WWE Superstar Ali Hopes His Success Helps to Bring More Positive Muslim Representation
After turning heads on 205 Live, Ali has begun to make early waves in quite a few pivotal matches on SmackDown Live. Fans have rallied behind the police officer-turned WWE superstar, real name Adeel Alam, who exudes a similar fighting spirit to a hero of his, Muhammad Ali. Graduating to the blue brand has given him opportunities not only inside the ring, but outside, as well.
Ali joined Shelton Benjamin, Carmella, WWE ambassador Dana Warrior, announcer Sarah Schreiber and This Is Us star Chrissy Metz for an appearance at the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club in Brooklyn. The afternoon, in conjunction with WrestleMania 35 community efforts, was highlighted with a be A STAR (Show Tolerance and Respect) bullying-prevention rally.
“One of the most important things we can do as performers or even human beings is help make this place better,” Ali said. “As a child I was a victim of bullying because of my cultural background. I didn’t look like all the other kids. I had a funny name. At a young age, I was very aware I was different and not perceived in a good way.
“For a lot of my adolescence I struggled with that trying to identify where I belong and who my real friends are. So, to be able to come back in the position I am in now and let kids know how to deal with that. And most importantly not to become a bully.”
The father of two wants to set a positive example. While Ali’s son is only one-and-a-half, his five-year-old daughter in particular is starting to grasp what her dad does for a living.
“My daughter’s absolute go-to is Sasha Banks,” he said. “However, we did do the ‘Dance Break’ one time in Chicago, so she keeps talking about Carmella. Being able to perform for them and to do something outside the box for people with my background is very unique.
“My wife herself had an upbringing where she wasn’t allowed to pursue what she wanted to do because of her parents. She wanted to go into photography and journalism, but because classes ran so late, she had to be home at a certain time. We don’t want that for our daughter. She is swimming, doing gymnastics. She has such an open spirit and open mind. We want her to carry that with her all the way to adulthood.”
There is much for Ali’s family to be proud of, but success didn’t happen overnight. The 33-year-old recalled getting a sense early on WWE didn’t understand him or what he was trying to represent.
“I was given a promo one day and didn’t agree with the verbiage or how to do it,” he said. “I talked to the writer about it but was insisted to do a certain way.
"I went and vented to Xavier Woods about it. I told him, ‘It’s almost like they don’t know me.’ He said, ‘Because they don’t. It’s on you to present yourself how you want to be presented. It’s up to you to create this image that you want people to see. It’s on you. If they can’t see it, then you’re not doing a good job at it.’”
He created a buzz for himself through a series of strong promos and stylized vignettes. It went beyond the typical microphone-holding diatribe in the ring. They were organic, impactful, usually shot outside the arenas. The presentation helped open eyes.
“They are my brainchild,” he said. “Nobody really does them except for me. There is a reason I stuck out on 205 Live. There is a reason I was moved to SmackDown and stick out on SmackDown. That’s one of my strong suits, so thanks, Woods.”
Ali’s impression is that his initial match on SmackDown against Daniel Bryan would be a one-time deal to give some added exposure to the cruiserweight division. This transitioned into becoming a regular fixture on the show before the end of 2018.
Ali was developing some serious momentum, which came to a screeching halt due to an injury. He was replaced in a gauntlet and WWE championship match at Elimination Chamber Kofi Kingston. This was the catalyst for “KofiMania,” Kingston’s surge in popularity and WrestleMania title win.
“There are two perspectives to it,” he said. “One, as a human being and friend of Kofi Kingston, I’m unbelievably happy for him because there is nobody more deserving of this accomplishment than him. As a performer, you can’t help but sit back and watch someone have this unbelievable moment and you have to go, ‘What if? What if that was me in the gauntlet? What if that was me in the Elimination Chamber? What if I didn’t get hurt?
“That’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life. There is no spite or negativity about it, because look what happened. Someone I feel is more deserving is in that spot. So, for me this was an accident. It was destiny.”
Ali intends to work his way back up, looking to further break down racial stereotypes. His story is told during an episode of Season 2 of The Secret Life of Muslims, a series of short-form, first-person documentaries. During the piece Ali stresses nothing can define you but you.
“I remember being at the premiere party New York, and so many wrestling fans came to that to see me,” he said. “But now because they met so many people doing really cool stuff within the Muslim spectrum, they told me they ended up sticking around during the premiere and learned so much.
“They said, ‘We are all one and need to be accepting of each other. I’m really glad I stayed.’ That’s what all this is for. To knock down barriers and erase all these silly lines we have in the sand. There are no differences between you and I, I don’t see it. That’s the goal.”
SmackDown Live, Tuesdays, 8/7c, USA Network