WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 35: The Punjabi Plunge of the Great Khali
In WWE Pushed to Punished, I analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who were once in the good graces of management but ultimately met their downfall for one reason or another. Today's topic may not be as underrated in terms of talent as some of the other Superstars featured in the series, but there's no denying that he has fallen far in recent years.
Of course, I'm referring to none other than The Great Khali.
As The Punjabi Nightmare, Khali was a force to be reckoned with in the WWE, dominating all who dared to step in his path of destruction. He stood face-to-face with The Undertaker, John Cena and Triple H, among others.
As The Punjabi Playboy, however, Khali has become nothing more than a shell of his former self. The live crowds seem to get a kick out of his act, but he hasn't been featured in anything meaningful in close to five years.
He may not wrestle five-star instant classics or possess marvelous mic skills, but Khali's incredible intimidation factor was what made him relevant for the longest time. Turning him face, in my opinion, was a mistake that has seen him plummet down the card since the start of his WWE tenure.
Here, I'll break down every rise and fall in the career of The Great Khali in an attempt to discover where exactly he went wrong.
Debuting on SmackDown and Feuding with Undertaker
At the start of 2006, The Great Khali was signed to a contract with the WWE, becoming the first Indian professional wrestler to compete for the organization. It wasn't until the April 7 edition of SmackDown that he finally made his initial on-screen appearance, interrupting a match between The Undertaker and Mark Henry.
On that night, Khali manhandled Undertaker with ease and sent a crystal-clear message to the rest of the locker room that he was here to stay. Michael Cole and Taz put Khali over in a big way on commentary, claiming that he was the largest athlete they'd ever laid eyes on.
With Daivari as his manager, there was no stopping The Great Khali as he took complete control of Friday nights. He continued to make 'Taker's life as miserable as possible in the months that followed, even scoring an upset victory over him at the Judgment Day pay-per-view.
Undertaker has put over plenty of Superstars over the years, and Khali was no exception. Despite his horrendous in-ring skills, Khali's victory over The Deadman gave him instant credibility and made him a force to be reckoned with.
The two were set to collide in a Last Man Standing match at SummerSlam, but the bout was pushed forward two days on SmackDown. In that match, Khali suffered his first loss in WWE, essentially ending the ruthless rivalry.
However, The Punjabi Nightmare had yet to be pinned or submitted in singles competition, so he remained a feared fixture on the blue brand for the rest of the year.
Switching Brands and Feuding with Kane
Along with Daivari, The Great Khali was sent packing to the ECW brand that fall. He made his debut in the Land of Extreme on Halloween night, appearing in Daivari's corner as he defeated Shannon Moore in singles action.
While the reasoning behind Khali's move to ECW was never explained, he was just as dominant there as he was on SmackDown. He engaged in a brief rivalry with Tommy Dreamer, whom he defeated at ECW's December to Dismember event.
In January 2007, Khali was announced as the newest member of the Raw roster. He competed against then-WWE Champion John Cena on the January 8 edition of Raw and defeated him by disqualification.
Although he no longer had Daivari by his side, Khali was now exposed to a much larger audience on Raw. He wasted no time in making an impact on the flagship show, setting his sights on Kane during the road to WrestleMania 23.
At The Show of Shows, Khali and Kane took part in what was one of the worst 'Mania matches in recent memory. Regardless, Khali emerged victorious, and his strong momentum rolled on.
Feuding with John Cena
Six days prior to Backlash, The Great Khali took out all four participants in that Sunday's WWE Championship match. This led to Khali getting the attention of John Cena, who challenged The Punjabi Nightmare to a one-on-one match at Judgment Day.
In the weeks that preceded the event, Khali decisively dominated Cena in what was the biggest push of his career. Despite that, he came up short of capturing the strap at Judgment Day and tapped out for the first time in his WWE career.
That didn't stop Khali from continuing to pursue Cena, however, as he challenged The Champ for the prestigious prize once again at One Night Stand. This time around, the two would meet in a Falls Count Anywhere match.
Khali came close to putting an end to Cena's record-setting reign as WWE Champion, but to no avail. He suffered his first loss via pinfall at the event, which was the first indicator that Khali's time at the top was only temporary.
Returning to SmackDown and Winning the World Heavyweight Championship
On June 11, The Great Khali was sent back to SmackDown via the 2007 WWE draft. He immediately entered a feud with Batista, but before the two could collide in a singles match at The Great American Bash, they set their sights on the vacant World Heavyweight Championship.
