At SummerSlam 2017, Jinder Mahal will stride into New York's Barclays Center as WWE champion, a chiseled titan glistening in the spotlight.
He will have gone from being handed a pink slip to carrying championship gold in less than a year. The WWE title match against Shinsuke Nakamura at Sunday's pay-per-view will be the biggest bout of his career. This will all come after the comic relief-turned-headliner experienced one of the most surprising turnarounds ever.
But this isn't the climax of Mahal's journey in his mind. This is simply the beginning.
The Maharaja remains humble despite the gold he carries over his shoulder and being positioned as SmackDown's top heel. He's hungry, focused and still in awe of where he is today.
"I've never performed at a SummerSlam event before," Mahal told Bleacher Report. "And to come in as WWE champion against someone like Shinsuke Nakamura who is already a legend in the business, it's a very, very special moment."
Can #WWEChampion @JinderMahal withstand The #KingOfStrongStyle @ShinsukeN? #SummerSlam is just around the corner... #SDLive https://t.co/Nmng2VzLFA2017-8-9 01:40:14
His uncle Gama Singh, a wrestling star in Canada in the '70s and '80s, helped instill that attitude.
Mahal was a young boy when Singh prowled the rings in Calgary, Toronto, and beyond. But when Mahal decided to enter the squared circle himself, his uncle helped guide him. Bad News Brown, Gerry Morrow and Singh all had a hand in training a young Mahal.
"As I was getting into this business, he was a huge help, someone to go to for advice," Mahal explained.
After winning the WWE title from Randy Orton at Backlash in May, the new champ's celebration didn't end in the ring. He showed off his newly won prize with a man he views as a mentor and father figure.
Tony Cage @tonycage10
Passing through the generations! Honored to be sitting here with "The Great" Gama Singh and "The Maharaja" Jinder Mahal. 🇮🇳 #sikh https://t.co/sbf3y3SFFJ2017-8-5 17:13:09
"I was able to take the WWE Championship over to his house, and he was very proud. We took some pictures. It was a very proud moment, a cool moment," Mahal recalled.
Now that Mahal is on top of the WWE world, his uncle has offered words of wisdom that echo in his head: "Remain humble. Don't let all this get to your head. This doesn't last forever."
In his hometown of Calgary, Mahal first put his uncle's teaching to the test as a member of Stampede Wrestling.
The promotion was also home to Tyson Kidd, David Hart Smith, Natalya and Viktor of The Ascension, who would all later make their way to WWE. Mahal referred to them as a close-knit group. He said many of his peers at Stampede Wrestling were "already great wrestlers" when he arrived on the scene and remembers those beginnings fondly.
🍁 @TJWilson @JinderMahal and Gama Singh Jr, Stampede Wrestling circa 2006. https://t.co/BmswFCsnej2017-4-27 14:27:56
"The crowds weren't always the biggest, but we just had all this passion. We were lucky enough to get to perform every week in Calgary," he said.
The size of the audiences ballooned big time when Mahal made his SmackDown debut in 2011.
But his ride to the top sputtered out before it really got started. WWE reassigned him to its developmental territory in 2012, and he later re-emerged alongside Drew McIntyre and Heath Slater as 3MB, a trio of wannabe rockers with a penchant for playing air guitars.
The comedy group lasted until the summer of 2014, when WWE released both McIntyre and Mahal.
Three years later, Mahal is poised to defend the WWE title at SummerSlam. McIntyre will challenge Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship at TakeOver: Brooklyn III the night before.
Reflecting on how far his friend and former stablemate has come, Mahal said, "To see where he is now is just a testament to the hard work he's put in."
Mahal is confident McIntyre is in line for big things.
WWE Network @WWENetwork
#NXTChampion @REALBobbyRoode defends his title against @DMcIntyreWWE at #NXTTakeOver: Brooklyn III, only on @WWENetwork! #WWENXT https://t.co/XWHCBAyYpO2017-7-27 00:29:52
"I definitely know he's going to be WWE champion some day," Mahal promised. In fact, he said that before McIntyre was set to wrestle one night, Mahal texted him: "Be careful, we have a WrestleMania to main event someday."
WWE cutting both men fueled them.
"Both of us have a chip on our shoulder because we were released. I know that I do," Mahal said. "I hope I never lose that chip. It motivates me. It keeps me working hard each day."
That drive has him seeing beyond the title matches this weekend, beyond where he stands today. The Maharaja believes the future is bright for both him and McIntyre.
"This is just the beginning for both of us. We have a long career ahead of us. He's 32, I'm 31," Mahal said. "We haven't even hit our prime yet. And I'm excited to see what the future brings."
The immediate future is a date with Nakamura, the eccentric Japanese star known for swift kicks and kneeing people in the head.
After a series of clashes with Orton, Mahal will have to make a major adjustment. Orton and Nakamura's styles couldn't be more different. The Viper has a more traditional approach, with a slower pace and homages to the likes of Ronnie Garvin and his father Cowboy Bob Orton. Nakamura instead seems to be channeling Freddie Mercury of Queen in the ring.
Mahal was impressed with what he saw out of Orton from close range.
"He's a natural. I've never been in the ring with someone like that. Randy just makes it looks so, so easy," Mahal said.
As for The King of Strong Style, Mahal isn't as sure what to expect.
"He's hard to study. He's hard to predict," Mahal explained. "He's a lot more unpredictable. He's surgical with those strikes. He's a different kind of intense."
And even though Nakamura has been IWGP heavyweight champion for New Japan Pro Wrestling and wrestled in the Tokyo Dome, Mahal called this SummerSlam clash Nakamura's biggest match yet.
"This is WWE. This is the WWE Universe. This is SummerSlam. This is Barclays," he said.
Can @ShinsukeN end the reign of the #ModernDayMaharaja @JinderMahal? Find out at #SummerSlam streaming LIVE on @WWENetwork Aug. 20 at 7e/4p! https://t.co/szwsKkqG082017-8-8 13:00:45
With that constant chip on his shoulder, The Singh Brothers in his corner and the WWE title on the line, Mahal is ready to make the most of that stage. In part, he wants to represent the SmackDown brand, to outdo Raw, which is nothing new.
"The whole SmackDown roster has a chip on its shoulder. People think of us as a secondary show, but each and every night, we work our tail off and put on the better show," Mahal said.
And when he and Nakamura collide, The Maharaja expects to make a lasting statement. This bout isn't just about the here and now, it's about these two men putting their stamp on the brand for years to come.
"We're going to establish ourselves as long-term players. We're going to be the marquee players in WWE," he said with quiet confidence.
Ryan Dilbert is the Lead WWE Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.