What WWE Superstar Should Get a Jinder Mahal-Like Push Next?
The inhabitants of WWE's island of undervalued Superstars could all desperately use the same to-the-moon push the company gave Jinder Mahal.
It happened suddenly and unexpectedly, with career midcarder Mahal charging up the ranks on WWE SmackDown Live in the spring and becoming world champion. WWE committed to The Maharaja even in the face of apathy and criticism. And now it has a more valuable asset in Mahal, a man transformed by his recent journey.
Who would be a prime candidate to follow his lead? Who has the potential to grow under the heat of the spotlight, to drastically change the narrative of his career?
Luke Harper is one name that comes to mind. He's long been relegated to underrated status when he should be reigning over SmackDown. A fellow powerhouse from the blue brand, a loyal lackey from Raw and an accomplished veteran would all be compelling figures in their own Mahal-like rise.
In mid-2013, Michael McGillicutty emerged as Curtis Axel with Paul Heyman at his side. A low-rung star was suddenly getting some love.
After a run with the Intercontinental Championship, Axel has floated from shtick to shtick, including an odd stretch as a Hulk Hogan impersonator.
It's time to give him another look some four years after his first push. Axel has always been a solid, dependable hand in the ring. He's long been a strong in-ring heel. But not until recently has he begun to show off increased charisma.
He has flourished as The Miz's slick-haired crony. Axel has been funnier and more magnetic than we have seen in the past.
It's no wonder fans have begun to chant his name during segments involving him and the rest of The Miztourage.
Axel is Raw's resident punching bag, getting whipped by The Shield, Braun Strowman and others. WWE would be wise, though, to give him a shot as a serious threat—to have The Miz be his mentor and mouthpiece as he cheats and claws his way into contention.
Luke Harper should be a top-tier star. He's got size, speed, brawling ability and is a unique, powerful, larger-than-life figure.
He's long been a guy a number of fans want to see be made a higher priority.
ESPN.com writer Tim Fiorvanti tweeted: "My hope for WWE is that, sometime in the next two years, Cesaro, Big E or Luke Harper will be a WWE or Universal champion. I can dream."
For now, seeing Harper get to that level feels like a pipe dream. He's never been treated as a contender for any sustained period. The bruiser is gearing up to return to the tag team division alongside Erick Rowan as The Bludgeon Brothers.
That doesn't have to be the end of his WWE title hopes, though.
The company can shift The Bludgeon Brothers into more of a stable and add a mouthpiece manager to complete the package. His reintroduction as Rowan's brother-in-arms could be the start of him tearing into the SmackDown roster en route to a WWE title run.
Harper vs. AJ Styles is a match worth re-exploring once the former is brimming with momentum after getting the Mahal treatment.
A Cinderella run, a farewell tour, a final moment of glory. All those things should be in play for Goldust.
The longtime WWE star has been a tag champ and won the Intercontinental Championship. But he's mostly been fodder and filler over the past few years.
The Bizarre One, though, has looked like a younger man in the ring. He remains a top-notch storyteller. And in his brief moments in the limelight of late, he's reminded people just why he's one of the company's most memorable characters.
Goldust suddenly going on a win streak would be an eye-opener.
Should he battle his way to the universal title in his late '40s, he'd be the center of a powerful story. He'd be the George Foreman of the squared circle.
Before he heads off to the next stage of his life, WWE would be saluting and celebrating him by giving him a chance like this.
As a bonus, the end of his reign (and potentially his career) could provide a major boost for the next champ. Imagine a heel Roman Reigns stomping on all the feelings of nostalgia and goodwill Goldust's surprise run would create. The Big Dog could break and retire The Bizarre One, a young lion licking his lips after ending the previous alpha male.
There may not be a bigger gap between talent and position on the WWE food chain than there is with Rusev.
The Bulgarian Brute is a skilled hoss. He's shown he can slug it out with top names and garner laughs from the crowd. He's got plenty of presence and is a gifted athlete.
Yet he's usually asked to play a stepping stone and doormat. He hasn't had a sustained push since he charged on to the main roster back in 2014. Rusev is spinning his wheels in the midcard.
It's baffling WWE hasn't done more with him.
SEScoops writer Jason Solomon (link contains profanity) said on his podcast, Solomonster Sounds Off: "Push this man for God's sakes. What are they waiting for?"
Should WWE give Rusev the opportunities it gave Mahal, it is bound to have a bona fide star on its hands. And while The Maharaja was a short-term answer as WWE champ, The Lion of Bulgaria has the tools to rule that roost for years.