mahal didn’t find out he was winning the title until right before the match. But according to him, he knew he would eventually be WWE Champion because he had been working so hard on reinventing himself since he was released from WWE in 2014 and was adamant that nothing would stop him this time around.
Life for “The Modern Day Maharaja” has changed quite a lot since he put the title around his waist. He understands that it’s one thing to get the title and it’s another thing to keep it. He knows he struck gold and he knows new responsibilities and newfound pressure come with being “the man.”
“Now I keep track of what the gates are and the live shows and how everything is going in that sense and there is pressure to close up the show every night but pressure creates diamonds so I’m embracing it,” Mahal said. “When I won the title, I couldn’t really celebrate or take it easy because I knew that I was going to have to step it up even more to go down in history as one of the greatest champions of all-time. That’s my goal now and to become a multiple time champion. I want to be a 10-time WWE Champion.”
However, it’s not all stress and pressure at the top. Life is good when you’re the champ and he knows how to relax and unwind. Every week, he gets a two-hour massage, goes to yoga classes and sees the chiropractor. He’s also lucky enough to live in Florida where he regularly goes biking and paddle boarding when he’s away from the ring. It’s important for him to stay active so he doesn’t watch a lot of TV or play video games. You’re more likely to find Mahal being outside or at the dog park with his little dog.
Still, three months later, Mahal has his critics but in a time where many fans pine for new stars, WWE delivered a suitable talent to fill that role. Whenever something new is presented or comes out of nowhere, it’s human nature to be resistant of change and to challenge a previous notion or understanding. Did all of us view greats as being “great” right from the start? Doubtful.
“Sometimes you feel like a performer’s first title run you don’t really see them as a champion. I remember when I was a kid and when Chris Jericho won the championship, I was like, “Really? Chris Jericho beat Triple H and The Rock?’ Mahal said. “But now Chris Jericho is one of the all-time greats and he’s in the same league as Triple H and The Rock, in my opinion. I just want to solidify myself as WWE Champion material and main event status. I want to main event WrestleMania.”
One of the contributing aspects to Mahal’s new success can be linked to his change in diet. He cut out junk food and all alcohol and then looked to Nutrition Solutions, a meal prep company, to help aid his food choices. Now the champion looks like a real-life action figure.
Dieting was a big factor in developing Mahal’s body but when it came to developing his WWE character, SmackDown’s “Talking Smack” was vital in getting the ball rolling and showcasing a persona that the audience had yet to fully see.
“I thought Talking Smack was a great platform for WWE Superstars. It wasn’t super micromanaged by writers so you could say how you feel,” Mahal said. “I remember early on Talking Smack, the week that I got drafted to SmackDown Live, I said I was going to become a champion in WWE. I definitely do miss the show. It was cool. I would get a lot of positive feedback on twitter and social media whenever I was on and I think it played a role in terms of character development. It adds an extra layer for everybody that’s on that show. You get a more inside look on the person.”
Mahal didn’t even have a t-shirt to buy on WWE’s website when he first won the title (he now has two to offer) and now says he wants a “Wrestling Buddy” next. He later recalled how proud he was to be able to give his mother a shirt with his likeness on it. It may just be viewed as a t-shirt to some but in that shirt was affirmation to the work he has put in to get to this moment.
Growing up in Calgary, it’s no surprise that Bret Hart was Mahal’s favorite wrestler. Before The Rock’s charisma and styles would later appeal more to the teenage Mahal, Hart was the one who was always his favorite. That’s fitting considering Mahal’s uncle, Gama Singh, was a top villain in the Hart family’s promotion Stampede Wrestling.
“Bret Hart really inspired me. He was just amazing,” Mahal said. “He was such an amazing performer and he was always the underdog when fighting guys like Vader, Sid Vicious and Undertaker. He’d always take much punishment but come out on top.”
When Mahal reminisces about his time as a fan growing up and the prestige regarding SummerSlam, Hart’s classic match with Davey Boy Smith “British Bulldog” at Wembley Stadium in 1992 is at the top of Mahal’s personal list of favorite matches.
That is until this Sunday at SummerSlam where Mahal sees his challenger Shinsuke Nakamura as his personal stepping stone to solidify his reign as WWE Champion. Nakamura, a legend in New Japan Pro Wrestling and also a former NXT Champion, will be the favorite for Sunday and present a unique challenge inside the ring for Mahal. It’s a match that could end up defining The Maharaja.
“He’s very hard to study. His body language, his charisma, you never really know what to expect from him because the majority of his career was in Japan so there’s not a lot of footage that I can study from WWE because WWE style is a little bit different,” Mahal said. “But I’m excited to face someone like Nakamura. I think the way our styles match-up, we can steal the show. I know the crowd is going to be there to support Shinsuke but I’m not going to let that get to me because my focus is to retain the WWE Championship and I got the Singh Brothers there with me to insure I walk out of the Barclays Center as WWE Champion.”
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline, a pro wrestling connoisseur, a hockey lover and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.
Photos courtesy of WWE