Mustafa Ali spoke with Wrestling Inc. correspondent Akhilesh Gannavarapu, where he discussed his road to WWE's 205 Live. Like many, Ali was first rejected by WWE before getting a second chance and he opened up about that experience in this exclusive interview.
"Yeah, it was a real interesting phone call," Ali said about being asked to compete in the 2016 Cruiserweight Classic. "WWE had reached out… initially, we just got on by our abilities. Then the tournament began with some cruiserweights, and they wanted those of us who were available from the Cruiserweight Classic. It was a second chance for me, and the tournament took place in 2016, but in 2013 I had a try-out with the WWE. I do the try-out, and they called me and told me, 'Hey! We really like what you do in the ring, and we know what you've done. You're just not what we're looking for right now. You're a small guy, and we already have a spot, and we're just not interested in hiring you at this time.'
"And it was crushing for me, to hear that as a person, and that my size had everything to do with it despite what I can do in the ring. So when I heard about the cruiserweight tournament, I go, 'Oh, all the guys are my size. All guys will be like me,' so it was a great opportunity for me to get their attention, because obviously now they are interested in small guys and that style, and my mind just started jumping for joy."
Ali was a late replacement in the Cruiserweight Classic for Brazilian Superstar, Zumbi, who couldn't clear visa issues in time. The success of the tournament played a big part in the eventual creation of 205 Live, although the cruiserweight roster was left in the dark about many of the show details.
"I think a lot of it really was, we did not know what to expect. We were going to have our own show, but we did not know as far as style, as far as presentation… it was never really done before. We had Raw, we had SmackDown Live and NXT, which was happening in Full Sail," said Ali. "So we did not know where, before the show, after the show, during the show... then we were told we would be a part of Raw. There was a lot of confusion initially.
"And the way 205 Live came about, there was a lot of trust put into our roster. Because if you look at it, the majority of our roster had not been in the developmental system and NXT. And the majority of us had not been on TV prior to that. So for WWE to trust us and literally hire us and throw us on live TV, it was very, 'Woah!' A lot of us were kind of going with it. To be honest with you, I don't think anyone was anticipating anything because we did not know what was going to happen."
Ali said that performing on 205 Live was hands-on learning at the beginning because everyone was still figuring out how to present the show. But he also says that 205 Live has hit its stride recently and the show has the best wrestling talent in the world.
"We put on classic, huge main events each and every week that I say are can't-miss. And the main events of 205 Live are always among the discussion as far as top acts of the week in the world. That took a lot of work on 205 Live," stated Ali.
Wrestling Inc will be releasing more highlights from our exclusive interview with Ali over the next few days. You can hear an audio clip from the interview in the latest episode of our WINCLY podcast, which you can listen to in the player below.