Mustafa Ali: Keep Your Lights On

Chicago’s wrestling fans have had quite the prominence with their hometown heroes as of late.

CM Punk closed a chapter with Samoa Joe in Wembley Stadium at All In before returning to WWE at Survivor Series. Skye Blue has seen prominence in recent times as a young rising star, going so far as to team with the likes of Kris Statlander, Riho, Willow Nightingale, and Julia Hart. Cora Jade has made a long-awaited return during a hot new period in NXT history.

Then there is Mustafa Ali.

Few are the times we see talents become unicorns of talent – yet the former WWE superstar is just that. If you want someone who can impressively move about the ring with the best of them, he’s got it. If you want someone with an astronomical amount of charisma and character, he’s got you covered. Promo and mic skills? Yep. 

It’s ridiculous that someone with so much talent as Ali would be squandered – treated as interchangeable and replaceable by his employers. Ridiculous, yet not uncommon.

Fortunately, we can all rest assured that he will be just fine.

Twitter/X: @poisonouspixies

On December 21, 2023, Ali would shock fans with not one, not two, but several indie bookings in the first couple of months in 2024. These aren’t just any indie bookings. These are top stars who have likely salivated for an opportunity with the superstar. I’m talking “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Trey Miguel, Penta El Zero Miedo, Robbie X, Gringo Loco, and El Hijo del Vikingo. 

Just to reiterate – that’s just in the first couple of months I’m 2024. Defy Wrestling. Game Changer Wrestling. Progress Wrestling. Prestige Wrestling. There’s no shortage of people who want to spotlight a bright talent that should never have been dimmed in the first place. From the U.S. to Canada to the U.K. to France, the globe is his plaything during this world tour.

On top of all of this, he has a vision. As if we hadn’t had enough time to process his free agency and new bookings, Ali would drop a vignette, directed by Craig Mitchell. 

Promoting a 2024 World Tour, Mustafa Ali eschewed the usual action-packed “prison break” drama that’s usually seen in post-WWE vignettes. He could’ve and would’ve had every right to, but he didn’t. Instead, he entered the persona of a politician. 

In this video, Ali proclaimed that the big names on the scene have “kicked open the door of opportunity and closed it behind them”, and that the fans need a new leader. That he was to be their leader.

Twitter/X: @MustafaAli_X

Several wrestlers were referenced: Vikingo, Bailey, Kazuchika Okada, Alex Shelley, TMDK, Matt Cardona, Will Ospreay, and Swerve Strickland.

All I have to say about that is yes, please. Feed that to me. Right now. Throw that in the trough and I’ll eat it like a hog with its daily slop. 

The thing about pro-wrestling is that it’s been in a spiraling vortex of change since the mid-2010s, and it has not stopped since. Not. One. Bit. Mustafa Ali is entering a world that is different from the dazzling lights and high budget of WWE. There are numerous places to work now, a never-ending expansive playground for him to play in. 

Mustafa can hang with the talents that regularly test the capabilities of the human body and he can speak on levels with those who fancy themselves the great orators. I’m excited to see what he will do. The independent and international talents are exciting in their own rights, from Michael Oku to Kevin Knight and Robert Martyr to Yuya Uemura. 

Give me a NJPW TV Championship match of Mustafa Ali against Zack Sabre Jr. in witty banter representing the United States of America against England – a high-flyer locking up with a technical wizard. Give me Ali challenging Orange Cassidy for the AEW International Championship as these frenzied athletes contrast in charismatic and nonchalant, respectively.

For those who haven’t watched WWE deeply enough during Ali’s tenure there, there’s a reason that people ride so hard for him. 205 Live is where I’d start if I were to recommend his run to someone. The cruiserweights that were barely advertised did everything they could to make that roster and product shine. Ali shone with the likes of Buddy Murphy, Cedric Alexander, Neville, Drew Gulak, and Tony Nese.

YouTube: WWE

Following that 205 Live run, Ali seemed to be on the path to stardom when he was brought onto SmackDown Live in December 2018 to spotlight younger talent. Challenging then-WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, Mustafa represented that which Bryan once was, and the future seemed clear – Mustafa was going to be a star made at WrestleMania 35 against all adversity and prove he’s more than a B+ player. 

Sound familiar?

Yes, that was Daniel Bryan’s path in the mid-2010s. That seemed to be the vision and a way to make a new star. Unfortunately, in early 2019, a few weeks ahead of Elimination Chamber, Ali would face an injury against Randy Orton that would cost him this opportunity. Originally scheduled to enter the titular Chamber, Ali had to sit it out. 

