October 21’s Crown Jewel is a loaded card, stacked with some of World Wrestling Entertainment’s finest performers and most engaging current storylines. The Friday Night SmackDown women’s title is up for grabs in a triple threat between current champion Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bianca Belair. “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar will go head to head with “The Tribal Chief” Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship, and Seth Rollins’s and Edge’s long abiding grudge will be settled in the Hell in a Cell structure. The Saudi Arabian event will be rounded out by the finals of the King of the Ring and Queen’s Crown tournaments. However, although it’s far down the card from these colossal events and hasn’t received the same build-up, Mansoor and Mustafa Ali will also be facing off in Riyadh, Mansoor’s hometown.
Mansoor and Mustafa Ali: Making History
The match between Mansoor and Mustafa Ali is a culmination of one of WWE’s best mid-card storylines of 2021 so far, and the breakdown of an ill-fated stab at being tag team partners. It’s also a history-maker for WWE, as Mansoor and Ali will be the first pair of Muslim pro wrestlers to face off in a WWE pay-per-view singles match.
After winning the 50-man battle royal at 2019’s Crown Jewel, Mansoor enjoyed a long winning streak on 205 Live. It was broken upon his Raw call-up when he lost to then-United States Champion Sheamus. Despite this ignominious debut, Mansoor was still portrayed as a chipper, wide-eyed newcomer starstruck by his new surroundings. Enter Ali: after the end of the RETRIBUTION faction, which never found a clear purpose or meaningful storyline despite early promise, Ali was portrayed as a cynical loner. He warned Mansoor not to trust anyone on the Raw roster, but ironically, Mansoor took a liking to him and their unlikely partnership began.
The Beginning of a Partnership
Mansoor and Mustafa Ali had several face-offs with the latter’s former henchmen Mace and T-Bar, over the course of which Ali’s loyalty to Mansoor seemed to grow. Ali seemed committed, if befuddled, by trying to make his way back to the light after his intermezzo on the dark side as the leader of RETRIBUTION.
However, there was also believable tension built into the partnership, as Ali heavy-handedly advised Mansoor while rebuffing his attempts to bond as true partners. The dynamic was well played by both performers, a spot of realism amidst some of Raw’s more implausible mid-card characters.
However, their varying personalities-Ali’s ruthless streak and Mansoor’s insistence on fair play, win or lose-came to a head following a loss to Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin. Ali reverted to his brutal castigation of his RETRIBUTION acolytes and dealt with Mansoor the same, attacking him in punishment for his failure. Despite the burgeoning hints of a face turn, and the hints of affection for Mansoor that shone through his façade, Ali once again reverted to setting the bar for success too high for his cohorts, and responding with ruthless aggression when they let him down.
Leading Up to This Thursday
When Ali once again unloaded on Mansoor following his October 18 victory against Alexander on Monday Night Raw, a new Mansoor emerged: the wide-eyed hero worship of Ali was gone, as he fired back at Ali in English and Arabic. The character work between Mansoor and Ali is always tight and their final showdown before Crown Jewel was no exception. On social media, both men have also been united and unequivocal that their Crown Jewel match-up isn’t their ideal scenario, but it is a huge step for the representation of Muslims in pro wrestling.
With their nuanced and effective, natural, and poignant character work, Mansoor and Mustafa Ali have all the potential for a long-running saga of partnership, falling in and out with each other on par with Kota Ibushi’s and Kenny Omega’s Golden Lovers saga. Whether they’ll be granted that chance or this schism is a permanent one remains to be seen. However, the fact remains that they will be the first two Muslim pro wrestlers to meet in a singles match on a WWE pay-per-view, making history just as Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks did by being the first two African American female pro wrestlers to headline WrestleMania earlier this year. Despite the lack of promotion of the bout compared to others higher on the card, this fact may live to be the most memorable aspect of Crown Jewel 2021.
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