In the modern world of WWE, big shocks aren’t too common anymore. The publicly traded company usually keeps things pretty predictable, if only for the sake of keeping their sponsors and investors happy.
However, a big shocker occurred at a WWE event in Manchester. Fan-favorite AJ Styles won the WWE Championship from Jinder Mahal in a move that few people saw coming. The promotion had chosen Mahal as their champion reportedly to boost activity in the Indian market.
Despite promoting a brand-versus-brand match between the Mahal and Universal Champion Brock Lesnar for their upcoming Survivor Series pay-per-view, the company pulled the trigger on a title change much to the delight of fans in attendance.
There is much speculation about the reason behind the sudden move. One common claim is that Mahal was battling an injury, brandishing a tapped shoulder during recent performances. While WWE’s policy requires their performers to step aside if medical staff deems their injuries too severe, others claim the impromptu title change was motivated by another factor.
Despite sticking with Mahal as the champion for months, the company saw ratings and attendance continue to slip. Mahal was fast-tracked to the role of champion for the sake of the company’s aspirations in India, but the blame for slumping fan-interest can’t be placed solely on Mahal. The product has been slipping in terms of appeal for years as the entertainment form has slowly lost popularity since its boom in the late 90s.
AJ Styles defeated Mahal, in what was a rare instance of a new champion being crowned on television. The decision may have been a deliberate one in order to gauge fan response to the change. The match occurred on the company’s Smackdown Live program, which usually airs live in the U.S., but was instead taped from Manchester in this case.
The news broke quickly as spoiler alerts plastered sports and entertainment websites that cover WWE as soon as the change was announced.
Styles may not represent the Indian market, but he does have global appeal. He’s wrestled at the biggest promotions in both the United States and Japan, consistently putting on stunning performances that elevate himself, the brand he works for, and any wrestler he’s stepped in the ring with. This isn’t his first time as champion – he originally won the title from top company poster-man John Cena. Such a move shows how much faith the company has in Styles to rekindle fan interest and ensure their annual Survivor Series pay-per-view gets good exposure.
WWE recently announced their best quarter in history, despite fending off accusations that the company was creeping into troubled territory. After cancelling multiple original shows on their network, ending the long-running presence of pyrotechnics at shows, and even letting go multiple long-time talents, it seemed as if WWE was cutting expenses.
Despite their struggles, WWE continues to expand. Their event in the UK capitalized on their great popularity in the area, with a UK tournament and even UK champion serving as one of the company’s latest creations.