Representing India is a great responsibility: WWE champion Jinder Mahal
Posted: May 25th 2017 By: Vineet Ramakrishnan
Jinder Mahal achieved his lifelong dream on Sunday when he beat Randy Orton for the WWE Championship at SmackDown exclusive pay-per-view Backlash in Chicago. Only the second Indian-origin wrestler to hold a title in the WWE, Mahal says his rise to the top has been the culmination of 15 years of hard work and dedication and a reward for his long and tough journey.
Mahal started out as a 15-year-old who would take a one-and-a-half-hour bus journey to a wrestling school daily and fight wrestlers in their 20s and 30s for hours; despite being beaten up, he showed up day after day and was usually the last to leave. From tasting early success to getting released and reinventing himself in the independent circuit, Mahal is now a WWE Champion and flag-bearer for the company's SmackDown brand.
TOI Sports caught up with 'The Maharaja' who spoke about his title win, representing India in WWE, his dramatic physical transformation and the special message he has for the youth of India.
Excerpts from the interview:
Winning a WWE title is huge, but to do that against Randy Orton, who is a 13-time world champion, how special is the feeling?
It feels great. Randy Orton is one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time, 13-time WWE champion and to knock off somebody like him, the 'Apex Predator' is a great feeling; being a WWE champion and to be representing India is tremendous. Hopefully this will be the first of many WWE title reigns to come.
Being the WWE Champion translates in to the company putting faith in you to take the SmackDown brand forward. Will that be an added pressure for you or is it something you are ready to take on?
It definitely is an added pressure. But I like pressure, I thrive on pressure, I use the pressure to motive me more; to work harder and to diet harder, to be more aggressive in the ring. Pressure is something I want. I want the company to put faith in me because I am ready for it. You know, a lot of athletes they just want to coast by, fly under the radar, but not me. I want to be the greatest, I want to be a champion, I want to represent WWE, represent India, represent everybody on as big as a stage as I can.
After re-signing with WWE, in under one year you are holding a title. Did you expect such a meteoric rise?
Yes, it has been less than one year and honestly during my first run with WWE I will be first to admit that I didn't give my 100 per cent. I got side tracked, I was too young. But I learned my lesson and said to myself that if I get another chance with WWE I won't have any regrets and I will give my 110 per cent. And when you give something your 110 per cent, it gives you back 110 per cent and that exactly what happened. I gave my all to WWE trying to be the best superstar in the roster, and they rewarded me with the opportunity to become the WWE champion.
You are only the second India origin WWE Champion after the Great Khali. How do you see yourself connecting with the Indian audience?
It is a great responsibility to be representing India in the WWE universe. Not only that, I am a WWE champion and as you said, the second ever (from India). India is such a passionate place when it comes to WWE, it has a special place in the WWE universe. The most passionate fans are from India and I hope that I can motive more Indians to pursue wresting or any athletics for that matter and become champions. And I hope they go on to represent India because in sports there is lack of Indian athletes. I think we have lots of talent there, we have everything and hopefully this (win) kick-starts and motivates younger people to pursue their dreams - whether it is WWE or cricket or anything like this and become champions.
You were wrestling in the independent circuit between 2014-16. How did that change you as a wrestler, how did it help you build this 'Maharaja' persona?
Looking back, my time away from WWE was the best thing that happened to me. I evolved as a person outside of the ring and I evolved as a performer inside the ring. I regained my confidence; I got to have the longer 20-25 minute matches, which in WWE television is kind of hard to have. I needed to get the confidence as a performer and outside of the ring I grew as a human being. I became more mature and responsible and when I came back to WWE I was ready, I was ready to absorb the pressure, I was ready for the spotlight, I was primed for the main event spot.
Your Association with the Singh brothers (Samir and Sunil) has been beneficial. You have known them from before ...
I have known them for a long time from my time in Canada. It is a great opportunity for them, because they are in main WWE storylines now. They have done a lot of hard work. They came up through independent promotions wrestling in front of small crowds and working hard, being in 205 Live and now they are in SmackDown. They are very inspirational to India's youth or anybody. They are examples of putting your hard work and hard work getting rewarded; not just in WWE but in life as well. You put in the hard work and opportunities will start to come.
There was a drastic physical transformation in you during this run with WWE and lot of questions were being raised on that transformation, you think this win has put to rest all that criticism?
I don't know what kind of criticism that was. I worked hard in the gym a lot. All the WWE talents are drug tested by a third-party agency and I have been tested multiple times and never had an issue, so you know my transformation is all diet, all hard work. I am a tested athlete like every other WWE wrestler. I have no special privilege; nothing like that. I look like an athlete, I perform like an athlete, I carry myself like an athlete and WWE was not hesitant to put me in a WWE title match.
What is your message to fans in India?
I want to say thank you to everybody for supporting me. Spread the word. Tell everybody, tell your friends, that the Maharaja is WWE Champion and to tune in to SmackDown to see him become one of the greatest champions of all time. I also want to send a message to India's youth. Anything is possible. Especially in Punjab, there is a huge drug problem right now. Stay away from that, take care of your body and respect yourself. Play sports, do exercise, stay healthy, get a good education and better your life. Anything is possible as long as you're willing to put in the work.
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