AJ Styles may have knocked Jinder Mahal off WWE SmackDown's peak, but The Maharaja isn't falling off the mountain.
A showdown with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series loomed, and Mahal simply had to make it to the Nov. 19 pay-per-view with the WWE Championship still in his grasp. But a surprise awaited him and WWE fans.
Styles defeated Mahal for the title on Tuesday's SmackDown in Manchester, England.
Now it's The Phenomenal One who will step into The Beast Incarnate's lair. Styles will move into Mahal's spot on the marquee.
But where does that leave the Punjabi powerhouse?
Mahal's performance in his final bout as champion proved just how far he's come since his days as an afterthought of a midcarder. He and Styles wowed the SmackDown crowd, as the champion's power meshed quite well with the challenger's speed.
And as Total Wrestling magazine pointed out, this loss was Mahal's best showing to date:
Mahal grew during his time as champ. He may not be headliner material, but his presence has ballooned. He's taken steps forward with both his mic and ring work.
As a result, The Maharaja is a far more valuable commodity than he was a year ago.
In the immediate future, that's not going to mean much. He's out of the running for the Survivor Series card, and he'll have to take a seat on the bench temporarily.
Count on him remaining a major fixture on SmackDown moving forward, though.
It's not as if the blue brand can't use him. WWE has little faith in Rusev. Luke Harper has now moved to the tag team division. Commissioner Shane McMahon won't remain in the spotlight as an in-ring performer.
There will be space for Mahal on center stage.
His drive will be a powerful asset. He spent his entire reign with a steamboat-sized chip on his shoulder.
That's not going away, as seen by the Instagram post he penned after dropping the title:
Maximum effort is on the way. That, combined with WWE's confidence in him and his action-figure physique, will keep from falling into SmackDown obscurity.
Mahal is poised to have at least one WWE Championship rematch, as former titleholders usually get one crack to reclaim their crown.
The upcoming Clash of Champions PPV in mid-December is a safe bet for where that occurs.
After that, he's bound to settle into more of an upper midcard position, as he's already feuded with many of the brand's top stars. If Mojo Rawley goes on a solo run, those two are likely to collide. Bobby Roode's a strong candidate as one of Mahal's future foes, too.
But don't bet on Mahal falling to men of that caliber. WWE has shown a strong commitment to him over the past few months—something that won't just disappear now that he's sans championship.
The Maharaja will feast on those Superstars to prep for a big-time match on the horizon: Mahal vs. John Cena.
Styles can battle Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE title amid WrestleMania season, leaving room for the obvious pairing of angry foreigner and proud patriot. Mahal has already called out Cena on social media. Even without the title, that's a bout WWE would likely lean toward.
A clash with Cena, a prominent role on SmackDown and a midcard championship run down the line are all paths waiting for Mahal. The era of The Maharaja serving as SmackDown's king is over, but pauperdom isn't in his future.