Why China could have its first WWE champion sooner than you think
Professional wrestling giants head to Shenzhen on September 17 hot on heels of launching WWE Network in China as rapid expansion in mainland continues
Unsurprisingly, John Cena is front and centre of WWE’s promotional material for their upcoming Shenzhen live event on September 17.
But it is an unfamiliar face, to casual fans of the professional wrestling product at least, who could be walking into the Shenzhen Civic Centre as WWE champion.
Previously unheralded Jinder Mahal, an Indo-Canadian born and raised in Calgary, skyrocketed to the very top of the pecking order on the company’s “SmackDown Live” television show in May when he defeated Randy Orton to claim his first WWE championship.
Before that victory, Mahal had never even won a match on a pay-per-view event in just six outings since first debuting with the company in 2012.
Before he won a six-man match in April on SmackDown to become the number one contender to Orton’s title, he had lost 404 of his 501 bouts.
Mahal was seen as little more than an “enhancement talent” – someone who is regularly booked to lose to more established performers to make them look good.
But the timing of his sudden ascent was no accident – Mahal was hand-picked to become one of the faces of the company as WWE looked to expand its business in India.
He still holds the title going into WWE’s second biggest show of the year, SummerSlam, this weekend and could be in the main event in Shenzhen next month.
So, with China the next market WWE is looking to conquer, don’t count out seeing a Chinese champion in the not-too-distant future.
“I think it’s very real,” said Jay Li, vice-president and general manager of Greater China at WWE, said of such a prospect.
“Jinder Mahal being WWE champion has been huge for our audience in India. That sets a very good example, a stage for the future, so that we might have a Chinese star as a WWE champion.
“I certainly hope that soon we will have a bona fide superstar champion from China.”
WWE kicked off their recruitment efforts in China last year by signing Tian Bing as their first mainland performer.
They then stepped things up by bringing in seven new Chinese recruits to their Performance Centre in Florida earlier this year.
“I can’t really think to the development of the storylines, but we can see visible development of our Chinese stars,” added Li.
“Our Chinese recruits under development contracts are going through rigorous training, learning in-ring skills, character development. They’re all doing great.”
Some of them will return to China for the Shenzhen live event, while decorated martial artist Li Xia will represent China in the “Mae Young Classic”, an all-female tournament premiering on the WWE Network on August 28.
— WWE (@WWE) January 6, 2017
It continues a concerted effort on all fronts to establish WWE in China, including the launch last week of the WWE Network in partnership with Chinese video streaming website PPTV.
“We started in China 10 years ago, and we’ve always been seeking to understand consumer demand, as well as regional and environmental factors before taking the next step forward,” said Li.
“Our market research indicated we have access to 140 million fans who are interested in consuming WWE content.
“We took a methodical step last year to bring Raw and SmackDown in their entirety, in Mandarin and English, to Chinese audiences live on PPTV.
“We had fantastic results which gave us further confidence that using a digital-first strategy will allow us to tap into a vast pool of consumers interested in our product.”
In April, WWE ran its biggest show of the year, WrestleMania, as a pay-per-view event on PPTV for the first time.
“We had more interest than we expected, so we felt the timing is finally right to bring our subscription model of the WWE Network to Chinese consumers so they can have access to all of our content.
“Not just Raw or SmackDown, but all of our original programming. We’re super excited.”