Shaheem Ali, a Morrell Park resident, continues to improve in and out of the ring. His goal is to earn a championship this year.
By Joe Mason
The only way Shaheem Ali can explain it is mom was looking out for him.
Ali is now a Ring of Honor pro wrestling star, but a few years back, he was sitting on the couch and trying to decide what his next move was going to be.
His mom had just died, and one of the reasons he got into professional wrestling to begin with was to find a career where he could take care of the woman who did so much for him.
She was gone, and so was his motivation, so he almost blew off a seminar. But after some internal debate, he decided to drive from his Northeast Philadelphia home to South Jersey for the training lesson.
“I really didn’t want to go, I was so down, so depressed, the last thing I wanted to do was to go to the thing,” the Delaware County native said. “I remember it was two hours before it was supposed to start, and I wasn’t going to go, but then at the last minute I decided to go.”
While at the seminar, Ali introduced himself to Kevin Kelly, the announcer for ROH. Ali asked Kelly for some advice and it ended up getting him into one of the top wrestling promotions in the world.
“I didn’t expect anything like that to happen,” said Ali, 31. “I started off wrestling at the bottom. I trained in Phoenixville and I was still very new to it. I loved watching Ring of Honor and I knew it was somewhere I really wanted to go, but I didn’t think I’d end up there so quickly. I introduced myself to him in the parking lot, and he really helped me.”
Ali is now starting to make a name for himself in the promotion, which is currently the №2 promotion in the United States behind World Wrestling Entertainment.
He still heads to the ROH dojo a few times a week in Bristol to hone his craft, but now he’s really starting to make his mark.
Ali was a participant in the ROH Top Prospect Tournament, and recently he had his biggest match to date when he and his tag team partner, Leon St. Giovanni, wrestled the Young Bucks in a match that aired on national television.
The Young Bucks are household names in professional wrestling, and have a reputation for being two of the most exciting wrestlers in the world, which is why they are usually the main events all over the United States and Japan.
“When we found out we were wrestling the Young Bucks in Pittsburgh on TV, I still don’t believe it,” Ali said before he hit the ring for a workout at the Bristol facility. “Being in there with them, they were so professional and so much fun. To wrestle them on TV, everyone watches them, it was such a great experience.”
Cool experiences have become the norm for Ali, who has been wrestling for about 10 years. And while his career is picking up, it wasn’t a fast process. In fact, he’s paid his dues many times over. But you won’t hear him complain at all.
“The biggest thing about wrestling is you have to get used to the pain,” Ali said. “You take a lot of punishment. I’m not always in pain, but you have to get used to it. You’re going to take a lot of punishment.”
For example, last year in a match, Ali and his opponent’s timing was a shade off and Ali took a big blow to the head. The match went on, but he had suffered a concussion that left him loopy for a while.
“It was almost like a dream where you couldn’t control anything, but things were going on around you,” Ali said. “It was very weird. It wasn’t scary, I was out for a second, then I was trying to figure out what was going on. I got through it.”
Paying dues is more than bumps and bruises.
Wrestling at the highest level can be a lucrative gig, but when you’re first starting out, and until you hit the big time, money is hard to come by. After you pay for your transportation, food and lodging, you’re lucky if you break even.
“You have to pay your dues,” Ali said. “I’ll work on the ring crew, setting up the ring because that pays and I like money.”
Ali also needs money because he’s not just taking care of himself.
He also has two children.
“I have a boy and a girl, and they’re two of the nicest, most entertaining kids you’ll ever meet,” Ali said with a huge smile. “They’re great kids. During the day, I’m a stay-at-home dad, and I love spending time with them. Then I head out to train. I love spending days with them.”
After wrestling, Ali picks up shifts working at Planet Fitness overnight.
“I love working there, I’ve been there for a few years,” Ali said. “They’re cool, when I’m out of town, they know I’m not going to be there. But when I can be there, I’m there. It’s great.”
Ali realizes he’s going to have to continue working hard.
Professional wrestling is a tough gig and while he’s optimistic he’ll make it to the next level, he knows he still has to put in work to make that dream come true.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be three things. I wanted to be a ghostbuster, an astronaut and a professional wrestler,” Ali said. “One of them isn’t a real job, one is really out of this world and the other is a pro wrestler. I’m living the dream. I’m having fun doing what I love.”
This year, he also hopes he comes into some gold.
Last year, his goal was to make the Top Prospect tournament and he accomplished that. Now he hopes he’s able to take his game up a notch.
“I want a championship,” Ali said. “I have tunnel vision, I want to do great and I want to do great in Ring of Honor. I want to either win the tag team championship, win the (Television) championship or someday, hopefully, win the World Heavyweight Championship.
“I love wrestling for Ring of Honor. That’s my home. I want to keep climbing and getting better. This is where I want to be and I want to be successful here.” ••