A Short Interview with NJPW Young Lion Kevin Knight

The L.A. Dojo standout speaks on always knowing he'd make it as a pro wrestler and more

I haven’t seen so many people rave over a dropkick since Okada. 

On a rare, bored weekend at home by myself, I was enjoying two of my favorite pastimes: Increasing my cannabis tolerance and watching pro wrestling. Catching up with the weekly shows I’ve lagged behind due to the extreme time crunch of December— where holidays coupled with year-end writing obligations make for burnt out journalist— I sat back and enjoyed the year’s first episode of NJPW Strong. Opening the night’s proceedings were two Young Lions whose work I’m incredibly familiar with; Clark Connors and Kevin Knight, both gaining reps in the Pacific Northwest wrestling scene before joining the formidable L.A. Dojo. 

At around seven and a half minutes, Connors and Knight put on a shining example of a great Young Lions match, heavy on fundamentals and chain wrestling and an easy but effective in-ring narrative to follow. If you’ve seen your share of Young Lions matches, this doesn’t sound too different from what the young boys have been conscripted to do in New Japan since time immemorial. With one huge exception: Connors went up to the top rope to execute a move, and Knight, running from the diagonal corner, cleared several feet high as he nails Connors with a fucking sensational dropkick, sending his opponent tumbling to the floor.

Several hundred retweets later and the gif is still embedded in my brain.

This damn near starmaking move capped off a new era in the career of the 24-year-old Knight, who had spent the past two years B.C. (Before COVID) dazzling audiences in Seattle and Everett, its sister city to the north, for his performances in DEFY Wrestling and Without a Cause, clearing the top rope with ease with gravity-eschewing dives and toppling opponents with strikes that could peel the paint off of cars. His stirring finale in the 10-man DEFY to Survive elimination tag match— where the Atlanta native squared off with Judas Icarus, another superstar in the making— served as an early highlight of what is shaping up to be a storied and fruitful career. I immediately realized after I had to talk to this dude. 

Almost exactly one year ago, in the hours prior to the final DEFY show before the pandemic struck, I sat with Knight in the upstairs balcony of Washington Hall— a place I half-jokingly refer to as “the Korakuen Hall of North America” for its inimitable atmosphere— to chat about his childhood days of wrestling fandom, attending the prestigious Buddy Wayne Academy, and his meteoric rise to his status as one of the top talents in the bustling Northwest wrestling scene, arguably the most overlooked regions for wrestling talent in North America.

Martin Douglas: All right, now, let’s start from the beginning. What are your first memories as a wrestling fan? 

Kevin Knight: I can take it back to when I was three, four years old, watching the Hardy Boys, watching the Rock and Austin go at it; super, super young. I just loved the showmanship of the business, it made me excited as a kid. I played all the Smackdown games [on Playstation] with my brothers, practicing the moves on each other, learning how to flip because I saw Jeff Hardy flip. So I don’t know. Whatever they did, I wanted to do. 

What is it about wrestling that made you want to get into it? 

Really, I just thought the people on the screen were so cool. Me and my brother would practice our own entrances, have matches. If one of us was the bad guy, we’d pretend to be William Regal and have the [pretend] brass knuckles. You know, they were just so cool to us. We thought, “Man, we’ve got to do this ourselves.” 

So you always knew you wanted to do this.

I’ve always wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how to become a wrestler. Like I thought wrestlers were just… a wrestler. Like you went to school for it. You got a scholarship for it. And after college, you go to WWE. That’s what I thought wrestling was until I looked up how— I literally typed “how to become a professional wrestler” like last year before I started. And [the article] said, you got to find a school, start training, get on shows. So I was like, “Cool, I’m gonna find a school while I’m out here [in Seattle].” That’s literally what I did.

The first school I found was the Lucha Libre Volcanica school. That’s where I started training at first. Then I met some people through there who had gone to the Buddy Wayne Academy, where I learned all the basics and everything, and I got on shows through [Volcanica] and everything— and word of mouth just helped me get on. Cody Chhun and Guillermo Rosas, they’re the two people who helped me the most getting on shows.

So what does that timeline look like, from when you started training to getting on shows? Because I heard you’ve only been wrestling for two years and I thought—

Oh, two years? It’s been less than that.

Not even two years, bro?? 

It’s been barely a year. When I found Lucha Libre Volcanica, I started training with them like January 15th, 2019. So it’s been 13 months from the day I started training. And how I got here [in such a short time], I don’t know. I’ve been pretty athletic my whole life, so I caught on pretty easily and like I said, I mean, my brother used to have these fake matches all the time. So it’s like I kind of knew what pro wrestling was, it was just learning how to do it myself. 

That’s crazy. 

I know, it really is like how fast everything’s been happening. How. 

You didn’t grow up out here, did you?

No, not at all. I was born in New York, Brooklyn, New York.

What part?

Flatbush.

My grandmother lives in the Bronx.

Oh, for real? That’s what’s up.

I lived up there until I was about seven or eight, and then I moved to Atlanta. That’s where I was raised, spent most of my life. So after I graduated college, I got a job in Atlanta, it was an IT job. And so we got a client out here in Seattle, and they eventually moved us up to Seattle. So I’m just working my job, whatever. And I get a taste of adult life, you know, the real world, and this job is most definitely— I don’t see myself doing this at all. I didn’t try to go to the NFL or anything after college, so I thought why don’t I try to do something I always wanted to do, which was pro wrestling. So I started looking at schools, and I found the Buddy Wayne Academy, but I sent them an email and they didn’t respond. So that’s when I found Lucha Libre Volcanica and started training. It’s been a wild ride so far, man. It’s been so much fun.

How do you handle that emotionally? What emotions are going through you as you’re barely a year into the business and you have that hot final [fall] in the [2020] DEFY to Survive match?

There are two sides to it. Of course, the fan in me is saying, “Yo, I can’t believe I’m really doing this. Not even a year doing this.” On the other side, it’s like, “You’re supposed to be here. This is what you’ve been dreaming of since you were little. If you would have told the five-year-old you you’d be doing this, it would be like, ‘Of course!’” That’s what I’ve been wanting to do. It’s two sides of the coin: One side is surprised that I’m here doing this and the other side is like, “I should have been doing this. I should be signed to WWE right now.” That’s just how I feel. You know, I feel like I’ve always wanted to do this, so of course I get nervous and everything, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I enjoy being in that ring so much. I just have fun, that’s my main thing.

And since I’m still very new, I don’t feel that pressure, you know? Some people that have been here, they’re trying to get signed off of every single match that they do. I’m just having fun. I’m just being me.

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Martin Douglas

The unofficial poet laureate of Tacoma, WA, Martin Douglas is an essayist, critic, and journalist specializing in the fields of music (KEXP.org, Bandcamp Daily, Pitchfork) and pro wrestling (Seattle Weekly, quite a few online zines). He's also a hip-hop beatmaker, fiction writer, disposable camera photographer, and all-around renaissance man.

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