Keith Lee: Road to WWE; WWE 24/7
The AAW Heritage Title was on the line during the "Take No Prisoners" event in Logan Square Auditorium, May 2017. Keith Lee was pit against the Champion Pentagon Jr., who is now Penta El Zero in AEW. This match featured the two hottest prospects in Independent Pro Wrestling at the time, even before their respective American TV Promotion Debuts in WWE and AEW. The excitement both drummed up in their pre-match square off was almost as memorable as the match itself, which saw Penta retain after connecting on two destroyer power bombs (leaping dangerous moves usually not done to performers Lee's size).
Keith Lee, who stands 6-foot-2 and 340 pounds, still managed to move like a cruiserweight, maintaining mobility and pulling off moves that a man his size typically couldn't imagine performing, such as a Hurricanrana or a full-body flip to an opponent outside the ring.
However, Lee's battle did not start or end in the ring. He auditioned three times for WWE before finally being signed. William Regal, head talent director with NXT/WWE, said he knew Keith was special all along. Even after Lee's second failed audition, Regal still had faith and managed to convince Lee that all he needed to focus on his solo career and getting as much exposure as possible.
Lee took Regal's advice and participated in many popular independent promotions, including Evolve, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Game Changer Wrestling, AAW (Chicago based promotion), Progress (UK based promotion), and New Japan. After being signed by NXT, Lee made his official debut in July of 2018. NXT is often thought to produce "tomorrow's WWE Superstars", which put Lee one step closer to his final goal. He was a part of Team NXT at the 2019 Survivor Series, making his first-ever appearance on a WWE broadcast as he battled Roman Reigns to become the final survivor. Despite losing the match, it was clear that Lee was still here to stay, even if it wasn't with the WWE corporation.
Keith won the NXT North American Title in January of 2020 and became only the 2nd African American to win the start-up title since its inception in 2018. He also made an appearance on the WWE Royal Rumble PPV as a participant in the featured match. At The Great American Bash NXT event on July 1st, Lee defeated long-reigning NXT Champion Adam Cole for the title, becoming the first African American to hold the NXT Championship title. Even with no fans in attendance, it was a high-energy event and a monumental moment for Lee. He would later hold both the NXT Championship and the NXT North American Championship titles simultaneously, eventually giving up the latter so others in NXT would compete for it, per General Manager William Regal's request.
Keith Lee's win streak continued as he then defended the NXT Champion against Dominik Dijakovic. Dijakovic was a familiar foe who he had fought in a series of matches in the independent circuit. In addition to their shared history, they also had notably similar fighting styles, with Dijakovic having an even greater advantage due to his comparably larger build. All of the matches between the two were instant classics, and Lee's victory during the NXT Championship was as well regarded then as it is now.
Unfortunately, Lee's win streak was not to last, and he would go on to lose the NXT Championship to Karrion Kross at the NXT Takeover XXX PPV event by a clean finish. Following that night, it was announced that Keith Lee would be joining the Raw Brand in one of WWE's biggest PPV events of the year, the SummerSlam. It was here that Lee would receive the most exposure of his career thus far, and it was clear to all that he earned every second of it.
Recently, Lee won Survivor Series as a member of "Team Raw". Still, Lee hasn't been featured much since his victory over Sheamus in 2020. WWE isn't done with Lee just yet, but it is clear that he has already made an impressive legacy for himself. Wherever he chooses to take his career next, we know that he won't disappoint.