Everybody evolves, at one point or another. It’s inevitable. It can be as simple as an idea, a new look, hairstyle. In wrestling, evolution is constant from faces to heels, new looks, new moves. Sometimes it can be as simple as walking away from the squared circle to begin the real evolution of the self. No matter the end result, it’s the journey that is most fascinating.
Take Gabriel Tuft, the wrestler formerly known as “Tyler Reks” in the WWE. While a mid-carder during his three year stint, he chose to walk away in 2012 to focus on his family, and start the Body Spartan fitness program. But the evolution does not stop there, as Gabriel had announced that he was now Gabbi Tuft, transitioning as a female.
As I looked up Gabbi’s story, and from the handful of interviews up to this point, I was realizing more and more that this was a human who is constantly evolving, constantly try to get to their true self, and I needed someone that could also help me navigate these waters.
Enter my friend of almost 30 years, Robert “Kilo” Zamora. I have been friends with “Kilo” and his family since we were 17 at a summer camp called Anytown, as part of the Inclusion Center for Community and Justice, that focused on social justice and awareness. He later became the executive director of said organization, and recently does work as a professor of Gender Studies at the University of Utah. The goal that I wanted to make sure was that when speaking with Gabbi, we were being true to her journey and getting some insight since leaving the WWE.
In short, we’re not your average dirt sheet writers, and this ain’t your average dirt sheet article.
Tommy Milagro: Gabbi, thank you for this opportunity.
Gabbi Tuft: It is my pleasure.
Milagro: So let me go in chronological order. It’s been noted you were with WWE as Tyler Reks from 2009 to 2012, and then you asked for your release in 2012. What do you recall was the “A-ha moment” for you when you asked for your release from WWE?
Tuft: Oh, super clear! We were at SummerSlam. It was 2012 and it’s supposed to be a family event. Priscilla [Gabbi’s Wife], and my daughter Mia were there. Mia was a newborn, she was eight months old, maybe, and I noticed how difficult it was. I had appearances, I had signings, we had Axxess matches we were doing, and didn’t have a chance to be with my family at all and I could just see the strain on our relationship. Not in a bad way, but just my wanting to be there for my family and be a father just wasn’t available. I was gone on a weekly basis. I would leave on a red-eye on a Thursday night out of San Francisco, and I won’t be home until the following Wednesday at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. So I had less than 24 hours a week with my family. And at SummerSlam, when I got a call from my parents they happened to have been visiting my brother in southern California, and I was [at SummerSlam so I was] sort of annoyed. They were driving back through and they asked if they could stop by, and we were so excited to see them at the hotel, but I looked at Priscilla and said, “Do you want to catch a ride home with my parents?” and she said “You know what? I think that’s a good idea.” And it was at that moment that I just realized … being on the road five days a week, six days a week. There was no way I could be a father, and I wanted to be a dad and a father more than anything, so that was the moment I made my decision
Milagro: I’ve dealt with other wrestlers, and they’ve echoed the same thing that you’ve spoken about right now; that balance between being on the road versus family. What was the hard part of going from being on the road with your fellow wrestlers like Curt Hawkins and Curtis Axel (Joe Hennig), etc., to family life?
Tuft: There really wasn’t a hard part for me. It was all positive. Here’s a great little anecdote: I went to RAW the next day after SummerSlam, and I asked for my release there, and they were super polite about it, they said “Absolutely.” I drove home that night, it was about a three-hour drive, went to sleep, saw my family in my home. It was amazing. The next day, my daughter took her first steps. So, there’s no negative.
I mean … I missed … I will say this. I missed being in the ring. Being in the ring is like a drug, it’s very addicting. There’s 10,000 people in every arena, millions on TV and it’s a really amazing feeling. There is a lot of adrenaline, and I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie (laughs), and I miss that. But the joy of being with my family and being with my daughter and my wife on a daily basis was overwhelmingly greater than being in the ring.
Milagro: Thank you for that. Now, since 2012, you and your wife Priscilla started the fitness company, Body Spartan. What prompted the idea?
