As the WWE Champion, one of your duties is to represent the WWE. That means marketing tours, radio spots, interviews and sometimes walking out at the UFC match with a competitor. UFC 215 just took place in Edmonton, AB and Jinder Mahal was scheduled to join UFC fighter Arjan Bhullar to the Octagon. As Bhullar made his way out from the backstage area, Mahal was conspicuous by his absence.
Bhullar is of Indian descent, and the bout itself was in Canad, making it the perfect pairing as Mahal is currently representing India in the WWE and he too, is originally from Canada. The market in India is massive for both the WWE and UFC, and WWE is making inroads in reaching the over one billion people who live in the country. An Indian WWE Champion joining the UFC's first-ever Indian fighter made a whole lot of sense from a marketing perspective. The fact that the two competitors have been friends for years also made sense from a personal standpoint.
Despite Mahal's absence, Bhullar went on to win his bout against his opponent Luis Henrique via Unanimous Decision. While the focus was of course on the fighter, the question or Mahal's nonappearance did come up in a post-fight interview.
As Bhullar explained, Mahal could not make it because of Hurricane Irma that has been devasting parts of Cuba and the Carribean and headed for Florida. Wrestlinginc.com transcribed the video below:
"He gave me a call, he's caught in the hurricane," Bhullar said. "He lives in Tampa, Florida and he's like 'You know what brother, I got four different properties down here, got me dog down here. I just haven't been able to make peace and then leave this.' So, he decided to bunker down there, so 'The Maharaja' got grounded, but I'm thinking of him. I told him stay safe - first and foremost - and we'll see him in the foreseeable future."
Clearly, Bhullar understands where Mahal's priorities are. While the WWE Champion would have loved to be by the fighter's side and cheer him on as he went on to victory at UFC 215, there was just no feasible way for the WWE Champ to justify leaving Florida and the potential damage Hurricane Irma could do to the area. When weighing his options, there was no way to justify bailing on Florida for a fighter who didn't need Mahal's presence.
The damage estimated by Hurricane Irma will be in the billions and it has already led to the postponement of a number of NXT live events. How much damage the storm could do to the WWE Performance Center or Full Sail University (where NXT tapes) is unknown, but there are sure to be damages felt by a number of WWE Superstars who live or have retired in the Florida area.
It is also unclear whether or not Mahal will be at SmackDown Live on Tuesday. The WWE has not released a statement on the matter, and if things are safe enough for Mahal to depart, one should expect to see the WWE Champion on the blue brand this week.