Making an impression: NXT newcomer Mansoor recounts his unlikely journey to WWE
A new face with a big dream, NXT Superstar Mansoor has already made history as the first Saudi Arabian-born Superstar in WWE history. After Mansoor scored his first televised victory on NXT recently, WWE.com spoke to him about his career progression and his aspirations for the future.
WWE.COM: You recently earned your first victory on NXT TV. How did it feel?
MANSOOR: Surreal. That match was a really important benchmark for me here in NXT. My first televised match was against Jaxson Ryker, and I got absolutely destroyed. It was also something of a welcoming party, my way of realizing that if I wanted to be successful in WWE, I was going to have to step it up big time. I went to the WWE Performance Center every day, took extra classes and watched more footage. I did anything that could improve me as a wrestler and as an athlete. When I found out my second match would be against another monster in Dominik Dijakovic, a little part of me thought, "Does someone in the company have it out for me?" But I was determined to show that I was not just another victim to be thrown in the lion's den. I took the fight to Dijakovic. The man chucked me out of the ring like an empty soda can, but I got back up and gave him everything I had. After losing that match, I decided if everything I had wasn't good enough, I was just going to have to get more. I promised myself that every time I was given an opportunity on NXT television, I would be better than the time before. My victory is only going to push me harder to achieve that goal.
WWE.COM: What has life been like for you since signing your NXT contract a little over a year ago?
MANSOOR: I can't even begin to explain how much I owe WWE. Before getting signed, I was living in an apartment that was falling apart. The heater was broken during winter, mildew was growing all over the bedroom, a hole opened up in the bathroom ceiling from a leaky pipe dripping down. It was bad. I was determined to make a living wrestling full time, so I worked part-time jobs in order to keep my schedule open for training and bookings. I thought it would be years before I even got a shot at a tryout here. Even when my older brother told me about the one in Jeddah last year. He thought this was the perfect opportunity for me, but I was so entrenched in my pessimism that I believed I didn’t have a chance. Luckily, I was convinced to apply, and what followed was the craziest two weeks of my life. I went from struggling to pay rent in Oakland to standing before 60,000 people in King Abdullah Stadium. What I'm most grateful for is now having the means to support my fiancée, who sacrificed everything to be with me and believed in me while I was working on the indies. My life has completely changed.
WWE.COM: You mentioned working on the independent wrestling circuit. How did you get your start inside the ring?
MANSOOR: I wasn't allowed to start until I was 18, so I had to wait a little. As soon as I could, I contacted a promotion called Hoodslam, asking if I could help set up the ring or assist the show in any way possible. The owner, Sam Khandaghabadi, directed me to Dustin and Derek Mehl's school in Oakland, Calif., and the rest is history. I started during my senior year of high school, so it was like my school away from school. I was very committed to wrestling. Every day I would just count the hours until training. It was incredibly fulfilling to learn something I knew would help me achieve my dream.
WWE.COM: What made you want to step inside the ring in the first place?
MANSOOR: It wasn't easy to get wrestling in Saudi Arabia, but what was always accessible were the video games. No Mercy, Here Comes the Pain, the Smackdown vs. RAW series, etc. Those games were how my friends and I learned almost everything we knew. If you had a pay-per-view DVD, you were the king! Nothing beats the real thing. We would dream about a WWE show in Riyadh, where we grew up, but it always felt like a pipe dream. That's why it means so much to me that we get these Saudi shows and why I so desperately want to wrestle on them. When I was out there at the Greatest Royal Rumble, I saw kids who looked like me, like my friends, who huddled around the PlayStation creating ourselves in games, dreaming one day that would be a reality. As I grew up and became more cynical, that dream faded away. I wanted to be a part of the business so bad, but I didn't think a person like me could make it to WWE. I thought I could be a manager or a referee. That all changed for me when Daniel Bryan won the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2013. That match was like a revelation. I realized the only thing keeping me from achieving my dream was myself. I was 17 at the time, and if you told me then I'd be in NXT by the age of 23, I'd call you a liar and a phony time traveler.
WWE.COM: How have your family and friends reacted to your opportunity?
MANSOOR: It's crazy. I've been talking about wanting to be a WWE Superstar for so long that every time someone I knew finds out about where I am now, they message me about how excited they are. My childhood friends ask me if my moves are the same as my Create-a-Wrestler’s moves from the video games we played. My high school friends remind me of the time I made an assembly announcement in a Macho Man costume. My family brings up the broken furniture from attempted elbow drops and Swanton Bombs. They all say they knew I'd end up here eventually. Maybe they're just being nice, but that means a lot to me. No one was a bigger fan of me my entire life than my older brother, Talal. He's responsible for getting me into wrestling; seeing him with the rest of my family at the Greatest Royal Rumble, finally watching me in a WWE ring, was a magical moment.
WWE.COM: How much pressure do you feel to succeed?
MANSOOR: It's so much pressure my brain refuses to absorb it. For some reason, I can objectively confront the gravity of this position, but it's so monumental that it isn't even understandable. I'm going to do my best with every opportunity, and I hope to make people proud. My greatest ambition is to inspire a generation of kids to believe their dream isn't impossible.
My greatest ambition is to inspire a generation of kids to believe their dream isn't impossible.
WWE.COM: It’s no secret that between NXT Live Events and training at the Performance Center, you’ve got a pretty hectic schedule. What do you like to do away from the ring?
MANSOOR: I go to theme parks with my fiancée a lot, mostly because I have a deep appreciation for finely crafted experiences. I'm obsessed with animatronics and other in-ride special effects, as well as making her go on rides that terrify her because it amuses me. I've loved video games ever since I had the ability to coordinate my hands with my eyes. Board games are fun, too. Every week we go to Brennan Williams’ house for game night, where everyone will work together against me because supposedly, I'm a "sore winner" who lacks "sportsmanship." They fear me.
WWE.COM: Finally, what can the WWE Universe expect from you over the years and months to come?
MANSOOR: What's so exciting — and sometimes frustrating — for me is that I haven't even scratched the surface of things I can do in that ring. I think people have been surprised recently as I've had more opportunities to show off what I can really do, and I can promise you that is only the beginning. I also want to emphasize that I acknowledge the special circumstances surrounding my being here in WWE. I know being Saudi got my foot in the door, but I’m determined to prove it’s my skill and talent that kicked the door wide open. I want to show the world I belong here as an athlete and a performer and that even if I wasn’t Saudi, I’d be an asset to this roster. I'm proud to represent my country, proud to represent myself, and proud to represent anyone with this wild and crazy dream. I promise I won't let you down.