Ali, formerly Mustafa Ali, has seen the biggest year of his career, and it's hardly over. But even he had no clue what he was in store for.
In December 2018, Ali was brought up to Smackdown Live as a special attraction opponent for then-champion Daniel Bryan. The showcase changed his own fortunes, as WWE made the decision to pivot based on his performance. Still, Ali didn't even know the move full-time to the roster was happening until hours before he appeared on TV again.
"There was no advanced notice here. It’s like a recurring theme up here," Ali told Fightful. "I had showed up for the Smackdown Live TV taping and was told that night that I would be having that match with Daniel Bryan. And I was assured it was just a one time deal. “One time, you’re still on 205 [Live]. It’s just a one time [deal], but make the most of the opportunity.” And I was just thinking, “Oh, let me use this moment to get some exposure for 205 Live. Maybe I’ll capture the [fans, audience] and bring it over to 205 [Live].” And then the following week I showed up and was told that morning that, “Hey, you’re making the move to Smackdown. You’re teaming with AJ Styles versus Bryan and Cien (Andrade), and you’re on Smackdown now.”
Since the shift to Smackdown Live, Ali's critically acclaimed vignettes have followed. Many have noticed that not much has changed as it pertains to the content itself. There's a reason for that, as WWE's own production team realized that if they tried to put them together, that is wouldn't have the unique feel or vision
"They’re mine. A hundred percent mine. They’re not written. They’re not produced. They’re not directed by anything WWE. I showed a few samples Vince McMahon himself, some of the producers, and Vince’s direction was, “If we get involved with it, it’s gonna become its own thing. I like what I see, go out and make it your own.” So he literally tells me when he needs them and I make them. It’s very, very cool that someone’s self-producing, self-writing, self-directing and making their own vignettes," said Ali.
Ali is slated to compete in the 2019 WWE King of the Ring, where he hopes to get things back on track against an elite field of performers.
You can see our full conversation with Ali above. Subscribe to Fightful Select to get early access to content and interviews, and exclusive podcasts.