Tuft: Yeah, my brother, back in … (sigh) he committed suicide in 2013…
Milagro: Oh, I’m Sorry.
Tuft: He became addicted to methamphetamines, and we… my family…. I… me personally, I was not familiar with the drug, so I didn’t know how serious it was, and before he committed suicide, he had called me. He had admitted to the family what was happening, so we knew he had some issues, and we were trying to get him into rehab. But he called me a couple of months before it happened, and asked me to fly from Northern California, but it was when he was really high, and he was really paranoid and delusional. I kind of had an argument on the phone, and I told him, “You know what buddy? When you sober up, call me,” and I hung up on him, and that was the last chance I had to talk with him.
The day after Christmas that year, he went to the shooting range on his way home. He was going home to see my dad, and my dad was going to put him into rehab. He stopped at the shooting range on the way home and he shot himself in the head. It was at that moment I promised myself and swore to myself, I would never miss an opportunity to help someone that was in need. And looking at what my assets were, I knew that through fitness I was able to help people, and so I just started writing. I started writing a book. It was a short e-book, [it] was a 12-week program that is now our Genesis program, and the e-book turned into videos, turned into nutritional… custom nutrition programs that my wife Priscilla wrote. She’s a master sports nutritionist. And now we have an app. We’ve got eight programs in that app, we have in-home programs that are in that subscription, and it’s ongoing.
Milagro: I took a few moments before today to look on the website, and I see I see that wrestlers like Brian Cage (of AEW) feature on your [Body Spartan] website. Did Brian reach out to you, or did other wrestlers reach out to you afterwards?
Tuft: Brian and I had been friends since Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), which was the original development center for WWE. Not the original, but when OVW was shut down, they opened FCW in Florida, and that’s where Brian and I met. We’ve been friends since the day we both arrived in FCW, and became really good friends, even after he left and got into bodybuilding, we still stayed in contact. He’s a phenomenal human being, he’s an amazing athlete. Probably (laughs) the biggest, most functional athlete I’ve ever seen. He’s incredible. When I started Body Spartan, I said, “Hey, buddy. Here’s an opportunity. I really want to do something with you. Here’s what I’m doing. Would you like to be a part of it?” and he said, “Absolutely! Anything I can do to help. You’re my buddy. Let’s go for it!” And so the friendship turned into a paid partnership, and he is an amazing brand ambassador, and he has an amazing program called Forged5X with us, and it is, um, it will kick your butt! (Laughs)
Milagro: I have seen the Swolverine in person in various points in my life, so I can believe that. I can truly believe that! And that’s a great segue to ask (outside of Brian Cage), are you still in contact with those you’ve wrestled with like Curt Hawkins [Bryan Myers] or Joe Hennig, and so forth?
Tuft: Absolutely! It’s not on a daily basis by any means, but the occasional text here and there, the Christmas text, the birthday text. Just checking in, “I saw your video” sort of thing. Amazingly, when the news broke about my transition, I was elated to [get] Hawkins… first person to text me from the business. I think, if I remember right, it was just three blue hearts was all he sent, and it was just enough for me to know that he cared.
Fandango reached out to me, ummm … gosh! Tons of guys from the business. T.J. (Tyson Kidd), Nattie (Natalya) were all commenting and just showing their support. There was a flood of amazing support. Fandango reached out. He and I used to tag back in FCW and he’s like a brother to me, so he reached out and he was like, “Congratulations. I fully support you.”
Kilo Zamora: When it was first announced your transition, were you having feelings of like wondering if people would be supportive, or did you feel like they were going to be in automatically?
Tuft: You know that is an excellent question. I think the average person would be really fearful about the response. Deep in my heart, I had no fear. Because it wasn’t about the response, it was about me having an opportunity to tell my story, and I knew the purpose was going to be very positive. And I knew from the bottom of my heart that the people that needed to hear it were going to hear it, and that’s all that mattered. So I focus on the positive. I expected positive feedback, and that’s one of the things I preach is: manifest what you want, really focus on what you want to happen, and look what happened. We had a 98% positive response from the world on the transition, and it’s amazing. There’s so much support from everyone.
