Professional wrestling career
After watching a professional wrestling match on television, Knighton decided to become a wrestler. He trained under retired professional wrestler Jim Leon in a boxing gym in his hometown of Baltimore, receiving supplementary training from former World Championship Wrestling (WCW) jobber Joey Maggs. Knighton debuted in 1986, shortly after Leon was murdered, and adopted the ring name "Axl Rotten".
In the early 1990s, Rotten trained Ian Rotten, who formed a tag team with Axl, masquerading as his brother. The duo, known as the Bad Breed, wrestled primarily in the Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation. Rotten later opened his own professional wrestling promotion in Maryland called "Universal Independent Wrestling". The promotion featured wrestlers such as the Bad Breed, Bam Bam Bigelow and Scotty The Body, and had a television series that aired on Saturday nights on the local ABC channel. The promotion closed in the mid 1990s.
In 1991, Rotten had a short stint with World Championship Wrestling, where he feuded with wrestler/rapper PN News. After leaving WCW, Axl and his trainee Ian Rotten had a run with the Global Wrestling Federation in Texas, being featured on their daily ESPN show. While in GWF, Axl succeeded in winning both the GWF Commonwealth title and the GWF Tag Team Championship, with Ian Rotten.
Extreme Championship Wrestling (1993-1999)
In 1993, the Bad Breed were hired by Paul Heyman, the then-booker of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) promotion. They competed in the ECW tag team division until November to Remember in 1994, when they lost a tag team match to The Pit Bulls with the stipulation that the losing team would be forced to separate. Both Rotten brothers blamed one another for the loss, leading to a rivalry between the two. The former partners wrestled their first match against one another in ECW at Double Tables on February 4, 1995, with Ian pinning Axl. They faced one another in a variety of hardcore matches over the subsequent seventeen months, fighting in "hair versus hair" matches and "barbed wire baseball bat, barbed wire chair" matches. Their feud finally ended at Hardcore Heaven 1995 on July 1, 1995 when Axl defeated Ian in a "Taipei Death match" (a match that saw each man coat their taped fists with shards of broken glass) which turned out to be one of ECW's bloodier matches. The Bad Breed eventually reconciled and teamed together once again in early 1996.
Rotten competed in the ECW heavyweight division as a singles wrestler throughout the remainder of 1996. In 1997, he formed a tag team with Balls Mahoney known as The Hardcore Chair Swingin' Freaks and teamed up with Spike Dudley and New Jack to take on their main rivals, the Dudley Boyz. Mahoney and Rotten teamed together until 1999, occasionally wrestling one another. Rotten eventually left ECW in 1999, and appeared with Xtreme Pro Wrestling and the Japanese Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling promotion. Rotten then wrestled on the independent circuit throughout the early 2000s.
Return to the independent circuit (1999–2016)
Rotten eventually left ECW in 1999 and appeared with Xtreme Pro Wrestling and the Japanese Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling promotion. Rotten then wrestled on the independent circuit throughout the early 2000s.
Rotten performed at the ECW reunion event Hardcore Homecoming on June 10, 2005, reuniting with Ian Rotten in a loss to The Gangstanators. At the follow-up event, November Reign, on November 6, 2005, Rotten defeated Ian Rotten in a Taipei Death match. Rotten also wrestled at the Extreme Reunion event on April 28, 2012, facing Balls Mahoney.
World Wrestling Entertainment (2005)
On the June 6, 2005 episode of Raw, Rotten debuted in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), storming the ring with several other ECW alumni. Rotten went on to appear at the two ECW reunion shows taking place that month. At Hardcore Homecoming on June 10, 2005, the Bad Breed reunited, participating in a wild brawl with The Gangstanators although this was not announced as an official match due to Bad Breed sticking to a stipulation never to team again after losing a feud to the Pit Bulls. At ECW One Night Stand on June 12, 2005, Rotten, Mahoney and Kid Kash attacked the Blue World Order after they interfered in the main event tag team match. Following the events, Rotten and Mahoney wrestled several dark matches for WWE, but were not signed to contracts. At the second Hardcore Homecoming event on November 4, 2005, Axl defeated Ian Rotten in another "Taipei Death match".
Axl Rotten was listed as an ECW wrestler on the official ECW.com website, however events put his future with in the new ECW Brand in jeopardy. Rotten failed to show for the June 5 edition of Raw in an angle involving several other ECW wrestlers. WWE management was not happy with Rotten no showing at Raw. Furthermore, it was confirmed that Rotten was not backstage at the WWE vs. ECW Head to Head special that aired on USA Network on June 7. Rotten also did not appear at the ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view event that was held on June 11, 2006. He was then removed from the roster on the ECW.com website. Rotten was released before he could even compete in the new ECW. After the release, he made a few appearances in Independent Wrestling Association Mid-South in tag team matches
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2010)
Rotten made a one-night appearance with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling on August 8, 2010 at the ECW tribute show Hardcore Justice. Rotten teamed with Kahoneys (Balls Mahoney), losing to Team 3D in a "South Philadelphia Street Fight".
Rotten appeared in an uncredited, non-speaking role on the first episode of the show Homicide: Life on the Street, entitled "Gone for Goode", seen being questioned in "The Box" while Lieutenant Al Giardello gives Det. Tim Bayliss his introductory tour of the Homicide Unit.
Knighton was born in the Fell's Point neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. He attended Southern High School, leaving in eleventh grade to pursue his ambition of becoming a professional wrestler.
Knighton suffered from a spine injury in his final years that forced him out of the ring and caused the use of a wheelchair. He was living in Anchorage Rehab Center in Salisbury, Maryland.
Knighton was found dead by police in a Baltimore, Maryland, motel room on February 4, 2016. Ten hours earlier, he had sent his final tweet, which read: "The way I do things may not be the way you do things but you will find out there is only 1 way. My away! (sic) #AxIsTruth."
- Finishing moves
- SST - Severe Skull Trauma (Inverted brainbuster)
- Entrance themes
- "Antichrist Superstar" by Marilyn Manson (ECW)
- "The Beautiful People" by Marilyn Manson (ECW)
- "Cake and Sodomy" by Marilyn Manson (ECW)
- "Fight For Your Right" by Beastie Boys (ECW)
- "Hair of the Dog" by Guns N'Roses (ECW)
- "Get Your Gunn" by Marilyn Manson (ECW)
- "Kick Out the Jams" by Monster Magnet (ECW)
- "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" by Marilyn Manson (ECW)
- Wrestlers trained
Championships and accomplishments
- Eastern Wrestling Alliance (Massachusetts)Eastern Wrestling Alliance
- EWA Hardcore Championship (1 time)
- Global Wrestling Federation
- Independent Wrestling Association Mid-South
- Maryland Championship Wrestling
- MCW Hall of Fame (Class of 2009)
- Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation
- National Wrestling League
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Star Cavalcade Wrestling