Mustafa Ali Release Request Signals Greater Problems for WWE

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In news which certainly did not go under the radar, Mustafa Ali yesterday took to Twitter to announce that he has requested his release from the WWE. In a short, video statement bearing the caption “I am requesting my release from the WWE”, Ali states:

“I have a message that is much bigger than my dreams in professional wrestling. Despite my best efforts, I will not be able to deliver this message while working with WWE. Therefore, I am requesting my release from WWE.”

Mustafa Ali has been working with the WWE since 2016. In that time, he has been a clear victim of the dreaded “stop/start push” – where a worker seemingly gets a push, only to then either disappear from WWE television for months on end or, quite visibly, have that push cancelled in the form of either a squash match or repeat losses. This cycle often repeats and with Ali having gone through a number of different gimmicks on the main roster – from easy-to-root-for exciting, high-flying babyface to villainous leader of a faction doomed from the very beginning – it is obvious that he, too, was yet another talent to be squandered in what has become typical WWE fashion. With Ali having now publicly requested his release, it is clear that a far larger problem is occurring within the WWE.

The Land of Opportunity No More

This latest release request is evidence of a far greater problem in the WWE. First of all, for the vast majority of professional wrestlers – and no doubt Ali himself is included in this – and certainly those based within the United States, the WWE has always been the end-goal for professional wrestlers, both aspiring and actual. Indeed, regardless of fears over eventual character direction, pushes, spots etc within the WWE upon signing, the WWE has always been viewed as the wrestling equivalent to the famous, old U.S. idiom of the “land of opportunity” – it didn’t matter what happened to you when you got there because simply being there was proof enough that you had achieved the ultimate success possible in the industry. For foreign stars, the WWE embodied the “American dream” and – whether British, Irish, mainland European, Australian, Canadian, Mexican – it was where you one day hoped to be. Aspiring professional wrestlers from Japan were perhaps the one exception, as New Japan Pro Wrestling is on a large enough scale within the country that the prospect of working for the WWE is less of a dream and more of a possibility. For native talent, it was – and still is – the largest professional wrestling company in the world and if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It has always been where every wrestler wants to be – until now.

It is no secret that in recent months – if not recent years – the WWE has gone through a number of changes which have rendered it a less desirable destination for professional wrestlers. A number of factors have led to this fact. Firstly, there is the arrival of All Elite Wrestling – the hip, young, upstart pro wrestling promotion which neither sneers at “smaller”, independent workers nor shies away from the fact that it is a pro wrestling promotion. The WWE is the opposite; renowned for its reluctance to push smaller superstars and its history of looking down on “professional wrestling” whilst attempting to sell the notion it is something entirely different (it’s not) titled “sports entertainment”. In recent times, the WWE has done away with the black and gold NXT – essentially its own “indie” themed feeder company housing some of the best professional wrestlers in the world – and re-branded it as a less wrestling, more entertainment development promotion with a clear creative and structural direction of turning college athletes and models into its own warped view of the “WWE superstar”.

A Growing Phenomenon

This change in direction makes it far more difficult for independent talent to make it to the WWE and with the company’s newfound intent on creating homemade stars, as well as its recent track record of how it treats both its talent and even long-time employees, why would they even want to join? It should therefore come as no surprise that Mustafa Ali has handed in a release request, or that Sasha Banks tried to do so in 2019, or that Toni Storm became so frustrated that she simply walked away from her dream job and all the money she could possibly need. Jon Moxley, in his 2021 autobiography titled “Mox”, himself spoke of how angry he felt that the WWE had made him long to and then actually walk away from his dream and from all the money in the world. This is a growing phenomenon indicative of a larger problem; even the WWE’s excessive wealth can no longer sway certain professional wrestlers away from wanting to leave, nor can its former promise of the American dream.

In 2022, there are going to be more examples of WWE superstars requesting their release from the company they spent their childhoods dreaming of working for – there will be more taking to Twitter to do so, like Mustafa Ali, and there may be more who simply walk out of the company, like Toni Storm. We have seen in recent years that the WWE has no problem in letting workers go – in 2021 alone, there were eighty WWE superstars let go from the largest promotion in the world. Whereas most were grateful for their release (and for the opportunity to live their dream), whether out of longing to work elsewhere or simple tiredness with schedule and/or booking, some were rightfully angry – some were not even aware they were being released until it happened. The WWE has evidently forgotten how to treat its star performers – or maybe they never actually knew how to treat them well, unless they were a Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin. This is the same company that sent Mickie James‘ belongings to her in a trash bag. Maybe the likes of Ali and Storm standing up for themselves in this way is signalling a generational divide between the largely baby boomer management and the millennial and Gen Z superstar.

Mustafa Ali is an immensely talented individual – one whose talent appears to be only matched by how genuine a person he is in real life. He is someone so real, and so easy to root for, that the WWE never realized what it had in Ali. A freakishly gifted high-flyer, an ex-cop, an ambassador for Muslims around the world – the near perfect embodiment of what a company should want to book strongly in the current age. Instead, his talent was squandered; his creative input (he recently shared, via Twitter, a character he had unsuccessfully pitched to management) was ignored; his WWE dream presumably did not turn out how he had hoped and the message he stands for was suppressed. A free, reinvigorated Mustafa Ali will be a success almost anywhere outside of the WWE and we have no doubt that he will succeed in getting his message out there.

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