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Jade Cargill hopes to inspire a future generation of Black female wrestlers

The former college basketball player wants to be a trendsetter for those following in her footsteps: ‘I’m just trying to show them I’m here for you’

In front of a packed crowd on AEW Dynamite, Jade Cargill, rocking her white hair in glossy black gear, was preparing to fly like her favorite X-Men superhero, Storm. After weeks of competing in a fierce, 12-woman tournament for the 10 pounds of gold, she was just minutes away from winning it all.

While throwing hands with Ruby Soho, Cargill stood on the top rope to set up her signature move, “Jaded.” Not only was this her first time attempting the move off a top rope, but it was also something she’s expressed fear of trying on a 2020 All Elite Wrestling podcast episode. Despite that, Cargill landed it and went in for the three-count to become the inaugural AEW TBS women’s champion.

With her poise, pizzazz and admirable swag, the 29-year-old has become one of the hottest names in pro wrestling. She doesn’t say much verbally, but her demeanor speaks volumes. More importantly, since her debut in March 2021, she’s been drastically growing in each bout, both in the ring and with her confidence.

Her next match will be a monumental moment in her career, as she seeks to go 30-0 on AEW Rampage to secure her TBS title, which will air Friday night. Her opponent, Marina Shafir, a former MMA fighter and WWE wrestler, recently debuted on AEW Dynamite with a win over Skye Blue on April 13.

Jade Cargill has become one of the hottest names in pro wrestling since making her AEW debut in March 2021.

All Elite Wrestling

Cargill’s journey stems from her lifelong love for wrestling merged with her athletic background. She grew up in Gifford, Florida, where she would do everything from wrestling with her brother Shawn in the front yard to catching lizards and occasionally jumping off rooftops.

“I was a tomboy growing up,” she told Andscape. “Me and my brother used to always run things in our neighborhood — and, you know, I used to fight a lot.”

A lot of the girls her age in the neighborhood were dainty, and she didn’t fit into that box. “I had to prove myself to the guys because they never wanted to wrestle with me, play with me or do anything with me,” Cargill said.

If the neighborhood boys wouldn’t give her respect, she would demand it — getting into so many altercations that her mother would already know what happened by the time she got home. There had to be a way to channel that aggression, and for Cargill, it was through sports.

“Growing up, you had to prove yourself in a lot of aspects, and playing sports, I had a different mindset,” she said. “Being in sports helped me mature and understand that you gotta sometimes just shut up, bite the bullet and take what’s given to you.” 

The Cargill bloodline is rich with athleticism. Her cousin Peter Cargill, who died in 2005, held down the family name as a respected international soccer player in Jamaica in the 1980s and 1990s. Her brother played football and her sister was a cheerleader. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree for Cargill, but she quickly learned that basketball was her primary love after trying track and field and volleyball.

Cargill played AAU basketball for the Orlando Comets in Florida, and discovered that her aggressive nature would bode well for her on the court. She won district championships at Sebastian River High School and Vero Beach High School. The 5-foot-10 Cargill would go on to play basketball at Jacksonville University to remain near her grandmother, who was ill at the time. However, the rebellious persona that she developed during childhood would occasionally get the best of her.

“[My coaches] would run me like no other, because [I had] a cocky mindset,” Cargill said. “What they did do was either probably not start me, make me run or come in and do extra strength training early in the morning.”

She worked out with then-Jacksonville University strength and conditioning coach Todd Moyer as a punishment, but she said that would eventually be a blessing in disguise.

“Like [around] 6 o’clock [or] 5:30 in the morning, I would have to get up and do these things and he [Moyer] and I just became one of a kind,” said Cargill. “I would think I couldn’t go anymore … and he would literally sit on the [weight] plates and make me push. It just became a lifestyle to me and I loved the way my body started to develop.”

Cargill averaged 7.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in 115 games during her college career at Jacksonville University. She graduated with a psychology degree and went on a mission to obtain a master’s degree in child psychology. However, having a baby halted those plans. “When I first got pregnant,” Cargill said, “I was like, ‘Welp, the body is gone.’ ” But while carrying her daughter, Bailey, she found inspiration from watching fitness trainer Massy Arias’ Instagram workouts and eventually used the platform to document her own journey. But things didn’t start perfectly, as she received negative comments on social media about her muscular frame.

“The hate that I was initially receiving on social media helped me shape myself and be able to have thick skin,” she said.

With the OK from her doctor to work out during her pregnancy, Cargill continued to grow her base of followers. And in 2018, her timeline revealed clips of her participating at Face 2 Face, a now-defunct wrestling school in Morrow, Georgia, which was owned by Heath Slater, Ron Simmons and Teddy Long.

