He and his family may be household names in the wrestling world, but Zak Knight has had to fight to get there. The WAW star opens up about the road to success, the setbacks and his own personal battles.
Entertainment and high drama lie at the heart of wrestling, and WAW star Zak Knight has had such a colourful life that a Hollywood film has even been made about him and his family.
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant in 2019, Fighting with my Family told the story of Norfolk-based Zak and his wrestler parents and siblings, with the cast including acting legends Vince Vaughn and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. ‘That was incredibly surreal,’ says Zak, 29. ‘Seeing our lives portrayed in film and being introduced to A-list celebrities on the red carpet was mindblowing.’
But despite the big-screen success, life hasn’t always been kind to Zak, and a decade ago he suffered from such severe depression that he ended up in hospital. His mental health struggles were sparked by several failed attempts to break into the elite ranks of WWE, which has been his dream since boyhood ‘For various reasons, it didn’t go anywhere. My body shape always let me down,’ he says. After five years of what Zak calls a ‘deep, dark depression,’ he had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar. ‘I had a month in the hospital and was away from my family for a long time. It was a bigger fight than any I’d had in the wrestling ring.”
‘He’s the best big brother I could ask for. He’s always guided me through the hard times and been there to catch me when I’ve fallen‘
With the unwavering support of wife Courtney and their children, Deven, five, and Kayden, eight, he eventually overcame his health battles, shed six stone and climbed back into the ring.
His older brother Roy, 40 – Zak’s current partner in wrestling duo The Hooligans – also helped him through his ordeal, and the pair have built up a huge following together.
‘He’s the best big brother I could ask for. He’s always guided me through the hard times and been there to catch me when I’ve fallen.” But while critics often brand wrestling too violent, Zak says: ‘I encourage people to see it as a soap opera. It’s a show – the crowd can go from booing us to loving us in a matter of minutes, even ending up in tears.”
Zak – who made his wrestling debut aged nine – jumped at the chance to highlight the emotional side of the sport in a BBC Three series called Step into the Ring last September. The fly-on-the-wall documentary followed Zak as he trained up-and-coming wrestlers who had issues such as anxiety, autism and even sight loss. ‘The show was a real high point for me. I’m hoping there will be another series.”
‘It’s been very difficult, and there have been lots of fundraising just to try and keep us going, he says. ‘Lockdown is also hard when you’ve suffered a mental health disorder. Every day, you have to try to find a new positive‘
In March last year, it also looked like his WWE ambition was at last within reach. Trials in Florida were going well – but then the pandemic struck and Zak was sent home. Back in Norwich, his wrestling shows were cancelled due to Covid, and his community training centre was forced to close. ‘It’s been very difficult, and there have been lots of fundraising just to try and keep us going, he says. ‘Lockdown is also hard when you’ve suffered a mental health disorder. Every day, you have to try to find a new positive.’
Thankfully, Courtney, 27, who is expecting their third child this spring, has helped him stay focused on training ahead of restrictions lifting this spring. ‘I know it’s a cliché but she’s my soulmate. I’m extremely lucky to have someone
who has been with me through thick and thin.”
As well as Zak’s upcoming dad duties with their new baby girl, he is keen to break into acting in the near future. But his ultimate goal remains the same after 20 years. ‘For me, the dream is still WWE. I really need that fairytale ending, and I’m not going to stop until I get it.’