Jinder Mahal stunned WWE fans worldwide Sunday night at Backlash in Chicago, where he defeated Randy Orton to become the new WWE World Champion.
Mahal's rise to the top of the SmackDown Live roster has occurred seemingly overnight, and his victory over Orton was historic. He became the first Indian WWE Champion, a decade after The Great Khali held the World Heavyweight Championship.
Prior to his first appearance on SmackDown as a champion Tuesday night, Mahal spoke to Fox Sports about the reaction to Backlash, his relationship with Vince McMahon, and his workout regimen.
Fox Sports: How crazy have the last 48 hours been for you?
Jinder Mahal: “Very crazy, you know, I’ve just been so busy. I haven’t taken the time to really let it sink in. I’m sure when I go home tomorrow it’ll all sink in. But right after I won I was in the gym the next day training, [had] a live event yesterday, trained again today and I’m on SmackDown.
That moment when I won and when I came back through Gorilla… the best thing that’s ever happened to me. 15 years I’ve put in work, hard work to get to this point. Obviously I went through being released from WWE…being signed at a young age to debut when I was 24. So, you know, it’s been quite the roller coaster but at that moment it was all worth it. I look forward to once I get home and have a minute to reflect and some alone time.”
Fox Sports: After you won there were a lot of stars from both rosters congratulating you on social media. What was the reaction like backstage Sunday and the reception in general since your win?
Jinder Mahal: “I think the response has been great from the rest of the boys. You know, I’m an example that in the WWE there are opportunities for people who work hard, improve constantly. I think it’s great for morale, too, for guys who are lower on the card. Sometimes you get unhappy with your position. I was there with them. I was in the opening match, losing to El Torito in the opening match in 30 seconds - and now I’m WWE Champion just through coming back every week and being relentless and wanting to improve everything. My promos, my look, my physique. I think, all in all, it’s a great change in WWE… it showed they’re willing to reward hard work.”
Fox Sports: Did Vince McMahon have a message for you after the match?
Jinder Mahal: “He was very happy, shook my hand. He was standing up when I came back through Gorilla. I get a lot of advice from Vince. I believe he’s a genius, so a lot of promos and everything… the last couple weeks after a match or a promo, Vince is the first person that I come to talk to. He was very happy, he could see that I was improving, and Vince is one of those guys… if you care, he cares about you. I have a great relationship with Vince now, which is one of those things I never had before, because I would kind of avoid him. But now I come back and Vince is the first person that I see every week.”
Fox Sports: A lot of people say Chicago is the best WWE crowd. What was your reaction to how the crowd received you on Sunday?
Jinder Mahal: “That building, just the way the acoustics are… it’s a taller arena, but it gathers a large capacity. It is one of the rowdiest crowds.
Leading up to this match, I had no idea what the reaction was going to be. Whether they were going to be silent, whether they were going to boo me or cheer, it’s just so unpredictable. Chicago’s one of those places where truly don’t know, but once I was out there the reaction was great.”
Fox Sports: Triple H said in an interview back in April that when you returned to WWE in 2016, you were a “man as opposed to a kid trying to make it in the business.” How did you approach that period when you had to go back to independent wrestling?
Jinder Mahal: “He is right. I was 23, I was right out of college, and then I debuted, I was on the SmackDown roster when I was 24. So it was a little bit too much too soon. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t quite ready for the responsibility inside the ring and outside the ring. I got sidetracked.
Now, looking back, being released was one of the best things that ever happened to me because I developed so much as a performer and as a person outside the ring. Inside of the ring, I got my confidence back. I had lost my confidence just working short matches, losing in like three minutes. I had to wrestle in these 20-minute long matches, main-event style matches, and I got my confidence back. So that was very important.”
Fox Sports: During your first run with WWE, during your time as a singles wrestler and then with 3MB, did you ever think this was on the horizon for you? Was your goal then to be a world champion?
Jinder Mahal: “Everybody here aspires to be world champion. It’s like all football players aspire to win the Super Bowl.
Yeah, at a certain point I had kind of maybe given up on the dream. ‘Maybe it won’t happen.’ But I saw when I got back, as soon as I started caring, as soon as I started putting in more effort, things just started happening in a positive way, so it just motivated me to work even harder. Writing down my goals is one of the things I started to do about a year ago. Every day I write down [goals], I have my organizer.
I messed up, I didn’t write ‘become WWE Champion,’ I would write ‘become a champion in WWE.’
… It’s one of those things that I put it out there and I worked at it and now I’m WWE Champion.”
Fox Sports: Can you explain what the term “Maharaja” means?
Jinder Mahal: “Maharaja means ‘the grand king.’ “Maha” means grand, and “raja,” is king.
Fox Sports: What does it mean for you personally to refer to yourself as the Maharaja?
Jinder Mahal: “It’s just an attitude that I have… I believe in my mind that I’m one of the best in WWE, and now I have the WWE Championship, so it kind of cements it. If you believe it, you can achieve it.
If I aspire to be the king of WWE, one day if I keep working at it, I will be the king of WWE.”
Fox Sports: You have transformed your body over the last year, and said in a message to fans on Instagram that you attribute it simply to hard work and making a change in your diet. Was there a specific day where you just said ‘I have to change this and start doing something different.’
Jinder Mahal: “That moment actually came before I signed back with WWE. I was kind of in a slump and I was eating junk food every day, drinking too much, and I actually weighed about 260. Just kind of real soft.
So one day I just decided that enough’s enough. I stopped drinking, I still don’t drink. It’s been almost a year now, it’ll be a year next week. I just ordered [from] a meal prep company called Nutrition Solutions, I ordered a meal prep and that’s virtually all I ate. And I started training again, and just, you know, caring about myself. Two months later I was signed back to WWE. Whereas I sat out for two years, nobody called me, nobody cared about me. As soon as I started caring, two months later I was signed back to WWE. It just sparked something in me, if I keep working… If I care, they care. And doors start to open.
I haven’t eaten a cheat meal in months, but I’m not even tempted to because I see the results that I’m getting and it’s giving me confidence, which in return [makes] me more aggressive in the ring, and helps make me more believable as a superstar. It’s motivating me even more. Diet hard, train hard.
After the world championship, no cheating, just had chicken and rice and I was in the gym the next day early in the morning. I’m going to keep working hard, and hopefully this is just the beginning.”
Fox Sports: What’s a Jinder Mahal workout like, and how hard is it to get your workouts in given your travel and work schedule?
Jinder Mahal: “It’s not hard, you just have to make it a priority.
So, first thing I do when I wake up in a hotel room or at home is I do empty-stomach cardio. Sometimes 45 minutes, sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes half and hour, just before I eat. I drink some water and I just do the elliptical trainer. So that kind of puts me in a fat-burning state for the rest of the day.
What I do normally is I do the cardio, then I’ll eat - protein shake, oatmeal, banana - then I’ll hit the gym, and I’ll be in the gym for two hours.
I’ll train for about an hour and a half, stretch for 30 minutes, and that’s it for exercise. Cardio, stretch and train six days a week, one day rest day.”
Fox Sports: What did that tackle from Rob Gronkowski feel like at WrestleMania?
Jinder Mahal: “He’s a powerhouse. You could see he whipped me so far back my head hit the rope. He’s strong, he’s a big boy. If WWE is something that he wants to pursue, I’m sure he could easily do it. He could become a great WWE superstar.”