I can’t speak for every other professional wrestling fan out there, but it’s my belief that years from now, when we’re talking to other wrestling fans about things that happened in 2017, specifically in the WWE, former WWE champion Jinder Mahal’s name will come up. For most, his reign at the top of the 9:00 hour on Smackdown Live every week for almost half of the year -- I’ll never forgive you, Road Dogg and Ryan Ward -- will be remembered negatively. I’m certain I’ll utter the words, “Remember that insane Jinder Mahal Experiment on Smackdown?” or “Remember when he always seemed to lose his voice mid-promo?” or maybe even “Remember that one, fantastic match he had with…?” That last one won’t end with an actual name because Mahal has never had a fantastic match with anyone. Ever. It doesn’t exist. Watching a Jinder Mahal match in 2017 every week is like choosing to watch the Cleveland Browns game every Sunday knowing full well you’re not going to enjoy yourself, but also, you know how this story ends. After six months on top of the brand that prides itself on being the Land of Opportunity, I’m starting to wonder if Modern Day Maharaja may not have earned that opportunity. (Seriously, what the hell, Road Dogg?)
Still, as much of a disaster as the Mahal era was on Smackdown Live, the company deserves credit for doing everything in its power to turn one of their own into a major star. That should happen more, but it often doesn’t. The persistence and relentless by the company to ensure that Mahal got over, was booked and presented as a big deal, and never once pulled the plug, which, again, they so often do, was a good thing.
The company just backed the wrong horse.
Fortunately, the WWE roster has never been deeper. AJ Styles, the best wrestler in the world, is WWE champion again. The Shield is back together. Adam Cole is in NXT bay-bay. The roster is so stacked that talents like Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor are getting lost in the shuffle. With a roster so well established, the company should be investing in these talents the way they invested in Mahal.
In two months or so, the Royal Rumble, my favorite wrestling pay-per-view of the year, will happen. And with it, the Road to WrestleMania will begin, although, this time, there won’t be any roadblocks on the way. We know Roman Reigns will be challenging Brock Lesnar for the Raw Universal title at WrestleMania the same way we know that the Golden State Warriors will be winning the 2018 NBA Finals -- these things are just going to happen. (However, something tells me the reception to another Warriors’ title win won’t be met with the same, collective groan that Reigns’ fourth WWE title victory will create. But I suppose the Warriors could clinch on the road in Boston.)
But there is a brand-split once again, and somebody has to challenge the Face That Runs The Place on the blue brand for the WWE title. The natural inclination is to fantasy book Nakamura against Styles in what would obviously be a dream match for wrestling diehards. But there’s another option, and it’s the better one: The Miz. It’s easy to forget sometimes that professional wrestling is still a soap opera, and that’s what makes The Miz awesome. Putting together a compelling Nakamura vs. Styles feud on WWE television would be far more difficult and risky than pitting the best heel in the company today against the company’s best babyface.
In case you missed it, The Miz has had quite the 2017. At 37-years-old, Ohio’s own has figured out how to be the best heel in professional wrestling. When his hand goes up, you pay close attention. Moving him from Smackdown Live, away from his perfect foil, Daniel Bryan, was a risky play and it could have easily backfired. It didn’t. Instead, he got Curtis Axel over in 2017 and revitalized the careers of two social outcasts. His better half was written off television, and he didn't miss a beat. The summer’s hottest feud, John Cena vs. Roman Reigns, won’t be remembered for their lackluster back-and-forth nonsense, no, it will be remembered for that one week on Raw where The Miz eviscerated two of the company’s biggest stars of the last decade.
Yes, how many moments do Cena and Reigns get? How many does Mahal get? Brock Lesnar? Bray Wyatt? Triple H? The Miz, when he’s at his best, is landing truthful jabs at his opponent in devastating fashion. What more does The Miz have to do for the company to give him a run like the company gave the inferior Mahal? The Miz has put in the work, he’s evolved as a character, he’s evolved as an in-ring worker and whenever you put him on the same screen as a top babyface, like Daniel Bryan, magic happens.
So let’s pretend the world is a meritocracy, and give The Miz his moment in 2018. Once he’s finished filming thirty-seventh installment in The Marine series, the company should finally reward The Miz because, as so many good heels are, he’s right. He’s earned it. He’s been the glue that has held Monday Night Raw together when Brock Lesnar disappears for weeks at a time. But he’s reached his ceiling on Raw through no fault his of his own -- it will always be that rather large guy’s yard.
Smackdown Live is different. It’s less defined. There’s more room to grow and less barriers to fight through. The best heels on the Tuesday night program may not even be long for it -- Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn -- and the top of the card is as open as it has ever been. The fans love to cheer Styles, and they love to hate The Miz. That’s not going to change.
So why not give The Miz a Royal Rumble victory, and, as a result, challenging the best wrestler in the world for his belt at the biggest show of the year? Some feuds are more difficult to garner interest than others, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where a Miz vs. Styles program doesn’t lead to memorable promos, heavy crowd involvement, and multiple “This Is Awesome” chants as the Miz goes above-and-beyond in his heelish antics to finally have his moment.
Putting the WWE title on Styles was the right decision by the company a few weeks ago, but that should just be the start. Styles, as we saw in his match against Lesnar at Survivor Series, can make anyone look like a million bucks. It’s time to for The Miz to cash-in.