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Jade Cargill played for two basketball teams in high school and was a hugely instrumental part in helping both of them win district championships.
In her senior year, the girl from Vero Beach, FL, was recruited into the Atlantic Sun Preseason First Team and also boasts a certified masters degree in child psychology. Still, for millions of pro wrestling fans around the world, Cargill is also known as “The Next Big Thing” in All Elite Wrestling, and the first woman to hold the TBS championship in this newly formed, but stratospherically growing organization.
The ruler of the ring and mother of 4-year-old-daughter, Bailey Quinn, recently sat down with M&F to discuss her transition from basketball to pro wrestling, the pressures of being touted for superstardom, and her unwavering dedication to being the best. We also came away a sample workout from the champs’ grueling schedule for good measure.
“I’ve been in sports all my life, so I’ve been attracted to bodybuilding forever,” says the 29-year-old, who has one of the most incredible physiques in all of pro wrestling. “I watched [WWE female legend] Chyna when I was growing up, and I was muscular growing up. I would get picked on because of how built I was and seeing her embody her presence, it made me love myself and say: ‘You know what? I love my body and I want to get stronger.’”
This fit girl from Florida first noticed pro wrestling when she was enraptured by the larger-than-life characters of WWE’s monster hit “Attitude Era” in the late ‘90s, but in college the idea of becoming a fighter seemed like a fantasy as she focused on improving her strength and conditioning for other sporting endeavors such as basketball. “I had a crazy conditioning coach named Todd Moyer, I mean he was ridiculous,” laughs Cargill. “And what do you do when you get in trouble, and you play basketball? You run! So, I just switched my mindset to love running, getting in there and working out, and he told me from Day 1 when he met me: ‘I love your body, and I’m going to shape it into something unbelievable.’” Further successes in basketball soon followed and included overseas tours, but eventually she had to face the reality that women’s basketball didn’t offer much in the way of financial support. “Sadly, there wasn’t enough money for me to stay interested,” recalls Cargill. “I got my degree in child psychology, I have a background in sports psychology and sports physics. I think if women made way more money [in basketball], I’d still be on the court to this day, but wrestling found me and that’s where I’m at right now.”
Cargill spent time studying a range of child psychology-related issues such as autism and difficult family setups, and looks back on those times as being highly formative. “It let me see so many different lenses to life and it made me appreciate the life that I am living,” she shares. “It’s something that I’ll definitely pick back up later on in life.”
But this career path was put on hold when a mutual friend connected her with the famous strongman and pro wrestling icon Mark Henry. A WWE tryout was arranged for her in 2019 and her previous fantasy, inspired by Chyna, soon became a harsh reality. As a sporting natural, Cargill wondered how hard “Sports Entertainment” could be, but she was in for a rude awakening. “[Henry] told me how serious it was,” recalls Cargill. “He told me the about the time management that I would have to do, the dedication, being on the road all the time.” Still undeterred, Cargill made the leap. “When I went there, I saw that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was [but] I love challenges, and this was something that I picked up and didn’t want to put back down.”
While Cargill impressed WWE officials during her tryout, she didn’t sign a contract. Instead, she attended wrestling schools to further hone her craft and was trained by some of the best in the business, including Heath (Slater) Miller, QT Marshall, and Dustin Rhodes. Incredibly, a little over a year following the WWE tryout, Cargill made her professional wrestling debut my delivering a promo on an episode of AEW Dynamite. Then, after signing a multiyear deal with AEW, Cargill was thrown in at the deep end once again when she teamed with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal in her first ever match with the company.
Thanks to her imposing presence and impressive winning streak, some fans have been quick to label Cargill as a future star, while others have been hypercritical of the aspects of pro wrestling that she is still in the process of mastering. But one of the many veterans that sees a ton of potential in Cargill’s future is one of the most respected pro wrestlers of all time, Bryan Danielson. The “Marathon Man” is putting in a lot of time behind the scenes to help Cargill on her journey to the top. “I’m learning a whole different style of wrestling,” says Cargill of Danielson’s coaching prowess. “Grappling and that sort of thing. I’m used to the ‘big man’ style of just throwing people. He is such an intelligent man, he has so much knowledge. Right now, I’m actually getting more in-tune with British wrestling and prior to this I didn’t have much knowledge of it, and how different the style is but also how technical it is, so I’m learning all of that right now and trying to fit it into my form of wrestling. It’s a blessing, I’m very thankful.”
Talking of blessings, Cargill stamped her ticket to success further when she won the AEW TBS Women’s championship in November 2021. On Sunday she is set to defend the gold against Taya Conti at her first competitive AEW PPV, “Revolution” and can’t wait to show the world that she is a worthy champion once again. “I’m the first black champion to hold the TBS belt, so I’m very elated, I’m very thankful, and it’s only gonna go up from here guys,” she says.
With her mentor Mark Henry also now working for AEW, winning the TBS title with him being in the same arena made the milestone all the more special. “When I won my championship match, he came over and gave me a hug and he told me that he was proud of me,” shares Cargill. “That was a great moment for me.”
So how does this super athlete keep a level head with so much pressure, praise, and expectations being aimed at her? “Can it be nerve-wracking? It can be,” shares Cargill. “Being compared to people that have been doing this for five and 10 years, but people are experiencing something raw right now, and I’m not only on a journey myself but everybody is on a journey with me and they are going to seem me continuously grow … I’m excited to show people tools that they have never seen before.”
Of course, no one is prouder of this success than her daughter: “She thinks I’m a superhero but don’t tell her different,” laughs the champ, who also regards the X-MEN character, Storm as an influence on her presentation. “I tell her Mommy is out to save the world.”
Jade Cargill is able to bring her daughter to AEW shows thanks so it’s culture for welcoming talent’s family members to the workplace, and this allows for Mom and daughter to balance their schedules and spend quality time together instead of the champ being away on the road for extended periods of time. “I want her to understand that everything I’m doing is for her,” says the AEW star. Jade Cargill is married to former Cincinnati Reds infielder Brandon Phillips, the first player in MLB history to score two three-run home runs, seven RBIs and two stolen bases in a single game. The close-knit family travels together as much as possible, and employs a tutor to make sure that young Bailey Quinn, who is yet to start kindergarten, gets all the attention that she needs. “Every day I wake up, and I’m excited to go to work,” beams Cargill. “It’s fun!”