Scott Dargis

WWE

One-on-one with WWE Champion Jinder Mahal

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Before Jinder Mahal defends the WWE Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura at SummerSlam (live worldwide Sunday, August 20th at 7 p.m. ET on the WWE Network), I had the chance to chat with him about how life has changed since becoming a world champion, what he thought of his Punjabi Prison match against Randy Orton and what he has to say to the people who think that the only reason he’s champion is due to WWE’s desire to expand in India.

Me: “It’s one thing to wake up the next day after winning the WWE Championship as opposed to waking up three months into your title reign, how have you changed as your time with the title continues to increase?”

Mahal: “I just try to improve every week. Improve on everything, my promos, my body, my conditioning, my in-ring [work]. It’s my goal to be champion for a long time. I want to headline WrestleMania. I want to be a Hall of Famer one day and I know I can’t accomplish those things without improving every week.

The main thing is I have a chip on my shoulder. I was released from WWE, so every day that I’m in WWE now is a blessing. I want to take advantage of the opportunity and I can’t become complacent.”

“Being a champion means there is a different level of pressure now to carry segments, which can include a lot of dialog. What adjustments did you have to make in order to succeed as a focal point of a segment as opposed to someone who is just hanging around in the background?”

“Self-confidence is the main key. If you’re unsure about yourself, they can sense it, the crowd can sense it. I just have to remind myself that I got this, whatever it may be, a promo, a match, or headlining a Pay-Per-View.

In the couple years I was in WWE [prior to my release] I never even had the opportunities to compete for a singles championship. I started listening to a lot of motivational books and self-help books and I listened to guys like Eric Thomas and C.T. Fletcher, who is a YouTube phenomenon. I listen to these guys who just get in a mindset of being in beast mode.

I just have to remind myself of what I have. There is a reason why I’m in this position. I’ve worked hard to be here and I’ve prepared for this opportunity.”

“Let’s talk about the Punjabi Prison match against Randy Orton at Battleground. Now that you’ve had a chance to actually sit down and watch it, how do you think it went?”

“The Punjabi Prison really is unlike any other match in WWE. To me, the structure is more impressive in person than the Elimination Chamber and Hell in a Cell. It is so solid. I was hitting it as hard as I could and it was not budging at all.

I thought the match went well, but when we were in the first cage, the crowd couldn’t see well because of the two cages, so they weren’t too lively. The atmosphere makes a match and the crowd was flat during the match and the whole Pay-Per-View.

I think me and Randy worked very, very hard. Out of the three Punjabi Prison matches, I think ours was the best one. When I was in the ring during the match, I didn’t feel that great about it because of how the crowd was reacting, but when I watched it back on TV, I thought it was a really good match.”

“When The Great Khali surprisingly came out at the end of the match, did you find yourself becoming a fan again for a split second?”

“Yeah actually that happens a lot where I catch myself being a fan. A few weeks ago I was facing Shinsuke at a live event and I got lost in his entrance for a moment. I had to remind myself where I was (laughs).

A couple of weeks ago John Cena was making his entrance and the crowd was electric. I grew up watching John Cena. I was still in my teenage years while he was establishing himself as one of the all-time greats.

When Khali’s music hit, it was another one of those moments. A lot of people in the U.S.A. don’t give Khali the credit he deserves. In India, Khali is even more than what [Hulk] Hogan was in the 80s. He’s on a whole different level. He transcends even more than the Bollywood actors do. They’re fans of Great Khali. I would say he’s the biggest wrestling name in the world due to India’s population.”

“When you and Khali were standing on the ramp together after the Punjabi Prison match, something hilarious happened when he pulled the title out of your hands and held it up to the crowd. What was going through your mind when he did that?”

“It’s our title. It’s India’s title. We’re very proud. Every Indian I see will say something to me about the WWE Championship or they’ll say that you helped put us on the map.

The hardest bump I took that night is when Khali patted my back. If you go back and look, you can see that I had to stick my elbows out so he couldn’t do it again. His hand is so heavy.”