After sustaining an injury that would require time off, Edge was forced to relinquish the golden prize on the July 20 edition of SmackDown. A 20-man battle royal was arranged that same night to determine a new champion.
Although it came down to Khali, Batista and Kane, it was The Punjabi Nightmare who ultimately emerged victorious. At last, Khali was a world champion, albeit not a very good one.
As one would imagine, his title defenses were pretty lackluster, mostly due to the fact that he was horrendous in the ring. Batista tried his best to carry him to a well-wrestled match, but it was unfortunately an impossible task.
Regardless of whether it was done to please the Indian market or not, Khali's run as World Heavyweight Champion made him one of the most feared individuals in all of WWE for a number of months. He was the most hated heel on the blue brand and headlined a number of shows for the remainder of the year.
He ultimately dropped the strap to Batista at Unforgiven in a Triple Threat match that also involved Rey Mysterio. Khali invoked his rematch clause in a Punjabi Prison match at No Mercy but was unsuccessful in regaining the gold.
Chasing the WWE Championship
In the final few months of 2007, The Great Khali engaged in a feud with Finlay and his son Hornswoggle. While he scored a disqualification victory over Hornswoggle at Survivor Series, he was unable to defeat Finlay the following month at Armageddon.
Khali was mostly directionless for the first half of 2008, losing matches with world championship implications at the Royal Rumble, No Way Out and WrestleMania 24 pay-per-views. He briefly feuded with The Big Show shortly following The Show of Shows, but came up short of beating him at Backlash.
In the 2008 WWE draft, the WWE Championship became SmackDown's top-tier title, so The Great Khali set his sights on that going forward. He won an over-the-top-rope battle royal in late July to become the No. 1 contender to the prestigious prize, thus setting up a match between him and Triple H at SummerSlam.
In the weeks that preceded the events, the story was that Triple H just couldn't execute a Pedigree on Khali, which meant The Punjabi Nightmare had the advantage going into their title match. However, during their clash at SummerSlam, HHH was able to connect with his signature maneuver and put away Khali for the three count.
Oddly enough, Khali wasn't placed in the WWE Championship Scramble match at Unforgiven, as he failed to qualify for it. By this point, Khali's role on Friday nights was greatly curtailed, and he was no longer being utilized as the ruthless monster he once was.
Turning Face and Feuding with Dolph Ziggler and Kane
On an episode of Raw in November 2008, The Great Khali saved his former foe Rey Mysterio from an attack at the hands of Kane and Mark Henry, turning him face in the process. He received cheers from the crowd that night and became a fan favorite from that point forward.
Although he was no longer an intimidating force, it was a nice change of pace for Khali. He hadn't been doing anything noteworthy by this point, so the timing couldn't have been more perfect to experiment with it.
At Survivor Series, Khali was on the winning end of a five-on-five elimination tag team match alongside Mysterio, Shawn Michaels and Cryme Tyme. Now known as the Punjabi Playboy, Khali picked out members of the WWE Universe to make out with on his Khali Kiss Cam segment every week on SmackDown.
His first feud as a face was with Dolph Ziggler, whom he soundly defeated on an episode of SmackDown in mid-May 2009. Ziggler would go on to defeat Khali in several matches via disqualification and count-out in subsequent weeks, leading to a No Holds Barred match at The Bash.
Although he came close to shutting the mouth of the bleached-blonde Superstar for good, Kane returned and cost Khali the contest. They rekindled their feud that summer and were on a collision course toward SummerSlam.
Not only was Khali was unsuccessful in defeating Kane at SummerSlam, but he also came up short of beating him in a Singapore Cane match the following month at Breaking Point. Kane viciously attacked Khali on the September 18 edition of SmackDown, writing the India native out of storylines indefinitely.
Despite being adored by the WWE Universe, Khali's stock was falling fast.
Returning to Television and Switching Brands
Over the next two years, The Great Khali was utilized as a comedy act and did very little of note. He made a one-off appearance in early November before returning to the ring at the Slammy Awards, defeating The Ruthless Roundtable in six-man tag team action alongside Christian and Kane.
Khali formed an alliance with Matt Hardy and Maria in early 2010 and briefly feuded with The Hart Dynasty. Following a loss to Dolph Ziggler on the April 2 edition of SmackDown, Khali announced he was returning to India to regroup and would come back to contend for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Many fans saw this as Khali's opportunity to finally re-enter the world title picture, but it never ended up coming to fruition. Khali was sent packing to Raw a few weeks later via the 2010 WWE Supplemental Draft and did nothing noteworthy upon his arrival on the brand.
