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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: WWE Month-in-Review (May 2017) - The Good/Bad/Ugly w/ Jinder Mahal, Wrestler of the Month, Match of the Month, June Predictions
By The Doc
May 29, 2017 - 2:28:32 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Jinder Mahal's detractors see his push as a net-negative (he's an average pro wrestler, jobber-to-champ in 5 weeks sets a bad precedent, etc.), while his supporters see his push as a net-positive (anything is possible, fresh blood in the main-event, etc.). Where do you stand and why?

The following is a case study of WWE’s product for the month of May 2017.

Jinder Mahal: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

I'm going to keep this brief because, on “The Doc Says” podcast for weeks, I have been questioning the virtues of the decision to push Mahal. If there's a distinction to be made between the column and podcast avenues, it would be that the spoken word implies a bit more organic, raw emotion, while the written word suggests more forethought. With Jinder dominating the WWE conversation for much of the last six weeks, this abbreviated sub-column will be perhaps my most objective look at the matter to date.

Simply put, the downside to this situation currently outweighs (by a hundred pounds) the positives. Mahal, to his credit, is the right guy (Indian heritage) at the right place (SD Live) at the right time (WWE expansion into India); he is also a fresh act in the main-event scene who recently displaced a very stale headliner in Randy Orton from The Viper's position atop the blue brand's mountain. Unfortunately, there is a lot more working against him. Mahal is a very average pro wrestler, “blessed” with a really good look in a shrunken, we'll kindly call it “less lean” modern sports entertainment scene, but lacking any semblance of polished, engaging in-ring skills or the ability to command an audience with his verbal communication (bland character, bland promo delivery, bland expressions). That he is surrounded by one of the greatest collections of talent in WWE history is not helping his cause. He's a darker-toned Mark Jindrak circa 2004.

Mahal's ascent has exemplified the old adage, “Anything can happen in WWE.” Just because it can, though, does not mean that anything should happen. The problem here is that Jinder, having been in the spotlight for two months, has mostly just proven why he was a jobber for so long; if you cannot, in today's WWE, work a compelling match without loads of short-cuts and you cannot get the job done on the microphone (he doesn't appear to have to sunk his teeth into this persona), you're in the roster's bottom 25th percentile and deserve to be treated as such. What disappoints me most is that Mahal has been given this golden opportunity, but rather than take the ball and sprint with it like JBL once did, he's basically the same old Jinder; and, folks, that is absolutely worth the #Hinder.

While WWE has created a new chapter in their Book of Pushing Wrestlers That They Want, When They Want (and strangely has avoided criticism for it from a group of Jinder supporters who came out of the woodwork), the Smackdown Live brand has gone from one of the most consistently enjoyable WWE TV shows in years to a program inflicted with a disease called “Too Much Too Soon.” Truthfully, there is no excuse for the absence of logical, progressive storytelling, which is the best route creatively unless there is a really good reason to deviate from it, and neither Mahal nor the angle driving his push are of the quality necessary to go against the grain. Terrible underlying messages have been sent (get jacked, be from a country in which we want to expand, and/or be decidedly average at your job and we'll make you the World Champion) and credibility has been strained (not just for smarks, by the way; imagine a random corrupt cop in a Batman film emerging ahead of Bane and Joker as the primary antagonist)...it's just a mess.

India's own Sidharth Monga, who covers cricket for ESPN, said in a piece that he wrote for the Worldwide Leader's WWE page:

“South Asia's relationship with WWE is unique. We don't watch it to watch our guys win, but for the storytelling...[Fans] in India didn't want an Indian champion, not one we don't relate with, and most definitely not this way...He will have to develop as a character enough for people to care about him, to hate him for more than just being the champion creative crowned at will and to love him for more than just his Indian roots.”

On principle alone, I disagree with WWE's decision. In execution (the played out anti-American schtick, the blandness of delivery), it has not won many people over (and certainly not me). The best defenses of it all are the economic potential in India – which affects you and me as wrestling fans in much the same way the NBA Finals ratings affect basketball fans (i.e. very little affect) – and that Jinder “is not Orton.” I do not currently see any redeeming qualities emerging, so I find the entire scenario to be very draining as a diehard enthusiast.

