Mustafa Ali was told he had to be the bad guy.

Fans today know Mustafa Ali as the underdog from 205 Live who burst onto SmackDown Live by going toe-to-toe with WWE Champion Daniel Bryan and pinning him in tag team competition. But his journey to the main event of SmackDown was anything but easy. As a Muslim and coming from Pakistani descent, Ali had to overcome the stereotype that he had to be the heel in wrestling.

“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,” Ali told Sports Illustrated. “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.”

Ali continued, “I want the next 16-year-old kid who looks like me to know he’s not automatically the bad guy. 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 has quickly become one of the more popular wrestlers on SmackDown Live. This past Sunday at WWE Fastlane, Ali was inserted into the WWE Title match between Kevin Owens and Daniel Bryan. Though Ali lost, he turned in another memorable performance, hanging with the current WWE Champion and a former Universal Champion.

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