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Sunday night at Money in the Bank, the most unlikely WWE champion since John Bradshaw Layfield will look to retain the title he worked his life to attain as Jinder Mahal defends against future Hall of Famer, and 13-time champion, Randy Orton.
A rematch of their Backlash main event, it lacks the intrigue surrounding the original but has the potential to improve upon it.
Occurring in the hometown of the challenger, the St. Louis crowd will likely be rabid in its support of The Viper.
Will it be enough to fuel him to championship No. 14, or will The Modern Day Maharaja successfully retain?
What role might the pesky Singh Brothers play in the outcome? Will they?
Ahead of a second straight main event between the SmackDown Live stars, enjoy this preview and prediction of the WWE Championship clash.
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Maybe it was a classic example of underestimation. Perhaps the meddlesome Singh Brothers were at the root of Randy Orton’s downfall at Backlash. Whatever the case may be, Jinder Mahal completed the most unexpected rise to glory in WWE history on May 21, pinning the third-generation star following his Khallas finishing maneuver.
It was a shocking outcome, for no matter how much forewarning there was of a potential Mahal victory, few expected WWE Creative to take such a giant leap of faith and put the premier title in sports entertainment on a Superstar who had for so long been portrayed as an enhancement talent.
Just 48 hours after the victory, Mahal and his associates made their way to the ring for a massive celebration, complete with an Indian band and a chorus of boos from the WWE Universe. It became abundantly clear on that night The Modern-Day Maharaja was being positioned and treated as a legitimate main event performer.
Orton would respond to Mahal’s massive victory celebration the following week.
On the May 30 episode of SmackDown Live, he reflected on his family’s legacy and promised an Orton family ass-kicking for Mahal come Money in the Bank.
Done talking, Mahal sought to prove himself in the squared circle, which he did on the June 6 broadcast.
On that night, he renewed his rivalry with Mojo Rawley, defeating the overly hyped Superstar following a well-timed rake of the eyes and his increasingly dangerous Khallas.
A monumental first month with the WWE Championship ended on a sour note for Mahal, though, when he ate an RKO from out of nowhere, courtesy of Orton.
The top contender to the Maharaja’s title stood tall to close out the final episode of SmackDown Live and generate a little momentum for himself as Money in the Bank approached.
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The Backlash match between Orton and Mahal was interesting in that it was primarily a basic singles contest in which the villain wore the hero down with a series of rest holds, only to evolve into a brawl as the action spilled to the arena floor.
The Singh Brothers took big bumps on the announce table before Mahal won in a perfectly booked finish.
At Money in the Bank, it will be up to the Superstars to build on the emotion of the first match with a bout that is more intense and chaotic than the first.
On a night when men and women will risk their safety and well-being in grueling ladder matches, Orton and Mahal cannot afford a match that leans on the basics. Headlocks, chin locks and arm bars will not cut it. More brawling, more big bumps by the Singh Brothers and more clever booking will be necessary to mask the rather pedestrian move sets of the Superstars involved.
Luckily, Orton’s ability to manipulate the audience with move placement is a secret weapon that often helps his matches get over. If all else fails, telling the story that includes repeated teases of the RKO will help keep the audience invested.
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Orton will experience the hometown curse Sunday night as Mahal overcomes a raucous crowd to retain the WWE Championship.
The Maharaja has to win Sunday night.
A loss would confirm his status as a one-hit wonder. It would lend validity to all who criticized WWE for pushing Mahal in the first place, not to mention those who believed his reign would fail spectacularly. It would erase months of work to build him up and send a negative message to the locker room that hard work and dedication is good for an opportunity but not enough to warrant loyalty beyond one month.
Orton does not need a 14th run with the title. Nor should he have it. His resume speaks for itself, and one day, he will be enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame. His legacy is secured. What is not is the future of WWE, a tumultuous time thanks to the lack of legitimate and credible stars.
Denying Mahal the chance to make something out of his reign would only ensure the continued absence of stars going forward.
Prediction: Jinder Mahal