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Hickory Native Gunner Living His Dream!
Eight years ago, Chad Lail was serving his country in Iraq as a Marine gunner.
Today Lail, one of the top young talents in the country, is known as "Gunner" and is one half of the TNA tag-team champions.
The 6-2, 245-pounder broke into the wrestling business in 2001 in his hometown of Hickory, North Carolina, training for about eight months before he was ready to get into the ring. "I didn't train long. I caught on relatively quick. I got my start doing shows and experiencing a different side of it."
It was a dream come true when Lail first stepped into a wrestling ring. "This is what I wanted to do since I was 4 or 5 years old. It's something my mom and dad can vouch on for sure."
Lail, who turned 31 in June, grew up watching mostly WWE, but says he has a deep appreciation for Mid-Atlantic wrestling. "I've got bukoos of tapes. I didn't get to really enjoy it as a kid because I grew up on the tail end of it (NWA/Mid-Atlantic). I talk to Tully (Blanchard) and guys like that who have amazing stories of the way they worked and the stuff that they went through."
A humble upbringing prevented Lail from participating in many sports as a youngster. "Sports really wasn't important to me. I started working at the age of 14. We weren't a wealthy family. My dad always told me that if you want something, you have to work for it."
Lail graduated in 2000, and two years later enlisted in the Marines. He was working at a cable plant near his hometown, and any type of upward job mobility seemed virtually non-existent. "Jobs were scarce, and they started laying people off. I had wanted to serve in the military at one time because of my family background, so I decided to join the Marine Corps."
Lail went to boot camp at Parris Island, and served a four-year military stint that included deployment in Europe and the Middle East, followed by four years of inactive duty. He spent seven months in Iraq and Kuwait. "You have to be aware of your surroundings at all times. I was a truck driver and a machine gunner. It's one of those things where you have to be constantly aware of roadside bombs. It was a scary situation, but thank God I came home alive."
While stationed at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune, Lail would use his weekend off-time to work for independent promotions in the Carolinas and Georgia. He says he would work as many weekend wrestling dates as he could get. "Out of the whole time I was in the military, the only time I took off was 2002-03 for boot camp. I started back in 2003 when I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, which was about five hours from home. I'd leave every Friday night from base and do a show on Saturday. Then I'd go back on Sunday to get ready for work on Monday. Every weekend unless I was deployed, I was driving 20-hour round trips to do indy shows."
Lail, wrestling under the name "Universal Soldier" Phill Shatter, signed with the Georgia-based NWA Anarchy after finishing his military duty. His star continued to rise as he drew rave reviews on the independent circuit, and was rewarded with a lengthy NWA National heavyweight title run from Jan. 17, 2009, to Feb. 19, 2011.
By 2008, many wrestling fans knew about Chad Lail aka Phill Shatter. He was a proven commodity. Bigger things, however, were in store for him. A chain of events landed him in TNA.
Chasing his dream with even greater resolve, Lail made biweekly 1,200-mile round-trip drives from Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Orlando, Florida to work at TNA tapings as an unamed "security guard" before finally landing on TNA Impact's main talent roster in June 2010.
That drive, he says, wasn't even close to the drive that he had in his heart. "I've always had a drive to make it, and always knew that I would. It's just something that I always wanted to do," says Lail.
"When I started with TNA in 2008 as a security guard, just to get my foot in the door, Terry Taylor had come to NWA Anarchy in Cornelia, Georgia to see some guys. He has helped since day one. He got my foot in the door with the security spot. D'Lo Brown hooked me up with dark matches. That's when they noticed that this guy really is a wrestler."
At the time, says Lail, he was being considered for a possible NWA world title run. "I think they were going to have me win the world title from Adam (Pearce), but TNA signed me and that never happened. I felt like I had established my name quite well. I got to wrestle Davey Richards, which opened a lot of eyes in Charlotte. A lot of people followed me in the Charlotte area, which was pretty cool."
Lail signed a two-year contract with TNA in February 2011 when he moved from his role as an on-air security guard onto the active roster. "When I came to TNA, they wanted to play off my real-life scenario. They took the name 'Gunner,' and we ran with it."
Lail has nothing but good things to say about the TNA product. "I've had a lot of opportunities, and a lot of people really believed in me. With some companies, it's like walking on egg shells. Here in TNA, we're a big family. Everybody tries to get along and have a better product. That's our main goal. Now that we're out of the Impact Zone and going around doing TV tapings elsewhere, it's made the product look a lot better. And everyone's working harder."
Since joining TNA, says Lail, he has had an opportunity to work with some of the best talent in the business. "I've got no complaints about my career at all. I've had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest. I've worked with Flair, I've worked with Sting, and I get to work alongside Hulk and Kurt Angle and AJ Styles. Just to get in the ring and be able to share a locker room with these guys ... it's been great.
"I'm only 31, so I'm still young. Some of these guys are going into their 50's. I hope my body holds up. I've got a chance to do some really good stuff with TNA."
