August 28th, 2023
Aging is tough. As we grow older, doors that were previously open to us are pushed closed. It’s no one’s fault; at some point we all turn a corner and are less capable than we used to be. But the affect this has on us mentally can be harsh, because when our optionality is reduced, the world tends to become smaller – and us with it. From there, the sinking feeling of a shrinking ceiling are the ideal elements for accelerating depression and anger, fueling a potential downward spiral. It becomes easy to lose faith in our abilities, and to give up entirely.
Lemme talk to ya. Currently in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) there’s an athlete, a megastar, named LA Knight. What makes him unique amongst a group of elite performers is that, despite minimal screen time, he managed to become hugely popular (in wrestling parlance, he got “over”) with live crowds. What makes him truly extraordinary though is that his career is taking off in earnest for the first time at the ripe age of 40.
I think what fans like about LA Knight is that he’s a throwback to how wrestling operated 20 years ago, where the emphasis was on attitude and insults and catchphrases – in essence, his popularity is somewhat a reflection of the larger ongoing movement of a desire for nostalgia.
That’s selling LA Knight short though, as it undercuts what the man really has going for himself, which is something that never goes out of style: charisma. Humans are social creatures, and one of the deepest impulses we all share is a gravitation toward others, specifically people who make us feel seen, or are capable of being seen by everyone else. This type of person has the power to stand out and above and become a magnet for attention.
For LA Knight, his character was rallied around by fans so rapidly that the WWE, his own employer, weren’t prepared to give him the requisite screen time that people were clamoring for. Due to the WWE planning storylines months in advance, the organization had no choice but to sit back and monitor whether LA Knight’s heat would continue without any major material being given to him. From their perspective, either he keeps the momentum going on his own, which the organization would love, or he fizzles out like so many who came before him, and the organization can breathe a sigh of relief that they didn’t commit too many resources to him. Cut to today and one needs to look no further than current merchandise sales, where LA Knight’s apparel dominates the rankings, to recognize that his wave of popularity became a tsunami.
By the time SummerSlam in Detroit rolled around (only 10 short months into this iteration of the LA Knight character!), the WWE was finally prepared to give him his big push. In the Battle Royal, LA Knight was blessed with his first major win on an almighty PLE (premium live event), besting 24 other men to win the match.
The WWE immediately dove-tailed LA Knight’s bestowed heat into a feud with long-time company heel, The Miz, who was outraged over LA Knight tossing him out of the ring near the end of the Battle Royal. The Miz gathered up all of the insults and question marks over whether LA Knight could ever become “the guy” this deep into his career, and used it to proclaim that LA Knight didn’t deserve to be elevated to the midcard alongside him. LA Knight, who had previously been written as a heel, used this abuse to position himself as the rightful underdog who, against all odds, has become a “dangerous man” at 40 years old, thus making him into the (anti-hero) face that the crowd already treated him as.
Last week, shocking news came down that fan favorite wrestler Bray Wyatt unexpectedly died of a heart attack at age 36, and the news sent WWE into overdrive to put together a memorial show for Friday night’s edition of Smackdown. Amongst the talented and veteran cast of characters in the arena that night who knew Bray Wyatt well, the WWE chose to give the in-ring eulogy honor to none other than Bray’s final opponent: LA Knight. In his remembrance, LA Knight credited Bray for not only reimagining what was possible in professional wrestling, but for pushing LA Knight himself to a previously only imagined higher level, the level where he now found himself. From there, LA Knight rolled his tribute into a promo for his big upcoming PLE match at Payback against The Miz – entertainment that Bray would’ve no doubt appreciated. The ending of the speech, where LA Knight brought it back to Bray Wyatt by delivering a warning to his opponent using Bray’s own words, was a superb in-ring send-off. In the night’s headlining match, LA Knight squared off against another of Bray’s old feud opponents, Finn Bálor, and the man with the most heat deservedly won.
And then …. Well, that’s actually as far as LA Knight’s story has gotten. As I write this, it’s the end of August 2023 and we remain smack dab in the middle of the ascension of LA Knight. So why publish this mid-stream when his career still might fizzle out like The Miz predicts? The way I see it, identifying someone like LA Knight at this uncertain moment of his career offers us the chance to go on the ride with him, rooting him along as he tries to find real success for the first time in his career.
The future is unwritten, and the past is just a story we tell ourselves; the only thing any of us truly has is the present moment. Right now, LA Knight is on fire, and it’s obvious from watching him on Raw, Smackdown, and the numerous interviews he’s been giving that he’s doing his best to make every moment the best it possibly can be, and letting the chips fall where they may. “If you focus on results, you will never make progress. If you focus on progress, you will get results.”
Though doors may close as we get older, it’s impossible to know if they’re locked unless you reach out and jiggle the handle. Dreams aren’t meant to be given up – they’re meant to be chased down.