Aliyah: WWE’s Arab superstar fighting to make history | Sports News

Going your own way is never easy.

One person who knows this all too well is Canadian professional wrestler Aliyah. The 27-year-old Iraqi and Syrian-born girl stands out as one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s few Middle Eastern talents and earlier this year became the first Arab woman to star in the main event on the company’s flagship show SmackDown. company. operating for more than 20 years.

“It feels weird. This is my biggest dream since I was a little girl,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Growing up, I would watch wrestling and not really see anyone like me or someone who is Arab. I hope I can set a good example and inspire other Arab women to join the sport they want. “

Aliyah, whose real name is Nhooph al-Areebi, has been involved in matches with some of WWE’s top women since the debut of SmackDown in November.

Her journey to this point has not been easy. After starting training to become a wrestler at the age of 16, she worked her way through the indie ring before being taken over by WWE in 2015.

However, she spent more than six hard years on the NXT development program, seeing many colleagues promoted to major programs before her eyes.

However, as a person who always shows positivity, she never gives up and advises those facing challenges to do the same.

“If there is a dream in your heart, then go after it. Be the first to break that glass ceiling. Everything is possible.”

The Toronto-born boxer also faced opposition over her parents’ decision to become a wrestler.

“The first time I told them, they were like ‘No!’ At first they were not supportive at all. So I had to hide it from them. I’ll tell them I’m going to work part-time but I’m going to take the subway across town and I’m going to practice at this warehouse,” she said.

Her family finally bankrupted her after six months.

“My parents discovered knee pads and trainers in my backpack and were like ‘what is this?’. They even came to my ‘work’ and I wasn’t there, so that was a red flag for them. “

- CREDIT WWE - Aliyah has been on WWE's flagship show Smackdown since November 2021
Aliyah has been a part of WWE’s flagship show SmackDown since November 2021 [File: WWE]

Aliyah’s parents, who moved to Canada in the early 90s, eventually accepted her choice. She says they are now her “biggest supporters” and also thanked them for instilling in her a sense of pride in her Arab roots.

Even before our interview, Aliyah happily spoke to our technical staff in her mother tongue. “We grew up in an Arabic and English speaking house,” she said later. “When my dad immigrated to Canada, he tried to stay true to himself and the way he was raised and keep that with us.”

However, she admits that balancing life on the road with important family events, such as during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, takes planning.

Big dinner parties are part of the festivities for many Arab families, and she jokes that food is probably her favorite part of culture: “I love my baklava, my shawarma, I love my vegetables.”

One thing that seems to be a sore point for Aliyah is that she lacked the opportunity to visit heritage countries from an early age. Both Iraq and Syria have been ravaged by war for most of her adult life, and there’s a hint of regret on her face when it comes to time lost.

“I visited Syria in 2002 for a few months. We went on vacation there, and we have family that still live there. I haven’t been there since,” she said.

Although she hasn’t visited the area in many years, she hopes her next trip can be a memorable one.

“One of my biggest dreams is to be the first Arab woman to perform [for WWE] in the Middle East. That would be a complete honor. “

CREDIT WWE - Aliyah Fights Multiple Women WWE Champion Charlotte Flair
Aliyah vs. multiple-time WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair [File: WWE]

Aliyah certainly has big ambitions and her efforts are a source of hope, according to a 21-year-old Saudi Arabian female wrestler fan, Renad.

“Aliyah makes me feel connected. If she becomes a champion, it will mean a lot to many young girls training to be athletes,” Renad told Al Jazeera.

Renad’s sentiments are echoed by Lebanese wrestling journalist Samira, with whom she dreams of working for a major wrestling commercial as a broadcaster.

“It means a lot to me to see Aliyah, an Arab woman in professional wrestling, given a huge platform to showcase her abilities. It was so inspiring to see her follow her dream and kill it,” she said.

According to reporter Brandon Thurston of the news and analysis website Wrestlenomics, such sentiments should please WWE executives, who say that developing stars catering to the regional market is part of it. important part of the company’s business strategy.

The Middle East is a huge source of revenue for WWE as they host regular events in Saudi Arabia as part of a multi-year partnership.

The kingdom’s human rights record has shown the company to receive a lot of criticism over the deal that gives them $50 million per program. And Thurston believes that by fully supporting Aliyah’s rise, they can benefit even more.

“A star from the Middle East will have the greatest positive impact on business in the region if they are a true top star year-round, as opposed to someone who just plays a supporting role or is built around the world. set up a short time before the international tour,” he said.

Professional wrestling is of course scripted entertainment, so WWE can choose how or when it wants to recruit talent. A positive sign for Aliyah is that she already has a record to her name, having claimed the fastest win of all time at 3.17 seconds in January.

She knew there was still work to be done, but few expected that she would one day hold the gilded belt on her head as champion in wrestling’s pinnacle promotion.

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