By Austin Grinnell @WolfmanAustin13
It’s that time of year again. The weather is unbearably hot at times, the annual smoke from our beautiful Okanagan, BC forest fires is thick in the air and I’m gearing up to sit down for a six hour marathon of disappointment known as SummerSlam. I jest here, a little. Last year’s show featured a lot of “face-palm” moments for sure, but it also gave us a fantastic match between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, where Balor became the first WWE Universal Champion. Of course, that’s the match where Finn injured his shoulder and missed a bunch of time, and he hasn’t done anything of note really since returning, but hot damn was that a good match!
Sheamus and Cesaro started their best of seven series, which led to the two big men teaming up and becoming one of the more entertaining acts on WWE television… Charlotte defeated Sasha Banks in just one of what seems like millions of their matches, but they still put on a hell of a show, even if it got scary at times with some seriously easy to remember botches. The big win from last year though, was definitely the John Cena Vs AJ Styles match, which at twenty-three minutes, was the longest, most enjoyable and technically best match of the show. Not a huge surprise either, with Big Match John going against the best wrestler in the world.
There are a lot of preview articles out there right now, and there are a lot of prediction articles up as well, so I’m not going to do that. Instead, we’re going to take a look at SummerSlam 2017 and the three matches featuring talents that cut their teeth in the Canadian independent wrestling scene. All three matches featuring Canadian talents just happen to be Championship bouts as well. Just saying.
First up, Natalya will challenge Naomi for the WWE SmackDown Womens Championship. Last year, Natalya came out on top in a six person tag team match with Naomi on the other side, and we’re definitely hoping for more of the same tonight. Going under the name Nattie Neidhart, the daughter of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart started out her career in the rings of Stampede Wrestling. This wasn’t the same company that produced Bret Hart, Owen Hart, The Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith, Brian Pillman and more… but the name helped draw crowds in the Alberta region and it was still very much a family affair, with plenty of the Hart Family participating in the returned Stampede promotion.
In June of 2005, Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling crowned their first SuperGirls Champion in Rebecca Knox (aka Becky Lynch), and in October of 2006, Nattie Neidhart would become just the third champion for the promotion when she defeated Lisa Moretti, formerly known as WWE Women’s Champion Ivory. Nattie would go on to debut for SHIMMER, an all-female promotion that really helped open the eyes of many independent wrestling fans to the talented women all over the world.
Nattie would make her WWE debut in 2008, adopting the name Natalya Neidhart, and eventually shortening it to Natalya, as we all know how much Vince McMahon loves single-name wrestlers. Nattie would go on to join The Hart Dynasty with her husband Tyson Kidd and his partner DH Smith (now known as Davey Boy Smith Jr in New Japan Pro-Wrestling), as well as becoming a one-time WWE Divas Champion.
Tonight, Natalya looks to make it two WWE Championships on her resume as she faces off with Naomi, looking to dim the glow and walk out of the Barclays Center as WWE SmackDown Womens Champion.
Beginning his training at the age of 14, Kevin Owens made his debut as Kevin Steen just two years later at the tender age of 16. Kevin would make his name in the International Wrestling Syndicate out of Quebec. The promotion was known for its ultraviolent matches featuring heavy weapon usage, making it Combat Zone Wrestling-North to a lot of Canadian fans. At its best, IWS, much like CZW, blended the ultraviolence with top notch technical and high flying wrestling, much of which can be attributed to the talents of Kevin Steen and the long-since missing El Generico.
Steen would become a three-time IWS World Heavyweight Champion, moving on to capture titles in Combat Zone Wrestling, All American Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and more. It would be his time with Ring of Honor though, where Steen held the promotion’s Tag Team and World Heavyweight Championships, that secured him his deal with World Wrestling Entertainment.
Upon debuting, Steen adopted the new surname of Owens and made an immediate impact, taking out fan favorite and former best friend Sami Zayn at an NXT Takeover event. There was a lot of negative talk about Kevin Owens from fans who were concerned that, without the typical WWE look and style, that he would cap out at the NXT level, where Triple H rules his domain in the most old school of ways. Triple H and the team at NXT did a fantastic job with Owens during his time there, but Kevin would not let the pre-conceived notions of what a WWE superstar is supposed to be stop him. Even as NXT Champion, Owens entered the main roster, immediately targeting then-WWE United States Champion John Cena.
Tonight, Owens comes full circle as he challenges for that very same United States Title, this time against “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles. Styles and Cena tore it up last year at SummerSlam, and there’s no reason to believe that Styles and Kevin Owens won’t do the same tonight. I’m definitely getting the feeling that Owens is walking out of Brooklyn with the WWE United States belt on his shoulder, and that’s because of what I think might happen in our main event, as AJ Styles seems like the perfect choice to move into the SmackDown World Title picture post-SummerSlam.
