How WWE Champion Jinder Mahal Learned to Become a Great Heel

Like any other live event, professional wrestling has a near mortal dependency on crowd reaction. An emotionally invested audience can turn a great moment into a transcendental one with one collective boom of approval or disdain. A live crowd is just as integral a part of the WWE experience as moonsaults and chair shots.

Take a spin in the annals of WWE history and you'll notice that the sport's finest moments hinge upon hot crowds. Whether it be from a thunderous 1980's leg drop from Hulk Hogan or a roof busting Stone Cold Stunner in 1998, it's the crowd's reaction that counts. If WWE orchestrates the moment, the fans make the moment.

This past week in WWE serves as the perfect illustration of this concept as the wrestling conglomerate held both RAW and SmackDown in the traditionally rabid Toronto. The Canadian audience lived up to their enthusiastic reputation especially during WWE Champion Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton's SmackDown "Grudge Match."

Mahal, normally one of WWE's top "bad guys" found himself on the other end of the moral spectrum. As a native Canadian, the Toronto crowd treated him like royalty. Mahal and Orton had met in 3 other instances - all of which were on a pay-per-view stage with the WWE Championship on the line. But despite the significantly higher stakes of their championship contests, Mahal did not hesitate in picking Tuesday night's non-title match as his favorite contest to date:

"This most recent one in Toronto. The crowd was so intense - it definitely helped both Randy and me really bring it. It was the culmination of our story too, so it was a big moment for us."

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(Photo: WWE)

Mahal was quick to credit Randy Orton and his expertise of wrestling psychology and in-ring storytelling. For wrestlers, they look at each match as a small story. Regardless if the fight is 10 minutes or thirty, there is a narrative that the gladiators (or thespians) are spinning for the audience. For Mahal, no one tells a better story than Randy Orton:

"He’s so good at slowing down the match and making every moment count. Look at his RKO and how popular that’s become...That's the biggest thing I've learned from him - setting things up and making them matter."

This ability to weave a miniature tale is crucial to the longevity of a wrestler. For a heel like Mahal, his job in the story is to play the villain. To do so takes constant awareness of the crowd's reaction. Essentially, Mahal is a professional troll. "It's a whole lot of fun to rile up the fans," Mahal said with a laugh.

Collecting negative fan reaction is what insiders call getting "heat." This could consist of insulting the closest fan in one's vicinity or cheating to beat the match's hero. But for Mahal, his favorite way to prod fans is from the school of passive aggression:

"Man, I love just slapping a hold on the babyface and just sitting in that hold as long as we can...Just pick a body part and work it and really slow things down."

Working a body part is wrestling at its most classic. Other than disabling their opponent's limb, a long "hold" is designed to make fans impatient, thus more likely to boo. To a heel like Mahal, boos from the crowd sound like money.

Despite being a villain on camera, Mahal's personal story may be as babyface as it gets. After being released from WWE in 2014, Mahal had to tour wrestling's independent circuit. He re-signed with WWE last summer but had to climb from the pits of the company for 9 months before earning significant opportunities.

"I've worked extremely hard to get where I am. And I want to be the best. I talk to Vince (McMahon) after every match, just trying to learn as much as I can."

Mahal has been WWE Champion since May where he shocked the WWE Universe by pinning Randy Orton. Despite backlash from his sudden rise, Mahal has performed considerably well in his time as Champion. However, his biggest test lies on August 20th at WWE's monstrous event, SummerSlam. He'll be defending his title against a white hot, Shinsuke Nakamura.

The Brooklyn, NY hosts will create an environment eerily reminiscent of the recent Toronto crowd Mahal just performed in front of. As a heel, the ironic crowd may cheer the WWE Champion. But for a man that's in WWE's main event after an arduous journey, Mahal is all smiles:

"As long as they're loud, that's all that matters."