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Cover Story

Jinder Mahal: The Modern Day Maharaja

By Harjan Padda, 18 May, 2018

    The pro wrestler won his first WWE Championship in 2017, becoming the 50th recognized WWE Champion and the first of Indian descent. This year in April, he claimed the United States title at WrestleMania 34.

    A name that has been lately echoing in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is that of Jinder Mahal. The Indian-origin wrestler has become a superstar among WWE fans and his wins at prestigious championships are proof of this stardom. Jinder won his first WWE Championship at Backlash on May 21, 2017, becoming the 50th recognized WWE Champion and the first of Indian descent. This year in April, he claimed the United States title at WrestleMania 34 after defeating Randy Orton, Rusev and Bobby Roode in a Fatal Four Way Match. Nicknamed as the Modern Day Maharaja, Jinder is slowly changing the face of WWE with his power-packed performances, Indian appeal and energetic personality 
    Born as Yuvraj Singh Dhesi, what separates Jinder from other wrestlers is the look he portrays on and off the ring. Possessing a towering height of 6’5” and build of 240 lbs, Jinder wears a beard and turban – that proudly represents his Punjabi culture. Ever since he entered WWE, the pro wrestler has adorned a traditional Sikh pagh (turban) at all or most of his ring appearances. “We are recognized by the pagh and I am very proud to represent it on a global stage like WWE. I have the utmost respect for the pagh and have always been protective and respectful of it. It is a big deal for our community to be represented on an international program like WWE,” says Jinder, whose prominent look has placed Sikhs on the global map and is generating further interest among WWE viewers about Sikh religion and culture.
    A resident of Calgary, Alberta, Jinder has grown up watching wrestling. He is the nephew of Stampede Wrestling legend Gama Singh who performed all around the world in the 1970s and 1980, including several years with the World Wrestling Federation. Jinder’s biggest idol growing up was Bret Hart, a very famous wrestler from Calgary whom he had an opportunity to connect with thanks to his stardom. Jinder began his professional wrestling career at the Martial Arts Fitness Center in Calgary. His uncle was one of his main trainers growing up and continues to work with him till date. In 2011, Jinder made his televised WWE debut with The Great Khali. Today, he is a WWE celebrity. He has certainly come a long way from his time in Calgary, devoting much of his time during his youth to a career in pro wrestling. “It has been a long journey but I feel like it has just begun. I want to have a long career and the sky is the limit,” says the young champion who now primarily lives in Tampa Bay, Florida.
    Coming back to his championships, Jinder’s last few victories have been the biggest highlights of his wrestling life. The 31-year-old loved watching WrestleMania as a kid and always dreamt of participating in it but it wasn’t until WrestleMania 34 in April that his name became synonym with the powerful event. 
    He fought against Jeff Hardy to win the US Championship. Reminiscing that glorious moment, Jinder says, “This was my first WrestleMania moment and I am very happy that I won the title. Now that I have a taste of it, I want to go again and take it to the next level. I am thankful for the opportunity, but I remain hungry for the main event and the chance to win the WWE championship at WrestleMania one day.”
    His biggest moment, however, was winning his first WWE Championship at Backlash in 2017 where Jinder defeated Randy Orton to win the title. “I was brought back to the WWE in 2016 and won this [title] 10 months later. Being the 1st ever champion of Punjabi or South Asian descent is truly an honour,” he says of the win, further adding, “I still have a lot more to show and the best is yet to come. When it’s all over,I want to be seen as one of the best WWE wrestlers of all time.”
    Jinder’s career was not all great from start to finish. In 2014, he was released by the WWE which was devastating for a man so passionate about his career. He performed on the independent circuit for two years in one of the toughest times of his life. Yet, this phase did not deter him from his goal of making it back to the WWE. “I look back on it as the best thing that happened to me as it motivated me. WWE is a highly competitive entertainment business where if you aren’t up to the level they want, there are numerous others waiting to take your spot. You have to give your 100% every day. I had a lot of regrets when I got released, but I committed myself to making it back to the WWE and didn’t take anything for granted,” shares the dynamic individual who took advantage of every opportunity and relaunched a career that was past most people’s expectations. “I worked very hard to achieve those goals and I look forward to a long career. Winning the US Championship at WrestleMania in front of 78,000 people was awesome and I want to have more of those moments. I want to be a hall of famer so I will need to achieve my goals and work harder than the competition. It is not a one-time thing that you made it; you are being tested everyday as a challenge,” states Jinder.
