Jinder Mahal is the new WWE Champion. Yuvraj Singh Dhesi’s “SmackDown Live” character is also an angry, brown-skinned guy in a turban screaming unkind things at Americans — and the very same stateside fans are eating it all up.
The anti-American foreigner that kinda-sorta looks like what some of this country (yes, irrationally) fears at the moment is a pretty classic pro-wrestling villain, one that hasn’t been around much lately. Dhesi, a Canadian Sikh of Indian descent, is happy to be the guy generating all of the heat. After all, the WWE’s top heel role was there for the taking.
“It’s something that works. I grew up watching classic wrestling villains. I think it’s something that’s missing in wrestling today. I think it’s kind of refreshing — it’s almost like a throwback,” he told TheWrap a few days after taking the belt off of the legendary Randy Orton. “It always works. It always works in movies, it always works in TV. So if it ain’t broke, why fix it, you know?”
The 30-year-old 6’5” Superstar traveled a long way to get here — and we don’t just mean all of his time spent in India. The man who speaks fluent Punjabi and plays Mahal was actually cut from the WWE in 2014. Since then, he toiled in independent wrestling promotions, took up real-estate flipping, and admittedly let himself go. That all ended about a year ago, when Dhesi stopped drinking cold turkey and got serious. It’s been “maybe six months” since he even ate anything particularly cool, he told us.
In-between those landmark dates in his personal revitalization, the totally ripped grappler was re-signed by the WWE. His body has gotten even more comic book super hero-ish since then. And Mahal plans to keep those veins popping.
“I honestly feel so good, I don’t feel the need to eat junk. I haven’t eaten junk in so long. I crave healthy stuff,” he said. “I love oatmeal, I love rice. Cravings kind of change as your body adapts.”
Mahal may be the most obvious bad guy in the arena when the cameras turn on, but he’s an inspiration backstage.
“I think it’s a good thing too for the rest of the locker room,” he said. “For the guys who are maybe unhappy at the bottom of the card — it proves that them that things can happen in WWE if you work hard enough and keep improving.”
Some critics have speculated that his heritage hasn’t hurt, either. After all, India is a massive country for the continued global expansion of the publicly-traded WWE.
Dhesi doesn’t even consider that for a three-count.
“India’s been a huge market for them before. India was a huge market when I got released. India was a huge market when I debuted,” he said. “They didn’t put a jetpack on me and make me WWE Champion — I had to work for it. I had to prove to Vince [McMahon] that I was deserving.”
Mahal earned the title, and tonight he’s going to celebrate. Watch the man they call The Maharaja throw a Punjabi party tonight at 8/7c on USA Network’s “SmackDown Live.”