Mustafa Ali has been AWOL for all of 2020 at the time of this writing, not appearing once on TV so far. In fact, he barely appeared in 2019, and when he did it was usually as a filler match during a show or stuck in a tag match to round out a team. He initially seemed like he was going to get a decent push after having lasted a while in the Royal Rumble in 2019 and claiming some impressive eliminations. However, his injury sidelined him for months and since getting back he has been mostly ignored.
The frustration for me has been palpable. To call Ali an afterthought at this point would be to overstate WWE’s current attitude toward him — he didn’t even have a spot in the Rumble. Yet, it is sadly not at all surprising that WWE would treat him like this. The same exact things that endeared me about him are the same reasons I am positive Vince wants to avoid him.
First off, Mustafa is a high flyer, a cruiserweight, a flippy boi (to use internet lingo). For all the reasons I enjoy him, the big leaps, the cool flips, Vince wants to avoid him. Sure, WWE has slowly looked to add in more high fliers in their roster but they are still too terrified to actually allow them what they do best. Watch any of the high fliers on the main brand and you’ll see what I mean. They are very rarely allowed to go all out except at the finish for the last thirty seconds of a match. Compare Ricochet’s move set to him as Prince Puma in Lucha Underground. The difference is night and day. WWE likes their hard hits and want to avoid flips.
The frustrating part is that Mustafa is able to have those big hits woven into his high flying technique. The physicality and weight he puts into his hits by swinging his body into them satisfies the hard-hitting style Vince likes while staying true to his style of wrestling. The bumps Ali takes and sells are extremely good as well. He is able to have that fast paced action and the heavy hits all at the same time so much so that I doubt even Jim Cornette fans could find much to complain about. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching Ali’s matches with Drew Gulak (the clips of matches I linked are from some of them). Gulak helps bring out that weight Ali is able to put behind his moves.
Another wonderful thing about Ali are his video promos, most of them going for a homemade look. They all do a great job of pulling from his identity, from his past, and the experiences he has had. He is able to convey a honest genuine connection more than most of the main card. It creates a very personal feeling; Ali seems to offer up himself and not just his character. It makes his promos feel real and it plays to the strength of the medium of wrestling; that is taking real life and mixing it in the fiction. Ali’s promos feel on the same level of AEW’s Road To series.
Another extremely appealing draw of Mustafa is his identity and what he brings to the table in terms of representation. He is Palestinian, which is not something you see a lot in wrestling. Ali has played up this part of his identity and made it part of his brand; albeit it a very nondescript way, avoiding being specific about his nationality or religion. I don’t want to speak for Mustafa whatsoever, but I doubt that this is his ideal way of presenting himself, having to adjust for certain, less tolerant parts of the fan base. But even with this presentation Mustafa represents a nationality and ethnicity which is hardly seen in wrestling. It’s a breath of fresh air and helps add another interesting layer to the card.
However, this may be one of the things which is keeping WWE from pulling the trigger on Ali. This is a company with an extremely troubling past when it comes to race and one that still struggles with it today. I don’t want to say that Ali’s ethnicity is the reason his push seemed DOA when he got to the main card, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was a contributing factor.
In short, Ali does not deserve the cold shoulder he has been getting. Sure, I wouldn’t call him main event material, at least not yet, but he deserves a lot more than he has been given. And I am afraid that WWE just lost interest after his injury. Hopefully they give him a second chance. Or maybe he can just join EC3 when he inevitably goes over to AEW.
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