“There’s a perception that the only reason you’re currently the WWE Champion is due to the company’s desire to expand in India. How do you feel about the idea that you’re here because of a situation and not because of the hard work you put in?”

“WWE has wanted to expand in India for years. They wanted to expand in India when I first debuted and they didn’t put the title on me right away. I wasn’t pushed to the moon, I was in 3MB in fact. I was there to enhance other talent, but I believe that I’m ready, that I’m worthy of the WWE Championship. I consider myself one of the best conditioned and most improved athletes in WWE and I’m just getting started.

Obviously, Vince McMahon and the powers that be see something in me. They have the confidence in me to hold the championship and I have to prove it to them that I can be responsible with it. I’m not going to embarrass the company. I’m straight business and I’m here to improve.

If they gain more viewership in India because of me, that’s awesome. That’s what WWE is, it’s a business. If they can improve business, they’re going to do that. The point of any champion is to sell tickets, [in this case] sell WWE Network subscriptions, and sell merchandise.

They’re not just going to put the championship on anybody, you have to be worthy of the championship.”

“What are your thoughts about working with Shinsuke Nakamura at SummerSlam?”

”I’m excited. It’s going to be unpredictable, I don’t know what to expect. The crowd at Barclays [Center] can be very unpredictable.

I grew up watching SummerSlam and to think that I’m in the title match, I’m in one of the main events at SummerSlam is just mind-blowing. I know I’m going to rise to the occasion. I know Shinsuke is taking this opportunity very seriously. It’s one of the biggest matches of his career and it’s definitely the biggest match of my career thus far.

I need these SummerSlams and WrestleManias to establish and solidify my legacy because I want to go down in history as one of the all-time greats.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Wozniacki advances to Swedish Open final

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BASTAD, Sweden — Caroline Wozniacki was taken to three sets by unseeded Elise Mertens before winning 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 Saturday to advance to her second Swedish Open final.

The top-seeded Dane fired six aces on clay while her Belgian opponent had nine double faults.

Wozniacki lost the 2009 final to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

Seventh-seeded Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic saved 88 percent of her breakpoints to beat Caroline Garcia 6-2, 7-5 in the other semifinal.

Siniakova lost in last year’s final to Germany’s Laura Siegemund.

Third-seeded Garcia was aiming to become the first French woman in the final in five years.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor superfight betting props expand at sportsbooks

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Four weeks out from the most hyped fight in recent memory, there’s plenty of betting fodder on offer – just not in the straight-up wagering.

The price on Floyd Mayweather remains high, with “Money” a -600 favorite to defeat +400 underdog Conor McGregor in their scheduled August 26 boxing match at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The line on Mayweather is actually better than it has been in some of his recent fights against actual boxers, which might reflect (a) the public’s adululation of McGregor is too good to pass up and (b) a dawning realization that Mayweather has been out of the ring for nearly two full years.

Ultimately, of course, it is McGregor who is stepping out of his comfort zone in the Octagon to cross over into the sweet science. Mayweather is the greatest defensive boxer of all time and a victory by decision (or technical decision) goes for +200 in the method-of-victory prop. Of course, making that bet assumes an awful lot about the aerobic threshold of McGregor, whose average match time in his MMA career is five minutes, 18 seconds.

During the two fighters’ press tour, McGregor predicted that Mayweather would not survive until the fifth round. The “inside four rounds” special on McGregor pays out +700 if he fulfils his prediction (against -1500 on any other outcome). McGregor does have the reach advantage at 74 inches to McGregor’s 72 and will try to use his powerful left hand to score a quick victory.

The method-of-victory on McGregor winning by knockout or technical knockout pays out +500 – or in other words, a compromise between picking a straight win or picking him to stop Mayweather early. The total on PPV views remains 4.99 million (-250 over, +170 under).

Last, but not least, there is prop on whether there will be a rematch before the end of 2018, which offers +450 on a boxing rematch, +2500 on an MMA fight and -600 on the two deciding once was enough.