Photo credit: WWE.com.
Jinder Mahal picked up momentum ahead of his Backlash WWE Championship match against Randy Orton by gaining a victory over AJ Styles on Tuesday’s edition of SmackDown Live.
Mahal received some help from United States champion Kevin Owens. As Styles was setting up for the Phenomenal Forearm, Owens hit him in the right knee with the title belt.
That allowed Mahal to hit his cobra clutch slam for the victory. WWE shared a replay of the finish:
Thanks to some very special help from The #NewFaceOfAmerica @FightOwensFight, @JinderMahal has DEFEATED @AJStylesOrg on #SDLive! https://t.co/oj1OsG8uLt
5/17/2017, 12:33:51 AM
ESPN 980’s Aaron Oster noted how far Mahal has come in a short amount of time:
Aaron Oster @TheAOster
5 weeks ago, Jinder lost in less than 5 minutes to Mojo Rawley. Today, Jinder pinned AJ Styles. #SDLive
5/17/2017, 12:33:36 AM
The bout pitted the No. 1 contenders for each of SmackDown’s top two men’s singles titles against each other and provided both Superstars with an opportunity to enter Sunday’s pay-per-view on a high note.
Styles enjoyed a lengthy WWE Championship reign and labeled SmackDown “The House That AJ Styles Built” due to his belief that he is the face of the blue brand.
While the Phenomenal One isn’t currently in the world title scene, he is a big reason why the United States Championship is picking up steam in terms of its importance.
Styles defeated Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin in a Triple Threat match several weeks ago to become No. 1 contender for the U.S. title.
Owens dropped it to Chris Jericho at Payback, but KO won it back on SmackDown and re-established himself as Styles’ chief rival.
Although it was initially surprising to see Styles take a perceived step down to the U.S. title level, it was even more surprising when Mahal became No. 1 contender for the WWE Championship.
The former member of 3MB won a Six-Pack Challenge on SmackDown to elevate himself to the main event level thanks largely to help from the debuting Singh Brothers.
Mahal and the Singh Brothers have wreaked havoc on SmackDown in the weeks since then, and they even stole the WWE Championship for a week after attacking The Viper.
The Maharaja has long been a fixture in the lower portion of WWE’s card, but this represents his first real chance to mix it up with one of WWE’s top guys for an extended period of time.
Facing an in-ring technician like Styles was a good test for him as he gets ready to take on one of the most accomplished Superstars in WWE history at Backlash.
Both Styles and Mahal are legitimate threats to exit Sunday’s event as new champions, but Mahal received a major confidence boost Tuesday.
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