LA Knight hasn’t forgotten what WWE fans in Saudi Arabia did for him in May.
Although The Megastar (as he’s nicknamed) wasn’t even on the bill to compete at Night of Champions, an extraordinary scene emerged as fans passionately chanted his name while interrupting chief content officer Triple H during a press conference ahead of the event.
“The craziest part was, I'm sitting in the hotel, and all of a sudden I'm getting all these tags and notifications on Instagram and Twitter,” Knight tells The National.
“‘They're chanting his name at the press conference, and he's not even on the show.' And there's Triple H at the podium doing a press conference, and all the people here in Saudi Arabia are chanting my name.”
Now, five months later, Knight – real name Shaun Ricker – finally got his chance in the spotlight as he took on Undisputed WWE Universal champion Roman Reigns in an anticipated main event match at Crown Jewel in Riyadh last week. Although it ended in a losing effort, Knight was still appreciative of the opportunity.
Speaking ahead of the event, Knight says: “That's pretty wild. To go from that about five or six months ago to now being in the main event for the WWE Championship at the very next show here in Saudi Arabia.
“Some might say that's too much, too quick. But if you look at the way that things are moving, and the way things were happening, it might be just right.”
Knight’s rise to stardom has been swift but unsurprising. He began his wrestling career two decades ago, starting on the independent circuit in 2003. After working with smaller promotions, he was signed to a development deal with the WWE in 2013 but was released a year later.
After wrestling for other promotions, Knight returned to the WWE in 2021 as part of NXT where he won the Million Dollar Championship. However, once he was bumped up to the main roster, he was rebranded as a smug and villainous talent agent named Max Dupri, who led a stable of wrestlers called Maximum Male Models. But after 10 months, he left the group – and character – behind, returning instead as LA Knight.
Although Knight says his previous role wasn’t right for him, it did offer a bigger audience to showcase his promotional skills and charisma, helping win fans over in the process. While there is no doubt that he is on the right path these days, could he still have found similar success as Max Dupri?
“I’m not really good with hypotheticals,” he says. “Would I have made it work to some degree? Sure. Would it have been like this? I don't know. At the same time, was I completely miscast? Yeah, totally. That was not for me. But again, could I make it work? Sure.”
One reason Knight believes he’s become popular with fans so quickly is because of the authenticity he provides while in character.
“If you look at the trajectory of everything coming out of that, I have no business being where I am right now. I have absolutely no business having any credibility coming out of that,” he says. “The difference is you go from something like that – that was so absurd – to now me just being able to be me and going out and doing my thing. And somehow one way or another, it’s connected.”
Knight says he still remembers when things began to shift as live audiences became more responsive towards him. He recalls a moment in March when he walked out to the ring and there was a different reaction than what he was expecting. As the weeks went on, the cheers just continued to grow. While some people may have thought his popularity was just a fleeting fad, Knight says he is the real deal.
“You're talking about now, seven months of that, a lot of people might be like: ‘Oh, maybe it's just a flash in the pan’. Flash in the pan doesn't stay this consistent that long,” he says. “So at this point, I think we're beyond that marker. And at this point is just kind of like, all right, cool. This is what it is. How do we keep it fresh? How to keep moving forward? And at this point, it's just me doing my thing.”
Of course, with rising stardom inevitably comes criticism. Some wrestling fans compare Knight's character to former WWE wrestling greats such as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin – which is not the worst list to be on.
However, Knight isn’t fazed, saying while he has been influenced by the greats, it's something that has always been the case with wrestlers throughout history, citing how Dusty Rhodes inspired Hulk Hogan and “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers did the same for Ric Flair.
“Now would you say they were complete rip-offs? I wouldn't,” he says. “I would say they took elements of those personalities and plugged them into themselves. Fair enough.
“But anyway, with that being the case for me, say what you want, I don’t care. People always want something to compare. And people always want something to say: ‘Oh, he reminds me of this guy. Cool.'
“Well, at some point down the line, somebody's going look at somebody else and say: ‘Oh man, that guy reminds me of LA Knight. He's just trying to be LA Knight.' But that happens all the time.”
Despite his rising popularity, Knight remains grateful to those who helped him get where he is today, including the fans in Jeddah who chanted his name. He also knows that the road ahead – and keeping up the hype – won't be easy.
“For me to come from people chanting my name at a show that I wasn't even on to now headlining the damn thing – it's a pretty wild story to consider, and everybody gets to come along and have that ride with me,” he says.