WWE has had a record-breaking year so far, and further records are set to tumble in the coming months. That’s because Vince McMahon’s professional wrestling giant returns to India for the first time in six years next month with the first-ever Superstar Spectacle show, despite its sketchy relationship with Hindu culture in the past. A number of the company’s top stars including World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, Intercontinental Champion Gunther, and Undisputed Tag Team Champions Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are all advertised for the Hyderabad extravaganza.
2023 has been a blockbuster year for the company thus far. January’s Royal Rumble event was the most viewed installment of the show of all time, no thanks to the aforementioned Zayn’s shocking betrayal of Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns. The champ then headlined WrestleMania 39 inside Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium against Cody Rhodes, and that pair’s main event tussle ensured that the show would go down as the highest-grossing in company history.
But it isn’t just traditional events that have helped propel the company to new heights. Back in July, top stars, such as Big E, Montez Ford, and Bianca Belair, played host at a charity poker tournament at the ESPYs on behalf of their employers. Celebrities who like to play online video poker real money were suddenly given the opportunity to test themselves against fellow A-Listers, and the occasion was massively successful.
In this invitational poker game isn’t the first time WWE incorporated poker. In the past, it has employed poker to craft thrilling stories, as well as competitive characters, such as Duke Hudson.
With that said, in honor of WWE finally returning to the subcontinent, we decided to take a look at the most popular superstars of Indian heritage to have turned out for the pro wrestling giant.
The Great Khali
Speaking of giants, is there anywhere to start other than with The Great Khali? Throughout the 2000s, the seven-foot Dhiraina-born star was one of professional wrestling’s most feared stars. He debuted in April 2006 and was immediately thrust into a feud against The Undertaker, whom he would squash in his first pay-per-view match and announce to the world that there was a new top villain in town.
The following winter, he would attack numerous other top stars, namely Shawn Michaels, Edge, and Randy Orton, earning him a shot at John Cena’s WWE Championship. The champ was the face of the company at the time, and he would retain his title against the Indian star in back-to-back pay-per-view main events. But he wouldn’t have to wait long to taste championship gold.
In the summer of 2007, Khali would finally climb to the mountaintop, winning a 20-man Battle Royale on SmackDown to become the World Heavyweight Champion. His title reign wouldn’t last long, however, dropping the strap to current Hollywood star Batista. He would remain in the company until the expiry of his contract in 2014 however he still makes sporadic appearances and continues to fly the WWE flag in India.
Despite being born in Canada, Jinder Mahal is a second-generation immigrant having been born to Indian parents in Calgary. His time in WWE has been a strange one, however. For the vast majority of his run, he was considered to be a jobber, meaning that he was only in matches to lose them. In fact, for the better part of two years, he was actually in a comedy act in a group called the Three Man Band alongside former two-time WWE Champion Drew McIntyre and Heath Slater.
However, in early 2017, the unthinkable happened. The Chairman of the Board, Vince McMahon, was looking to break into the Indian market and he decided that he needed a WWE champion of Indian heritage to achieve his goals. Despite losing over 90% of his matches in the company, Mahal suddenly found himself as the number one contender to Randy Orton’s WWE Championship.
The match would take place at that year’s Backlash event inside Chicago’s All-State Arena. Much to the amazement of everyone in attendance, Mahal – via some assistance from the Singh Brothers – would do the unthinkable. He nailed the Viper with his finishing move, the Khallas, to get the victory and the first major championship of his career.
Following that victory, Mahal would successfully retain his title against Orton. He would first defeat him in a rematch at the Money in the Bank event in June, before then defending the gold one final time in a Punjabi Prison match at Battleground in July. After a back-and-forth matchup, Mahal would receive assistance from the aforementioned Great Khali to retain his title once more.
He would successfully defend the strap once more against the King of Strong Style Shinsuke Nakamura at Summerslam, before ensuring that Baron Corbin became the first man to lose his Money in the Bank cash-in match. He would eventually drop the title to AJ Styles on an episode of Smackdown broadcast from the United Kingdom and has since dropped down the card. He is advertised to feature at the upcoming Superstar Showcase event in Hyderabad, and he is sure to get a heroes welcome.