On the surface, her clips could be seen as a new way of working out and a flex for Instagram, but Cargill was on a mission. She was sent to Face 2 Face by Mark Henry, a wrestling legend and current executive of AEW. With three WWE titles, including the WWE world heavyweight championship, during his 26-year pro wrestling career, Henry started using his influence in the business to scout and coach new talent from Braun Strowman to Bianca Belair. Cargill contacted Henry through a mutual friend after finding out about the legend’s new career.

“I said, ‘Look, you know how my time is,’ ” said Henry, who earned the nickname “World’s Strongest Man” during his pro career. “I spoke to her and a coach in Louisville, Kentucky, that’s considered one of the top coaches in the world. He’s also an ass-kicker, and I knew that if she went there that he was gonna try to run her ass off. She took it like a woman and asked for more. I was like, ‘Well, s—, if she wants to ask more, then let’s go. Give her the full-court press,’ and Rip Rogers did that.”

After getting the call from trainer Rip Rogers that she was tough enough, Henry was impressed and offered Cargill a chance to try out at a location roughly 45 minutes from her home. Her brother Shawn pushed for Cargill to give it a shot. “He was just like, ‘Jade, you gotta do this,’ ” said Cargill. “Once I went to that tryout, it just lit a fire under my ass. I fell in love with it instantly.”

She continued being mentored by Henry before deciding on which promotion she would join, being taught about everything from the Mark Henry Rules to the psychology of the sport. Not only did he give her a place to work on fundamentals at Face 2 Face, but the wrestling icon also made sure to coach her about the matches outside of the ring: the busy life of a pro wrestler.

“[Jade] was able to absorb all of that and understand that it will take a lot of work to get in it, and she’s a hard worker. [For] the people that make it, I have to see that they have the aptitude before I put my time into it, and she did from the beginning,” he said.

Although WWE heavily recruited her, loyalty became a factor in her decision to join AEW, and she let her mentor know before he signed on. “Just to have someone believe in me, gamble on me and understand the vision I wanted to go, it mattered to me,” Cargill said. “It just felt right.”

Before Cargill’s AEW announcement in November 2020, her Storm-inspired Halloween photo shoot broke the internet. “I always wanted to shoot a Storm look, but I wanted to do it at the right time. I wanted to do it right,” said Cargill, who sported the Storm look during her TBS championship match vs. Soho. She dropped the pics and attracted over 130,000 likes, not to mention the shares across Instagram. “I didn’t think it was going to blow up as big as it [did]. We were just walking the streets of Atlanta … I probably looked so crazy, but I loved what I was doing.”

With an undefeated streak and a growing “baddie section” that she’s building from Instagram, Cargill stands as one of the many women at the forefront of a new Black revolution in pro wrestling. She’s working toward another goal for the long term aside from being the best: giving the culture a “pop” in professional wrestling.

However, even with her swag, winning streak and the TBS championship, blending both worlds has been tough. “This is a system I’m working [to bring] people that are in the culture to watching wrestling again,” she said. “That’s what I want to do. I’m just trying to show them I’m here for you … I have so much to work on, but believe in me, I can do this.”

Black female wrestling legend Jazz (who reached out to Cargill via text) and Cargill’s fans speak highly of her early momentum. “Jade definitely can do that, but the challenge is being that wrestling is still dealing with racism, it will be hard to gain that attraction,” said color commentator Kiki L. Sheppard-Sims, also known as Keeks Da Queen on Twitter. “Her physical appearance and the undefeated streak have the power to have her almost in the same status as Chyna once was in wrestling and pop culture.”

With a strong foundation of proud mentors and the wrestling community supporting her, the only direction for Cargill to go is up.

“Her impact in pro wrestling is simple: that Black women are capable of getting the same protection and push to stardom as non-Black women in wrestling,” said Sheppard-Sims. “Her influence to Black women to be confident regardless of what the world thinks of you and what you think of yourself should be the standard in whatever you do that you love.”

Even with a 30-0 record in sight and AEW pushing to “get her over” in the wrestling world, Henry believes that Cargill’s journey is just beginning. “I see Jade wrestling men in the next five years,” he said. “There’s a certain point where you get as a woman where you outgrow wrestling women if you have the physical attributes … an average man better have his s— together if he tries to fight her. She’s not an easy win. So, these guys, she’ll put them on notice too.”

Outside of the ring and during her reign as champion, Cargill wants to give back to fans and inspire Black women who have an interest in her profession. “I’m just trying to push this for a future for other Black girls and other people who want to get involved with wrestling,” she said.

Her biggest fan has been her daughter, now 4, who has loved wrestling since her mom started competing professionally. She was in the crowd during the TBS title fight on the night of Jan. 5, locked in as fans chanted her mom’s name, sparking a flame that Cargill once had at that age.

“I believe in paying it forward,” Cargill said. “And that’s what I want to do for the next generation.”

Vance Brinkley is a young writer based in Washington, DC. He loves playing lacrosse, watching indie films, and listening to music from Project Pat to Toro Y Moi.