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August 17, 2016

Chad Gable: From Olympic Wrestler to WWE Main Roster With American Alpha

Four years ago, Chas Betts was representing the United States in wrestling in the Olympics in London. Fast-forward to 2016, and he's still wearing the blue, but the blue is for Smackdown, as Chad Gable debuted on the main roster with his tag partner, Jason Jordan.

American Alpha only started teaming together just over a year ago, but Gable and Jordan have burst on the wrestling scene in a major way, experiencing the kind of early pop young wrestlers can only dream of. Within that year they have become considered one of the most exciting tag teams on the planet going from NXT to the main roster. But it was a long journey to get to this point for Gable. After 20 years of amateur wrestling, he reached the pinnacle of the sports by competing in the 2012 Olympics. While he didn't medal in Greco-Roman, he decided it was the perfect place to end his amateur career, and turned his attention towards a new goal: getting into professional wrestling. A year later, he was signed by NXT, and by 2015, he started to get on television. American Alpha was born, and quickly the dup rose to NXT tag champions, and then were drafted by Smackdown.

Rolling Stone had a chance to speak with Gable about his debut, his time competing in the Olympics, the transition to pro wrestling, and how he's "Ready, Willing, and Gable" to change the game.

What was it like for you to make your Smackdown Live! Debut?
It was pretty rewarding. We were pretty nervous. Back in those moments behind the curtain before you walk out, you get really nervous. You wonder if you'll hear crickets when you come out. You don't know if the people who are watching Smackdown or Raw are watching NXT on a regular basis. They may have seen it here and there, but you don't know if they'll know you. So it's a little bit nerve-racking. Once our music hit though, all the nerves went away. Once you get through the curtain, you just feel it. The crowd responded great. We were really happy with it.

Beyond the nerves, were you taken aback at all by the great reaction that you did get from the crowd?
Yeah, like I said, we had even talked about being prepared for crickets. We had heard it before, that once you get to Raw or Smackdown, you're pretty much starting over, and you have to think about it that way. When we heard that reaction, we definitely were taken aback a bit. We owe a lot of that to Daniel Bryan and the way he introduced us when he drafted us. He didn't have to go out there and say the things that he said. He didn't have to say that they're drafting the best tag team in NXT. He didn't need to put so much enthusiasm into the Ready Wiling and Gable catch phrase. But he did, and he made it seem like a really big deal. For that, we owe him a lot, because that's a pretty big introduction.

What was draft night like for you?
A lot of people want to know, "Did you guys know beforehand?" And to be honest, we didn't. They didn't really tell us. They just gathered us to basically have a draft party at the Performance Center. Everyone came and had dinner while they set up the big screen. We sat and watched it unfold. It was a really special night. We're kind of a big family down here. We train together every day, some of us for years now. You grow together, so when you watch somebody get drafted, you could see how happy everyone was for everybody else. When someone gets called up, all of NXT is winning, because everybody had a part in everyone else's success.

What were your reactions when you heard Daniel Bryan pick you and Jason?
At first you just don't believe it. You think he's saying it, and the build up was so great. He said best tag team in NXT, and we're just like, "It's gotta be us, it's gotta be us." He started the catch phrase, and I still wasn't sure until he actually said Gable. I just looked at Jason and let out a sigh of relief. We were loving our time in NXT, don't get us wrong. It's a great place to be, and we absolutely loved it. But the sigh of relief was just knowing how confident they are in us, to give us that chance. I think we're going to deliver.

You're obviously very busy now with the call-up, but have you been watching the Olympics this year?
Yeah, I watched a bunch last night in the airport actually. I watched the Opening Ceremonies. Some days I just watch random events. I try to watch as much as I can. Obviously when the wrestling starts I'm going to pay closer attention. The guy who I consider my best friend in the world, Andy Bisek, he was my former training partner in 2012, and he made the team. He'll be competing in Greco-Roman on the 14th, so that's my big day to be watching. I really think he has a chance to win a gold medal, so I'm really excited.

Was it hard at all for you to watch the Opening Ceremonies and not be there?
Not so much. I've been fortunate. A lot of people ask if I ever miss it, or if I'd ever want to go back to amateur wrestling. I don't really. I was very satisfied with my amateur career, and to have it end at the Olympic Games. Unless I had won a medal, I couldn't think of a better way for it to end. That's the pinnacle of what I wanted to reach. So I was really satisfied. I don't really get those feelings of wanting to go back and do it again. At the same time, the Opening Ceremonies was just incredible. For me, that was one of the biggest highlights of the whole experience.

What was the whole Olympic experience like for you?
I considered it my reward for the 20 years that I had put into amateur wrestling. When I got there, it was everything that I had envisioned and hoped that it would be. The buzz in London the whole time we were there was incredible. You can just feel this energy in the air. It didn't matter where you went. Whether it was the Olympic Village, or going around sightseeing, there was this energy. I'm sure it's the same for Rio. I'm sure it's the same wherever the Olympics are. There was a feeling that I've never experienced before. The atmosphere whenever the athletes were all together was just amazing, because there was a shared feeling that we all made it. This was the pinnacle. Everyone was just so happy to be there and happy to compete. It was incredible.

Was your goal always to make the Olympics when you started to wrestle?
No, actually. Funny enough, a lot of people don't know this, but I dreamed of wrestling for WWE long before the Olympics were a goal of mine. I knew that the Olympics were the pinnacle. But I never really sat down and thought about going to the Olympics until probably my junior year of high school. My dad and I stumbled across a training opportunity to go to college and train in Greco-Roman, which is the style I wrestled at the Olympics, and my favorite style. At the time, to go to college and do Greco-Roman, that was a pretty new opportunity, and we jumped on it. It just took off, and it was the perfect decision for me.