NXT Takeover: Chicago & WWE Backlash 2017 Reviews (Audio)

Match of the Month: Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne at NXT Takeover: Chicago

One trend that has emerged over the past few years with WWE's talent recruitment strategy shifting toward signing so many top flight independent wrestlers from all over the world has been the proliferation of high energy matches with intricate sequencing and an abundance of near falls that are very popular with critics. Rising tides lift all ships, so the standard set for each PPV is at least one bout of the 4-star caliber. As we fans become conditioned to a greater number of 4-star matches, it becomes harder for one to stand out from the pack; AJ Styles has fared so well, in part, because the flow to his matches separates them.

So, that brings us to Bate vs. Dunne in Chicago. In many ways, it was the quintessential fast-paced, false finish-laden “indy performance,” but it was exceptional in the sense that it brought more to the table than the average 4-star classic. There were several layers to it – power (I'm still blown away by Bate's leg strength), technical wrestling, striking, innovation, and high-flying; was there anything it did not have? As a result, the Ladder Match that main-evented Takeover may have been a little bit more emotionally-investing with DIY's last stand and Ciampa's post-match heel turn, but from bell-to-bell, Dunne vs. Bate was just a little bit better and more memorable.

Previous winners: Styles vs. Cena at Royal Rumble (Jan), Strowman vs. Big Show on Raw (Feb), Reigns vs. Strowman at Fast Lane (Mar), and Rollins vs. Triple H at WrestleMania (Apr)

Wrestler of the Month: Kevin Owens*

To be honest, I thought May to be the weakest creative month of the year thus far. I actually considered giving NXT Champion, Bobby Roode, the nod, but I kept with the trend of never having previously named an NXT wrestler the superstar of the month and decided on KO instead. It was not as though Owens dominated, per say, but he did start off by regaining the United States Championship from Chris Jericho and putting Y2J on the shelf for the foreseeable future in the process. From there, he was not extraordinary as a character (the whole “Face of America” thing is not really working yet and what could have been a hot feud with Styles has only been lukewarm), but he was still arguably the best in May. One could say that Dolph Ziggler or even the much-maligned Bray Wyatt were the top mic workers this month ahead of KO, but nobody really stamped the month as their own. The Backlash match between KO and AJ was good enough, though it suffered compared to the top bouts of the month from its lack of story, leaving May feeling like a month in which just about the entire roster phoned it on TV, hence the asterisk. During award season at the end of 2017, I suggest we not ignore how monotonous May turned out to be.

Previous winners: John Cena (Jan), Braun Strowman (Feb), Roman Reigns (Mar), and (Tie) Neville & Braun Strowman (Apr)

June Predictions

May might have been a weak month for both brands, but Raw's outlook heading into Sunday's Extreme Rules and beyond appears much brighter. The red team has the depth to fill out a PPV reasonably well in spite of their top five active roster members being tied up in the same match. As will be discussed heavily on “The Doc Says” this week, the Fatal 5-Way presents a plethora of unique Brock Lesnar matches for the July PPV; we are probably heading for a freshening up of the Cruiserweight Title scene after the Submission Match between Neville and Austin Aries, so the best booked division in the game right now will be tasked with adding some fresh bodies; the Cesaro-Sheamus dynamic suggests a title change by nefarious means and the continued renewal of creative interest in the genre (led by the Hardys) – the newly minted antagonistic duo is one of the most intriguing acts on either roster right now.

Combine the above with Goldust, Ambrose, and Miz and Raw is a shot in the arm for the women's division away from being a well-rounded brand capable (key word) of consistently producing engaging television.

Smackdown is in trouble. They started losing momentum in March and had a particularly lousy two months since WrestleMania 33. I cannot bring myself to lock into that product presently, even though their PPV On May 21st was just fine. The main-event scene is not improving any time soon; six of their best talents are involved in Money in the Bank and they do not have the depth to fill out the rest of their June PPV.

My how the mighty fell. On the bright side, we are virtually guaranteed a WWE Title contract-holder with the potential to rescue the present main-event scene from the doldrums. I would personally suggest pushing Shinsuke Nakamura to the moon and maximizing what he can be as soon as possible. He came to Smackdown with so much hype from NXT and it is arguable that the manner in which they have handled his call-up has cooled his momentum; with Summerslam right around the corner, now is the time to go all-in (WWE can use it as an excuse to further stimulate their Japanese fanbase, right?).

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