WWE Superstar Mustafa Ali was recently a guest on Talk Is Jericho. Among many other interesting things, Ali talked about the problem with 205 Live’s time-slot, how he got his ring name and advice he has received from WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.
In Ali’s view, the biggest problem of 205 Live was airing after SmackDown LIVE, which meant that The Cruiserweights would perform after The Blue Brand’s Main Event. The show had moved to Wednesdays last fall to accommodate Mixed Match Challenge, but was placed back after SmackDown LIVE earlier this week.
“I think the biggest issue other than style and size was the initial time slot for 205 [Live] because we were going on after SmackDown and that’s literally like the opening act going on after the headliners,” Ali explained. “I remember standing in gorilla [position] next to Ariya Daivari one time and we were watching the main event of SmackDown because we’re going to go on after. It was John Cena versus Randy Orton in a two out of three falls match and we’re just looking at each other like, ‘what are we going to do?’” Ali added, “now that they’ve moved [205 Live] before SmackDown and now that it’s taped, it’s a whole different world now because these fans are ready. They’re fresh and they just want to see wrestling now.”
On the subject of Ali’s ring name, The Chicago native shared that he initially refused to having a terrorist gimmick and he instead started out under a hood as a luchador.
“When I started wrestling, I was 16 [years old]. I loved wrestling and I wanted to go out and entertain people and all that stuff, so I get trained and when they decided, ‘hey, you’re ready for a match and you’ve got to start thinking about a character,’ I was thinking this guy and this guy and they go, ‘no, no, no, you’re a Muslim. You’ve got to be a bad guy.’ ‘What do you mean, I have to be a bad guy?’” Ali said, “I was like, ‘I don’t want to push that agenda and be a part of that,’ so I refused to do that type of character initially. I was like, ‘hey, I love highflying. I love lucha libre. Can I just put on a mask and pass myself off as a luchador?’ Everyone was like, ‘you’re going to do what you want to do,’ so that’s what I did for the first four or five years. I just put on a mask and pretended to be this luchador. And obviously the wrestling was fine, but there was no connection to the crowd. I was just a guy doing moves. There was no real personality behind it, no connection.”
According to Ali, he reluctantly tried out an evil foreigner gimmick by the name Prince Mustafa Ali, but felt like a sellout.
“Eventually, I got conned… not conned. I got talked into. The decision was mine, but it was a low point for me because I kind of caved into the pressure, ‘alright, fine. I’ll do the evil foreigner character and I’ll just try it.’ ‘We want you to be a prince from Saudi Arabia. Come up with a name.’” Ali added, “man, it was a hit because I was from the Chicago indie scene. I’m getting bookings. I’m getting flown out. I’m doing these awful promos of anti-America this, anti-America that, and it was so easy. It was so easy it came to a point where it was a joke. I can literally go out there and speak a different language, and make it up, and not even make sense, and they’re going to boo me out of the building. That’s what happened every night.”
Ali claimed that he stopped doing the stereotypical heel gimmick because he did not want to contribute to racism or xenophobia, as seen below:
“I hated doing the character and the turning point was I was in Oak Forest, Illinois. And I remember at some point, the match spilled outside and there was a young kid. He must have been 6, 7, 8, something like that. And as I’m walking along the guardrail, he jumps out of his chair and he puts both of his fists up like he wants to fight, but not like he was playing, like out of fear or anger. And I remember looking dead into his eyes, blonde haired, blue-eyed kid, and I was like, ‘holy crap, I just taught this kid to hate me and to hate people to look like me.’ I saw it in his face and I was like, ‘what am I doing, man?’” Ali continued, “that kid, he’s going to go to high school with another kid that looks like me! Do you know what I mean? And I was that kid in high school having to sit there when everyone stood up and said, ‘we should go overseas and kill them all.’ Like, I’m pushing that agenda on this young mind. Yeah, that might be a stretch, but I felt it and I was like, ‘I’m not doing this crap anymore, man’ and that was the last time I did it. I was like, ‘hey, I’m just going to go by Mustafa Ali and I’m not going to say anything bad about America because I’m from America!’”
Also during the interview, Ali indicated that Vince McMahon has always given The Cruiserweight positive feedback; however, Ali recently received the most specific feedback McMahon has ever given him about fighting from underneath, as seen below:
“Vince has always been [supplying] very positive feedback. I’ve actually met with him a few times to kind of introduce myself and what I represent.” Ali continued, “I’ve talked to him before, but this was the first time he gave me very specific direction on how he thought I could make money in WWE. And I came back, he gave me feedback about the promo, and this and that. And he goes, ‘the one thing I wish you would’ve changed, you have to remember a guy like you, you are always, always fighting from under because you have this rare quality to get actual empathy from the crowd.’”
You can check out the full episode in the embedded audio player below: