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Mustafa Ali appears in new “Secret Life of Muslims” video

Mustafa Ali cannot prove it, but he believes there is a giant advocate in his corner: WWE champion Daniel Bryan.

Bryan, who is occupied on-screen with nonstop chants of “Fickle!” and an obsession with his eco-friendly title strap, is also a voice for the underdogs within the company, which include the extremely talented Ali.

“I’ll never get a straight answer from him, but the inclination I have is enough reason to believe that Daniel Bryan is involved, more than he’ll ever say he is, with the recent interest in me,” said Ali. “I know he brought the idea up of bringing me to SmackDown, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.”

Ali has made the most of his opportunity, generating genuine interest with his tremendous work in the ring and a gripping honesty in his promos. He even wrestled for the WWE Championship in a triple threat match this past Sunday at Fastlane, which is a tremendous jump from competing for the Cruiserweight title last year at WrestleMania 34.

“Bryan is the guy who watches 205 Live and he’s a big advocate for it,” said Ali. “He went through the same ringer that a lot of the 205 Live guys are going through right now, being a smaller size and having to prove we can not only hang in the ring, but also capture the WWE Universe’s attention. If anyone understands the enormous mountain that cruiserweights like myself have to climb, it’s WWE champion Daniel Bryan—who not only climbed that mountain, but now stands atop it.”

Ali is 32-year-old Adeel Alam, who had to overcome more than his smaller stature to make it to that stage. As a Muslim portraying a babyface character, he is a rarity in pro wrestling, a story he shares this week on the Emmy-nominated “Secret Life of Muslims” show.

“I was that 16-year-old who loved WWE and I wanted to be a pro wrestler, but I didn’t understand why I had to be the bad guy,” said Ali. “I wanted to be like Jeff Hardy, I wanted to be like Rey Mysterio, but I was told I had to be the guy who screamed terrible things about America and attack people from behind.”

Sixteen years later, Ali’s goal is to continue to break down that preconceived idea.

“I want the next 16-year-old kid who looks like me to know he’s not automatically the bad guy,” said Ali. “Hopefully that kid can look at Mustafa Ali and say, ‘Hey, he’s not the bad guy, and I don’t have to be, either.’ Everyone in the world, regardless if they’re Muslim or not, does not have to adhere to the label society slaps on you. No one defines you but you, and that’s what I’m fighting for.”

Ali’s “Secret Life of Muslims” video resonates strongly, as does the entire series, through its ability to relate to a diverse audience.

“I watched the first season of ‘Secret Life of Muslims’, thought it was a really cool concept, and I saw so many similarities to my own life,” said Ali. “They had a comedian, Ahmed Ahmed, and he has the exact same story that I do, except he’s in the realm of Hollywood. He wanted to be an actor, but he was only cast for bad guy, terrorist-type roles. When he went against the system and said he wouldn’t do that anymore, he got backlash for it. Eventually he went to comedy and found his place and groove there, which is the exact same thing that happened to me.”

During his time on the independent scene, Ali had a run portraying a heel. Xenophobia has long played a role in pro wrestling, and as the “evil prince from Saudi Arabia,” Ali had a full slate of bookings.

“I was at a point in my career where I just caved into the pressure, and I played that evil foreigner role,” said Ali. “There is a specific show from Chicago I still remember vividly. I was standing ringside, and there was a six-year-old boy in the front row who put his fists up to fight me, and all I could see was hate. I remember locking eyes with him, and I immediately thought that I was teaching this child how to hate. Wrestling is a reflection of society, and it does have an impact on people.

“When I played the bad guy, I got all kinds of bookings. But the moment I didn’t want to do it, it all went away. But why am I the bad guy? Because someone that looked like me did something terrible years ago? I’m from Chicago, I’m a former police officer, I’m married, I have two kids. I don’t want people to think ‘Us versus Them,’ I want people to think ‘We.’”

Ali’s steadfast determination to play the good guy, along with WWE’s belief in him, is slowly shaking the core of the wrestling world. And you will feel those reverberations when watching his “Secret Life of Muslims” video.

“I don’t want people to see a Muslim,” said Ali. “I want people to watch and see a human being dealing with fears, dealing with discrimination, and a person chasing a dream and the obstacles that come with them.

“I want people to see this and realize there is no difference between me and them. Life is already difficult, why are we making it any harder? This is about humanity, this is about the soul.”

Orange Cassidy Set to Wrestle NXT’s Velveteen Dream Friday at Evolve

EVOLVE fans are in for a special night this Friday when NXT’s Velveteen Dream returns to the indies for a match at EVOLVE 123 at Melrose Memorial Hall in Melrose, Mass.

But even if the majority of those watching are tuning in to see Velveteen Dream, they will certainly not forget Orange Cassidy.

“I get the chance to shatter expectations,” said Cassidy. “It is a big match, and it’s nice that Orange Cassidy gets to do something like this. Orange Cassidy is just so indie wrestling, so to get this stage is good for indie wrestling. I get the opportunity to show this side of indie wrestling.”

With NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa out of action for the foreseeable future after undergoing neck surgery, Velveteen Dream will clearly be called on to carry the NXT product and elevate it to another level at the upcoming WrestleMania weekend TakeOver show in Brooklyn this April.

The Orange Cassidy character is complex, layered with in-ring ability, an incredible comedic sense, and the ability to brawl. He is the Independent Wrestling Champion, but the match against Dream, who is NXT’s North American Champion, will be a non-title affair.

“People are going to like it,” said Cassidy. “Most likely, you don’t know Orange Cassidy. But if you watch this EVOLVE show, you’ll know. You’re going to see Orange Cassidy at his peak against the Velveteen Dream. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know you’re going to want to see it—that’s all I’m going to say.”

WrestleMania 35 Card Starting to Come Together

The card for WrestleMania 35, albeit missing a few critical pieces, has begun to emerge as WWE is less than four weeks away from its signature pay per view.

Wrestling’s marquee event will be carried by the main event of Ronda Rousey defending her Raw women’s championship against Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, as well as Seth Rollins challenging Brock Lesnar for the Universal title, Triple H in a no holds barred match against Batista, The Miz will seek to settle a score with Shane McMahon and Kurt Angle wrestles his WWE farewell match.

WWE is also laying the groundwork for Roman Reigns to make his in-ring return against Drew McIntyre, a Randy Orton clash with AJ Styles, Finn Balor looking to regain the Intercontinental title from Bobby Lashley and the Usos and Hardys attempting to affirm that they are the two best tag teams in the world.

But all of a sudden, the most interesting story is Kofi Kingston’s shot at history against Daniel Bryan.

Vince McMahon has played a tremendous villain in this story, preventing Kingston from reaching the spot he has legitimately earned over the past decade. Kingston’s gauntlet match next week on SmackDown against Randy Orton, Samoa Joe, Cesaro, Sheamus, and Rowan, with a shot at WrestleMania on the line, is suddenly appointment viewing.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan explore WrestleMania VI

“The WrestleMania Series” is a five-part podcast series, each episode with a 30-minute time limit, designed to look into five moments that helped shape WrestleMania.

This week’s episode looks at arguably the most star-studded WrestleMania of all-time in WrestleMania VI with a three-way interview featuring “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.

Duggan wrestled Dino Bravo on the card, which was a match designed to build Earthquake—who, if you recall, did not have his manager’s license yet was still allowed to be ringside, infuriating play-by-play man Gorilla Monsoon—and Roberts wrestled DiBiase for the Million Dollar belt in the most intense, personal feud of the night.

Similar to the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, the trio of Duggan, Roberts, and DiBiase were the best of friends and inseparable when away from the cameras in WWE. But the confines of pro wrestling were entirely different in the 1980s and early ’90s, and that friendship remained hidden, which is another topic discussed on the podcast.

Roberts also explains his decision to open the match against DiBiase with an attempt at the DDT, as well as goes in-depth to analyze his legendary pre-match promo that proclaimed, “The biggest match of your career, everything you stand for is on the line… I’m going to make you beg, DiBiase. You are going to get down on your hands and knees. This time, you’ll be the one who’s humbled. This time, you’ll be the one who’s humiliated. And this time, you’ll be the one who grovels for the money. And how appropriate that the money you grovel for is your very own. A victim of your own greed, wallowing in the muck of avarice.”

The late Gene Okerlund was correct—Longfellow couldn’t have said it any better, and the three WWE Hall of Famers will touch on all things WrestleMania VI on this week’s edition of “The WrestleMania Series” podcast.

Kris Wolf Makes Rare East Coast Appearance

Kris Wolf will be making her second-to-last appearance on the East Coast this weekend, wrestling this Sunday in Syracuse at the “Ceremony” show, co-run by Beyond Wrestling and Wild Zero in a match against Solo Darling.

“I’ve heard of Wild Zero and Beyond so much that I’m so excited to work with them,” said Wolf, who offers a creative and complex character that is wildly talented in the ring. “I’d heard of Solo Darling for years when Ruby Riott first came to Japan and said, ‘Hey, you need to be friends with this girl—you two have the same vibe.’”

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The 34-year-old Wolf has honed her craft around the world, starring for Stardom in Japan and wXw in Germany. But her time in the ring is nearing its end, as the residual affects of concussions have taken a considerable toll on Wolf.

“I have decidedly limited the amount of bookings that I’m taking because I’m going to see what life is like without shaking my brain,” said Wolf, who has officially been diagnosed with three separate concussions and has dealt with ongoing post-concussion syndrome. “We’re very fragile creatures and life is very short.”

Wolf will also be working the Shimmer show during WrestleMania weekend in Queens on April 5, which will be her first-ever ’Mania weekend, ironically, taking place as she prepares to step away from wrestling.

She has a first-hand perspective of the world wrestling scene, and gained notoriety throughout the business when she became Stardom’s High Speed champion in February of 2017.