He was announced as one of John Cena's six tag team partners at SummerSlam but was attacked by The Nexus prior to the event. He was taken out of commission once again at the hands of Sheamus in September and took time off to take part in an Indian reality show entitled Big Boss.
Khali made his surprise return in the 2011 Royal Rumble match but was eliminated by The New Nexus. Aside from a one-off match with then-WWE Champion The Miz, Khali wasn't involved in a solid storyline on the road to WrestleMania 27.
Regardless, Khali manged to win an inter-promotional battle royal prior to The Show of Shows going live.
Aligning and Feuding with Jinder Mahal
In late April, The Great Khali was moved back to SmackDown via the 2011 Supplemental Draft. He immediately set his sights on Jinder Mahal, who was apparently a big deal in India and had just debuted on the blue brand.
In subsequent weeks, Mahal appeared to be disgusted by Khali's childish actions and even made reference to the fact that he used to be an unstoppable force in the WWE. Mahal was successful in brainwashing Khali, who turned on his brother Ranjin Singh on the May 27 edition of SmackDown and reverted back to his villainous persona for the first time in three years.
Mahal brought out the monster in Khali, and the two made for the perfect pairing. With Khali in his corner, Mahal scored various victories in the months that followed and became a dominant duo on Friday nights.
Despite their strong momentum, Khali and Mahal didn't rival against anyone for as long as they were together. They were used as enhancement talent to Randy Orton and Sheamus for the latter half of the summer and were no longer featured as prominently from that point forward.
At one point, Khali was back to using his old entrance music and was well on his way to being a force to reckoned with again. However, his heel run was short lived, as he turned on Mahal in early September and quickly squashed him in a singles match two weeks later.
The following week, Khali lost a match to Mark Henry and was inducted into his "Hall of Pain," meaning he was written out of storylines with an injury. Mahal mocked Khali as he was being taken out of the arena on a stretcher, signaling that they had unfinished business together.
Aligning with Natalya and Hornswoggle
The Great Khali returned in the 2012 Royal Rumble match and immediately eliminated Jinder Mahal. He competed in the SmackDown Elimination Chamber for the World Heavyweight Championship the following month but was quickly taken out by Big Show.
Khali returned to The Grandest Stage of Them All for the first time in years at WrestleMania 28, partaking in a six-on-six tag team match. However, he was on the losing end of that bout, as John Laurinaitis' team emerged victorious after The Miz pinned Zack Ryder.
The Punjabi Playboy took another mysterious leave of absence shortly thereafter. It was later reported that it was due to Khali undergoing surgery to remove a tumor in his brain, which was successful.
It wasn't until the November 2 episode of SmackDown that Khali finally returned to television, defeating David Otunga in singles action. He formed an alliance with Natalya and Hornswoggle the following month and briefly feuded with Primo and Epico.
He won a battle royal on the December 26 edition of WWE Main Event to become the No. 1 contender to Antonio Cesaro's United States Championship but was unsuccessful in capturing the star-spangled prize the following week. Since then, Khali has seldom teamed with Hornswoggle and has been most prominently featured with Natalya each week on WWE programming.
With losses to the likes of Cody Rhodes, Fandango and even Heath Slater, it'll be near impossible to take The Great Khali seriously if he ever turns heel again. By this point, however, it's likely that he'll remain a fan favorite for the remainder of his career.
After his countless breaks from the squared circle over the last four years, one can only imagine that Khali is nearing the end of his in-ring career. It's sad to see the 40-year-old Khali in pain as he competes, much less when he makes his entrance.
That being said, there would be no shame in retiring for good. Khali has had a longer career than anyone originally expected him to, even becoming the World Heavyweight Champion on one occasion.
As fitting as Khali was as a heel, he seems to be working just as well as a babyface nowadays. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and always appear to be having fun whenever he's in the ring.
His dissension from feuding with The Undertaker to being paired with Hornswoggle has been a drastic one, but his days as a hated heel were limited anyway. The Punjabi Playboy may not be doing anything noteworthy at the moment, but he's still a major star in the Indian market.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how The Great Khali has been utilized over the course of his career. Also include any potential Superstars or Divas you would like to see featured in upcoming editions of Pushed to Punished.
Read every archived edition of Pushed to Punished here.