The makings of a mega star is an interesting topic when the discussion is brought up, does it come from the natural ability you gain on the day of your birth or is it something you can find within yourself as time goes on?
It’s time to pull the curtain back a little bit and get a better look at the first time that Shaun Ricker discovered his love for the game. Before being best known as LA Knight in the WWE, Ricker’s first time stepping inside the ring was after growing up in Hagerstown, Maryland, known as the Hub City where he would idolize legendary WWE Hall of Famers like The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Ric Flair.
Ricker was 20 years old when he first made his pro wrestling debut for the National Wrestling Alliance. As the years progressed, Ricker would go from Heartland Wrestling Association to Mach One Pro Wrestling to Championship Wrestling From Hollywood (and Florida) where he was the final person managed by the legendary late WWE Hall of Famer William Alvin Moody, best known as Paul Bearer. Moody, in his final moments, left Ricker with a letter of encouragement, telling him he lived up to the expectations of Moody and how Ricker’s career would see big things in the future.
After becoming Eli Drake, he would find himself in the opportunity of a lifetime where he turned his run in Impact Wrestling into the boost to his career, he won back-to-back Gauntlet For Gold matches, he was a former GFW World Heavyweight Champion, plus he won the world tag team titles alongside Scott Steiner. He was winning matches and getting under everyone’s skin when he introduced his talk show the Fact Of Life where his bright red button would remind everyone around him that they were in fact the dummy in his story. The character helped Ricker put out a version of himself that was needed to put his career in a much better place before returning to the promotion to seize the moment he thought was long gone a decade earlier.
Before Knight was the star we see him as now in the WWE, he was originally named Slate Randall in 2013 for NXT, a character that did not pick up the way both parties wanted it to and would lead to the release of Knight before his bounce back in Impact. Upon receiving the call to come back and change his first experience, Knight would make a statement in his first promo in his return to NXT where he proclaimed that it was now his game, he felt that he had waited too long, that this was no longer about a childhood dream that he grew when he was three years old, this was all about the business of a one-man revolution. This was all about proving he was the Tom Brady of wrestling, not the one that people would draft in the first round, but more than definitely the guy that people would regret not choosing at the end of their career. Knight has no reason to insult anyone when he is simply stating the facts of life to the WWE universe and ever since his return, he has done just that in more than one way.
Despite Knight’s slow rise, the WWE decided a name change was needed and thus, Max Dupri was born and did not take off as they expected it to, In fact, it almost led to another release for Dupri/Knight who did his best to make it work, but it was never going to when he wasn’t allowed to be himself, to be the person he truly was on the inside and that is a Mega Star who wouldn’t be denied his right to prove his worth in front of all the millions watching every single week. On October 14, 2022. Knight would get his name back, defeat Mansoor, and make it known that he was officially on SmackDown to put everyone on notice, to prove whose game it was, and make sure everyone knew who he was at the end of every day and week.
In the weeks that went by, 2022 began and 2023 continued Knight’s feud with the late-great Bray Wyatt which led to their match at the Royal Rumble this year. As the two traded words and blows with one another for weeks, it was a huge blessing in disguise for Knight to work with Wyatt who not only brought a different side out of the 20-year vet but also showed that Knight could hang with the very best in the WWE and his feud with Wyatt was just the beginning of Knight’s rocket sized rise towards the very top.
For Knight to show that to get to the day, you have to go through the night, he would begin racking up wins against anyone who stood in his way of proving that he was the undeniable kavorka of the WWE. It wasn’t just one or two wins for Knight, he would go on to defeat the likes of Rey Mysterio, Butch, and Montez Ford. He qualified for the Money In The Bank in London and then went on a roast-fest against his opponents, especially Logan Paul who experienced what it was like looking at a rising mega star in the WWE.
His entrance into the O2 arena radiated the pure love he had grown from the WWE Universe mixed with the organic nature of the English crowd who made sure they knew whose game it was, the same game of the man who had scratched and clawed his way from the very bottom just to get a glimpse of the top of the mountain that many pro wrestlers today strive to reach. Despite him not winning the Money In The Bank, it would be Knight who had his stock rise higher with fans praising the build and execution Knight had in handling the pressure that came with the world expecting massive things for him right out of the gate.
Knight’s next journey skyrocketed him the way that many wanted it to. The build-up towards the SummerSlam gimmick-fueled Slim Jim battle royal would be about Knight’s biggest party of the summer, he had spent the last six months turning all the doubters and critics into fans and their praise for him heading into Detroit, Michigan and now he had to make sure he was the last man standing in a ring filled with superstars that he threw digs at for the last couple of weeks.
