WWE Saudi superstar Mansoor on the importance of representation: 'I just want to prove people wrong'
Within only three years with the company, the Saudi Arabia-born pro wrestler is on one of WWE's top flagship programmes
Mansoor Al Shehail has had a pretty good May.
In addition to being newly married, the Saudi-American pro wrestler also made his first appearance on WWE Raw only a few days later in a televised segment that led to his debut on the show in a singles match against US champion Sheamus.
Despite his losing effort, it was still a major milestone in the career of a wrestler who has only been with the company since 2018. After training in the Performance Centre, making appearances on shows such as NXT, 205 Live and Main Event, it seems as though Mansoor’s time has finally arrived.
Raw is one of the flagship programmes in the WWE (the other being Friday Night SmackDown) and features top-tier wrestlers competing weekly. The three-hour show has aired live every Monday in the US since 1993 and is broadcast around the world, including on MBC Action in the Middle East.
As the first Saudi-born wrestler to compete on Raw, the historic moment was not lost on Mansoor, and he admits to feeling quite nervous in the lead-up.
“Honestly, if I wasn't nervous, I think something would have been wrong. Like, I had the butterflies in my stomach. It’s like this is it. This is my one chance to make a good first impression, not just with the audience but with the locker room, and [WWE chief executive] Vince McMahon and everybody in the office, and everyone's eyes are on me right now,” he tells The National.
Coming out to a theme that also heavily featured the green-and-white Saudi Arabia flag, he also sported a new wrestling outfit for the occasion which featured a majestic green-and-gold coat, with a cut that seems to resemble the wings of a falcon, a clear visual nod to his Arab heritage.
Despite those initial nerves, Mansoor says that once his music hit and he walked out towards the ring, they disappeared. He cites his previous matches in Saudi Arabia against Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler at Super ShowDown and Crown Jewel, as well as winning a 51-man Battle Royal, as experiences that helped prepare him for that moment.
“When that bell rings and when you're standing in a ring, suddenly you realise that you're born to do it. And it's what you were made to do,” he says. “Those matches were in front of tens of thousands of people, with all the pressure on, I don't think I could have prepared for that [on my own].”
However, just making it on to Raw is not enough. He also hopes to prove that he belongs – something he admits he’s struggled with in the past. He says it was hard to have up-and-down moments when he didn’t feel consistency in the path his character was facing.
I think that representation is extremely important. The fact that until you see a successful example of who you are and what you want, in many cases, it doesn't seem realistic
“When I was on Crown Jewel and Super ShowDown, I would feel like I was on top of the world and everything was going amazing and perfect,” he says. “And then the next week, I'd get back to the Performance Centre, training in the ring, training in the gym, not performing or being on television. And that was very difficult for me.
“I don't mean to whine or complain but it's a sheer drop. When you go from being in front of 60,000 people at a huge event and then you're kind of back to normal – what I really clamoured for was consistency.”
And it’s consistency that he now has his sights set on. But having a stronger presence on-screen is not an endeavour that is solely for himself. As he can attest from his own experiences growing up, it was hard to follow a dream when it didn't seem as though people who "looked like him" could achieve it.
“I think that representation is extremely important. The fact that until you see a successful example of who you are and what you want, in many cases, it doesn't seem realistic,” he says.
His father, Abdulaziz Al Shehail, once told him he had never seen a person from where they had come be successful without being made a joke or a stereotype.
While those words may have been true at the time, it wasn’t enough to deter Mansoor. He never gave up on his goal and still chose to pursue a career in pro wrestling by training under WWE legend Dory Funk Jr, honing his skills and performing in the independent wrestling scene until he got his lucky break with a tryout in Jeddah.
Mansoor is grateful to be in the position that he is and hopes to inspire a new generation of future stars who may want to follow in his footsteps and look to make it to the WWE.
“If I could inspire other people, I believe I would have done my job right. This is why I want to be on Raw every week and I want to impress every week," he says.
"I want people to go, ‘you know what, that kid who I said was never going to do anything outside of his home country, that kid deserves to be here.’ I just want to prove people wrong.”
Updated: May 23, 2021 06:53 PM