Mustafa Ali on Winning the United States Championship, What He'd Change About Retribution

While it's been a bumpy ride for Mustafa Ali and Retribution over the past few months, fortunes can easily turn around tonight on Monday Night Raw. Ali will challenge Riddle for the United States Championship, and if he wins it'll mark his first title reign since arriving in WWE back in 2016. Ali sat down with ComicBook ahead of tonight's title match to discuss a wide variety of topics, starting off with the cultural importance of winning the US Championship.

"Obviously Riddle is a stallion as he likes to put it, but what I'm looking at is the United States Championship and what that would mean for me. I'm an American, right? I feel like a lot of people don't see me as an American. They see the name. They know I'm Muslim. They know my wife wears a hijab, a scarf over her head. And I feel like they see that first, rather than they see someone from Chicago. They don't see the former police officer. They don't see a guy that's actually a patriot, a guy that loves this country. They see everything else but that," Ali said. "If I was able to become the United States Champion this Monday, you got to realize these kids at home that have a name like mine, that look like me, they are going to be able to see a guy named Mustafa Ali raise the United State Championship over his head and be announced after the United States Champion. That's going to have an effect on them. These kids named Muhammad, Sayyid, Fatimah They're going to be like, "Oh, that's our guy and he looks like us."

"Representation's always important. I don't think you should earn opportunities just because of a demographic or whatever, but representation, it's important to see yourself, see someone that looks like you doing big things," he continued. "And I think we all know my talent and what I bring to the table. And I don't think anyone deserves the championship, but I think everyone knows that I'm championship material."

Monday Night Raw kicks off at 8 p.m. ET tonight on the USA Network. Check out the full interview with Ali below!

WWE-Mustafa-Ali-Interview
(Photo: WWE)

You look like you're having a blast in your current role. Is it just more fun to be a heel?

It's always fun, man. You kind of play up your strengths. But even when I wasn't a heel, I was still having fun because in the ring I feel like I'm very elite, right? Not like there's not a lot of people that could tell me what to do in the ring, and I've always had that confidence. But being a heel has allowed me to express myself way more than I was able to do as a babyface. And that just kind of comes with the goal, right?

When you're a babyface, you're not really supposed to be out there complaining or stirring the pot or talking about something that would divide opinions. You're supposed to be kind of like clearcut and happy to be here, and fight with the good side. And yeah, I got knocked up, but I'll get back up.

But as the bad guy, you could stir the pot a little bit. You can say some controversial thing. You can kind of express your mind. Some people might see it as whining and complaining, which is good for the character. But if you really listen to what I say, if you really listened to the word that I, quote unquote, "get away with a bang," there's a lot of truth in there.

You hinted on Twitter that your Raw Talk promo after Legends Night might have ruffled some feathers backstage. What was the reaction to the promo?

The Raw Talk thing, the one specifically about the legends, was I was frustrated that day. We were on the show and then we were off the show. And when I asked why, it's because I found out there was like 15 appearances by legends throughout the show and there was problems. That's why I kind of pointed out, I think I made a line joking about how half of them couldn't walk because they had said that they were worried about how long it would take them to walk down the ramp to the ring.

So you're hearing these things and you go, so because of this an entire faction that really needs the TV time, that needs the momentum, that needs to be represented is just being pushed aside. And again, look at what I said. If you look at the words I said, I didn't disrespect the legends, I acknowledged them. They are legends. I even acknowledged that they paved the path. They created this path. But then I asked the question, when are you going to let me walk on that path? What good is the path? What good is everything you've done to build this company and this industry, if you don't let it progress? You're slowing it down. Literally, slowing it down. You can barely walk. You're in the way.

... So I think it was a turn that they weren't expecting. That's all it was. So yeah, I came back because of concerns about what I said, because I poked a little too hard, but I also was worried about whether or not I would get a microphone after that. I think after a week or so, I was that I was back on the microphone. It was a moment of, "You probably shouldn't have said that," to like, "Well, you didn't really say anything that bad." All the while, you'll be hearing plenty of my angelic voice on future Monday Night Raw television.

How do you think legends should be used on WWE TV?

So I think someone like Booker T is great when he's able to provide insights on commentary. If you ask him about the pressure of championship matches, he'd be able to provide that insight, right? Another thing is, I think they're great mentors, producers, backstage correspondents. They have knowledge, right? You can pass on that knowledge.

As far as on-screen roles, they always love the officials such as Kurt Angle. Kurt Angle was a great general manager. Paige, I know, she unfortunately had to retire early, but again, a great on-screen character. So there's ways to utilize legends, absolutely. But to dedicate a three-hour show to them and have half the roster...

And there's still a way that you could have easily integrated the current roster with everybody. Again, it was just something that I took personally that day. When I looked back on it, yeah, I understand the purpose of it. It was to honor these legends. But to me there's always a way to kind of benefit everybody. Sometimes unfortunately, myself included, I'm not the priority that day. Something else is and then I have to take the backseat. But yeah, you have to let your voice be heard. You have to let them know that you don't approve it, and still show up to work the next week and you try to knock it out the park.

