Since late 2022, it has been hard to ignore the rise of one of WWE’s brightest talents; LA Knight. The superstar’s work in the ring and confidence on the mic has made him a huge fan favourite, especially in recent months. However, it is Knight’s persona and overall demeanour that has made the biggest waves, with comparisons to legendary superstars such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin now a regular occurrence on fan forums and wrestling podcasts alike.
On an episode of his Kliq This podcast, WWE legend and Hall of Famer Kevin Nash branded Knight a ‘rip off’ of the two Attitude era stars, saying:
“There’s so many people that agree that LA is doing the Rock/Austin thing. I mean, the guy’s been in the business for like 10 years. I mean, why didn’t he get over anywhere else?“
It is safe to say these comments did not go down well with the WWE fanbase, and even some legends, who were quick to come to the aid of the rising star. However, Nash did retract his comments after confessing that he had not watched much of LA Knight but was impressed with what he has since, saying:
“I actually watched him. I didn’t know much about the guy, so I watched some clips. And I’ll say he’s a good hand.“
“I always look at it like, ‘Okay, can I have a match with this guy in my prime?’ I’m like, ‘Hell yeah.’ He would’ve laid me flat. I could’ve had a good match with him. I wasn’t dogging him…”
Now, with the nod from many WWE legends such as Booker T, Jeff Jarrett and now Kevin Nash, to name a few, Knight’s momentum has continued to organically rise to such an extent that hasn’t been seen since Stone Cold Steve Austin’s in 1997. Austin’s rise originally started at the 1996 King of the Ring with the birth of his famous ‘Austin 3:16’ catchphrase, but his adoption by the fans of the WWF, as it was at the time, was not seen until his return from a career-threatening injury in late 1997.
Confrontations on the microphone, and physically, with then commissioner Slaughter and owner Vince McMahon, saw Austin’s character become the flag bearer for taking on the ‘system’. On top of this, his real life renegade persona made him the perfect superstar to lead the WWF into it’s next generation with the great Attitude Era.
Similar comparisons can be made with Knight’s rise, with the exception of a career threatening injury, as it was during his feud with a returning Bray Wyatt where he truly got to showcase his renegade attitude on the mic. With a less ‘cartoonish’ look and a brash personality, reminiscent of the Rock, Knight was able to hold his own throughout their rivalry at the start of the year, culminating in a Mountain Dew Pitch Black match at the Royal Rumble.
It was also in this period, that the WWE fans began to take a liking to Knight and have continued to invest in his stock ever since, making him a atypical baby-face in a process that is very reminiscent of Austin back in 1997. As well as Austin, there are little intricacies that are reminiscent of the Rock due to his ability to insult his opponents with quirky and quick phrases or comparisons, which were always a popular tactic of the Great One’s.
With the charisma of the Rock and the attitude of Stone Cold, Knight’s rise is one that is a throwback to a pre-Attitude WWE and, in my opinion, shows that the company is on the verge of something special, with the fans making their feelings well known.
Since the end of the ‘Ruthless Aggression’ era, WWE’s content has gone back to a style similar to the period from 1992-96. During this time, gimmicks were more ‘cartoonish’ and less realistic as it aimed at a younger fan base. Now, with Roman Reigns laying his mark down as the top heel in the company, many have wondered who the next organic baby-face was going to be as the era of this gimmick appeared to be over.
However, in Cody Rhodes and LA Knight, more so than Seth Rollins current gimmick, the company has two stars with realistic gimmicks and old-school attitudes. So, it is no surprise that Knight, in particular, is a push that the company cannot hold off for much longer. What is refreshing though, is the natural build of Knight compared to previous years, where there was a feeling that the WWE was either too late in making the push or well out of touch when it came to naming their top guy.
Whether it was Roman Reigns after the 2015 Royal Rumble, where it was felt it was more organic the year prior, or Batista at the same event in 2014, the perception of the fans has been that they are not heard enough by the management.
Unlike Reigns and Batista, Knight has been put in programs for the titles that were seen as the step before the World Title back in the day. His recent victory in the Slim Jim Battle Royal at SummerSlam has seen a potential program with The Miz, a cemented star of the company, unfold which will certainly take Knight to the next level both on the mic and in the ring.
In Knight, it is safe to say that the WWE fans have chosen their next top guy and with the company back to a PG-14 rating, the company has began integrating more realistic gimmicks into their programming in what many have considered to be the dawn of a more modern ‘Attitude Era’.
As bold a statement as that may be, the revenue does not lie. Knight is currently among the top 5 merchandise sellers for month of June, alongside Roman Reigns, Cody Rhodes, Stone Cold Steven Austin and the NWO. On top of this, the star has 4 of the 5 fastest selling shirts in the company at the moment, further proof of his organic rise amongst the fans not fading anytime soon.
As well as Knight’s meteoric rise, the WWE is currently seeing a huge upward trajectory itself as revenues increased 18% to $1.3 billion, the highest in the company’s illustrious history. Reasons behind this rise will differ amongst fans, but what cannot be denied is that the company now has a real generation of stars at it’s disposal that can carry the company to new, heights.
As a fan who grew up during the phenomenal Attitude Era, I personally think it is a time that cannot be replicated organically. However, from the pieces being laid out on the board, and with one the era’s main antagonists at the helm in Triple H, I can see another great era coming and in LA Knight they have a superstar who can be a brand true leader.