SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
205 Live has undergone quite the rebirth since Enzo Amore packed his bags and kicked himself out the door of WWE. Remember, just over four months ago, 205 Live aired a “fright night” fatal four-way match that featured pumpkins, skeletons, and costumes. Yeah, I’d say a rebirth was necessary and within it, we’ve seen the first ever 205 Live General Manager crowned in Drake Maverick and a tournament unfold among the top cruiserweights in the company to crown a new WWE Cruiserweight Champion. Maverick and the tournament have refocused the show which has given all cruiserweights an avenue to shine brighter than they ever had before.
Without a doubt, the standout performer on 205 Live since the rebirth is Mustafa Ali. His match against Cedric Alexander following the Amore debacle signaled the new direction of the show and displayed what cruiserweight wrestling is and can be about. From that moment on, his in-ring work has been crisp, fast-paced, exciting, and oozing with psychology that has gotten him over with fans. In addition, with the show refocused on the competition within the tournament, Ali has been stellar with his promo work. Via backstage interview segments, he’s been able to successfully define who he is as a character and what his goals are as a wrestler. Ali has portrayed himself as real and his connection with the audience is growing.
His best promo work yet came in the form of a produced video that Ali himself released on Twitter ahead of his quarterfinal tournament match with Buddy Murphy this week. The art, scenery, and content of his words let fans in and showcased his changing character to the world in a new an intuitive way.
The video begins with Ali sitting on a set of stairs in what appears to be a dark alley. His face is lit up just enough so the viewer can see who it is, but his eyes are shaded in darkness like the rest of the scene. Out of the gate, this artistic presentation is a step outside the bounds of Ali’s typical character. On 205 Live, he enters the arena to quick paced music and bright colors. In watching the first seconds of this promo, it’s obvious that Ali is working to portray himself in a more serious tone. The words spoken within the darkness push his character’s narrative along.
Ali addressed the camera by staring a hole through its lens. Even though his eyes couldn’t be seen, it was obvious he was addressing the audience based on his mannerisms and movement while he spoke. From there, Ali told the story of his humble beginnings as a police offer. He said he used to run up and down “these streets” and as he did so, he peered at the streets themselves. Because of those exact words and the look he gave the streets when delivering them, Ali instantly gave himself credibility in the dangerous environment he was seen in. He then kept on by saying that as a police offer he learned how to spot danger and that he was taught to watch hands or how someone was standing to determine a threat in a given situation. He then peered at the streets again and squashed that training by saying that if you truly want to spot danger, you look at the eyes. Once again, the artistic decision to time up the errors of his training while looking at the streets is impeccable. He looked at them as if they were what taught him the right way.
As Ali uttered the word “eyes,” the camera cut to a close up of his face with his own eyes as dark as the scene around him. This is brilliant because as Ali is talking about spotting danger in the eyes, he’s embodying and displaying the very elements he’s deeming dangerous. This is a defining moment for his character as he’s intricately telling his audience that he’s a dangerous and serious man, but doing so in a way that isn’t threatening. The point is, he’s dangerous, not scary.
From the dark stairs, Ali then goes on to say that eyes tell you intention and follows that by discussing the look in Buddy Murphy’s eyes after his round one tournament victory. Ali said that while Murphy’s actions were of happiness and appreciation for his successful 205 Live debut, his eyes said otherwise. He said that Murphy’s eyes told him danger. Ali then got up off the steps and walked into the middle of the dark street that he’d been referencing with his looks throughout the promo. From there, he said that the eyes told him that he was in Murphy’s way and that Murphy was going to knock his head clean off his shoulders. Then from the street, Ali turned to the camera and told Murphy to look into his eyes as the camera zoomed in on his face. His eyes were still pitch black and he asked Murphy what he saw when he looked at them. Ali proceeded to tell Murphy that by looking into his eyes he’ll see the most dangerous thing of all; a man with purpose. Then with darkness and shadows still on his face he revealed to Murphy a secret and said that the most dangerous man in the world doesn’t fight for himself, he fights for others. Ali then turned his back on the camera and walked deep into his dark streets with the letters of GOAT on the back of his jacket glowing in the night.
The ending of the promo clicked on many levels. Ali is delivering the lines directly in the middle of the streets that made him the man he is today. He’s defined those very streets as dangerous and then showed absolutely no fear by walking into them in the pitch black night. Because of this, even in a dark setting, Ali conveyed that he isn’t afraid. In addition, throughout the entire video, Ali talked about how the eyes are the avenue to determine danger while his eyes were shrouded in black, conveying danger. This is done to show that Ali is in fact a dangerous man. In his final words, Ali is able to bring that fact full circle in a meaningful way that tells the audience he’s still a good person. With his secret, he sets up the notion that he is the most dangerous man because he’s a good man and fights for others, not himself. Overall, the art of tapping into the eyes, danger, and darkness while tying together Ali’s history is masterful. Because of it, the audience got to see Ali in a new light and further buy into him as a person because he allowed them into his old haunts. His delivery was to the point, effective, convincing, and in line with what a babyface needs to be.
Mustafa Ali went on to win his match against Buddy Murphy and is headed to the final four of the cruiserweight tournament. Most importantly though, with this promo he gave himself a voice and with that voice he set a foundation with which he can build upon. After watching what Ali did with this promo, it’s impossible not to see him as a more important and serious competitor with a purpose on 205 Live. Some acts never have that moment of clarity with themselves. With this one promo, Ali did, and will be positioned prominently in the weeks to come because of it.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: Bring it to an honest place: a promo conversation with former WWE creative member, Jimmy Jacobs