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41 Years in the Making: Examining the Rollercoaster WWE Career of LA Knight

Let's look at how LA Knight propelled himself into the main event of Crown Jewel 2023 against Roman Reigns!

By Chris Phelan
LA Knight points his finger while speaking in the ring

Soon, Roman Reigns' historic Undisputed WWE Universal Title reign could be over, and the WWE Universe could be looking at a new champion in LA Knight.

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If everything goes according to plan, LA Knight will do the impossible on November 4 in Saudi Arabia at WWE Crown Jewel. But LA Knight, who is celebrating his 41st birthday days before the main event, knows better than anyone that his plans historically don't usually work out how he'd like them to. As the WWE Universe finds itself just a few days away from the colossal Crown Jewel event, we thought it was the perfect time to examine how LA Knight got to the position he's in. After all, it wasn't easy for the 41-year-old Superstar to break through in WWE.

On November 4, we may witness the coronation of LA Knight. Here's the story of how LA Knight got to this point – from harnessing his craft on the independent wrestling scene to standing toe-to-toe with The Tribal Chief.

2003: LA Knight's Journey Begins

LA Knight lifts his arms above his head while he stands on the ropes of the ring

Breaking into the wrestling business at age 20, LA Knight began performing in various Cincinnati, Ohio-based promotions as he officially started his in-ring training. However, success was a long way away for the youngster. After achieving a modicum of success in the early 2000s competing for NWA Championship Wrestling From Hollywood, he found himself on WWE's radar. He was signed to NXT in 2013 and began competing under the name of Slate Randall.

However, after competing in a series of untelevised matches, he was unceremoniously released from his WWE contract in 2014. 

Undeterred, Knight focused on making a name for himself on his own. He returned to the independent scene as Eli Drake, a loud-mouthed, cocky, over-the-top wrestler that, in hindsight, was a prototype of the LA Knight character that the WWE Universe has grown to love. After winning a handful of championships around the United States, he attracted attention from Impact Wrestling, where he found himself in memorable feuds with WWE alums Kurt Angle, Bobby Lashley, and Drew McIntyre. Arguably the most talented wrestler on Impact's roster, conventional wisdom made it seem that the brash star would be headed back to WWE – but the future LA Knight still had one stop left to go.

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After signing with the National Wrestling Alliance in early 2020, he achieved the highest success possible as Eli Drake, capturing the illustrious NWA Tag Team Titles. At that point, there was nowhere else to go – he accomplished all he could in the world of wrestling (short of traveling to Japan), and his fans were buzzing with rumors that WWE had recently signed him after nearly 20 years of toiling on the independent circuit. 

March 4, 2021: A Highly Anticipated NXT Debut

LA Knight speaks to the crowd during RAW

After months of speculation, the hottest free agent in professional wrestling made a surprise debut on NXT. With the microphone in hand, the WWE Universe was treated to a work-in-progress beta version of the LA Knight character that would eventually be perfected in 2023. Nevertheless, it was a tantalizing glimpse into the future. 

Although he was unparalleled on the microphone, Knight proved he was more than capable of competing in the harsh NXT environment, quickly picking up victories over established names like Cameron Grimes. Still, he couldn't seem to get over that hump. Knight's time in NXT was marked by repeated failure to win the top championships for the brand. Maybe Knight was in over his head, perhaps in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was he just acclimating himself to performing under the WWE banner for the first time in his career? LA Knight came up short against some of the biggest Superstars in NXT at the time, suffering defeat at the hands of Dolph Ziggler, Bron Breakker, and Gunther. While still being a fan-favorite, Knight was still honing his craft. His talent in the ring was undisputed – and the WWE Universe quietly pegged him to be one of the next NXT Superstars to be promoted to either Raw or SmackDown.

A little more than a year after his NXT debut, LA Knight got the call. He was joining the Friday Night SmackDown roster.

But then things got complicated.

May 20, 2022: Max Dupri is Introduced to the WWE Universe

LA Knight lifts his arms above his head while he stands on the ropes of the ring

In WWE, sometimes you're at the mercy of the creative team – and in LA Knight's case, he wasn't just at the mercy of the creative team. He was given the kiss of death: A managerial role under a new name. In May 2022, the WWE Universe was shocked to see the man who lit up NXT as LA Knight be introduced to the main roster audience as… Max Dupri?

As the mastermind behind the faction known as the Maximum Male Models, Max Dupri was meant to provide the vocal firepower for two young WWE Superstars, Mace and Mansoor. Fans were puzzled; they couldn't believe someone as talented as LA Knight would be reduced to a managerial role when he could captivate the crowd like few Superstars before him. For months, Max Dupri dutifully performed – and, in all cases, exceeded expectations. Still, there was no reason to think there was a place on the roster for Dupri to actually compete in the ring – until the end of July 2022.

Things move quickly in WWE, and this was never more apparent than when Triple H took over as Head of Creative. The former multi-time WWE Champion promised a new way of doing business, and one of Triple H's first duties as Head of Creative was to correct a mistake that had been bugging him for months.

September 20, 2022: The Rebirth of LA Knight

John Cena attempts to shake LA Knight's hand

It was time for Max Dupri to be put to rest. Wasting no time, Max Dupri made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the Maximum Male Models anymore, much to the chagrin of his former friends. 

One week later, he re-christened himself as LA Knight and strapped the proverbial rocket to his back. The rest, as they say, is history. From that point forward, LA Knight pushed himself further and further up the WWE ranks, riding a wave of fan support that had been swelling for the better part of two decades. In early 2023, he had the honor of being the last person to compete against Bray Wyatt before the legendary Superstar's untimely death. 

Armed with crowd-pleasing catchphrases and mannerisms that harken back to the glory days of WWE's Attitude Era, LA Knight became a worldwide phenomenon. Even the most casual fan can't help but be blown away by the live crowd's reaction to everything LA Knight says and does. It's this unbridled support from the WWE Universe that has propelled Knight into a dream scenario at Crown Jewel.

On November 4, 20 years of hard work will come to a head as LA Knight challenges Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. He's come a long way in those 20 years – but even his time spent as Max Dupri seems like ages ago. For the first time in his career, LA Knight is a fully realized, larger-than-life WWE Superstar. At age 41, he reached the summit of the wrestling industry later than others, but to LA Knight, age is just a number. 

In fact, at Crown Jewel, there are only three numbers LA Knight cares about: One, two, three.

You can tune in to Peacock to watch WWE's Crown Jewel on November 4 and Survivor Series on November 25. In the meantime, catch up on all things WWE Universe on Peacock.

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