WWE’s Mustafa Ali, Leader of the Retribution, on the US Championship and Speaking His Mind
The outspoken WWE superstar Mustafa Ali leads the Retribution, a group of fiercely disgruntled wrestlers, T-Bar, Mace, Slapjack, and Reckoning. Together they’ve been wreaking havoc since last summer. Now, on March 15 on WWE Raw, a major opportunity is coming Ali: He’s challenging Matt Riddle for the United States championship.
“Matt Riddle is a stallion. He is a cardio machine,” Ali told told TV Insider. “I’m looking forward to mixing it up with him. We’re going to put on a show.”
We chatted with Ali about why this match means so much to him, and what he wants to see from his group. Or else.
How would you describe your evolution in WWE?
Mustafa Ali: My first few years I was portrayed as the good guy. They take one on the chin, get knocked down, and get back up. When the [Retribution] role was introduced, there’s the opportunity to complain. I can bring to light what people might not normally see. When I go to the airport, I have real life issues. I have real issues with people pronouncing my name correctly or telling me my name is much too complicated to pronounce, and I should change it. To me these are normal things and I address them whenever I do a promo or have an interview. I tell people just because it doesn’t happen to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Did it take a lot for WWE to give you the freedom to say what you wanted?
I can only speak of my experience with [Chairman] Vince McMahon and the creative team, but not really. You can always tell them what you’re capable of doing, or you can show them. The first time I told Vince McMahon I’m a talker, he didn’t believe I was. So I recorded my own promos. I record my own videos. It’s a lot easier to show them what you’re capable of doing than telling them. I’ve got a pretty good range in terms of saying the things I do.
Retribution has gotten a mixed reaction. Is there something missing to make you successful?
The talent is there. The biggest obstacle and challenge the group faces is the “Why.” Who are we? Why are we here? What’s our vendetta against WWE and corporate infrastructure? We have not been able to tell that story. Retribution is still an opportunity to be on TV every week. We’ve done stuff, and everyone is aware who is in the group. But we’re not able to address who we really are. I haven’t explained why I’m the leader and what power I hold over these people. I’d like to do so. The fans have been left to connect the dots, which I never like to do. It’s a three-hour show. Stuffing 5,000 pounds into a five-pound bag isn’t going to work. We have to take our time. We’re doing the best with the time we’re given.
Have post-shows like Raw Talk help to connect those dots?
Definitely. It’s the most fun because that is one-hundred percent me. It’s just off-the-top of my head. The last show I didn’t know I was a guest until minutes before and it was probably one of my better appearances. [SmackDown superstar] Sami Zayn told me a true artist is able to work within parameters. It’s not hard to have amazing matches when you have 25 minutes. Now, try to have a super-competitive match in six minutes and 60 seconds to get your point across in a promo. That’s true artistry.
What does going for the United States championship against Matt Riddle mean to you?
It means more to me than it would to a lot of people. My name is Mustafa Ali. Yes, I’m an American. But I feel people don’t look at me as an American. When I go to the grocery store with my wife she wears a hijab scarf over her head, and I notice the glares she gets. Pre-pandemic when we went out to dinner she would get the same looks. I’m always conscious that it doesn’t feel like home. Why do I feel like a visitor? I was born and raised here. I do love this country and what it can be. Growing up [in Chicago], I didn’t have someone that looked like me that represented as being American. I think it would be wild for a kid named Mohammed or Saʽid or a girl named Sara watching Raw seeing a guy named Mustafa Ali holding the United States championship.
The match takes place the day before 3:16 Day, the unofficial celebration in honor of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Do you have a favorite moment of his?
When he would stop in for an appearance on Raw, he was so cool to the younger crew. I’ll always remember the supermarket fight with Booker T. [from SmackDown]. It was a 20-minute food fight. I remember when he fought off the WCW-ECW alliance going into Survivor Series in 2001. Even in the Royal Rumble in 1996, where there is that iconic moment where he is looking at his invisible watch waiting for the next opponent, then Bret Hart’s music hits. He sold the look [of surprise] perfectly. He’s a real icon. I would have loved to have done something with him. I don’t drink, but everyone on 3:16 Day, have one for me.
WWE Raw, Mondays, 8/7c, USA Network