World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship show Monday Night Raw has rejuvenated its tag team division with some unlikely duos in 2021: AJ Styles and Omos, RKBro, and the most recent, Mustafa Ali and Mansoor. The two have a natural chemistry that is rejuvenating Mustafa Ali and making his transition back from heel to babyface believable. For Mansoor’s part, playing off Ali helps ground his old-fashioned affable babyface character.
Mansoor, WWE’s first Saudi Arabian superstar, was scouted just before WWE’s first event in Saudi Arabia, 2018’s Greatest Royal Rumble. He became a part of the NXT roster, but his road to the main roster began after winning a 51 man Battle Royal at 2019’s Super ShowDown in Jeddah. After another impressive showing in the following year’s Super ShowDown, defeating Cesaro in Riyadh, Mansoor’s hometown, he was added to the roster of 205 Live. He also began appearing on Main Event, and throughout 2020 enjoyed an undefeated streak that lasted 49 matches. That streak ended when Mansoor made his Raw debut, and was defeated by United States champion, Sheamus.
Enter, Mustafa Ali. From the moment the jaded Ali warned the starry-eyed newcomer Mansoor not to trust anyone in the locker room, the embers of an intriguing story burned between them. Ali’s RETRIBUTION stable of the Pandemic Era was built on an intriguing premise: underutilized WWE performers lashing out and striking back with anarchic rabblerousing. In a summer that saw the U.S.’s major cities rocked by riots, RETRIBUTION’s acts of chaos had the potential to touch a real nerve. However, the potential of the stable and the storyline never truly materialized, and it petered out, leaving Ali a heel without a purpose. After espousing a jaded philosophy as RETRIBUTION’s leader, it would have been too jarring to restore Ali to his ‘chase the light in the darkness’ babyface gimmick right away, no questions asked.
Instead, Ali is confronting his own cynicism by seeing himself reflected in the wide-eyed Mansoor. He is who Ali used to be, and he resists, though he is intrigued. Watching the two form a reluctant team, one sees the ice thaw, and the last vestiges of RETRIBUTION-era Ali give way to him trying to take a chance on Mansoor. For his part, Mansoor showed palpable skepticism towards Ali at first, rather than the blind faith Riddle extends to Randy Orton. Both are taking a chance on each other. In playing the mentor to his new charge, however, Ali has incurred the wrath of his former RETRIBUTION lackeys, MACE and T-BAR.
Each encounter with MACE and T-BAR strengthens the Mansoor and Ali storyline. The first time the teams faced each other, on July 26, it was an upset victory that stunned even Ali; Ali was gobsmacked, and Mansoor was jubilant, his conviction solidified that he and Ali were a team. On August 2’s Raw, their teamwork gelled, though they suffered a loss. Despite his reluctance to be a team, Ali pushed Mansoor out of harm’s way and let MACE and T-BAR attack him after the bell. On August 9, Ali lost in a singles match to T-BAR, and history looked set to repeat itself with T-BAR and MACE poised to once again brutalize Ali. Mansoor swept in with a dropkick and backed off both MACE and T-BAR, showing a newfound fierceness in defending his friend.
Therein lies just what makes this team work: they are opposites who bring out new depths in each other. Mansoor is Ali’s shot at redemption, as he recaptures his faith in humanity. At Ali’s side, Mansoor is more than a winsomely smiling face, and imbibes some fighting spirit. The character work between the two, and the steady build-up, made of losses and victories that each felt meaningful, made it both believable and satisfying when Mansoor came out the better of MACE in a singles match on August 16. Although MACE dominated the opening minutes of the match, Mansoor turned things around with a sunset flip and an assist from Ali and gained a victory over one of the hirsute mesomorphs who represent Ali’s old life.
Through their excellent chemistry and character work, Mansoor and Ali have become a refreshing addition to Raw’s tag team division, with a compelling storyline about trust and redemption.