The biggest surprise of 2017 has been the rise of Jinder Mahal. From zero to hero in no time flat, Jinder came from out of nowhere to win himself the number one contendership to the SmackDown World Championship, before winning the title from Randy Orton at Backlash with help from the Singh Brothers.
Before we get into Jinder’s path, I just wanted to take a moment to talk about the Singh Brothers, better known as The Bollywood Boyz. Harv and Gurv Sihra made their names on the Western Canadian indy scene with Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling, before getting an offer to work for TNA’s India-based promotion Ring Ka King, where they won the Tag Team Titles and wrestled against legends like Scott Steiner.
The Bollywood Boyz made a stop in my hometown and completely stole the show at an Invasion Championship Wrestling event, taking the time to talk to me and my buddy about wrestling and stealing the hearts of many in attendance. Not long afterwards, I watched them get signed up by Jeff Jarrett’s upstart Global Force Wrestling promotion, where they won the GFW Tag Team Championships during the Amped TV tapings (which will be airing on-demand via PPV over the next couple of months). The slow roll-out of GFW pushed the Bollywood Boyz into the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, where despite not having much success, both Harv and Gurv impressed WWE officials enough to earn themselves contracts with the promotion. Just wait until Jinder Mahal unleashes the Singh Brothers on the SmackDown Tag Team division, because there’s nothing better than a butter chicken beat-down.
Back to Mahal, the nephew of Canadian indy legend Gama Singh had early connections to the WWE, training with Rick Bognar, who would go on to his greatest success as Big Titan in Japan, but would be most well known by WWE fans as the Fake Razor Ramon, who came in with Fake Diesel when Scott Hall and Kevin Nash jumped ship to WCW. Jinder would work mostly in Western Canada as Tiger Raj Singh, teaming with his cousin Gama Singh Jr and successfully winning the Tag Team Titles in Stampede Wrestling, All-Star Wrestling and the Prairie Wrestling Alliance.
With a work ethic famously unmatched by the vast majority, Tiger Raj Singh would find himself signed to WWE’s then-developmental program Florida Championship Wrestling. Singh would secure himself the spot by playing up to his cultural heritage, knowing full-well that stereotypes play well to the WWE brass, and unfortunately, to a lot of the WWE audience.
Jinder Mahal’s rise to join the WWE roster was quick from there, as he joined The Great Khali on SmackDown in 2011, a storyline which played out six years later when Khali made a shocking return to aid Jinder Mahal in defeating Randy Orton in the Punjabi Prison. Curiously, Mahal has been associated with Orton a lot over his WWE career, with the two men being the final two in a 41-man Battle Royal during an episode of SmackDown in 2011.
Mahal would move on to join the newly developed NXT, where he made it to the final of the tournament to crown the inaugural NXT Champion, losing to Seth Rollins. In September of 2012, Mahal returned to the main roster as one-third of the very entertaining 3 Man Band with Heath Slater and newly crowned NXT Champion Drew McIntyre. In 2013, with 3MB floundering, Mahal was released and returned to the Canadian independent circuit.
Viewing his release as a challenge, taking up the name of Raj Singh and headlining many shows in British Columbia and Alberta, along with gaining more international experience in India, Japan, Puerto Rico and Qatar, among other places. Jinder Mahal would take the time off from WWE to gain more knowledge and skills before returning in a midcard role. While it seemed like he would be forgotten on the main roster, the rise of Jinder Mahal began with a brutal match against Finn Balor, where he may have legitimately knocked the former Universal Champion out, and a runner-up showing in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Mahal’s rise to the top of SmackDown has been criticized by many due to the nature of the booking, but it’s hard to say that he hasn’t been doing his best. Jinder and Randy Orton have had some entertaining contests, but the real test for him is going to be how he fares in the ring with other main event level guys in big matches… and that is the thing that intrigues me the most about tonight’s SmackDown World Championship match between Jinder Mahal and Shinsuke Nakamura.
With the looming threat of Baron Corbin’s Money in the Bank cash-in no longer there, it seemingly opens up the possibilities for different finishes and puts into question just how tonight’s match is going to go. Regardless of the outcome though, one thing is for certain, and that is that Jinder Mahal has worked his way to the top of World Wrestling Entertainment, by way of his work ethic, sound business and professional skills, and knowing when to take advantage of any privileges he may be afforded.
Mahal has a hard battle ahead of him tonight against Nakamura, but hopefully, no matter the outcome, tonight can help solidify his spot in the main event scene, continuing the tradition of the WWE’s reliance on our super soft Canadians.
Enjoy the show, or enjoy complaining about the show, and follow along with my live-tweets (@KayfabeToday) today starting at 2 PM Pacific Standard Time with the SummerSlam pre-show on the WWE Network. I’ll probably be complaining a lot after NXT completely killed it last night, but I am cautiously optimistic that tonight could be a lot of fun as well.
If you didn’t watch NXT Takeover, make sure you do so after SummerSlam, or during it if you get fed up and need to shut it off.