WWE 205 Live superstar Mustafa Ali recently spoke with Wrestling Inc. correspondent Akhilesh Gannavarapu. During the interview, Ali discussed his hopes of using his platform to change perceptions.
Ali is the first WWE wrestler of Pakistani descent. He has gained popularity since his critically-acclaimed match against Buddy Murphy this summer. Ali said the match is significant to him not just because of how it was received, but because of the date which it occurred. The match was held on the night before Independence Day, and Ali was blown away by how much he was lauded by fans.
“I kind of go back to my point and when I’m making my entrance, some of them (fans) were chanting ‘Ali,'” he said. “One of my friends who was in attendance at the show went like, ‘It’s about to be July 4th in America, and they’re chanting “Ali” right now!’ So it’s kind of that instance for me, because it’s what I’m going out there and fighting for, to be able to bring that change. I want to change how people perceived me when I came over here, change how the people perceive South-East Asians, or Middle Eastern or Muslim or Hindu or whatever their identity is. I want them to just let that go, and treat the performer as a performer.”
Ali said his goal is to influence someone who shares his heritage and also shares his dream of being a professional wrestler. He hopes that he can pave the way for more performers with his background and show them they can be successful in the wrestling business.
“I think that’s high on my list,” Ali said. “My goal is to make people understand what I’m trying to do, and what it means to somebody? I think it’s a different thing when there’s a visual representation of that. So for example, standing there on the morning of WrestleMania, it’s a very surreal representation to be able to look up and go, ‘Oh this guy is competing at WrestleMania!’ They can see me, they can look up at the screen and see the name ‘Mustafa Ali,’ and they can go, ‘Man, a guy from my background or a guy with a name like mine, he made it to that stage!’ What a cool visual (that is).”
Ali also opened up about how significant it would be for him to win the WWE cruiserweight championship. Ali was not afraid to point out the stereotypical booking of Middle Eastern performers as heels and how that created anxiety for him as he pursued a career as a pro wrestler. He said he was pushed to the point of wanting to hide his identity.
Ali believes if he is able to win the cruiserweight title under his current character in WWE, it will signify a step forward in accepting performers of Middle Eastern/South-East Asian descent simply as performers. He hopes to have the chance to show fans that it is possible to achieve success in the WWE no matter where they come from.
“If I can win the cruiserweight championship? yes, I’m a competitor and I like to compete. I’m out here for opportunity and championship and a belt that spells my name, but on a bigger stage, my bigger goal, my mind-set is to completely eliminate any doubt in some of the minds that, ‘Hey I don’t want to take my dream to WWE. Where I’m from, what I believe in, it could cause any trouble.’ When I was trying to achieve my goal, I started training,” he said. “I became a character, and everyone was expecting me to become the ‘Prince of?’ or the Middle-Eastern, and I wanted to wear a mask, and I wanted to be like a luchador from Mexico. And people asked me, ‘Why are you putting a mask on?’ And the truth is, I did not want to deal with who I was. I wanted to hide my identity. I did not want people to know that I was a Muslim, I did not want people to know my name, or that I did not have an American name. I did not want that. Because I knew if they knew that, they would cast me as the bad guy.
“So I initially started my career by hiding who I was,” he continued. “And I remember that at that point, I might’ve upset a lot of people. A lot of them think that where they’re from or their religion will play a big factor in their success. So if I won the cruiserweight championship and I’m standing in the ring and I held that championship above my head, and the announcer announces the name ‘Mustafa Ali’, and there’s someone in the crowd that looks like me and has a name like that, and they have concerns, now they have a visual representation of what that thought could do. It would go on to show it doesn’t matter. ‘This guy is in the front, despite his name and despite where he’s from, he has been able to overcome all of that and he’s now a champion in WWE.’ So for me, just the championship will be cool but being the visual representation of what that would mean to a fan out there, someone who is going through what I’ve gone, for me that’s the championship, that’s the goal.”