Last thing on Legends, Austin 3:16 Day is this coming Tuesday. Any favorite memories of Steve Austin?

Stone Cold Steve Austin's obviously the man. He was always super nice to the cruiserweights when we first started out on 205 Live, Monday Night Rqw. He would always kind of give us a head nod and hello and ask us if we were amped up for tonight. He'd walk away and we'd all kind of geek out, "I met Stone Cold. I'm so cool."

As far as favorite memory. Again, the first one that I always think of is the grocery store brawl with Booker T, where he just mauled Booker T and beats him up on every single grocery aisle and drinking milk. And then he asks Booker if he's thirsty, throws a gallon of milk over his head. That was awesome.

Let's move on to Retribution. You wound up being revealed as the leader of the group months after they had arrived. Was that always the plan?

I wasn't around during the formation of the group, so I don't know. You never know here. They keep secrets for a reason. I found out I was joining Retribution that day, but I had been auditioning, so to speak. Again, man, storytelling, I kind of looked at my career at a snapshot. I made my return. Nothing really happened. I was off for seven months, for no apparent reason to me other than just creative had nothing for me.

When I was initially looking at the mirror, I go, "What is wrong with me? Nothing's wrong with me. Look at me." Again, after seven months, you have to eventually have that look in the mirror and go, "What am I missing?" I think the thing I was missing was a little bit of edge. I knew I could cut a great promo. But again, within the confines of being a good guy, you're very limited as to what you can say.

So I presented the idea of doing something. It wasn't being the leader of Retribution, it was, I met with Vince McMahon and the creative writing team and said, "I think I'm capable of doing more and this is the route I'd like to go." And it was basically, "Well, you'd have to show us."

So I recorded my own promos, my own videos. I had to audition basically to not be a good guy anymore. And if you go back and you watch these WWE Main Event matches I was having before joining Retribution, you would see the small details, the storytelling when I was slowly becoming more aggressive, a little bit more violent, having a little bit more of these heelish tendencies in my matches.

Had you been apart of the group from the start and had a bit more say over it's direction, is there anything you would've changed?'

So I'm actually going to spin it back on you. I think that would be too easy, right? Everyone says, "Oh, you obviously have them take off the mask and not give them these silly names. And you would have them beat everybody." I can't tell you how good I am now because of the corner that I was put in. Imagine, put yourself in my shoes, imagine being given a group and you know all of their backstory, you know how good they are, but the way the group is presented on TV, you're not allowed to mention their backstory. You're not allowed to mention their previous names. You have no reason for their masks. You have no reason for their names. And then as they go on national TV, go. You've got no why, you've got no information.

So me, by myself, I was able to put on these social media promos explaining the reason for the mask, explaining the reason for the name, explaining the reason for the group. So basically, I was put in the worst possible position. And yes, I won't sit here and lie to you and be like, "The faction is the most dominant faction ever." The faction has plenty of obstacles and challenges. But knowing what I know, knowing what we've overcome, we're studs. Imagine going to war with one bullet, you know? I'm the guy, you know what I mean? I just got to go find an army. That's the equivalent of it. We weren't protected in any ... We were basically left... You either sink or swim, whatever metaphor you want.

So to me, if you ask me, if you'd go back and do it all over again, no, because I'm a perfectionist. I want to get better. That's easy. Go back there. All right, yeah, we're all going to wear these really cool gear and have these awesome names and tire them, and we're just going to beat everybody who beats us up. That's easy.

To me, the hardest thing about that day is just showing up for work and then everything else kind of happens for you. I've got to still scratch and crawl and bite and fight for every little ounce of credibility for this group. So now, I'm the most dangerous, I'm the most rounded performer I've ever been right now. Right now, my mind is going a million miles an hour. If you ask me any question, if you throw in the end zone, I'm able to respond right away. If I'm protected and I'm nice and everything, you don't get better.

You mentioned in a recent Twitter Q&A that you're dealing with a torn PCL. Any updates on that?

It's very, very frustrating. So obviously, I'm a stud and I'm able to still go, but PCL's no joke. It's limited what I'm capable of doing. But in the same aspect, it's kind of opened up my eyes to like, "Oh, if I don't do this then I can do this." I've always had a really solid, technical, ground-based background, but I've never really highlighted it.

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When most people think of Mustafa Ali, they think of the high flyer. Not even as a heel, I'm still kind of known as this athletic performer. I'm not really known as a submission specialist. I'm not really known as a striker. I'm not really know as a guy that could take to the ground. Knowing full well that I have these tools, I never really highlight them because I've got these tools. So this PCL injury has kind of reminded me of like, "Well, yeah, I can't do that, but I'm still capable of all of this."

Yeah, this Monday, the US title match with Riddle's going to be very interesting. I do have a game plan in mind because of this injury. Rehab's going really, really well. I hope everyone is kind to me. I have a very ugly PCL brace I'll have to wear during the performance, but please be kind.