Zamora: There’s a lot to be said about your focusing on positivity, and because you’re talking about manifesting. I mean, you focused on it, and look at you. [You’re like] this butterfly. Like you thought about what you wanted to be, and here you are just full winged out. It’s beautiful!
Tuft: (Laughs) I’m not quite full butterfly yet, but I’m getting there. I think I’m at the point where I’m just spreading my wings!
Milagro: Well, that’s another great segue here, because among other things you are famous for, you are listed as being a motivational speaker. What are some of the topics you discuss in your speeches?
Tuft: Oh yeah! One of the biggest things that I preached, so to speak, with body Spartan was that you are in control of your entire life. I am a person that doesn’t believe in fate. I don’t believe that our lives are predetermined. I just can’t believe that our creator, whoever that might be, would predetermine everything. I think of life as more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where every choice has an outcome. And whether that is positive or negative, that is dependent on what we choose. And in the moment, that is very difficult to see the choice, but if we stop pointing fingers at the other person or other people, and we take full responsibility for everything in our life, it becomes very clear what our choices are.
So I preach that. I preach being grateful, that the highest vibration of the molecular vibration, so to speak, and in humans with energy is gratefulness. So, here’s an example: everyday, my wife and daughter and I, we start in a meditation for gratefulness. And we go over multiple things we are grateful for, where it’s just our cup of coffee, whether it’s the roof over our head, or it’s the moment we shared a couple of days ago or in the morning. It sets the mood for the entire day, and it changes the entire course of the day.
Zamora: Gabbi, that reminds me that there’s a whole body of research on the antithesis of depression, which is how we focus on gratefulness. But lately, I’ve been focusing in on a lot of spiritual leaders’ thoughts about what love is and when your cup of love is full [and] what flows out of it is joyfulness…
Zamora: And it fits in the same category, just… It’s kind of cool to see the way science and spirituality connect, and as you’re talking, I can see the connections in the research.
Tuft: There are lots of studies on that that talk about the EKG of the heart, the EEG of the brain, and there is a heart and brain coherence, and it’s measurable. And it’s amazing.
Milagro: I was going to ask, “Have those speeches changed since undergoing your transition?” It doesn’t sound like there has been much difference.
Tuft: (Laughs) Everything is the same. I still stand by everything that I used to talk about with Body Spartan when I was doing motivational videos or we were doing seminars, and we were travelling, doing our tours. I still stand behind everything. I’m the person that is always pushing forward, and the person that is always ready to give it another try. I’ll keep swinging that bat until I get it right.
Milagro: Since beginning your journey, what are some challenges that you have faced?
Tuft: (Short chuckle) I think the biggest one was practicing what I preach. (Laughs) The thing I focus most on, whenever I’m trying to motivate somebody or inspire them… It’s very interesting because it plays a huge role in what people go through today is we have to, or it’s important that, we have to stop caring about what other people think.
So, here I am, beginning my transition and I’m starting to present female in public and I’m feeling the need to just integrate. I want to go out and understand how people would react and I wanted to see social interactions. I need to use a trained female voice, and I needed to see [if] are people afraid of me or ushering their kids away, or can I fly under the radar. And me being, y’know, 6’3”, it’s kind of hard for me to fly under the radar anywhere. (Laughs)
And here’s something interesting, too. When I started presenting in public, I think I was still about 230-pound range. So I was very large, very muscular, and I was fearful. We talk about this on one of our [HER] podcast episodes that hasn’t been released yet, it’s coming up. But, the first time I wanted to go down to the store, and go in late at night by myself, I sat in the parking lot for probably 20 minutes, shaking. I was so nervous, and I almost cried. I remember going into the store, I had my mask on, and I thought, “You know what, if I have a mask on, they can only see from my nose up. I like my eyes.” One of things I always say is focus on what you do like about yourself, and so I like my eyes. I just remember walking in, and I was hyperventilating under the mask, worried about what other people are thinking of me. When I walked out of the store, I did fast-walk to the truck, and I took the mask off and I just bawled in the truck. I was so nervous, and it took a lot of time.
