Zak Knight talks about the growth of WAW, Paige’s future and The Rock falling in love with his family

Co-owner of WAW and one half of the UK Hooligans Zak Knight has seen it all when it comes to UK wrestling. WAW is experiencing huge growth and attention across the globe with Hollywood even paying an interest in the families incredible story.

We spoke to Zak about this fascinating journey and the core values both the promotion and the family have stuck to over the years. Having been in the business for 15 years he had some fascinating insight in to the explosion of UK wrestling, working with Scott Hall, The Rock’s interest in the family, and Paige’s involvement in the rise of women’s wrestling.

What was it like going from the localised fame in the UK to being an international phenomenon throughout the wrestling industry?

It’s weird. You’ve got people coming out the woodwork that you haven’t seen in years just to say hello and try and steal a little bit of the limelight. To us, as a family, we’re still down our office, we still work 14 hours a day, nothing’s different. We still live on a council estate. My front garden is in desperate need of a tidy-up. Nothing’s changed as us as a family. We just feel that we got a lucky break. I feel that we’ve finally got our reward for wrestling in front of 20-30 people and sticking around in a business that was dying out 15 years ago.

Tell us about the experience of the upcoming film about the family.

Rock twitterAfter the documentary came out, a couple of weeks later we were approached about a movie. To be honest, a lot of what you hear is true. Basically, The Rock was over in the UK and one morning he was sat up at 3am after a long day at work and our documentary was on TV and he fell in love with the family because of the family roots and the passion we showed towards wrestling. And it reminded him a lot of his family. He went to Vince and then to Kevin Misher and Stephen Merchant. These guys believed that this had potential to be a great movie. So when they came to us nearly two years ago saying “we want to make this movie, is this something you’d be interested in?” It’s kind of felt like, well why do they want to do a movie about us? We’re just council estate guys that travel around wrestling whether its 50 or 1500 people, we do it because we love the job. So it was a bit surreal having Stephen Merchant coming in your lounge, sitting down talking to you. And being on the set and meeting all the actors – the names they’ve managed to get into the movie was all surreal. We do pinch ourselves every now and then.

What should we expect from the film?

Mainly the film is carrying on from the documentary – it shows you some of the documentary, but filmed as a movie and not a documentary. And then it goes on to tell you what happens afterwards – when my sister moved to America, the after-effects of me when I got turned down, you see just how low WAW got, and then it’s risen again to something that we feel is one of the best productions in Europe. For us, it’s quite insane.

Tell us about the setup of training wrestlers, and Scott Hall’s involvement in the company.

Me and my Mum are the head trainers. So, we will take all the classes. We like to bring a lot of guest coaches as well, so we will have Jason Cross, Karl Kramer, Jace the Ace, Steve Grey, Mal Sanders – they get a variety of trainers coming down and giving back to the business.

Originally I brought Scott Hall over – I was talking to Steven Fludder from PCW, and he said that he brings imports in so that people recognise his company. And not only that, they recognise the UK talent that don’t get the chance to wrestle in front of big crowds, so my dad was working closely with one of our investors and decided to do a TV pilot. And the first man I called upon was Scott Hall. And in that time, he’s been fantastic. He lets us get on with it – even if we look like we’re not doing it right, this is the man that’s been at the top and knows how it should be done, but he’s not hard on us, he works with us, and gives us ideas. He’s now started working with our camera crew to make sure they get the right shots at the right time, he’s one of the agents – so he speaks to our guys and makes sure that everything they do works psychology-wise. So he’s actually been a great part of the success over the last 18 months.

He’s fantastic. For everything that is said about Scott Hall – the guy, when he’s over here, is completely professional. He doesn’t drink before the shows or during the shows and generally not after the shows. He’s just a really really down-to-earth guy, that’s not even in it for the money because we’re still a low budget company that can’t afford a great deal, but he values what WAW is and believes it’s going to grow. And if it does, he will be rewarded greatly.

What’s your view on British Wrestling and its huge rise?

I feel that the rest of this year and next year is the make or break for British Wrestling. It’s the hottest that it’s been since it was on TV. People know about British Wrestling, but there’s still some low times. Obviously me and my brother are full-time wrestlers. We wrestled 289 shows last year – we were the top workers. No-one could beat us for how many jobs we’ve worked. There’s still little bits, and wrong people in the business that could jeopardise the hard-work that people have done in the last 15 years to get it back into this situation.

