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With the body paint, weaves and scary tattoos, at times the look is more KISS than Metallica ... but the energy is as in-your-face as you can get, and it's where mic drops are as fun as elbow drops//

COURTESY: WWE NXT - Tucker Knight (right), 25, has gone from the wrestling program at North Marion High to competing in WWE NXT, hoping to make the big big-time.He’s almost a hometown boy.

NXT wrestler Tucker Knight hails from Hubbard, which he describes as a hop farming community of 3,000 near Woodburn.

He’s returning home this weekend, hoping to show off Portland to his Florida wrestling buddies and meet up with his Oregon friends and family.

The latter probably know him better as Levi Cooper, his non-stage name.

“My grandpa was a big-time hockey broadcaster, and he took me to some local wrestling in Portland,” he says. “When WWE came back, around 1999, I was in middle school and I remember he and a bunch of broadcasters took me to the Rose Garden to see Kane and the Undertaker.” (AKA The Brothers of Destruction.)

That grandpa was Cliff Zauner, who, as a two-term state representative, worked to bring wrestling and mixed martial arts back to Oregon, according to Knight.

(One of Zauner’s favorite political signs along I-5 was "Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed from time to time.")

Like many a middle schooler, Knight was impressed with the wrestlers.

“I remember being enthralled by these larger-than-life characters that I knew from TV,” he says.

Growing up, Knight played “every sport you can think of.” He says wrestling’s enduring attraction, across age groups, is as a combination of athletic and storytelling prowess.

“Seeing any athlete doing things the vast majority of society is incapable of doing, that’s just intriguing,” he says. “Then, with WWE, you combine it with this grandiose production, the fireworks, and it’s even more.”

Knight, 25, did a year at Portland State before moving to Arizona State and wrestling for the college.


7.30 p.m. Saturday, MAY 14

Moda Center

Tickets: $32-$137

WWE NXT is a wrestling reality show about next-generation pro wrestlers hoping to make it in World Wrestling Entertainment. They learn their trade with help from mentors from WWE's Raw and SmackDown brands.

NXT has been described as a hybrid of reality TV and scripted wrestling, although such distinctions miss the point. The live version, like a political rally, has less emphasis on rules and propriety and more on character and emotion. Yelling is encouraged.

Twenty wrestlers will be at Moda Center’s Theater of the Clouds for Saturday’s show. Five are featured as the superstars. (On the phone for this interview, WWE’s on-message publicity person introduced the wrestler as “NXT superstar Tucker Knight.”)

Knight says people don’t just come to see crazy antics, of the sort kids now can watch 24/7 on YouTube, but for the storytelling.

“We tell stories, and we put on performances,” he says. “People get enthralled in the emotions, not just the spectacle. Wrestlers are putting their hearts and emotions on the line.”

WWE gives them a lot of creative freedom to work on their own character or wrestling identities.

At the Performance Center in Winter Park near Orlando, Florida, he and his NXT buddies not only train together, they also bounce character ideas off each other (and other creative staff).

He works at this more than just 9-to-5, and often finds himself watching something on TV and noting that it makes him feel a certain way.

“You can find inspiration from any character, in movies … comic books have a lot of good versus evil stuff … personally I draw from TV shows and movies,” he says. “I maybe see one character trait and pull that one thing away. It’s a slow evolution, a lot of tinkering.”

The team at the Performance Center is like many he’s been on. Wrestling is more individual, but the grapplers are united in pulling for the brand, be it WWE or NXT. It’s a collaborative effort.

Where do wrestlers go when they retire? Knight cites The Rock as an outstanding example of someone who made it further in entertainment. “Some,” he says, “just end up having families and getting a 9-to-5 job, I don’t know …”

He’s heard of one guy who made it in Cirque du Soleil, the acrobatic circus troupe from Canada.

Tucker Knight has always loved coaching, both football and wrestling, in schools and camps. “I enjoy coaching and I’m pretty good at it,” he says.

He thinks that’s where he might go one day, but for now it’s all about the fireworks, the fans and the fantasy.

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Tucker Knight

(born Levi Cooper)

Age: 25

NXT Nicknames: Tuck Shop ... Tucker Biscuit ... Bull-Fit ... Muckle Kite

From: Hubbard, Oregon

Signed with WWE: 2013

Wrestling highlights: Two-time state runner up at North Marion High … All-American at Arizona State

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