In his place entered Kofi Kingston. Alas, that is a story for another time.

Where one man profited from the long-awaited restitution after around a decade of service, another man found the rug pulled from underneath. What came next was a rough series of events that should not have happened.

Mustafa Ali’s name would be shortened to “Ali” before reverting soon after to his full name, he lost his revenge bout against Randy Orton, sat on the ladder at Money in the Bank with the briefcase in his grasp as Brock Lesnar wrecked house and snatched it from him in brutal fashion, and he essentially became a bit player before entering a seven-month hiatus. 

Hopes were high when Mustafa returned, teaming with Cedric Alexander and Ricochet over the dominating Hurt Business before revealing himself as part of the struggling Retribution stable. He tried to get that group to succeed – they all did; try as they might, Retribution was dead from the start due to incompetent creative. Despite the failure of the stable, there are beautiful nuggets lost in the pile of manure, most of them coming from Mustafa Ali. 

YouTube: WWE

Like fellow Chicagoan, CM Punk, Ali would speak on the injustices of the WWE on Raw Talk, where he would call out the advantages WWE legends would get over the younger talents and how WWE would pipe in the crowd noises in the Thunderdome Era. On January 4, 2021’s Raw Legends Night, Ali would take to the desk on the aftershow, complaining about one of WWE’s biggest flaws at the time, remarking “The generation before me paved the way, but when the hell are you going to let me walk on that path?”

The sinking ship would find many leaving with life rafts, as one by one, each member of Retribution left, leaving behind their bad monikers. Seriously, T-Bar, Slapjack, Reckoning, and Mace? These sound like members of a Slipknot cover band! This Diet Antifa was doomed, doomed, doomed. I know, I’m beating a dead horse now decomposed, but you’ve got to be drinking spoiled milk if you thought this was a good idea. 

A lonesome Mustafa would later enter a partnership with babyface Mansoor in a relationship that reminded me of Razor Ramon and 1-2-3 Kid, which was a fun little story at the time, but its end would come soon after Ali turned on the young prospect and lost every step of the way in their feud. Though Mustafa did all he could to help the world see how talented Mansoor was, the powers that be failed him as well.

God, I’m sounding like an anti-WWE guy. I’m not, I’m just salty. I promise. 😅

Anyways, Mustafa Ali would request his release from the company, which was denied. For a few months of his absence, #FreeAli would trend on Twitter, to no avail, as he returned months later to feud with The Miz and Austin Theory (then going by the name Theory for some reason). 

Then, things were seemingly improving as the Triple H-led WWE had more to do for Mustafa. A United States Championship match against Seth Rollins, a frenemy relationship with Dolph Ziggler, and an incredible bout with Intercontinental Champion Gunther in one of the latter’s best title defenses.

YouTube: WWE

The Mustafa Ali train kept rolling, however, as he joined NXT, where he quickly befriended North American Champion Wes Lee and former NXT UK Champion Tyler Bate. After Lee lost his gold against Judgment Day’s Dominik Mysterio, Ali was posited to be next in line at NXT No Mercy in September 2023, only for the unexpected to happen.

Mustafa Ali would announce that he was released from WWE, joining a plethora of released talent, and awaited the next 90 days. From my perspective, it seemed like he was moreso aloof about the situation, though Shawn Michaels and the ship he ran at NXT were taken aback at the suddenness and had to pivot their plans. That’s a big hole that Mustafa Ali left.

So, that leads us to where we are now. A free man away from his former party, ready to absolve the wrestling world of its leaders, to reference his aforementioned post-release vignette. 

There’s something I neglected to mention here, and that’s the imagination and creativity Ali had in making his character come to life on social media. Vignette after vignette, fans were captivated by his over-the-top or impassioned promos filmed in such a beautiful way. Only once were presentations like these used, and that was near the very end of his run.

These “political” vignettes bring forth the brilliance of his mind, and in my humble opinion, display what makes him such a positive example of what America is. A father, a husband, former cop, a Muslim, and a person with a heart to help the world he lives in, Mustafa Ali exemplifies the values of what American patriotism should be. Not flags, anthems, or blind nationalism, but a country that seeks to help others. What I see in this is that America is but a finger on a wide hand that should cooperate, but does not. 

And yet, despite being the father, husband, former cop, Muslim, wrestler, and person with a heart, he is also a man with no nationality – in his own words, it “separates us”, as told in a 2017 interview with The Express Tribune.

This was a long ramble, but Mustafa Ali is a talent that must be emphasized.

What he has to offer has the chance to light up the world in a way that shows the American and human spirit. 

YouTube: WWE

I think we could use some of that light.