Chad Gable’s Upward Journey: From The Olympic Mat to the WWE Ring

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 Courtesy WWE

Chad Gable, along with his partner Jason Jordan are turning heads in the WWE with their tag-team American Alpha. After a year in NXT, WWE’s developmental territory (think minor league baseball, but for professional wrestling), the duo has been called up to the main roster on SmackDown Live, and recently made their primetime debut.

Gable, 30, real name Charles “Chas” Betts, competed for Team USA as a Greco Roman wrestler in the 2012 Olympics. He spoke to Men’s Journal about his Olympic experience and the transition to the squared circle.

American Alpha are pretty popular, despite being relatively new to the larger audience on SmackDown Live. Can you describe why you think that is?

It’s kind of funny, we were really nervous about that, being exposed to this new audience. You hope you don’t come out through the curtain and hope you don’t hear crickets. We were standing back there and we heard the response and we were just so happy.

The other thing is, when we got drafted, Daniel Bryan built us up and kind of made us sound like a big deal, which was really helpful. The response that night was so positive — it made us feel comfortable as opposed to the nervousness that was there before. I would like to think that more and more people are watching NXT and people have the WWE Network, so there’s more exposure there. 

Four years ago you were competing in front of a global audience at 2012 Olympics in London. What was your mindset then? Will you be following the Games this year in Rio?

The mindset at the time — everything went so fast. I amateur wrestled for 20 years. It culminated at this great moment and how fortunate it was to have all my family there, and my friends were over there as well. It was an incredible milestone and peak in my life — a special time in my life.

My best friend in the world and former training partner Andy Bisek made the Olympic team this year, so I’ll be following closely. I truly think in my heart of hearts he's going to win a gold medal. He’s one of the best guys in the world — he’s won medals at the world championships the last two years, so I have a very vested interest in it this year. I keep following Greco wrestling and I stay up on it.

Can you describe the transition from standard athletics to sports entertainment? What are some of the challenges you faced in the process?

I’ve been a fan my whole life of WWE and all kinds of pro wrestling. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but once I made it in into the Performance Center [WWE’s training facility in Orlando], and started training — the biggest difference for me, and for a lot of amateur wrestlers is that we’re taught that you can’t let the crowd affect you. Whereas, in WWE, the crowd is who you’re there performing for. Jason [Jordan, Gable’s tag team partner] and I had to learn to feed off their energy and give it back to them as well to elicit a response from them. They’re only going to give you as much as you’re willing to give them. We had to really let that come out and let ourselves have high energy as opposed to stay stone-faced like you would in an amateur wrestling match. It creates a better environment for everybody, and I think that’s one of our strengths.

Could you describe the dynamic that you and Jason Jordan share as a tag team? What's your relationship like on- and off-screen?

It’s kind of interesting how lucky we got. He was there (in NXT) a few years before me, grinding away. We didn’t really develop a relationship for a while. He was in more advanced classes than me, and then they came up with this idea to put us together. From moment one, it just clicked. We just got along, and we share the same values and ideas. I think some of it comes from us both sharing backgrounds as amateur wrestlers, being competitive. We just get it — we’re on the same page, no matter what it is.

We try to describe it to people and it’s hard — we finish each other’s thoughts, when we’re on the road together, we’re on the same page — wanting to go work out, go eat, or go to the show. No matter what, we click. As a tag team, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

Who would you consider your inspiration both in athletics and in sports entertainment?

When I was in youth wrestling, I was wrestling for a club called the HiFlyers, fourth grade through high school. One of my head coaches was Brandon Paulson, an Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling. At the time, he was still training for the Olympics [, and to have a] highly motivated coach [, it made for a] great person to look up to.

For pro wrestling, I was always a fan — but the first guy I was obsessed with was Sting. I watched WCW, and Sting was my guy for three or four years. Then I started watching the cruiserweights [junior heavyweights] and watched the smaller guys and identified with them. Eddie Guerrero and Daniel Bryan [were] who I look to for inspiration; they're small in stature like myself but didn’t let that hinder them. They just belong and they really believe that, and that’s awesome.

How does keeping in shape night in and night out compare to training for the Olympics?

The training itself has changed a little bit. For amateur wrestling at the Olympics, everything was sports-specific, so functional. You wouldn’t do anything that wouldn’t help you necessarily on the mat. There was no bodybuilding stuff in amateur wrestling. You’d do squats or cleans — something that would lift a guy off a mat or push a guy around.

We still train every day, especially at the Performance Center where I compared it to what we did at the Olympic training center. We lift weights in the morning, and then get in the ring for three hours in the afternoon. At the Olympic training center, we’d lift weights in the morning and be on the mat in the afternoon — maybe not three hours, but it was very similar. We may just lift a little bit differently, or train on the mat a little differently. As far as the actual training schedule and regimen, it was pretty similar. Not a big shock there.

What would you say is more pressure: the Olympics, or being on TV each week?

Well, I’m still figuring that out, because this week was the first week going live. Stress is the word to describe it because you have to hit your time, get in, and do what’s asked of you, because if you mess up on live TV, there’s no taking that back.

The biggest stress on me in my amateur career was making the Olympic team. The Olympics itself was more like a reward for the hard work I put in for 20 years. I remember that day in April 2012 when I won the trials, it was like this weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The buildup to that was the most stressful period of my life. This live TV stuff on SmackDown is like a whole different type of stress, but for me it is a little more exciting. I’m embracing it a little more than I would have in amateur wrestling.

How did you feel it went?

We were really happy with it. We had talked about it and talked about the kind of impact we wanted to make for a debut – you only get one chance at a debut – you want to show the crowd exactly what you stand for, who they’re going to be looking at the next however many years this lasts, and say, "We’re here, we’ve arrived," and I think with what we showed and what we displayed, we did exactly that, and showed who we were.

Any bucket-list opponents you guys have? WrestleMania dream matches?

As far as the roster goes, there are so many teams — Gallows & Anderson, the Usos — there are just endless teams we want to wrestle.

With the current landscape, I think the tag-team division is going to blow up… We want to make tag-team wrestling the thing to watch again, and we are going be the ones to do it. Nobody else. We hope that lights a fire under some guys, and if it ruffles a few feathers, we’re okay with that. We want to raise the level of competition. If everyone starts to be competitive with each other and wants to one-up each other every single night, sparks are going to fly and it’s going to be magic before you know it.

You can catch American Alpha at SummerSlam live on the WWE Network, Sunday, August 21.