WWE is one of the most popular sports in India and the professional wrestling has a huge fan base in the country. But the company in the last four decades has hardly shown any interest in pushing for Indian talents in the company. It was only after two-and-a-half decades since its television debut that in 2006, WWE for the first time ever signed an Indian wrestler, Dalip Singh Rana, aka The Great Khali.
The Great Khali arrives: The 7-feet tall Great Khali, who was a former professional wrestler from Punjab, and had been part of New Japan Pro wrestling in 2001-2002, had a peculiar run in the WWE, and he was released by the company at a time when he had zero appeal with the fans.
In his debut years, he was made to work with The Undertaker and even won the first match against him. The company in the next 2 years booked him against wrestlers like John Cena, Baatista, Shawn Michales, Triple H, and even Rey Mysterio. In 2008, Khali also won the World Heavyweight Championship in a 20-man Battle Royal after Edge had relinquished his title due to a neck injury.
But Khali, just like any other outsider in the company, was used until the makers thought he was beneficial for them. From 2008-2011, Khali was turned into more of a comic character with non-serious duels (including his childish birthday wish to John Cena). And the company just got him off the hook as if The Great Khali never mattered to the WWE Universe.
By then, it had found another Indian origin wrestler.
The entry of Jinder Mahal: By 2011, WWE zeroed in on Canada-born, Indian-origin wrestler Jinder Mahal. Mahal, at first, was only made to work with The Great Khali, where he even went on to slap Khali in one of the episodes. He and Khali worked for few months until the two separated and then while Khali was taken off the air for sometime, the company started investing in Mahal.
Mahal, for the next two years (2012-2014) never got the title shot but instead worked with other superstars like Drew McIntyre, Heath Slater, Vladimir Kozlov. At one point, he along with two other teammates, McIntyre and Slater clashed with The Shield (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose) but that was the limited show of Mahal in the spotlight and on June 12, 2013, he was released from the WWE contract.
The first stint of Mahal with WWE was not satisfactory and the WWE Universe hardly cared about him. The company thereby, had to release him.
From WWE Champion to NXT Championship contender: Mahal signed again with the WWE in 2016, and this time, he started as a heel wrestling with SmackDown superstars like Sami Zayn, Neville and Darren Young.
In 2017, he won the WWE Championship against Randy Orton in May 21 at Backlash, but his reign was only for six months long as Mahal lost his belt to AJ Styles in an episode of SmackDown. He was then put into the United States Championship hunt and he won that in WrestleMania 34. In WrestleMania 35 (2019), Mahal competed in the Andre The Giant memorial battle match but couldn't win it.
That was perhaps, the end of the glorious run of Mahal in WWE. Mahal suffered some knee injuries and started remaining absent from the episodes. He made few glimpses from 2021 to 2022.
On January 10, 2023, Mahal appeared in the NXT for the first time since he made his debut there in 2012. And now, he is after the NXT Championship belt.
The heel factor: A prime reason why both The Great Khali and Jinder Mahal characters failed to click with the WWE Universe was because they were already booked as heel wrestlers. The Great Khali in his first few years of WWE was promoted as heel character and he was so much into it that even the WWE Universe just looked the other way around when The Great Khali was made to look like a buffoon, dancing and singing songs.
Something similar happened with Jinder Mahal, who since the beginning in 2011 up till 2023 has been pushed as a heel character, and the crowd just never clicked with him.
Khali has been forgotten by the WWE universe, and he himself has hinted that he won't be back in WWE and he is done with it. The same fate might be met by Jinder Mahal, who within few years, would be inducted in WWE's Hall of Fame and later released and forgotten.
Other Indian talents: The company has signed some Indian rookies like Dilsher Shanky from Haryana, Rinku Singh Rajput as Veer Mahan from UP, Saurav Gurjar as Sanga (MP) and Guru Raaj (Bandia).