WWE's Mustafa Ali on WrestleMania 37 and Ramadan: 'It's a very eye-opening, humbling experience'
This year, Ramadan will begin mere days after WWE's biggest event of the year
“Representation is super important,” WWE superstar Mustafa Ali, 35, tells The National as he gears up for this weekend's WrestleMania 37.
Born to an Indian mother and Pakistani father, Ali, whose real name is Adeel Alam, grew up in a Chicago suburb and became obsessed with the idea of becoming a professional wrestler after seeing Bret “The Hitman” Hart on TV one Saturday morning.
Back then, there weren't many pro wrestlers who looked like Ali.
“Growing up, any one who looked like me or had a name like mine was not just the bad guy, they were the evil foreigner who wished harm on America and society and they were here to do bad things,” he says.
“Or they were the comedic act with a funny foreign voice. They were never serious or the talented individual or the hero. It was just one extreme or the other.”
Despite that, he was determined to make a name for himself.
At first, Ali performed on the independent wrestling circuit, while also working as a police officer for four years. That was before he got his chance with the WWE in 2016 as he competed in the Cruiserweight Classic as a replacement.
He performed well and earned a full-time contract with the company, moving around shows, from WWE 205 Live and WWE Main Event to WWE SmackDown Live and eventually WWE Raw, where he currently competes.
On leading the Retribution stable
Ali also recently finished a storyline that saw him turn heel, or play a bad guy, for the first time in his career, as he led the stable Retribution. The villainous group would sometimes show up and attack other wrestlers, as their goal was to “destroy the WWE and rebuild it with their own image”. However, its debut and seven-month run were met with mixed reactions.
“The first promo, as the leader of Retribution, I said, 'This company can't figure out how to make a buck off of someone named Mustafa Ali'. There's a lot of weight in truth,” he says. “It's a small line in the bigger promo, but the fact that I got to say that ... that's where I wanted to take Retribution as far as the presentation of it. Obviously, it went a different route.”
Retribution disbanded in March at the WWE pay-per-view Fastlane after its members turned on Ali, seemingly breaking up the group for good. He says that, although there was some criticism, he did what he could with the storyline.
“We produce so much weekly content that ... sometimes we don't know what we're doing until minutes before we're doing it,” he says.
“So, my one message to everybody is, believe me, I'm doing the absolute best with what I'm given.”
On WrestleMania 37 and Ramadan
WrestleMania 37 is due to begin on Saturday, but it's not the only special occasion Ali is gearing up for, as Ramadan will fall just a few days later. Ali, a proud Muslim, has never been shy about his faith.
He says many of his fellow wrestlers, including himself, work hard to train and diet in time for the WrestleMania weekend. He originally planned to "stuff his face" once it was all over, but then he was reminded by his wife Uzma that the holy month was coming up.
This is something Ali is used to, however, and he says it's always a unique experience that he's more than happy to go through.
“The human body is an amazing thing. You know, the first couple of days are a little rough as far as transitioning into the new schedule and whatnot. But after a few days, I'm fine. And I think it's also because I've been wrestling for so long, for like seven years now, and fasting during Ramadan. So, I'm accustomed to it.”
You take a moment and realise that there's millions of people around the world that feel the same hunger that you do, but they don't have that plate of food
Mustafa Ali, WWE superstar
For the father of two, the journey keeps him grounded and appreciative for all that he has.
“Ramadan is a very eye-opening, humbling experience, because right before you break your fast, you're sitting there and you've got this awesome plate of food and water, whatever you want, and your stomach's rumbling and in like a matter of minutes, you're going to get to eat all this food.
"It's at that time when you take a moment and realise that there's millions of people around the world that feel the same hunger that you do, but they don't have that plate of food. They have no idea when the next meal's coming. And all of a sudden, your perspective changes on everything."
He says it's then that he realises what "true desperation" is.
"Everything you were complaining about – work, relationship problems, material things that you want – all of a sudden none of that matters."
WrestleMania 37 airs on the WWE Network on Saturday and Sunday
Updated: April 11, 2021 11:01 AM