And he did, Knight would go on to eliminate Apollo Crews, JD McDonagh, Rick Boogs, Otis, Ivar, Erik, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tommaso Ciampa, Cameron Grimes, Austin Theory, Santos Escobar, Giovanni Vinci, Ludwig Kaiser, Ridge Holland, Butch, Matt Riddle, Omos, The Miz, Grayson Waller, Karrion Kross, Chad Gable, Bronson Reed, AJ Styles, and Sheamus to win the first-ever Slim Jim SummerSlam battle royal to be the new face of Slim Jim alongside Bianca Belair for the WWE since “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s 1993-2000 run before wrestlers like Bam Bam Bigelow, Kevin Nash, and Edge took part years later.
Going back to that saying, to get to the day, you must go through the night. Well, Knight’s success wasn’t made overnight and it wasn’t handed to him either. Similar to his next feud against one of the most successful Intercontinental champions of all time in The Miz. Miz’s success wasn’t created overnight, he was ridiculed, put down, and made to feel like his own dream of being a WWE Superstar was not meant to be, he turned that all around to become who he is today, but his own thoughts were not convinced that Knight has the makings of the mega-star he proclaims himself as, in fact, he did his absolute best to challenge the notion by mocking Knight and pushing their buttons every chance he got with the only way to settle this was by getting in the ring at Payback this year where the A-Lister battled Mega-Star with the special guest referee being the franchise, the greatest of all-time, John Cena.
Not every single WWE superstar will get the chance of having someone like Cena be the official and not a lot of people will get the opportunity to have their hand raised after making a statement by defeating Miz and creating a movement behind Knight to climb him up the mountain even more to prove he wasn’t the fashion guy they wanted him to be and that after a decade of learning, Knight was making sure that every moment he got was spotlighted for the WWE universe to see.
What does the OVW Class of 2002 all have in common between Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Brock Lesnar, and Shelton Benjamin? Cena brought ruthless aggression and taught us about the basics of thuganomics. Orton and Batista were part of an evolution alongside Flair and Triple H where they captured all the gold they could. Lesnar, alongside the powerful mind of Paul Heyman, showcased that he was in fact the next big thing, and Benjamin proved every time anyone got in the ring with him that there was no stopping the gold standard. All five men had something different in common except for one thing, opportunity.
A chance to show why you should be the one that shines bright by knocking it out of the park and a majority of those times, all five men did just that. Just like how the game has progressed for LA Knight, he had watched those five men make a name for themselves while he spent the last twenty of those years molding himself into the face of relentless passion and constant rejection who never gave up, who took all the no’s to turn them into an arena full of people yelling YEAH to show that being humble, never looking back at the bad and making the most of every single opportunity that he has been given.
Knight has found himself in the position of proving that everything he has said for the last year was him explaining the blueprint before delivering on it. Two months after beating the A-Lister, he found himself battling the Bloodline alongside Cena. They would go on to defeat Jimmy Uso and Solo Sikoa at Fast Lane where Knight entered the next week on SmackDown to challenge the Tribal Chief of the Bloodline for all his gold, Roman Reigns.
Knight winning would be similar to the Tokyo Dome witnessing Buster Douglas end the reign of Mike Tyson. To perfectly predict the last year of Knight’s career would be unanimously decided as a wild bet, something nobody in their heart would fully believe, but opportunities do exist and this is an example of one of them being grabbed without any hesitation by Knight who has earned every opportunity he has grasped.
What are the makings of a Mega Star? Someone who exceeds the expectations of physical ability, the talent to speak truth from the heart, and has the experience like they’ve been doing this gig for decades. Can that moniker be achieved overnight? Of course not, success overnight doesn’t create a megastar, it creates a one-hit-wonder who has to keep finding ways to keep the run they’re on relevant and worth watching.
For LA Knight, he has faced enough rejection that who he is today destroys everything everyone else wanted him to be for the last 20 years. Knight doesn’t need to prove himself anymore to anyone, all he needs to do is show up and do what he’s been doing for half his life, it’s his game, and it’s his world that we’re witnessing skyrocket with the future being bright and his voice being louder than the naysayers. We can’t predict that he will be the one to defeat the Tribal Chief, but when your first full year in the WWE has you going against the undisputed world champion for the last 1000+ days then you know you’ve done it all right and you’re right where you’re supposed to be through hard work, dedication, and never allowing your hope to run out.
The success didn’t need to happen overnight, it began the second he left NXT and came back with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. Knight’s 20-year run in the pro wrestling business is the makings of a mega-star who never quit and never said no to a challenge. From Shaun Ricker to Eli Drake to LA Knight, the journey of the undeniable kavorka might seem late for the critics, but it is only the beginning of the real story that we’ve been able to witness from Knight who through wins, losses, trials, and tribulations will always have everyone saying his name, followed up by a roaring YEAH that’ll never be denied for as long we’re able to be graced by the one true mega-star of the WWE.