KELLER’S TAKE: Why LA Knight isn’t being pushed to the top already, and why his sustained push is as much in his hands as anyone in power in WWE

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

Eli Drake (art credit Joel Tesch © PWTorch)


L.A. Knight, is he the Flavor of the Month or a potential breakout star for WWE?

Formerly Eli Drake in Impact Wrestling, he’s always been a standout on the mic, if not a little reliant on catch phrases and inflections. But, as we’ve seen, catch phrases and inflections can go a long way. (“I’ve got two words for you!” … “Can you smelllll…” … “Austin 3:16 says…” … “Woooo!” … “It’s showtime!”)

The catch phrases aren’t all L.A. Knight has, though. He has that X-factor that’s not something the best promoters or producers can manufacture. There’s a confidence, a swagger, and a way about him that just grabs the attention of fans.

So what has held him back all these years from moving up to the national spotlight and being a main eventer? A number of factors, actually, and WWE is aware of them.

For one, he’s not above-average in terms of his ring work. Really, it’s probably very safe to say he’s a bit below average. That’s not a deal-killer to get TV time and get a push in WWE, but it’s also a hindrance to moving up the card to that top tier. That’s going to upset a lot of pro wrestling fans who recognize what he does well and aren’t worried about matches that aren’t full of highspots and grace. The good thing is, WWE has a great crew of veteran wrestlers and ex-wrestler producers who can help construct a match that can tell a good story even if it’s not FTR vs. Jay White & Juice Robinson in execution.

However, even with good guidance, there are concerns about him. I’ve asked some of his colleagues about him. While they say he executes moves well (as evidenced last night against Sheamus on Smackdown where he landed his moves with crisp force at times), he’s not always in the right place at the right time and is known to forget spots and just seem, well, not particularly relaxed in the flow of things. It can be noticeable to even the most casual viewer when watching his matches closely. He’s got the mannerisms down of how to act between moves to keep the crowd engaged and he takes nice bumps, but there is a certain awkwardness that tends to show up in most of his matches that you don’t see with most wrestlers getting national TV time regularly.

Let’s be clear. That shouldn’t disqualify him from getting a push that takes advantage of the crowd’s enthusiasm for him this summer. Heck, I made the case that at the peak of Titus O’Neal’s popularity very early in his WWE run that he should get a short-term push to main events, and Knight is a considerably more smooth and graceful pro wrestler than Titus. WWE shouldn’t wait too long or make too many excuses not to push him. It’s okay to push him hard this fall and then reevaluate how it’s going after that.

Fans are restless for him to get a push, but last night isn’t a reason to panic. I talked about that last night with Jake Barnett from on the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Post-show. The first caller was frustrated with Knight not winning the U.S. Title semi-final qualifier. (You can listen to that conversation with my on-camera intro on the PWTorch YouTube Channel HERE or listen to the entire podcast audio HERE or subscribe to the podcast by searching “Wade Keller” in your podcast app.)



In the comments area of my YouTube video on this topic, fans are making their case for WWE to push him harder and to start now, not later. The following are some of those comments…

  • They don’t think he should be a world champion? Lost the argument right there.”
  • “Wade, why should LA Knight not be world champion? He’s modern day Stone Cold, they used to put the strap on the most over guy in the company. Why not do that again?”
  • “Nothing new, it’s the same old story. Vince doesn’t like guys who get over organically and please don’t come up with “ViNcE iSn’T bOoKiNg tHe sHoWs nOw” cuz everybody and their moms know that Triple H doesn’t book jacksh–. At this point, wrestlers should only use WWE to expand their fanbase and once they get famous/over then just jump ship to any other promotion where they actually get better treatment.”
  • “If LA Knight wins United States Championship than it will be a job done right. Austin Theory is boring af.”

WWE ran a poll on Twitter asking who their pick was to win last night’s Fatal Four-way match on Smackdown. Knight got 82 percent of the vote. Rey Mysterio, who won the match, got 9 percent of the vote in second place. (I’m sure fans were picking who they wanted to win and others were predicting who would win, but both are consistent with fans being upset he didn’t win.)

It’s important to note Knight did not take the fall last night. Cameron Grimes, a highly-touted indy standout who has had a run of very good matches in NXT, is fresh on the main roster and he was “defined down” somewhat by being the one to take the fall last night. Imagine the outrage of Knight had taken the fall instead of Grimes!

The popularity of Knight is not because of his push or in-ring polish; it’s because of his charisma and a type of connection with the fans that isn’t common.

A lot of people, understandably, are concerned about Vince McMahon being back in a position of creative influence behind the scenes given that a year ago, Knight rubbed him the wrong way when he pushed back on the Max Dupri character (the character itself and the fact that he was primarily a mouthpiece) and, as a result, McMahon was ready to give up on him. It was around that time McMahon resigned, Paul Levesque took over, and Knight was rechristened into his NXT character rather than the Max Dupri character.

The good news is, my sources tell me that McMahon does not resent Knight getting over and is not holding some sort of petty grudge. People are reading into Knight not getting a bigger push yet as some confirmation that McMahon is going to try to “prove he was right about him.” That’s just not the case, I’m told.

Last night just wasn’t the best time for him to get a statement win. WWE has a whole story arc planned out with Rey Mysterio, Santos Escobar, and Austin Theory. Just because Knight is getting big crowd reactions and is a social media star doesn’t mean the first chance to give him a big win is the right place to give him that big win, especially when it’d completely disrupt another planned storyline.

Summerslam is two weeks away, and they have a lot of things planned out to get them to where they want to be. Knight is still getting featured nicely and there’s nothing about his TV push that is setting him back. Fans are simply impatient, and that’s not a bad thing as long as Knight is on a bigger and better course soon. And I think he will be. In fact, I have reason to believe those who are nervous that Knight won’t get a push will be relieved soon enough if they’re just a little bit patient. Big things are in store for him.

The biggest obstacle to Knight getting a sustained big push really is how he handles that push. As reported exclusively earlier here at PWTorch, his backstage instincts are weaker than his in-ring skills. At 40 years old, this might be his last chance to overcome his reputation for rubbing people the wrong way behind the scenes. If he gets a push and then it stops, there’s a good chance it’ll be a result of his actions behind the scenes more than anyone in WWE losing faith or holding a grudge that they weren’t the cause of his surge in popularity.

(Wade Keller is the founder and editor of Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter and He was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015 for Excellence in Writing on Professional Wrestling. He has covered pro wrestling for over 35 years and has interviewed some of pro wrestling biggest names in their longest insider interviews ever and has broken some of pro wrestling’s biggest stories.)

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