Lail says one of his biggest thrills since joining TNA was getting the opportunity to work with 16-time world champion Ric Flair. "Nature Boy has done everything. He's one of the greatest and I grew up watching him. He managed me for a little bit there. It wasn't a long stint, but it's something that I took pride in. He gave me a lot of advice. I know that he managed guys like (Randy) Orton, Triple H, Batista and AJ Styles. We did house shows and stuff like that together.
"He would critique me at times, and you'd think that your father was scolding you because of the things that he told you not to do, but it was a learning experience. He was teaching you his way. Everyone has a certain way of doing things. It was just a wonderful experience."
Lail has performed three times at Fanfest - twice in Charlotte and once in Atlanta. He feels that the annual event has been a springboard for a number of budding stars - including himself - to bigger and better things.
"There's a variety of fans. You have your old NWA fans and you have your Ring of Honor spotfest-type guys. It's a diverse crowd, they love to see different things and they respect what you're doing in the ring." That was no better exemplified than when he defeated Chase Stevens, and then Ring of Honor's Richards in the finals of the inaugural NWA Future Legends Cup competition at the 2010 Fanfest in Charlotte.
"It was really cool that year I worked Davey. We had about a 30-minute match. The crowd was just intense. It was all about respect. We got an applause at the end of the match. That was probably the first time I had gotten a standing ovation. It was a respect factor, and that was really cool with fans. You're busting your tail for them, and they respect that."
Lail is looking forward to this year's Fanfest where he will be signing autographs and taking photos with fans, as well as wrestling on both the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon cards. He is scheduled to battle Aces and Eights' "Director of Chaos" DOC.
"It really is cool because it's near my hometown, and a lot of the people that supported me then and support me now come out to say hello. It's cool to meet a lot of the legends there. To hold a conversation with men like Terry Funk, Flair and Ole, it's pretty cool. It's good for me as a fan."
Fanfest organizer Greg Price is one of Lail's biggest boosters. "Gunner is at the top of the list of recent Carolinas' wrestling products," says Price. "Even though he's had much success in a relatively short period of time, it's all well deserved. No one trains harder or prepares more than him. This young man has a tremendous future ahead of him. Our weekend is about all the former greats from the Carolinas territory, and Gunner is certainly carrying on that tradition in exemplary fashion."
Lail took time off earlier this year to revamp his character, but has rapidly worked his way up the pecking order. "I've come back as the good guy/babyface. I'm excited," he says. "The TNA TV title was great, but I didn't carry it for long. They really didn't use it much. But to be a TNA world tag-team champion is something that I consider a great privilege. James (Storm) has been with two great tag teams - America's Most Wanted and Beer Money. I couldn't ask for a better spot right now."
Lail has worked hard to get there, and says he will continue to work even harder to achieve his goals.
"I have two years left on my contract with TNA. I'm very happy with my position and very happy with the company and the people I work with. All the guys on the roster are wanting to give 110 percent. Nobody's bitter or disgruntled, which is rare in professional wrestling. It's a really good company to work for. I'm having a blast. As far as the future, I don't know what happens in the future. For now, though, I'm very happy where I am."
Lail also is pleased with the company's leadership under Dixie Carter. "Dixie takes care of the guys. She has a vision for the company, and we've been going strong for 10 years. We're on the road now, and it's made the product look a lot better. We've been bringing different guys in, and she's always around to talk to and thank you for your hard work, which is very rare. I didn't get that in the Marine Corps a lot. It's nice to have your boss come up like that and thank you and great job. In reality we are out there putting our bodies on the line for her company. But it's good to have a thanks for that."
He also has accomplished a lifelong dream of wrestling Sting, who was Lail and his father's favorite wrestler when Lail was growing up. "To wrestle Sting, who I think is one of the nicest men I've ever met in professional wrestling - and very giving as far as a veteran letting younger guys take the role and step higher - to be able to work him, and not only work him, but get a victory on him, that was incredible. That's probably been my biggest thrill (as a wrestler). I've had a lot of good moments. Getting to wrestle with AJ (Styles) in Manchester. But the chance to step in the ring with Sting was awesome."
There's still a major goal on the table for Chad Lail.
The first day his trainer met him, he asked Lail what he wanted to do in professional wrestling. "He was looking for an answer that he had always heard ... make money," recalls Lail. "Of course everybody wants to make money. I wanted to be a world champion. That was a main goal of mine. To be a Hall of Famer. I want to be remembered in professional wrestling as somebody who gave it all and cared about the business, the fans, just everything. Also to hopefully stay healthy and be a world champion."
Lail and his wife Jayme were married last August. They have a 5-year-old son. "I'm living my dream," he says.
-Mike Mooneyham, a writer and editor with Charleston's The Post and Courier since 1979, is one of the nation's foremost authorities on professional wrestling, and his weekly wrestling column has been in continuous publication longer than any other in the country.
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