Jade Cargill made her in-ring debut for a national wrestling promotion in front of a global audience alongside a basketball legend. Cargill's All Elite Wrestling debut came on March 3, 2021, when she teamed with Shaquille O'Neal to face Cody Rhodes and Red Velvet on AEW Dynamite.
One year later, Cargill has amassed a perfect 21-0 singles record and stands tall as the inaugural TBS champion. AEW president Tony Khan named her as his Rookie of the Year, a sentiment shared by others in the industry. There is a vocal portion of the audience, however, that is critical of Cargill's early success. The powerful wrestler is far from a finished product. Her matches are often not the cleanest on the card and Cargill is still finding her footing. There are no small crowds in front of which she can hone her craft. Every opportunity for Cargill to work is done so in the public eye and shown from multiple camera angles.
The criticism that comes from learning on the big stage is something Cargill told CBS Sports she's aware of -- and fine with.
"In this industry, you have to pay your dues," Cargill said. "A lot of people come from the indies where they built up a fan background. They put in the time, they put in work. They've dealt with situations. They know what works and what doesn't work. I'm raw. I'm learning on the job and a lot of people probably don't like that. That's fine. You like what you like. Some people like mangoes and some people don't like mangoes, and that's OK.
"But people have to understand that it only goes up from here. I don't want to say this in the wrong way. I understand, maybe you back another person. I applaud you, that's great. They probably put the work on the indies. That's frickin' amazing. But you have to understand that this sport takes time and some people don't even get comfortable in their skin. I think in the interview that Bryan [Danielson] did recently, he said that he didn't even feel comfortable until seven years [in]. I've just started my first year. I probably had one match a month at that point."
Check out the full interview with Jade Cargill below.
Fortunately, Cargill has a pack of grizzled veterans who don't sugarcoat when things aren't working.
"All my coaches in the back talk and they talk to me realistically. If I do something bad -- trust me -- Sonjay [Dutt], Dustin [Rhodes], they will come up to me and say I was trash.
"I think Dustin came up to me this past week. ... He's such a fatherly figure and he doesn't, excuse my language, he doesn't cater to the bulls---. He's very much like, 'This looks bad, this looks good. No, no, no, no, no, no. I don't care what excuse you have. This is what you have to do.' Because at the end of the day, holding the belt is a privilege. I'm learning on the job, yeah, and a lot of people don't think that champions should learn on the job, which is fair enough in their aspect in their world. But hey, I'm rolling. I'm keeping it moving."
There is a stark contrast between the brash, cocky TBS champion and the laid-back mother of a 4-year-old daughter. Cargill leans on her master's in child psychology and confidence to fuel the more amplified components of her character.
"There's a reason why MJF is MJF. There's a reason why you feel when he speaks. I believe that your character is nothing but an extension of yourself," Cargill said. "I'm finding my way through that and I'm connecting and I'm getting there because I am a very laid-back, chill person. If I get upset with you, I'm going to talk to you like I talk to my kid. I'm not going to yell and be in your face and veins popping out, that's not me. So I'm getting into this character. And again, it takes years to get comfortable in the skin.
"It's the way you handle things. Me being a psychologist, I can be cocky and I can do all that and I can come at home and peel the skin off and be myself and be the goofy laid-back Jade that I am. Then I step outside and I put on my shades and the cover and the face mask or whatever you want to call it, the skin and be Jade Cargill. So it depends on the person. Some people can handle it and some people can. It's about what you do with it for sure."
One of Cargill's first supporters was Cody Rhodes, a former executive vice president of AEW who recently parted ways with the company. Cargill reflected on her debut match against Rhodes and praised how supportive he was.
"It was a blessing. After my Shaq match, I feel like a lot of people kind of went off their ways. He was one of the people that checked up on me and my mental and to make sure I was OK and to help me understand the business," Cargill said. "Understand [that] the business found me. I didn't find the business. I was just thrown into it and he understood that. There were other people, I'm not casting them out, but he was one of the people that texted me daily about my mental. In this sport, mental is very important. He'd check if I was getting what I needed. If I was getting the training that I needed, if I was able to speak and have the voice that I wanted.
"Cody is one of the people that's for the people. For the people that can't speak up. I'm the type of person that doesn't complain. I just roll with the punches. I just go with the flow. That's me and I like taking on challenges. He's a great person. He's a great individual. He was very much in my corner. He's a great guy. He's a phenomenal father. He stepped into new shoes. He's a phenomenal father. He's a phenomenal person in general, and he was one of the people that went to bat for me, for a lot of things."