Mansoor Is Ready To Lead The Saudi Wrestling Charge at Jewel In the Crown
For Mansoor Al Shehail, a moment of sliding doors was responsible for a lifelong love affair with wrestling.
In 2018 Mansoor Al Shehail became the first Saudi to be scouted by WWE after tryouts in Jeddah, having spent years honing his skills in California. On October 31, Mansoor will take part in WWE Crown Jewel at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh but his career in the ring started by accident.
“I think around the age of five, I had a tutor and I was walking to the room where we study,” recalls Mansoor one afternoon in October. “On the way I saw his son watching wrestling on television, Brock Lesnar was fighting Kurt Angle. I was hypnotised, I’d never seen anything like it.”
From then on, Mansoor spent every waking moment dreaming about wrestling.
“As soon as I saw that, I was like: how can I get more of this? I want more,” Mansoor says. “My older brother, he was a huge wrestling fanatic, and I think he loved that opportunity to finally get to share it with somebody.”
A decade and a half later, the 23-year-old, now known simply as Mansoor, was plying his trade, but on February 6 of this year, the wrestler’s life changed forever. Put in the ring with 50 other wrestlers for Battle Royal at the 2019 Super Showdown in Jeddah, he emerged victorious, the last man standing.
“I didn’t know I’d be in that match until the night before but I knew I had to make it count. If I was thrown out in the first two minutes, I knew it would crush so many people in the crowd.”
One by one, Mansoor took down those who came between him and his dream.
“For Saudi Arabia I wanted to be the guy who says you have a chance, you have a shot to achieve your dreams as your own person. There were so many people in that ring who on any other day could demolish me. But I knew that I had to grit my teeth and survive.”
Mansoor had not realised that his father, brother, sister and nieces had been in the front row. At the moment of triumph, he deliriously embraced them.
“I jumped into my brother’s arms and my father raised my arms as I was in the crowd,” he says. “It was a celebration of what we finally achieved after all the hard work, and what we as a country can achieve in the future with WWE. I always said I hope there are hundreds more Saudis after me in this company, and I want them all to be better than me. That’s my dream for the future.”
For the young Mansoor, his dreams centered on one hero in particular, someone who had captured the imagination of fans in the Middle East as WWE grew and grew.
“For me it was The Undertaker, he was my all-time favourite, and every time there was Wrestlemania I would always watch because of the ‘Streak’, because I wanted to see if that was when he would finally lose,”
I never wanted him to because I was such a fan. Most Saudis love the Undertaker, I don’t know what it is.”
Mansoor speaks English with a perfect Californian accent, a legacy of an upbringing that saw him frequently visit, and even live in, the US.
“I would visit America a lot, and that affected me deeply,” he says.
“Ultimately when I moved to America I would struggle with my identity. I’m too American to be Saudi, I’m too Saudi to be American. Where do I belong? They were so different culturally. The expectation for who I would be, what I would become, were so different in both cultures.”
But Mansoor knew what he wanted to become and now he gets to rub shoulders his childhood idols.
At WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh next weekend, Mansoor will face another one of his heroes, Cesaro, someone he eliminated at Battle Royal.
“I was watching this man wrestle for almost a decade,” he says. “I feel that will give me a little bit of an advantage because I know all the tricks that he has. But I don’t think Cesaro knows exactly what I can do. I surprised him at Battle Royal. That’s what I like to do, I like to surprise people.”
At this rate, Mansoor won’t be a secret for much longer, and he couldn’t be happier to get rid of his underdog status.
“I want to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that even when I have to share that ring with people who have done this for so long, that at the end of the night people are going to remember who Mansoor is.”