So you always were a WWE fan growing up?
Yeah, I was a professional wrestling fan from a very young age. When I started to get obsessed over it, was when the Monday Night Wars started. I was 10 or 11 years old. I just fell in love. I just latched on to Sting immediately for some reason, and I was obsessed with him. My love for it just grew, and I started watching any type of wrestling that I could get my hands on. And I was fully obsessed all the way through high school, and into college a little bit. It kind of wavered a bit when I started training full time for Greco, because it was really a full time deal for me. I had to set it aside until the past few years. When I was training at the Olympic Center, there were a couple of guys there who watched. I started watching again and got back into it again. When I retired, I decided to give it a shot.

What's the toughest thing about transitioning from amateur wrestling to pro wrestling?
I think it's allowing yourself to be vulnerable and come out of your shell a little bit. In amateur wrestling, we are taught to never show emotion, and not let any emotions, whether it's from your opponent or the crowd, affect you. You just need to be a stone faced warrior out there. If you did that in the WWE, you'd probably get fired pretty quick. You have to feel the crowd. You have to show emotion. You have to feed off the crowd in WWE. Jason and I, we use the crowd's energy every night. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and show emotion, that was the hardest thing when I was getting started.

When you were making the transition, did you talk to anyone who had done it before, like a Kurt Angle or Shelton Benjamin or anyone like that?
Not really. All I did was look for somewhere that did any sort of training in Minnesota. I found a small place and did a little bit here and there with them. But then I got in touch with Jerry Brisco, who does the amateur recruiting for WWE. Typically he recruits heavyweights, and the bigger guys. He let me know, he said that your size is usually not what we're looking for. But they were willing to give me a shot. He gave me a tryout, and thankfully it worked out.

You were signed in late-2013, and it took you a while to get to television. What were those 18 months like for you?
I'm a firm believer that if you work hard, keep your head down, and as long as you're doing what you're supposed to do, it's going to pay off. The hard part about what we do is that it doesn't always work that way. It's just the way it is. Sometimes there's opportunities there, and sometimes there's not. I wouldn't say it was frustrating, but it was definitely an eye-opener. I just had to adapt to it, and realize that I had to wait for my opportunity. I knew when it came, I had to take advantage of it, because those opportunities are few and far between. You're very fortunate when you get them, and I've seen people take advantage of it in big ways and have it pay off. So I was doing everything I could. When I had matches I would make the best of it. I was trying different things character-wise. Finally they threw out the idea of me and Jason, and we were all-in.

Jason, for those who don't know, has been there a long time. He has been there five years, and he's tried a lot of different stuff. It just didn't work out. He's one of those guys too, he just works so hard, and grinds, and never stops. He was trying thing after thing and it just wasn't working. By the time that we decided that we were going to run with this thing, we were both 100% all-in. I think that's part of what made it work. There was no reluctance there. We were on the same page from day 1, that we were just going to make this work. And it did.

I think one of the things that caught some people off-guard when you guys first came together in NXT was just how in-sync you guys were immediately. Was that something that truly was immediate, or did it take a little while before you got to TV together?
It was instant. That's the craziest part about this, it was definitely meant to be. Things happen for a reason. We both believe that. It was just immediate from day 1. We were on the same page, we just knew. We've been so fortunate, because I can't imagine that all teams are like that. I'm sure most work a long time to get that sort of chemistry, and we just had it. We were very fortunate.

Is there one specific thing that you think makes you guys so compatible?
I think a lot of it has to do with our mentality. We grew up in the same sport, and amateur wrestling breeds a certain kind of guy. Our mentality is almost exactly the same. Whether it's training, or just living, we're on the same page. It probably is just the way we were brought up. The way we trained, the way we competed, the competition we've had our entire lives. We see things the same way, so we approach everything the same way.

You guys draw a lot of comparisons to Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, the World's Greatest Tag Team. You've even made jokes and references on TV to that. Are they a team that you consciously emulate, or has it just worked out that way?
We like to combine and watch everything. Obviously we've seen their stuff. It wasn't a deliberate thing that we wanted to be like those guys, but I mean, we're amateur wrestlers and we want to wear singlets. And it just so happens that we somewhat resemble them. If you're going to ask me who we would say is influential to us, I'd say it's more of the Steiner Brothers. They're someone we watch constantly. Those guys were ahead of their time, in my opinion. We've been watching so much of their older stuff lately, and some of the stuff they were doing in the 80s was so ahead of its time. We want to be that version, today. We want people to look back on us and say, “Man, those guys were ahead of their time.” We want to be new and fresh, and we want people to get the same feeling from us that they did from the Steiners.

I want to ask two final questions, one for the past, one for the future. First, if you could go back 20 years, and tell that 10 year old kid who loved pro wrestling that he would compete in the Olympics, and then a few years later debut on WWE television, what would he say?
I remember watching the girls gymnastics in 1996, in Atlanta. That seemed like such a big stage, and such an overwhelming thing. 10-year old me probably would have wanted to pass, it probably all would've been too stressful for little Gable.

Now that you're on the main roster, what are your goals from here?
In the short-term, we want to create an atmosphere on Smackdown where we raise the game of every tag team there. We want to approach it in a way that we're so tenacious, and we're so hungry, that it makes everyone else step up. We want them to say that they don't want the new guys to come in and take over. We want that competition. That's what we thrive on. If we can start that as quick as possible, we want everyone to step up and make the tag teams the thing to watch on Smackdown. That's the short-term goal.

Long-term? I hope they introduce tag titles to Smackdown. We want to win those. If not, we want to win the other tag team titles and bring them to Smackdown. Ultimately, we need to be on Wrestlemania next year. We need to be in a pivotal match and make an impact on a huge stage. We want to show it on the grandest stage possible.

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