But I finally… y’know, this is months and months of me trying to integrate, trying to really listen to what I preached to other people, and I finally came to the point where I just don’t care. This is me. I love me, I love who I am. I can look myself in the mirror, and be proud, and not be worried about what other people think, and that is the biggest thing I would to get across for anyone in in my situation.
Zamora: You answered my next question to you, Gabbi. So many things you are saying just resonate with me. I laugh so many times in my day, when I think of the Buddhist proverb that “You teach what you need to learn the most.” And so as you’re talking about believing what you preach, believing what you’re sharing, and as you’re going to the transition of “liberation liberation” is scary. That there are all these scary moments in it. So, if you were sharing with other folks who are kind of going down their own path of liberation and transitions, what would be your major mantra to them, or advice you’d like them to know about this journey that you’re on that would be helpful to them?
Tuft: It’s important to love yourself. You can’t expect others to love you, if you can’t look yourself in the mirror and say out loud, “I love me,” and mean it. There was a very specific time in my transition, shortly before I came out, where I remember being in the shower and I had an incident where I was presenting full female [and] somebody called me “sir,” and it was really hard for me to deal with that later. I was in the shower, and I have a mirror in the shower and I was looking in the mirror. This was no makeup, no hair, as raw and as real as possible, and I looked myself dead in the eyes, and put my hand over my heart and I said, “I love me.” And I looked in the mirror again, and I said it a little louder “I love me.” And then the tears came, and I said it one more time, and that’s the moment I truly believed it.
Once you believe from your heart that you love yourself, everything else follows. The courage comes, the bravery comes, and you stop caring about what other people think, and you’re free to be you.
Zamora: I love that. So many people are afraid to use the word “love,” especially with themselves. But yet, so much of our own ethics of just being good humans and trying to show up for others means we have to show up for ourselves as well…
Zamora: I appreciate, that and thank you for sharing that moment about being in the shower. I can imagine that vulnerability, and just… and I’ve had those moments with myself, too, just… trying to be raw and real, and not letting any other voices in and just letting my inner voice gonna come out love myself for the creature that I am.
Tuft: I really think that transparency and truthfulness is the new strength.
Milagro: And once again, just to reiterate the point, we’re not your average dirt sheet writers.
(Laughs all around.)
Tuft: It is so amazing because these are not average questions. These are phenomenal!
Milagro: I do have a couple basic questions. As of right now, you are the second person to have come out as trans in the wrestling world, the first being, that I’m aware of, Nyla Rose of AEW. Have you received comparisons to your journey with that of Nyla Rose?
Tuft: I haven’t received any, personally, not that I’m aware of. I still have a lot of messages to go through, but the comments I have received, I haven’t seen any comparisons. And I think, probably, it’s because she’s active in the business, and I’m retired, so there really isn’t much to compare to, I think.
Milagro: Have you spoken with Nyla at all, or other wrestlers who have yet to be on the same journey you’re on, about going through this process?
Tuft: Not wrestlers, no. No one in the business, but other athletes like Janae Marie Kroczaleski. She transitioned, and she’s got an amazing documentary on Netflix. It’s called TransFormer, and she has really been there for me. I messaged her over the summer. I watched her documentary, and she was a champion powerlifter [who] went through full transition, and she responded to me, and she has been a guiding light for me the whole way. It’s been amazing.
Chloie Johnson, a CrossFit competitor, [I’ve] been talking with her as well, and she’s been a huge support.
Milagro: And I’m sure you get asked this a bit — will you go back to wrestling…?
Milagro: Now before you respond, I always hear that “R” word, the “retirement “word with other workers like yourself in the past. But I always hear this other “R”: there’s “relief” or there’s “regret.”
And, yes, I am quoting Kill Bill, Vol. 2.
Tuft: Great movie!
Milagro: OK, we’re on the same page.
Tuft: And didn’t Edge come out of retirement as well?
Milagro: Yes, and that’s kind of the point.
Tuft: To answer your question: no, I currently don’t have any plans to go back. I love the WWE. I love everybody there. Hunter, Steph, Vince, they’re all great people, like… they left the door wide open for me. I’m not opposed to working with them in the future, but as of right now I don’t have any plans.
