In the three years of Saudi Arabia’s eventful history with WWE, Vince McMahon’s most controversial partnership has managed to give us a few gems. Titus World Slide was legitimately funny, despite how hard the internet tried to make it not that way. Watching the Undertaker perform in any year post 2014 had the same excitement and nervousness as my grandfather insisting on driving himself to the hospital while he’s actively having a stroke. Like, good for him for doing it, but surely there’s another way. And who could forget the time WWE falsely claimed “mechanical issues” as their talent was stranded at an airport with several working planes that just couldn’t let them go. Yes, the oft-contended cross-continental deal has brought us a lot of bad and a heap of ugly, but it’s also handed us a bright, shining gift in the form of the ever optimistic Mansoor.
Manny debuted at the very first show in Saudi Arabia, 2018’s Greatest Royal Rumble. 50 men may have entered the ring, but only one stole my heart, even if it was in a very questionable segment. He then made his way to occasional appearances on NXT and 205 Live before winning the battle royal at Super Showdown in 2019. For much of his early time with WWE, Mansoor was a rarity on weekly TV, and instead came out mostly for the shows in his home country. It was fun to see, but you could tell he had more to give than two appearances on crammed PPVs that aired while North American fans were at work. Last fall, he started more regular appearances on 205 Live, kicking off an undefeated streak that ran him straight to Raw. He was then unceremoniously defeated via DQ his first night on Raw, but at least the man had arrived somewhere.
- The Untold Story of WWF Betrayal, Game Boy Color’s WWF Beat ’em Up
- Roman Reigns vs. Finn Bálor Is the Funniest Match of 2021
- Actually, Big E Doesn’t Need to Be More Serious
On the flip side, Mustafa Ali was plucked from 205 Live in early 2019, first coming to SmackDown for a few months, where he had an excellent Money in the Bank ladder match before fading off the map again. He was later revealed as the leader of the villainous Retribution, right around the same time Mansoor kicked off his winning streak on Ali’s former brand. Retribution was an unfortunate fumble, despite possessing several great talents and giving Ali a chance to share his top notch promo skills. The group disbanded by turning on Ali with a double chokeslam just before Mansoor made his move to Raw, setting the stage for the unlikeliest of friendships.
As the young upstart tried to kick his main roster journey off right, Ali was there to bring him back down to earth. Grizzled, cynical vet isn’t a role I would have expected Mustafa to play, but he did it very well. His anger over betrayal at the hands of best friends Mace and T-Bar made him distrustful of anyone, especially handsome young men with gorgeous smiles. We started off with Ali trying to teach Manny a series of lessons, including saving and then immediately eliminating him from a battle royal, as he dispensed some hard earned wisdom along the way. As the two began to team together, Mansoor tried his best to win his new friend over with positivity, but Ali’s dour attitude made them the odd couple you couldn’t help but love.
Mansoor was the Ali of old—happy to be there, eager to please, and blissfully unaware of how Brock Lesnar was winning Money in the Bank 2019. His perennial optimism would have fit with the quintessential baby face Mustafa was back in 2018, in the days of kicking off Mania 35 with 205 BFF Cedric Alexander. Two years on the main roster, fading on the sidelines of SmackDown and Raw, hardened Ali into the worst kid in your philosophy class. From the get-go he was trying to convince poor Manny that everyone was out to get him—including Ali himself. Can you really hate the guy who promises to hurt you? If YA romance trilogies are anything to go by, the answer is yes, but you gotta admire the honestly. It was Mansoor who didn’t want to believe that, because he was looking for the light that had been snuffed out.
WWE loves to take the feel good babyfaces and make them nasty—Bayley, Sami Zayn, and Johnny Gargano are recent examples. But there was something especially heartbreaking in Mustafa Ali’s transformation from the beacon of light to the man rightfully calling out a system who didn’t see his value. While Retribution didn’t land like it maybe should have, Ali’s points were more than valid. Not only did the main roster snatch his opportunity to give it to the Beast, but they even stripped his first name in an attempt to make him more “palatable.” His efforts to teach Mansoor to look out for himself came from a place of protection, of wanting to save the raven-haired beauty from making the same mistakes Mustafa did. And if the kids aren’t willing to learn the lesson, sometimes you gotta employ a little tough love.
As the duo continued to lose tag matches, Mansoor never faltered in his excitement, but Ali’s frustration only grew. They put on a great, albeit brief, team performance against The Hurt Business this week, which unfortunately ended with Alexander pinning his former friend’s shoulders to the mat. Mansoor tried to help his buddy up, but Ali had clearly had enough. He shoved Mansoor down in the ring and told him he was a loser right to his perfect face, and still Manny tried to salvage the relationship. That’s a pure, dumb baby face right there. Ali had to kick the point into Mansoor’s spine to really drive it home, leaving his protégé sprawled on the floor and setting the stage for a match at Crown Jewel.
While there should have been plenty of gas left in the tank for these two, I’m not surprised they’re splitting them up in time for Mansoor to get that Crown Jewel W. You gotta take what you can get from this company, and for a B list story on Raw, the development here has been a lot of fun to watch. Ali was the perfect foil for Mansoor because he’d lived that story before, and he had the scars to show it. Happy-go-lucky Manny may not have turned into the hardened cynic Mustafa was looking for, but even nice boys can kick your ass sometimes.