Exclusive interview: Chad Lail talks the WWE Performance Center, his Marine Corps experience and WWE ambitions
Chad Lail knows what it means to make sacrifices. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Lail signed with the WWE Performance Center last spring after spending 15 years scraping and clawing his way through the independents and onto WWE’s radar. Sitting down with WWE.com for an exclusive interview, Lail discusses what inspired his enlistment in the military, the trajectory of his ring career so far and what he has his sights on now that he is finally under the WWE umbrella.
WWE.COM: It’s been a long journey for you to arrive at WWE. How has your time at the Performance Center been so far?
CHAD LAIL: Honestly, WWE is where I wanted to be since day one. I had my tryout two years ago and finally got a chance to get down here and learn from all the coaches. We’ve got so much knowledge right here in this building, between Head Coach [Matt] Bloom, Coach Norman [Smiley], Coach [Robbie] Brookside, and all the people here. With me being a little bit older than some of the people here and having been in sports-entertainment for 15 years now, it’s a great opportunity to really learn the WWE way and be where I want to be. I’ve been a part of a lot of teams, playing sports in high school and obviously being in the Marine Corps, but there’s nothing I’ve ever been a part of like at the Performance Center.
WWE.COM: You touched on it briefly, but can you tell us a bit about your military background and your time in the Marine Corps?
LAIL: I was in the United States Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006. It was probably the best decision I ever made in my life. I was a motor transport operator by job title, but a lot of the times what I would do overseas was called the “ring mount.” That’s the guy on the top of the truck operating any type of weapon that may be on top of the truck. I have a family history of being in the military. My dad was in the Army, uncles are Army and Navy, and there were only two other Marines in my family. I told myself that if I was going to go into the military, in my eyes, the Marines had the toughest training. It was definitely the toughest thing I ever went through in my life.
WWE.COM: Any specific memories jump to mind when you think about your time in the service?
LAIL: Going down to Parris Island, South Carolina, standing on the yellow foot prints on the sidewalk, which represent your journey to becoming a United States Marine. It was not easy by any means, and for the first few weeks I was wondering what I was doing with my life. [Laughs] But after 13 weeks, I graduated as an honor grad. That was a big thing. I always said, “Hey, I’m going to boot camp, I want to give it my all, I want to be an honor grad,” and I got that. I wanted to be a sergeant, and when I got out in 2006, I was a sergeant, so I achieved my goals being in the Marine Corps. My goal was never to do 20 years, because I wanted to be a wrestler. So, I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do this, and then I’m gonna continue my dream of doing what I want to do.”
WWE.COM: Was your family history the primary factor in you joining the military?
LAIL: It was. You know, even growing up as a kid, you play soldier, but I never really had a dying need to join the military. But going into high school, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do other than sports-entertainment. And then, once 9/11 happened, it hit me that I want to serve my country. Obviously, there’s a chance I might not make it home alive, but I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps as well.
WWE.COM: How does your time in the military relate and tie in to your sports-entertainment career?
LAIL: Sports-entertainment is not a walk in the park like some people think — it’s very physical. Getting through 13 weeks of boot camp taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to and that I can push through some pain. My dad always told me to chase my dreams and always give 110 percent. And in the Marine Corps, if you wanted to be a good Marine, that’s what you did. Then, transitioning into sports-entertainment and being with the WWE, there’s days when you’re like, “Aww man, I really don’t wanna step into the ring today,” but I do, because my goal is to work my way up from the Performance Center onto the bigger rosters. That’s what my time in the Marine Corps taught me, to give my all and be the best I can be.
WWE.COM: What was your wrestling career like before joining the WWE Performance Center?
LAIL: I wanted to wrestle ever since I was a kid. I remember watching with my mom, brother and dad, and seeing guys like “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat. It just captivated me as a child. I was always into bodybuilding, action movies and action cartoons like “He-Man,” so I was like, “This is the best of all worlds!” I graduated high school in 2000, because my dad said I had to graduate high school before I could do anything with wrestling. Once I did that, I started training with a local guy in my hometown of Hickory, North Carolina, and I just started traveling the road with him. Even when I was in the Marine Corps, I was stationed in North Carolina, so I would and wrestle every weekend unless I was deployed, doing shows in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, sometimes for literally no pay, but I wanted to get that exposure.
WWE.COM: What stands out from your time on the independent circuit?
LAIL: Once I got out of the Marine Corps in 2006, I started with a promotion called NWA: Anarchy. It used to be called NWA: Wildside, and that’s where guys like AJ Styles performed. That was definitely a big point in my career, as I started learning from and competing against better talent. I started traveling with the NWA. I held their national title for two years, and began traveling out of the country as well. From about 2006 through 2009, I was really busy with the NWA, and that’s around the time I met Terry Taylor. He helped me get my foot in the door with other promotions that helped me build a name. In 2015, I left another company and had kept in good contact with guys like Dash Wilder and Edge, and they put me in touch with William Regal. Mr. Regal got me a tryout in 2015, and I think he just wanted to get a look at me because he heard from Edge that, “Hey, you might want to take a look at this guy.” Edge helped me out.
WWE.COM: What happened after that?
LAIL: Well, my daughter was just born in September of last year, and I was working some independent shows and it had been two years since I had the tryout with WWE. I had kept in touch with Mr. Regal, and he would always be straightforward with me. I started working a second job just to take care of and support my family. Then, lo and behold, I got a call this past March and they offered me my contract. They said, “You’re gonna have to move to Orlando,” and I said, “Whatever you want me to do!” So, I packed up, and my wife, daughter and I came to Orlando in May. It’s been a journey since then.
WWE.COM: Did you ever reach a point where you doubted if you would ever wind up with WWE?
LAIL: No, I never have. I’ve always tried to put any doubts behind me, because I always knew, no matter what promotion I was in, that my ultimate goal was WWE. I didn’t know how I was gonna get here, I didn’t know who I needed to contact, but I never had a doubt. Even during the whole two years of me waiting to get that opportunity, I never said, “Maybe it’s my age, I don’t know.” There’s always hope, and thankfully I never gave up.
WWE.COM: Have you developed a special bond with your fellow Marines at the Performance Center, Montez Ford, Lacey Evans and Steve Cutler?
LAIL: Oh yeah, definitely. When I first got down here, I saw Lacey Evans wearing the Marine Corps green physical training pants, and we sparked up a conversation about that. Steve Cutler and I are really close, even from when I did my tryout years ago. The comradery is totally different with us; we’re always talking about war things — there’s definitely a different bond, because you do have four people here who have been through Marine Corps boot camp and earned their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. It’s a bond you can’t break, and we’re always there for each other.
WWE.COM: Now that you’re with WWE, what are you most looking forward in the near term?
LAIL: The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is getting on NXT TV and showing a different side of Chad Lail and what I can do. Somebody I’m really looking forward to wrestling is Roderick Strong. I’ve always been a fan of him and his aggression, so I can’t wait to compete against him.
WWE.COM: How about the bigger picture: What’s your long-term goal in WWE?
LAIL: I guess the child in me says WrestleMania. That’s my ultimate goal. During that two-year wait when I wasn’t with WWE, I had opportunities where people would come up and ask me, “WrestleMania’s in Orlando, do you wanna go?” I’m stubborn. I’d say, “Nah, man.” I always said I’d never go to WrestleMania unless I was part of WrestleMania, and I’ve stuck to that.