A career-defining moment came for Sam Udell on July 31, 2014. That was the day he lost his WWE developmental contract, He faced an uncertain future, but has ultimately come out of it stronger, with a new personality, Dakota (Dak) Draper.
Udell reflected back on that day at the end of July. “It was weird, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew that I would be alright. I was excited for the new adventure. I love stories. I love telling stories, I love listening to stories. I knew I’d get a lot of cool stories out of the next few years.
Udell was born in Denver, Colorado, on March 20, 1988 to Chris and Janet Udell. Udell’s father was a huge influence on him growing up. “My dad always knew that there was something different about me. He would tell me that other people can grow up to work 9 to 5 jobs, I’m supposed to do something else, I’m supposed to be in front of people. He was big on goal setting, and being conscious of whether or not what you’re doing will bring you closer or further from achieving your goals.”
Growing up in Denver, Udell was an avid sports fan, following the Denver Broncos and the WWE (WWF at the time).
Udell played football and wrestled at St. Mary’s Prep high school in Colorado Springs, a suburb of Denver and led the state of Colorado in quarterback sacks his senior year from his defensive end spot. Udell won male athlete of the year and player of the year honors in football and city and league wrestling champion and was also the Tri-Peaks league wrestler of the year.
Chadron State, a Division II wrestling power house in Chadron, Nebraska, recruited Udell to join the university’s wrestling program. Udell wrestled and lettered three years and placed in the top 12 in the nation his senior year in the NCAA national tournament. It was at the NCAA finals that he caught the eye of WWE talent scout Gerry Brisco, who invited him to Florida Championship Wrestling, then WWE’s developmental territory. “Late in the summer of 2011 they brought me to FCW for a tryout. I was in FCW for a week. The only thing I did well was my promo.”
Udell didn’t get signed, but Brisco told him to work on his body and to find a wrestling school. “I moved back to Denver and ended up meeting Pat Tanaka and trained with Pat for about nine months. Gerry Brisco called me again and offered me another tryout. I did well in the ring and in the promo again and after the promo, they pulled me aside and told me they were gonna sign me.”
In August 2012, Udell signed a two-year WWE developmental contract. The first year he spent in Tampa before the current WWE Performance Center was built in Orlando. Udell worked in developmental as Travis Tyler, mostly in an enhancement role.
Without making much of an impact in FCW or NXT, Udell was released from the developmental contract. At the time, he tweeted out, “I was probably the first guy to get fired while wearing a pink fanny pack in some time. I learned a lot and am thankful for the experience.” He moved back to Denver to work on the independent scene. To make ends meet, Udell became a personal trainer and wrestled weekends.
Unbeknownst to Udell, the wheels were in motion in Kansas City, Missouri, for the biggest opportunity of his wrestling career.
A lifelong wrestling fan by the name of Major Baisden sold his tech company, Iris Data Services, for $134 million and was looking for his next business opportunity. Born in Sacramento, California, Baisden graduated from the University of California-Davis at only 19 years old. Basiden worked as a manager for the legal tech support unit of the California Department of Justice and helped to move the company into the digital age. In 2007, Baisden moved to Kansas City and formed his own company, Iris Data Services.
After selling his company in January 2015 and staying on through the year as a consultant, Baisden contacted Chris Gough. Gough had experience working for the WWE (1999-2003) and founded Metro Pro Wrestling in Kansas City in 2010. Gough also produced the documentary on wrestling in the Central States territory called KC On the Mat. Baisden offered to buy Metro Pro Wrestling and hired Gough to run his new organization, the “National Wrasslin League” in August 2016.
Gough was named directer of operations of the new company and his duties include, announcing, booking and hiring of talent. One of the first calls Gough made when recruiting wrestlers was to Udell. Gough had always wanted to book Udell for his Metro Pro Wrestling promotion. “He was appealing to me because he had been to the WWE, like me,” said Gough. “I knew he would appreciate this opportunity because of that.”
Udell met with Gough and Baisden in Kansas City, liked what he heard and signed a two-year contract, which includes health benefits. Udell became Dakota (Dak) Draper from Denver, Colorado.
“I gained a lot of confidence wrestling in the independents. That was the thing that held me back in WWE, I was always trying to be a character instead of being myself. Now I can be Dak Draper who thinks he is above everyone else.”
Draper refers to himself as the “Mile High Magnum” as a tribute to his home city and one of his favorite wrestlers, Magnum T.A. Draper says being a heel is natural for him. “Dr. Tom [Prichard] told us the first day of (WWE) developmental that the best wrestling characters are extensions of ourselves with the volume turned up. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but I am starting to now.”
The new character exploded on the NWL scene and quickly became the most polarizing figure on the NWL roster. Boasting about being 6-foot-5, tanned and handsome, Draper’s arrogance attracted the ire of some fans, but also the adulation of many more. Draper’s T-shirt is the best selling merchandise item for the NWL.
Draper won a tournament to crown the first NWL Kansas City champion, defeating rival Blaine Meeks in the final. Draper has since cleared out all challengers in the division and remains the only undefeated member of the NWL roster.
While speaking into a microphone has been Draper’s strength, his in-ring presence has improved during his time in the NWL. “I created a weekly YouTube show called ‘The Magnum Minute’ which has helped me so much on the microphone. Editing videos of myself over and over makes it easy to improve.”
Draper appreciates being involved in the NWL promotion. “I really want to make the NWL a successful company. It’s really cool to be involved in the process of creating wrestling instead of people telling you what to do.” The NWL television is also available in St. Joseph, Joplin and Springfield, Missouri, as well as Wichita, Kansas. The NWL YouTube channel also shows the television program after it has aired on TV.
No one wrestler is more giving of his time in promoting wrestling for the NWL than Draper. Draper’s verbal skills and outgoing personality make him the go-to man on the NWL roster when it comes to radio and television appearances for promoting upcoming events. Draper routinely spends his free time making personal appearances trying to promote the NWL brand.
“I got the right basics in NXT and then went out and got a chance to apply what I learned on my own. I got to think and grow with no safety nets,” Draper explained when talking about his in-ring performance. “I’m not playing a role when I’m out there anymore, I’m being who I’ve wanted to be for my entire life. I’m comfortable when all eyes are on me, and I’m at my best when I’m comfortable.”
Through aggressive marketing efforts, NWL has secured television time in Kansas City for the first time since the mid to late 1980s when Central States was a TV staple. It has proper Draper further recognition, including in downtown Kansas City. “Actually, I was out in the Power & Light District and someone recognized me. That didn’t happen, even in Orlando. I had some tickets to our next show with me and gave the guy a couple of tickets to watch the Mile High Magnum.”