Fans no doubt let out a collective groan when they learned that the wrestler formerly known as LA Knight in NXT, whose potential as a top star should have been evident to anyone with a scintilla of pro wrestling knowledge or experience, would be saddled with one of the worst gimmicks ever to emerge from Vince McMahon’s brain.
After a run in NXT, Shaun Ricker, who had previously gotten himself over as Eli Drake in Impact Wrestling and the NWA using the same type of character, debuted on Smackdown! in May 2022 as Max Dupri, leader of Maximum Male Models. He played the part admirably, and despite the garish and preposterous nature of the gimmick, which was always destined to have a limited shelf life, he, alone, made the segments more entertaining than they had any right to be.
About four months into the gimmick, Dupri beat up his cohorts, ma.çé and mån.sôör, and thankfully, that was that.
But Knight’s time on the WWE main roster got worse before it got better.
He entered a feud with “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and proceeded to get squashed in a 5-minute long match slash advertisement for Mountain Dew. Knight got a small flurry of offense in the match and even put Wyatt through a gimmicked table that “exploded” with glowy things at one point but was then dominated some more and eventually pinned via Wyatt’s Sister Abigail finisher.
During the post-match, Wyatt continued attacking Knight until Uncle Howdy dove off a platform and literally buried Knight in a heap of table shards and explosions. All viewers could see on camera was Knight’s two feet cartoonishly dangling above his body.
This was not exactly a model example of how to make a wrestler look strong in defeat, and after WWE’s lengthy track record of misusing talented individuals and tag teams — Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamara, Andrade, Luke Harper, Bobby Roode, Shelton Benjamin, Rusev, Sami Zayn before the Bloodline angle, Daniel Bryan before fans made his push compulsory, Heavy Machinery, The Revival (FTR) and others — I was probably not the only person to think that Knight’s opportunity had come and gone.
Immediately after the match, I even posted a message that read, “R.I.P. LA Knight.”
But somehow, against all logic to the contrary, he eventually recovered whatever momentum he had lost through bad booking and the Wyatt curse and returned to TV, although he seemed to be lost in the shuffle for much of the spring and early summer of this year amid company concerns that he was too old for a big push at the ripe old age of 40.
Even up until the last couple weeks, WWE seemed to be moving tepidly, barely letting Knight talk, which is obviously his strong suit, and at one point, relegating him to commentary rather than in a prominent role where he belongs: in the ring with a mic.
Knight admitted in a recent interview with Digital Spy that he harbored some frustrations about his long path to the upper midcard of WWE.
“I look back on the journey very fondly in a lot of ways,” Knight said. “At the same time, I look back at it with a lot of frustration and a lot of anger because I should have been here a long time ago.
“I should have been doing this and having this match and all this stuff a long, long time ago. Although, at the same time, I appreciate what I’ve done and the way I’ve had to go about it and the fact that I’ve just gotten to live the life that I’ve gotten to live, particularly over the last 10 years.”
His first attempt at a career with WWE came a decade ago when he took part in some dark matches and was more or less a jobber in NXT under the regrettable ring name, Slate Randall. He was unceremoniously released in August 2014 before going on to develop his persona and hone his skills as Eli Drake in Impact and the NWA.
Today, thanks in large part to his charisma and natural ability to connect with the audience, he has gotten over organically, as a heel no less, and he received one of the strongest crowd reactions in recent memory during the June 19 edition of Raw when he came out to confront his fellow Money in the Bank ladder match competitors.
This episode of Raw will, perhaps, go down as Knight’s breakout moment in the company.
Knowing WWE’s penchant for using celebrities to create buzz around the company, don’t be surprised if YouTuber Logan Paul actually wins the MITB match. Or, perhaps, WWE might give the baton to Damien Priest.
Knight could indeed suffer another setback and have to find some other way to the top once MITB is in the books. But after the momentous couple weeks he has had, one thing is certain: his talent can no longer be overlooked or ignored.