Adeel Alam burst on to WWE TV screens as a last-minute alternate in the 2016 Cruiserweight Classic tournament, under the name Mustafa Ali, wowing fans with his extraordinary combination of speed, relatable charisma, and innovative offense. Though his appearance in the tournament would prove short-lived after a first-round loss, it still marked significant progress for a competitor that had frequently been told he was not the type of Superstar that WWE was looking for.
Born to a Pakistani father and an Indian mother, Ali spent his formative years as a young pro wrestler under a mask in an effort to avoid discrimination from potentially hostile fans or prejudicial promoters. He also juggled wrestling on the independent scene while serving as a police officer in Homewood, Illinois. In his early years, trying to "make it" as a struggling up-and-comer, Ali had buckled under the pressure and portrayed a character known as Prince Mustafa Ali, a stereotypical foreign heel billed from Saudi Arabia—complete with the same headdress, snarl, and mannerisms fans have seen from countless Middle Eastern bad guys in the past. But Ali soon felt uncomfortable making people hate him, and, by extension, all Muslims.
"I remember looking into this kids eyes, and I remember seeing hate," Ali said in an interview with CBS in March 2019. "And right then and there it hit me. I just taught this kid to hate people who look like me."
He soon ditched the gimmick and presented himself as he’d normally be seen on the streets, with no headdress, in an effort to be accessible to fans of all races and religious beliefs.
“I dont want the story to be, ‘Hey, this character on TV is a Muslim guy,’” Ali told us. “Thats the least important thing. Whats in my heart and how hard I fight, what I do inside and outside the ring and who I am as a person, thats whats important."
Now part of the SmackDown Live brand, Mustafa Ali’s name has been shortened to ‘Ali,’ and the Illinois native is receiving some touching feedback on social media for his integrity.
“The feedback from Muslim fans is more about what a relief it is to have this positive representation now, because for a long time, not just in our industry, but in media in general, there wasnt always that positive depiction of anybody that’s Muslim,” Ali says. “The roles for Muslims were typically not positive and that was [the case with] sitcoms to TV shows, to movies, and even sports entertainment, but now, what’s cool about my character is that its not about being Muslim.”
That feedback doesn’t just begin and end with his Muslim fans—members of the WWE Universe from all walks of life have benefitted from Ali’s attempts to make these stereotypes a thing of the past.
“From the non-Muslim side its the same, where people go, ‘Hey, youre our first introduction to talking to anybody thats Muslim. For the longest time weve had these pre-conceived ideas, and youve shattered those ideas, and we just werent aware of it,’” Ali says. “So through my social media posts to whatever it is you have on TV its kind of opened up their eyes, or even their minds to some degree, to what a Muslim is.”
The popular cruiserweight will face his most important test yet on Sunday evening, when he competes against seven other WWE Superstars in the Money in the Bank ladder match. He will be up against some of the companys most established and decorated athletes, such as Randy Orton and Finn Bálor, but his agility-focused training methods could offer up a unique advantage when it comes to scaling the ladder and beating his opponents to retrieve the prized briefcase.
“My training is very different, I would say, than a lot of the other guys,” Ali says. “While I do have an aspect of weightlifting involved in my workout regiment, a lot of my workout is based on plyometric circuits. So, I love doing cardio. I love doing the plyometric-based workouts, because I feel like its the closest thing to what we do in the ring—and you can you cant replicate what we do in the ring, but we can get pretty close to it.”
Plyometrics is a discipline that Ali first picked up while training in the police academy and is ideal for building muscle, improving stamina, and keeping your body burning calories well after a workout is over. These circuits often include explosive moments, such as box jumps and overhead throws. It’s this type of workout program that’s the key to Ali’s seemingly otherworldly ability to pull off the type of high-flying offense that the modern WWE Superstars are known for.
Sunday night, Ali will gather his years of training experience when he attempts to outrace his opponents to the top of that all-important ladder and earn a shot at the World Championship.
WWE Money in the Bank is broadcast live on WWE Network: Sunday, May 25. Visit WWE.com for further information and to get your first month FREE.