Mustafa Ali is trying his best to salvage something decent out of the mess that he was handed when he became the leader of RETRIBUTION, but there’s only so much that one man can do.
Speaking with ComicBook, Ali reveals that he didn’t actually know he was going to be the leader until the day it happened:
“I wasn’t around during the formation of the group...I found out I was joining Retribution that day, but I had been auditioning, so to speak. Again, man, storytelling, I kind of looked at my career at a snapshot. I made my return. Nothing really happened. I was off for seven months, for no apparent reason to me other than just creative had nothing for me.
When I was initially looking at the mirror, I go, ‘What is wrong with me? Nothing’s wrong with me. Look at me.’ Again, after seven months, you have to eventually have that look in the mirror and go, ‘What am I missing?’ I think the thing I was missing was a little bit of edge. I knew I could cut a great promo. But again, within the confines of being a good guy, you’re very limited as to what you can say.
So I presented the idea of doing something. It wasn’t being the leader of Retribution, it was, I met with Vince McMahon and the creative writing team and said, ‘I think I’m capable of doing more and this is the route I’d like to go.’ And it was basically, ‘Well, you’d have to show us.’
So I recorded my own promos, my own videos. I had to audition basically to not be a good guy anymore. And if you go back and you watch these WWE Main Event matches I was having before joining Retribution, you would see the small details, the storytelling when I was slowly becoming more aggressive, a little bit more violent, having a little bit more of these heelish tendencies in my matches.”
Ali goes on to admit that WWE put him in a tough spot by making him the leader of this ragtag group with a bunch of silly names. But this is how he prefers it, because it would be too easy if he controlled the booking and just had his group beat everyone:
“I think that would be too easy, right? Everyone says, ‘Oh, you obviously have them take off the mask and not give them these silly names. And you would have them beat everybody.’ I can’t tell you how good I am now because of the corner that I was put in. Imagine, put yourself in my shoes, imagine being given a group and you know all of their backstory, you know how good they are, but the way the group is presented on TV, you’re not allowed to mention their backstory. You’re not allowed to mention their previous names. You have no reason for their masks. You have no reason for their names. And then as they go on national TV, go. You’ve got no why, you’ve got no information.
So me, by myself, I was able to put on these social media promos explaining the reason for the mask, explaining the reason for the name, explaining the reason for the group. So basically, I was put in the worst possible position. And yes, I won’t sit here and lie to you and be like, ‘The faction is the most dominant faction ever.’ The faction has plenty of obstacles and challenges. But knowing what I know, knowing what we’ve overcome, we’re studs. Imagine going to war with one bullet, you know? I’m the guy, you know what I mean? I just got to go find an army. That’s the equivalent of it. We weren’t protected in any ... We were basically left... You either sink or swim, whatever metaphor you want.
So to me, if you ask me, if you’d go back and do it all over again, no, because I’m a perfectionist. I want to get better. That’s easy. Go back there. All right, yeah, we’re all going to wear these really cool gear and have these awesome names and tire them, and we’re just going to beat everybody who beats us up. That’s easy.
To me, the hardest thing about that day is just showing up for work and then everything else kind of happens for you. I’ve got to still scratch and crawl and bite and fight for every little ounce of credibility for this group. So now, I’m the most dangerous, I’m the most rounded performer I’ve ever been right now. Right now, my mind is going a million miles an hour. If you ask me any question, if you throw in the end zone, I’m able to respond right away. If I’m protected and I’m nice and everything, you don’t get better.”
Ali is a much better man than I am, because if I was confronted with these two scenarios, I’d definitely take the one where my group beats everyone and doesn’t have the silly names. I’d keep SLAPJACK around, though, because he played a key role in the greatest match in the history of our sport.
“The talent is there. The biggest obstacle and challenge the group faces is the ‘Why.’ Who are we? Why are we here? What’s our vendetta against WWE and corporate infrastructure? We have not been able to tell that story. Retribution is still an opportunity to be on TV every week. We’ve done stuff, and everyone is aware who is in the group. But we’re not able to address who we really are. I haven’t explained why I’m the leader and what power I hold over these people. I’d like to do so. The fans have been left to connect the dots, which I never like to do. It’s a three-hour show. Stuffing 5,000 pounds into a five-pound bag isn’t going to work. We have to take our time. We’re doing the best with the time we’re given.”
I respect the hell out of Mustafa Ali’s approach. I don’t doubt for a second that he’s “doing the best with the time we’re given.” The group now looks like it could be on the cusp of breaking up, so he might not have much time left to pull off this miracle.