WWE Superstar Mustafa Ali And The Importance Positive Representation In Wrestling
Mustafa Ali has been one of WWE’s fastest rising stars in recent years. From being an alternate in the Cruiserweight Classic, to challenging for the WWE Championship, he’s been on a climb through the ranks as one of the hottest babyfaces the company could ever ask for. But would it have always been this way for the Chicago native?
The Foreign Heel
With his down to earth personality and high flying style, Ali has become an ambassador of sorts, constantly challenging stereotypes and winning over crowds, and one by one, showing that you can’t judge a book by its cover. When I was first exposed to him in the Cruiserweight Classic, my mind immediately thought he would play the heel, I’ve been conditioned to do exactly that for years, but I will be forever grateful that I was wrong in that moment as Ali changed my perspective. But why did my mind immediately gear me to boo this man?
This is because since wrestling has been a thing, the concept of the evil foreign heel has been around. It is an easy way to build a villain & hero, just prey on the fear of unknown culture and stopping this dastardly rogue who is from another land is a quick way to build a hero for the fans to get behind. It’s been used to great effect, but as the world becomes more connected and progressive, it has become a cliche stereotype and outdated.
Jinder Mahal is the most recent big example of a foreign heel in WWE, with him leaning on his Indian heritage to get heat from crowds, never mind the fact that he’s actually Canadian. His reign as WWE Champion was critically and commercially panned due to just how cliche and boring it was, it was simply retreading steps from the 1980’s on how to build a villain. What made even less sense was that the intended play with Jinder was to use him to boost viewership in India, but they portrayed him as someone to hate, hardly a good ambassador into a market.
Not Ali’s Role To Play
The foreign heel is a role Ali will never play for WWE, not only because he’s a natural face who you want to cheer for, but because it conflicts with his powerful morals which has lead him to donate his Crown Jewel pays to charity. In a story he’s told many times from his independent wrestling days, he was playing the a foreign heel character, and a young audience member took a defensive pose in the crowd as he approached their section. In that moment, it clicked for Ali; “You just taught this kid to hate people who look like you.”, a thought that disgusted him.
He started anew never played the heel again, and has set out to use wrestling as a platform to show that someone of Pakistani & Indian heritage isn’t always a bad guy, there is good in everyone. Ali has set out to stand up for groups who have been stuck in this box of heel due to their skin color in North America, and he has excelled in this role. He was known as ‘The Heart of 205 Live’ during his stint there, and has reached new heights as a part of the Smackdown Live roster which he joined earlier this year.
Will Ali be a force that can change a company set in its ways? I don’t think the concept of the evil foreign heel will ever truly die, it’s just too easy and effective. It’s a role that still has it’s merits, but it shouldn’t be a default character for anyone who looks different. WWE is a global company in terms of fanbase, a pro American baby-face defeating an evil foreign heel doesn’t carry the same importance anymore, they need to appeal to people of all races & nationalities. They need to evolve, and Ali is a step in the right direction and changing the minds of wrestling fans every week when they see him perform.