    It is pretty incredible to see how far this South Asian champ has come at this point in his career but to Jinder it isn’t all too shocking. He worked for this recognition his whole life and it is paying off. “I have dreamt of this my whole life. You don’t win the WWE championship by accident, you have to dedicate your life to it. I visualize where I want to be in the future and I work relentlessly to get there.” His status as a recognizable superstar in the WWE is an indicator of the endless amount of hard work and effort he put in to get to this level. He remembers the days when he performed in front of less than 10 people early in his career. “When I was in high school in Calgary, I used to take the bus for over an hour in the winter to go train. I would be wrestling with grown men, then take the bus back in -40 degree weather to go back to school next day. It really is crazy to think about where I have come from and what I have done to get here. I really appreciate all I have done and what my supporters have done for me to get to this level.”
    On the topic of his on and off screen personality, Jinder reveals that aren’t many similarities between the two. “My character is more of a loud and angry type. I am actually a very quiet humble person at home.” His interest in fashion, however, is reflective in both personalities. “Just like in my real life, I enjoy donning fashionable attire like custom suits, Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton loafers, when I am on the show.” 
    Jinder’s success in the WWE has made him a household name in the US as well as in his home country India where people are not very familiar with professional wrestling. The Indian market has been largely untapped in terms of television ratings and online media as Jinder has amassed tons of fans in India. The Indo-Canadian wrestler is fortunate to have brought the WWE Championship to India. 
    Last year, he competed against WWE legend Triple H in a successful event in New Delhi. “It has been a very positive experience in India. The fans are very loving and supportive and I am very happy and proud to be representing such a proud nation,” says Jinder. The last time a WWE event was held in India was in 2002 and there were no Indian wrestlers at the time. He also has been witnessing the increasing level of South Asian fandom from outside of India. In places like London, Saudi Arabia, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, he has fought with noticeable support from Indian fans.
    Jinder is also a role model for youth especially Punjabi kids. He is aware of this responsibility and has step up to serve as an exemplar for South Asians, not just in the world of sport but also when it comes to any career path a person may choose to pursue. “I want to give back to my community who has supported me so much. It is my duty to repay them and pay it forward and inspire the future athletes of the next generation in our culture.” One of his goals is to inspire the next generation of Indian youth. “I want to see more Punjabis and kids of Indian descent become superstars. I hope to inspire our Punjabi youth to not just become WWE stars but accomplish whatever they want to be in their life. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, anything is possible.”
    The Modern Day Maharaja is proud that more and more sportsmen of Punjabi origin are proving their mettle in their respective fields. Young athletes are breaking barriers and establishing themselves on the global level in the world of sports. “When I was a kid I didn’t have role models that looked like me in sports. With guys like Jujhar Khaira, Satnam Singh and Arjan Bhullar, our next generation has some people to look up to as representations of our culture in the world of sports.” 
    Jinder is currently looking at gunning for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. He has lofty goals to shoot for the stars and make the WWE Hall of Fame. That is certainly an arduous process but he has proven that he can defy all odds with his level of hard work and determination to break through any barriers put in his way. The future is bright for Jinder, he knows it, and he will not stop working until he is remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. “The best part about my life is that this career has been my passion every since I could remember and I enjoy every minute of it. I am incredibly fortunate to have my passion as my career,” he says in conclusion.

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