At SummerSlam 2017, the WWE World Championship match was dubbed as an “international affair”. For the first time in SummerSlam history, the WWE title match didn’t have an American citizen present. This international affair saw the Canadian-Indian Jinder Mahal take on the Japanese sensation Shinsuke Nakamura.
While the match wasn’t great on paper, there were a lot of things that WWE could have changed and a lot of things that could have been done differently. But what were they? To understand that, we need to go back a little, to April 2017. It was the post-WrestleMania period and there was a lot of excitement in the air. The prior year, WrestleMania wasn’t great, but the quality of the product post-WrestleMania had suddenly picked up big time.
Unfortunately, the reverse the case in 2017. While WrestleMania 33 was by no means a bad PPV, the build of the product post-WrestleMania felt rather underwhelming. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the handling of the Superstar Shake-Up and how WWE basically repeated history.
In the first edition of the brand split, SmackDown had unexpectedly picked up momentum and became the hottest show in all of wrestling. Unfortunately for them, WWE simply couldn’t allow SmackDown to be the better show and thus kept taking the biggest and best stars from the brand and the dip in the quality of the product was evident.
The very same was done in this situation, where WWE took away the superstars with the most momentum on SmackDown Live, such as Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and The Miz. All of them had career resurgences in 2016 and in 2017, they would all go to RAW and become just another part of the roster.
The direction WWE had taken for SmackDown post-WrestleMania wasn’t a great one either. They decided that one of the newest drafts in Jinder Mahal was the right man to go with. He had returned the previous year after over two years away and was primarily used as an enhancement talent, and that was part of the problem. WWE was very keen to tap in on the Indian market, which was millions of viewers each week for television. With no other Indian superstar, they felt it was best to go with Jinder Mahal and out of the blue, he turned from enhancement talent to main eventer in a span of one week.
Anybody can understand why that would be problematic. It wasn’t that Jinder wasn’t skilled or that he didn’t have the look. He simply wasn’t ready for it. As we know, most of the all-time greats only rose to a main event level after years and years of build. Mahal won the WWE Championship from Randy Orton on his very first attempt and while there was the shock value at first, it became clear that Mahal wasn’t taken seriously as champion nor was he ready.
Perhaps the most positive part about his reign is that he really carried himself like a champion, proving that he did have potential, but WWE didn’t execute his push right. Meanwhile, Shinsuke Nakamura spent exactly one year at NXT, where he was obviously a main event star and became a 2-time NXT Champion within months.
He was one of WWE’s biggest-ever signings and the fact that he was making “main event-level” money at NXT only goes to show how highly WWE thought of him. Despite his lack of fluent English, the consensus was that his charisma and wrestling style alone would be enough to get him by.
He did gain momentum in the early months and defeated John Cena clean on the path to the WWE Championship at SummerSlam. So the stage was set and Nakamura was all set to take on Jinder Mahal for the WWE title. Up till that point, Mahal only feuded with Orton and defeated him 3 consecutive PPVs, including Money in the Bank in Orton’s hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
The international affair, as it was dubbed, happened at SummerSlam and obviously, the expectations and hope of the fans was that Shinsuke Nakamura would be winning the WWE Championship. The betting odds certainly predicted that but unfortunately, Nakamura lost in a very typical Jinder Mahal match that saw interference from The Singh Brothers.
Jinder Mahal would continue his feud against Shinsuke Nakamura for another couple of months before beating him again. Nakamura would still have momentum after beating Randy Orton post-SummerSlam, while Mahal’s WWE title reign ended at the hands of AJ Styles in November in what was a magical night at Manchester.
As for Nakamura, his next major WWE title opportunity would come at WrestleMania 34, where he faced AJ Styles in a dream match – earning the title shot after the Royal Rumble. As for SummerSlam, it was clear that a lot of things had gone wrong for WWE. Fans were tired of Mahal as champion and it was abundantly clear that it was the right time and place to pull the trigger on Nakamura. However, as we learned at WrestleMania 34 (and post-WrestleMania), WWE really didn’t view Nakamura as their World Champion. He would fail on all occasions and the two opportunities that they had with him, they squandered.
We can only be left to wonder what could have been.