The reaction from the WWE SmackDown Live crowd on Tuesday night said it all.
For an industry that is so often dominated by speculation online, predicting everything before it happens, Jinder Mahal's elevation to the WWE Championship scene has to rank as one of the biggest surprises in recent years.
Mahal's push may last weeks. It may last months. It may even last years. That is all dependent on the success of his gimmick getting over with WWE audiences—the early signs on that look good, but more on that later.
But looking at things on a wider basis, it could be the catalyst for WWE to rethink the way it pushes and books lower-card talent.
Mahal, without any disrespect intended, was nothing more than a jobber this time last week. Finn Balor had beaten him on Raw the previous Monday before he was traded to SmackDown Live—and did anyone bat an eyelid at Mahal's trade? Probably not.
But he and WWE have an opportunity to show the locker room—and indeed developmental—that there is a pathway to the main event scene from seemingly nowhere.
Plus, it makes things infinitely more surprising and gives fans much more of a reason to tune in on a weekly basis. These days, the build to a big match has the result littered all over the sheets days, or sometimes weeks, in advance. WrestleMania 33's results were pretty much foregone conclusions before the show had even aired.
So in these times of 24-hour coverage and an insatiable appetite for something a bit different, perhaps pushing stars in this way could be the key to a more dramatic long-term future.
The big factor in instances like the one seen on Tuesday night becoming the norm is whether this push is a success. Mahal has started brightly enough.
The boos from the crowd at first felt more like frustration given someone like Sami Zayn hadn't gotten over the line again, but his time will come.
By the end of his promo—which, credit where credit is due, was one of the best we've seen in recent weeks—it felt like there was genuine heat on Mahal's shoulders. He should be able to thrive off that as Backlash and his title match with Randy Orton approaches.
Mahal's push is something different. It's something unexpected. The anti-American gimmick has been done a fair few times in the past, but with a trademark like The New American Dream attached to him, he has the potential to garner even more heat as looks to become the biggest villain on SmackDown.
Having him align with The Bollywood Boyz—who have been repackaged as Mahal's stooges and called The Singh Brothers—is another smart move in aiding Jinder's push. As Backlash approaches, he can stockpile wins by cheating, employing underhand tactics and using his henchmen wherever he sees fit.
The days of slow-burning pushes could be a thing of the past if the Mahal experiment works. And if it does, then WWE could do more surprise elevations like this in the months and years to come. That may be no bad thing in an industry that craves unpredictability.
SmackDown has long been touted as the land of opportunity. Tuesday night proved it more than ever before.
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