Milagro: “No plans… yet.”
Tuft: (Laughs) No, I really enjoy being at home. I don’t wanna be on the road again. I love being with my family. I don’t wanna bump. I don’t wanna go through what I’m going through nowhere I wake up and feel back pain all the time. I’m happy not to be bumping around in the ring, let’s put it that way. (Laughs)
That was a wonderful experience. I would never trade it for anything. I learned so much, and a lot of my ability to speak in public, and the skills that I learned were from the WWE, and I’m forever grateful. It’s funny, I never had the opportunity to say “thank you” to Vince, so I am going to take this opportunity if that’s okay? Because most people will believe in all this, like, “Oh, y’know, Vince is the boss…whatever!” and so… I just want to thank him for the opportunity that he previously gave me and when they handed me the microphone, and I learn to thousands and millions of people live on TV, it created who I am now, and that’s why I’m grateful for that.
Milagro: Wow. Thank you for that.
Zamora: I also, hear, Gabby, that you kind of left a little bit of a door open, and I just like to think that wrestling is just as fluid as gender.
Tuft: (Laughs) Like I said, I don’t wanna bump. I am a lot lighter than I used to be. I’m a little more fragile. I might slide out through the ropes, and fall out accidentally. I’m like a string bean now.
Milagro: Oh I doubt that!
Tuft: I’m so close to breaking my first weight goal, too. At my heaviest I was 280 pounds, and about 8% body fat. I stepped on a scale yesterday, and I was 202 pounds. So I have two pounds away from my goal of getting to 200 pounds.
Milagro: I was almost ready to make a 205 Live joke but I’ll leave it there.
Tuft: (Laughs) I have a lot of muscle to lose. I’m trying to get to 175, and that’s the ultimate goal.
Zamora: I have a question for you, Gabbi. I was reading your interview on TMZ with Billy Bush and you were talking about wanting to be a role model for transgender youth, which really resonated with me because I thought that would be such a wonderful opportunity for you and for young people. Can you tell us if you have any plans, or if you have gotten closer where you’re thinking formally at how you might be a role model, or there groups that have reached out to you, etc.?
Tuft: Yeah, absolutely. I think by presenting full transparency, going forward… I’ve been very transparent through the coming out process. Full transparency is so important, because, I think that a lot of newly transitioning women, and even me, transgender men, younger transgender people, or people that are struggling with whether or not they are transgender, they see a lot of women and men that are… they’ve completed their transitioning.
And here I am in the beginning, and I want to be fully transparent. We’ve been documenting everything from the beginning at the most vulnerable moments, like I’m in the bathroom, stepping on the scale without hair and makeup on. So, people can see me, just raw and real and know that I’m not hiding. I’m not trying to create an unattainable image. I do the hair and makeup for me. This is something that makes me feel good about myself, but I want everyone to know that there’s a raw side to me, and I’m not afraid to share it. So by sharing that, by being truthful, I really think we can have a huge impact on how people feel about themselves and give them bravery and courage to be who they really want to be.
Zamora: Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that.
Milagro: I guess my only question here: Are there ways your fans and the wrestling community can be supportive of you, Gabbi?
Tuft: Absolutely! I think the easiest way for them to support is to just continue to follow. I love seeing the comments on Facebook and Instagram, I love seeing the downloads on our podcast. I love knowing that people are listening to our very raw story. Our podcast, we’ve recorded 17 episodes ahead of time, and we released two so far, because they part and parcel synergistic of each other, and our third one comes out this Thursday [February 11]. But if you think we’re raw now and real? The podcast gets very emotional. It’s one of those “bring a Kleenex,” and I would love for people to listen to the podcast and follow us there, and continue to follow us on social media, because we have so much more coming, and I’m very, very excited to continue to share this.
To Follow Gabbi’s journey, you can access her Linked Tree.
- Feb. 4, 2021: Former WWE superstar transitions
- Aug 23, 2012: Mat Matters: Wrestling needs more people like Tyler Reks
“Kilo” Zamora is a professor of Gender Studies at the University of Utah.