Pro Wrestler Jade Cargill Opens up About Joining WWE and Being Seen ‘In a Different Limelight’ (Exclusive)

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WWE star Jade Cargill reveals why she became a professional wrestler and how partner Brandon Phillips supports her career

<p>Frazer Harrison/Getty </p> Jade Cargill photographed at Comic-Con in 2022

Frazer Harrison/Getty

Jade Cargill photographed at Comic-Con in 2022

Jade Cargill has seemed destined for success from the first time she stepped foot inside a professional wrestling ring, even if the career path wasn’t one the lifelong athlete ever planned to travel down.

“If you would have told me about three years ago that I was going to be a professional wrestler, I would have probably burst out laughing,” Cargill, 31, tells PEOPLE.

Yet three years after a friend convinced her to first try out wrestling, Cargill is soon set to make her WWE debut, after the organization announced last week that it had signed her to a multi-year contract.

The move follows Cargill making a dominant first impression in All Elite Wrestling, where she held the AEW TBS Championship for roughly 17 months – the longest any AEW wrestler has held a single title – during an unprecedented 61-match undefeated streak to start her career.

Cargill is now headed to WWE, becoming the biggest homegrown AEW star to be lured away by the company’s biggest competitor. However, there’s no hard feelings, the pro basketball player-turned wrestler says of her time in AEW. “I feel like it was a blessing,” she says. “I would have never got a better start anywhere else.”

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<p>Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty</p> Mark Sterling (left) and Jade Cargill photographed in the ring for 'AEW Dynamite - Beach Break'

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty

Mark Sterling (left) and Jade Cargill photographed in the ring for 'AEW Dynamite - Beach Break'

Wrestling did not come naturally to Cargill, who grew up watching like most kids in the 1990s but never envisioned herself as a performer herself. She instead played college basketball at Jacksonville University before moving on to the French professional league. But soon, Cargill had left sports behind and began using her master’s degree as a child psychologist, working with foster children.

But in 2019 when the emotionally demanding work became too much to bring home each night, a friend recommended Cargill meet WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry, a former Olympian himself, to perhaps learn how to wrestle.

“This is like a whole other world for me,” Cargill thought after the first few training sessions. Yet, she was hooked.

“I was just going to the gym all the time, getting slammed on my back, and I still didn’t want to put it down,” she says. “There was nothing like it. It was like something that just felt like it was under my skin.”

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<p>Vivien Killilea/Getty</p> Jade Cargill photographed at San Diego Comic-Con in 2022

Vivien Killilea/Getty

Jade Cargill photographed at San Diego Comic-Con in 2022

Cargill still needed to convince her family to embrace the odd career choice, though. Leaving her job as a psychologist to tour as an independent pro wrestler was not what she or anyone else had expected. Her life partner, retired Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, didn’t want her to wrestle at first but eventually came around to it after seeing her perform.

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“He didn't want me to get hurt,” Cargill laughs thinking back to how Phillips, 42, responded when she approached him with the idea. “But he came to the gym one day and I was having a match and since then, he's seen me in a different limelight. I'm a very soft spoken woman, but now he's seen me in there just taking charge and doing all these crazy moves. And he was like, ‘Wow, I am so proud of you. That is crazy!’ He was Gung-ho about it from then on.”

<p>Brandon Phillips/Instagram</p> Jade Cargill (left) and Brandon Phillips pose together for a photograph

Brandon Phillips/Instagram

Jade Cargill (left) and Brandon Phillips pose together for a photograph

Nowadays, Phillips is often spotted at ringside holding his and Cargill’s 6-year-old daughter as they watch her wrestle, tossing around competitors like ragdolls time and time again while becoming one of wrestling’s most dominantly presented new stars.

The couple first met through a mutual friend when she was still playing basketball in France, eventually coming back home to visit Phillips in the U.S. more and more often. “We're competitive in every little thing,” she says with adoration. “But he's a very funny, very entertaining guy.” His knack for entertainment, and his growing wrestling fandom since Cargill joined the business, also makes him a perfect sounding board for her new ideas for her on-screen character.

“He's on the outside world,” she says. “If he really likes something, this is what people from outside are gravitating to and liking in wrestling. So when I watch wrestling, I'm just sitting there watching him like, ‘Hey, did that excite you? What about this show did you like?’ Because he's not a pure wrestling fan. He became a wrestling fan when I came about.”

Cargill’s fan base continued to expand as her historic AEW winning streak kept going throughout 2021, 2022, and into 2023, soon catching the attention of WWE.

<p>mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX/AP Photo</p> Jade Cargill (top) and Taya Valkyrie (bottom) photographed during the AEW Wrestling Dynamite event in Sunrise, Florida in 2023

mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX/AP Photo

Jade Cargill (top) and Taya Valkyrie (bottom) photographed during the AEW Wrestling Dynamite event in Sunrise, Florida in 2023

It’s not uncommon for a wrestler to work upwards of a decade on the independent scene before earning a tryout with a major promotion like WWE, but that isn't the case with Cargill. Despite being relatively new to wrestling, she has quickly learned from the likes of legendary wrestlers like Henry, Daniel Bryan, Dustin Rhodes, Billy Gunn and more. Her television debut in 2021 came alongside basketball hall of famer Shaquille O’Neal, a celebrity pairing that’s often reserved for wrestlers who’ve earned years of respect backstage. “People want to see me succeed,” Cargill says, expressing gratitude for the support she’s received early on in her career.

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WWE says the Vero Beach, Florida native is already training at its Performance Center in Orlando, where its new signees and up-and-comers hone their craft. It’s uncertain where or when Cargill will make her debut with WWE, but the company has treated her like a star since day one. Paul “Triple H” Levesque, the company’s most public-facing executive, celebrated her signing, tweeting that the former AEW star is “a dominant athlete who's here to change the game.”

“I feel like I'm walking into a new light,” Cargill says now. “AEW prepared me. It prepared me to have thick and tough skin. If I would have been a part of such a machine like WWE at a younger age, I would have probably been in my head so much – so much – but because I've worn several hats in this life and I've already been thrown in the fire, so it's just prepared me for these moments.”

She’s also driven to become the ultimate role model for her daughter, who watches every match from home or excitedly at ringside along with Philips.

“I have a mission,” Cargill says. “I want our little girl to say her dad does this, but I want her to say ‘yeah, but my mom does this.’ Her mom is a pro wrestler.”

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