“I’m very lucky to have wrestled all over the world, and the hardships of wrestling sometimes seem different,” said Wolf. “But what’s really nice is, regardless of what country you’re from, wrestling is universal. There is always that anxiety at the beginning of a match, but movement is universal.”

Reflecting back on her career, Wolf remains especially proud of her 2014 debut.

“I could barely afford to survive, but I was so intensely focused on passing my pro wrestling test and becoming a wrestler,” said Wolf. “I gave up so much and dedicated so much time to training, and walking across Tokyo to get to training. There is a fire that I remember that is incomparable to any other moment in my career.”

In addition to her match with Solo Darling, Wolf is eager to connect with the fans who have followed her as she traveled around the world, helping to redefine women’s wrestling.

“The thing that I’m looking most forward to is meeting the fans that know me and have followed along with my adventure,” said Wolf. “These are the people rooting me on, digging what I’m doing, and they’ve helped me feel like my time was worth it. I just want to say thank you.”

OTT’s ScrapperMania 5 Ready to Rock Dublin

Over The Top Wrestling is delivering its own version of WrestleMania this Saturday, delivering an absolutely loaded card—featuring talent from NXT and New Japan Pro Wrestling—at ScrapperMania 5.

The Ireland-based wrestling promotion is run by Joe Cabray, a former NXT talent who found the inspiration to start OTT in October of 2014.

“I had just moved back to Ireland from Florida, and my WWE NXT contract had come to an end,” said the 36-year-old Cabray. “I had always loved promoting pro wrestling. I created OTT, a place to showcase some of Ireland’s best talents and a place for Irish wrestling fans to see great wrestling with realistic storylines that our fans could relate to.”

Cabray has put together a card for ScrapperMania 5 that includes a main event of OTT world champion WALTER defending his title against Jordan Devlin, as well as an old-school “Loser Leaves Town” match pitting British Strong Style’s Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, and Tyler Bate against the Kings of the North’s Dunkan Disorderly, Damian Corvin, and Bonesaw, in addition to matches with the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger and women’s wrestling great Meiko Satomura.

“Every wrestling company needs their one or two big events each year,” said Cabray. “It becomes the company’s goal and direction. Ours just grew into ScrapperMania. When we secured The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll, for ScrapperMania 3, we turned a corner and Scrappermania became an arena show.

“This year’s show was a challenge to put together, but at OTT we thrive on challenges. For me, the most import thing is to avoid cold matches. All our matches need to have a reason or make sense. We put a lot of focus on telling our fans the backstory. We have an amazing team who work hard making incredible highlight packages. I think this sets us apart from other wrestling companies. Even our event is called ‘Ireland vs. The World’—people want to see great wrestling for sure, but giving them a reason to be invested is where you can create the best wrestling possible.”

Out of all OTT’s accomplishments over the past five years, Cabray’s proudest moment is developing a brand that has brought the world’s eyes onto Irish wrestling.

“Wrestling is new to Ireland,” said Cabray. “Our first training schools only opened their doors 16 years ago, yet we have produced some incredible talents—Finn Balor, Becky Lynch, Sheamus, WWE U.K. star Jordan Devlin, and we have a lot more on the way. Seeing Jordan Devlin repping Ireland on the WWE U.K. brand is amazing, One of my top trainees, Scotty Davis gaining an opportunity to wrestle Jushin Liger. It’s just a crazy time for Irish wrestling.”

OTT’s ScrapperMania 5 will air next week on its on-demand service, OTTonDemand.com, and Cabray knows the show is going to be one of the most memorable to ever take place in Ireland.

“Dublin Stadium was designed for pro boxing and is the right home for ScrapperMania 5,” said Cabray. “It is in our nation’s capital, on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, with beer flowing, it’s called ‘Ireland vs. The World’, and it’s going to be perfect.”

ROH’s Matt Taven Teaming With Danny Picard on New “Take a Bump” Podcast

Matt Taven and Danny Picard launched the new “Take A Bump” podcast last week, exploring the behind-the-scenes aspects and moments in pro wrestling.

“I decided to run this idea by Matt,” said Boston’s own Danny Picard. “After a couple conversations, we both decided it would be great to work together.”

Taven challenges Ring of Honor world champ Jay Lethal at this Friday’s ROH 17th Anniversary pay-per-view, taking his shot at elevating his status with one of the most highly acclaimed wrestling titles around his waist. Regardless of the outcome, next week’s podcast will offer Taven’s honesty and insight on the match.

“We’re going to discuss storylines that Matt’s involved in, including the upcoming pay per view,” said Picard. “We’ll talk about the business, and we’re also going to make it a guest-heavy show. This is going to be the type of show with real-talk and some storylines.

“A lot of wrestling podcasts are with guys who are not currently in the business. Matt is one of the bigger names in Ring of Honor, and his name is only going to get bigger, so we’re going to make this show as unique as possible.”

Tweet of the Week

Incredible to see both WWE’s global impact on social media as well as the immense popularity of its women’s division.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.