I don’t want to name people, but there are certain companies that are under-cutting other companies, there are certain wrestlers that, to me, shouldn’t be near a ring. They will do a training school and go and open a company and they’re sort of drawing on the positiveness of British wrestling but they’re not giving the shows that the British wrestlers have worked so hard for in the past 15 years. It is on a rise – companies are doing well but the make or break for me is, let’s see how World of Sport goes, my fingers are crossed that everyone on that show are wanting to work, because it’s only going to be better for the wrestling in general. I’m hoping that this movie is a big part of making British Wrestling famous again. I don’t believe in bringing too many Americans into World of Sport. Back in the day the big names were English – Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus. I believe that we’re in a position to make household names again if it’s done right.

Do you think the WWE are starting to take the UK industry more seriously, and see that there’s an appetite and an audience for it?

Of course – they’ve had plenty of opportunities to do this before but the fact that British Wrestling is on such a high at the moment, they’re doing what Vince McMahon did 30 years ago – take all the independent stars and make them his. Anyone that talks shit about Vince – he’s a businessman and he’s doing exactly what any businessman should do. I agree with his philosophy but I also think that if you love British Wrestling, we need to stand together and say no. We’re not going to sign just to be on NXT or on the network – stay loyal to the roots of British Wrestling and this is what we’ve worked for. But the name WWE holds so much nostalgia that people are willing to sign a contract for no money now.

Where do you think the growth of WAW has come from?

To be honest, over the last four or five years the company has developed because we have stepped out of our comfort zone. We were a very British-style organised company. I came into business with my dad a few years ago.  To be able to remain one of the top companies in Europe, we had to bring some imports in and change up the merch table a bit. We had to make storylines more up to date. To be honest, it’s worked great for us.

What elements of traditional British wrestling have you kept?

We still keep our referees doing British rules – we don’t do the five-count on the ropes, and silly little stuff. If I’m the champion and I walk out, you can lose your belt, we don’t believe in the rules that are applied by the Americans. My dad’s got his own set of British rules and that’s what he’s tried to keep in this company.

What was it like growing up in a family that was so heavily involved wrestling?

We get asked this a lot, but that’s all we’ve ever known. We loved it as a family. Growing up, travelling around watching your mum and dad during the holidays, being six, seven, eight years old and seeing the UK, most kids don’t get to go outside their front door. For us, this is life, we don’t know no different.

I feel that we have the advantage over most people, because we had the etiquette schooled into us early. We weren’t allowed to run around the dressing rooms – backstage you wouldn’t have kids running around, you wouldn’t have new guys going through their match for three hours before the show. These wrestlers, these were men and the changing rooms were a lot different. So I believe that the etiquette and psychology were passed down to us from an early age.

This is something you develop after years and years of being in the business. People are in the business for five years now and call themselves legends. Well, me, my brother and my sister grew up where people have been wrestling 15 years and they’re still classed as rookies. I think this is something people are starting to see about the Knight family – it doesn’t matter how long we’ve been in the business, we are still humble, we’re still learning and we just want what’s best for British wrestling.

Seeing the success of Paige must have been a big payoff for the family.

That’s something we can all stand up with pride and say – we had an input in her training. I was one of her first matches. The family could see that she was going to be a star. At 15, she had travelled to 26 different countries, flying on her own. We always knew she was going to be a star. And to be honest, whether it’s biased or not, I believe she was the star of the women’s revolution. They brought Becky Lynch and Charlotte in and become PCB and Saraya (Paige) was at the front of that. She gave these girls some of the best matches they’ve ever had.

She watered herself down and became a bump-monkey for these girls, hence the injuries she’s carrying at the moment. When she left that was a great achievement for the family and it did help our training school but it’s also the fact of the hours the family put in together. We’re forever looking for sponsors; we’re forever looking to make the next show better than the last. So I believe the success of my sister, and the hard work of the family is why we’re up to where we are at the moment.

So things are getting better as a result.

Yeah, 100%. People love buying into true stories. Obviously, to start with, the family was unsure about what was going on between Paige and Alberto. Everyone can blame Alberto for what’s happening at the moment but she’s a 24-year-old girl that made fame at 18 and she’s got a horrific injury and we don’t know what’s going to happen next. This could be the end of Paige or it could be the big fight-back story. We don’t now yet, but the fact that Alberto and Paige is now coming into WAW, is huge for us. She’s now giving out pointers and Alberto is the same, he’s great. He comes over and is willing to do anything. The guy has been to the top and he’s listening to my storylines and my plots. This is the mentality of all the guys coming in. We get inundated with emails from top stars every day saying “can we come and work for WAW”. And that is a he achievement and honour.