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WWE Wrestles With Foreign Stereotypes In The Ring


There's a brand new bad guy in the world of pro wrestling, a world that thrives off of being provocative. Reporter Arun Venugopal of member station WNYC has more on the wrestler who wears a turban and hates America.

ARUN VENUGOPAL, BYLINE: The wrestling world was shocked - shocked - when Jinder Mahal became WWE champion in May, but not these guys.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATORS: Number one. Number one. Number one. India number one.

VENUGOPAL: Those are the WWE's Hindi-language commentators. Jinder Mahal, the Maharaja, is of Indian descent, as his name may suggest. He is physically enormous and just mean.


JINDER MAHAL: Randy Orton is just like all of you. He's just like America. He's on the decline.

VENUGOPAL: The crowd boos and shouts U-S-A because unlike the guy he beat, Randy Orton of Tennessee, Jinder Mahal's from a foreign place, meaning Calgary. Yeah, he's actually Canadian, but he wears a turban, and he gloats in another language.


MAHAL: (Foreign language spoken).

VENUGOPAL: Punjabi. In the parlance of pro wrestling, Jinder is a heel, a bad guy. Dion Beary is a writer and wrestling fan and has been closely following Jinder's ascent.

DION BEARY: He is really good at digging into America is losing its spot as the leader of the world.

VENUGOPAL: To China and to India. But it's all for the best, you see, because...

BEARY: At some point, the American cowboy is going to ride in and take our wrestling back from the foreigner.

VENUGOPAL: Foreign heels have been around forever. There was Abdullah the Butcher aka the Madman from Sudan. But occasionally things have spiraled out of control. Take the story line about an Arab-American character, Muhammad Hassan. In one match, Hassan joined a bunch of masked men - basically, Middle Eastern extremists - as they beat his opponent and choked him until he was unconscious.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: What the hell is going on here?

VENUGOPAL: That episode's still shocking and aired in 2005, the same day a series of suicide bomb attacks went off in London in real life. Muhammad Hassan's character was quickly disappeared. Jinder Mahal thinks it's best not to take wrestling too seriously.

MAHAL: People know what we do is just entertainment.

VENUGOPAL: I caught him on one of his off days.

MAHAL: While you're a WWE program, you can forget about your real-life problems and whatnot.

VENUGOPAL: And even, he says, gain some cultural exposure on the way. There have been real, live bhangra dancers at his events and music.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Anybody selling tickets?

VENUGOPAL: Tonight, Jinder's defending his title in Rochester at the Blue Cross Arena. I asked fans what they make of him. This is Todd Eardman.

TODD EARDMAN: I have to be blunt, it's the brown storyline. If you need controversy, give a brown guy a belt and, oh, you don't like me because I'm this. No, we don't like you 'cause we don't like you. You're not that good (laughter).

VENUGOPAL: Inside, I grab some beer and fries and a bowl of Dippin' Dots. Jinder's facing off against Mojo Rawley, and he's in serious trouble.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: And Mahal scrambles to the bottom rope here in...

VENUGOPAL: But then, something miraculous happens.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: And look at Mahal - right across the eyes.

VENUGOPAL: Jinder comes from behind and...


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: Oh, and the coloss (ph) from Mahal finishes off Rawley.


VENUGOPAL: And he wins. The Maharaja triumphs yet again, and America must lick its wounds. Of course, for some fans, it's more complicated than us versus them. Rashad Fulton is Muslim and brought his kids.

RASHAD FULTON: Once they become aware, then it's a conversation to be had.

VENUGOPAL: What's the conversation to be had?

FULTON: That - what they're selling, good versus bad. There's no good and bad. It's politics. Because on our side, we think that we are the good guys, but in all honesty, we may be the wrong ones.

VENUGOPAL: But for other fans, it's just a matter of time before a good guy - an American - brings the wrestling title back home. For NPR News, I'm Arun Venugopal in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Arun Venugopal
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