Now that he’s the biggest baby face in the company – after beating up an ambulance, a wrestling ring and, most importantly, Roman Reigns – it’s about time WWE made Braun Strowman some official merchandise. His first t-shirt is now on WWE Shop, with a simple black and white ‘MONSTER AMONG US’ slogan on the front and BRAUN on the back. Which is so cool, I might actually buy a new wrestling t-shirt. But I would have much preferred ‘I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU’ on the front, and ‘YOUR TEARS HYDRATE ME’ on the back. WWE’s handling of Strowman has arguably been the company’s most effective piece of character building in years. He’s somehow both Raw’s top heel and face. Now Smackdown is trying to create a new top star in response: No Carbs Jinder Mahal. After a WWE career built around losing the vast majority of the time – his last televised win was in 2012 – Jinder was finally un-hindered this week when he became the No. 1 contender for Randy Orton’s WWE Championship.
The latest edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter points out Vince McMahon “clearly feels the company was missing the traditional Anti-American foreigner” with Rusev currently out injured, speculating Jinder’s push might have actually originally been planned for The Bulgarian Brute. Another very likely reason comes down to cold, hard business. WWE have announced they’ve recently hired Sheetesh Srivastava – I’m so sorry in advance for that pronunciation – as Vice President and General Manager for WWE India. “India is key to the global growth of WWE, and we are confident Sheetesh will successfully help develop our brand and business in this critically important country. WWE is committed to expanding its presence in India, and we are pleased to welcome Sheetesh to further our efforts in the market.” Just like how WWE seemingly fast-tracked the UK Championship tournament after ITV announced their World of Sport revival, this latest expansion plan could be a response to Impact Wrestling’s renewed focus on their Sony Six television deal in India. Wrestling News World back this up, reporting the current WWE directive is to position Jinder strongly on Smackdown as “he’s the closest thing the company has for a star that they can push for the Indian market.” He’s actually Canadian, but he is of Indian descent. According to Sportskeeda, this involves aligning him with The Bollywood Boyz – who are now called The Singh Brothers – to form a new heel faction.
Because what better way to expand business in a new country, than by portraying the wrestlers they can identify most with as villains? Wrestling News World also notes that if Mahal doesn’t get over in the build to his Backlash title match against Orton, a third competitor might be added to make it a three-way. Unfortunately, No Carbs Jinder couldn’t help Smackdown Live in the ratings, which was down 500,000 viewers from last week’s Superstar Shake-Up episode, with an average of 2.54 million. In your far more important ratings, however, 56% agreed with me at Smack Bang in the Middle, while 30% thought it slightly better at SmackTastic. It’s looking increasingly likely that Jinder will have some backup heels for Smackdown, with Sportskeeda reporting former TNA and Ring of Honor real-life husband and wife team Mike Bennett and Maria Kannelis are on the verge of signing with WWE.
PW Torch have since backed this up, noting Impact Wrestling made an offer, but WWE’s was more appealing, with the two expected to skip NXT and go straight to Smackdown’s main roster. Bennett and Maria left Impact in February at the same time as the Hardy Boyz and Drew Galloway, and have been heavily rumored for a WWE move ever since. For Maria, it’ll be a return to the company, as she was with WWE from 2004-2010. Watch my review of this week’s Smackdown, where the Superstar Shake-Up has screwed up the blue brand’s main title picture, and find out whether WWE actually has plans for the Broken Hardy’s gimmick to debut on Raw.