Often WWE is at its best when forced to blur the lines between right and wrong, preferably with their backs against a wall as well.
What makes Mustafa Ali’s situation very interesting.
For those who aren’t in the know, Ali recently appeared to be the latest big-name superstar set to leave WWE. He asked for his release, then Fightful Select reported (h/t Randall Ortman of Cageside Seats) that a fight between him and Vince McMahon played a part in that. Fighter Sean Ross Sapp later reported that WWE would not grant Ali his release.
It’s the first time Ali has really surfaced on the WWE landscape recently, as he last appeared in a loss to Drew McIntyre on SmackDown on October 29.
Interestingly, Ali worked on a promo there about how fans booed him because of his name and seemed to be heading for a notable storyline. Instead, he got up and disappeared from the lineup and hasn’t really been seen since. This was notable because prior to this potential big storyline, Ali had last attempted a major push into the flop of a Retribution stable.
But the fact that WWE didn’t grant Ali’s release is quite interesting. The company has been pretty open-minded when it comes to posting requests in modern times, and indeed, it has removed over 80 people in the past few months. It’s either ridiculously petty of the company to deny the release, or a sign that they still like what he can do.
For Ali’s sake – and that of fans around the world – let’s hope this is the last.
The recent events unfolding around Ali are something of an overlay. Here’s a chance for WWE to cast Ali on a major program where he plays the underdog, the one who was given the green light to reference his request for release, his spat with Vince, and the fact that he now wants stick it in CM Punk-esque fashion by aiming for their top tracks.
Fantastic booking or something that could happen? It’s hard to tell with WWE, but we know Ali can do a mean mic promo, and he’s fun to watch in the ring. The company is terrible at creating babyface stars for the main event (how’s that Big E push going?), so leveraging that real-life situation into something that benefits both the parties and the fans would be awesome. The historic “Yes Movement” started with a similar small push and morphed into something that undid planned plans for WrestleMania.
It doesn’t have to be a main event either, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt. While Roman Reigns is next year’s top dog again on SmackDown, the Raw stage is wide open after the actual adjustments turned out great – Reigns pulled out of an event, which left Brock Lesnar to win Raw’s highest title.
Imagine, for a moment, Ali overcoming Lesnar after an underdog build. If there’s one thing WWE fans love, especially online, it’s critiquing the product. Add the real human rooting factor of a big bad employer taking advantage of an employee and it has it all.
Rolling out this would silence hardcore fans and people who dislike WWE at all, at least a little. Ali is a guy with nearly limitless potential, was originally recruited to help promote the heavyweight focus, then eventually turned into a main event star after a public sparring session with the society.
It’s a particularly exciting time for WWE to have this happening as well, with an event in Saudi Arabia, the Royal Rumble and Mania itself coming up. That’s more than enough ammunition for WWE to turn a promising player into a bona fide international superstar. If the plan is to get Lesnar the Raw title so Lesnar-Reigns is back on track for Mania, Ali in a babyface underdog role against, say, a Bobby Lashley, Seth Rollins or someone another might work.
Ali must want to, of course. But if WWE really won’t let him out, there’s an opportunity for both parties to reap the benefits. And with the presence of All Elite Wrestling, that goes even more so for Ali, who could then play in the open market.
Maybe this is all just wishful thinking. WWE has a history of blasting wide open layups. But thanks to an organic back-and-forth between the company and an underutilized superstar, there’s quite a bit of potential here.
Ali as a fan-favorite underdog was always a possibility given his charisma and approach to storytelling. But now that real life has also had its say, some simple creativity would give fans something fresh and exciting to look forward to this season of Mania.