Gabi Butler's Unexpected Journey From Netflix's Cheer To WWE

Gimme a W! Gimme another W! Gimme me an E! What's that spell? An unexpected entry on the résumé of competitive cheerleader Gabi Butler. As her career as a collegiate athlete was winding down, the talented flyer surprised her fans by telling People that she wanted to bring her mesmerizing aerial stunts to the wrestling ring.

Butler was one of the standout stars of the Netflix docuseries "Cheer," which followed Navarro College's cheerleading squad as they pursued a championship title at the NCA & NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship in Daytona. In addition to impressing viewers with her extreme flexibility, Butler floored them with her fearlessness. Her role as a flyer called for her to be tossed high up in the air, and she had split seconds to perform a series of dizzying flips and twists as she fell.

"Cheer" lifted the veil on the cutthroat world of college cheerleading, showing viewers that a lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into those perfectly polished routines. "We put ourselves at a high risk because it is a dangerous sport," Butler told Cosmopolitan. And don't let the big hairbows and dazzling smiles fool you — seasoned pros like Butler rise through the ranks in the cheer world by being ruthless competitors. "If someone says, ​'Winning isn't everything,' they're lying," she told The Face. Now that she's set her sights on conquering a new frontier, we're charting the ambitious athlete's course from the top of the pyramid to the WWE.

Gabi Butler used to sneer at cheer

In 2020, Gabi Butler described her passion for her sport by telling The Face, "I was basically cheering out of the womb." However, she wasn't always one of cheer's biggest, er, cheerleaders. In an appearance on Kaitlyn Bristowe's "Off the Vine" podcast, Butler admitted that she used to look down on cheerleading, thinking that it was all about shaking pom-poms and chanting in unison. "I just thought, 'Oh, cheerleaders are just like those popular mean girls,'" she added. 

As a young child, Butler decided that gymnastics class was the right fit for her. "I'm very much an athlete," she said. But when she was 8 years old, her mom pushed her to give cheerleading practice a chance. Butler reluctantly agreed, and after learning that there was acro and tumbling involved, she decided that she could put up with getting primped and acting peppy for the sake of the sport. "I found out that it was much more than what I thought it was," she recalled. "A week later I quit gymnastics and moved straight into cheerleading, and I just fell in love with it from that very day," she said in an interview with Weber State University.

Butler also had a sibling to look to for cheerleading inspiration. On Twitter, she revealed that her older sister, Ashley Gaffoglio-Ricardo, was actually her family's first cheer star. Ashley didn't start competing until age 16 but managed to win a pair of world titles.

She became a reluctant cheerlebrity

Gabi Butler told Weber State University that she was the least talented member of her team when she first started cheerleading, but she soon became one of the internet's first cheerlebrities. On "Off the Vine," she revealed that she was already so famous within the cheerleading community by age 12 that she was touring the country to participate in cheerleading camps, where she helped other young athletes sharpen their skills.

Butler started racking up the views on YouTube in 2011 by demonstrating her stretching routine for her subscribers, and the advent of Instagram also helped further her cheer career. By 2013, she had amassed a large enough following to attract the attention of The Wire, which asked her to share her thoughts about some of her fellow cheerlebrities. "What they're known for is kind of like the hair and makeup and abs," she said. "I'm kind of like the opposite. Like, I post a lot of videos of me tumbling, hard work stuff, and motivating things." The use of this quote infuriated Butler, who complained on Facebook, "This writer is trying to make me look bad and make it look like I was talking bad about people when I WAS NOT!!!"

Butler also revealed that she disliked the "cheerlebrity" label, but she wasn't about to fade into obscurity anytime soon. In 2014, the word was used to describe her again when she was profiled for a "Nightline" special about the world of competitive cheerleading. 

A big move made Gabi Butler a web series star

On the "Nightline" series "My Extraordinary Family," Gabi Butler's mom, Debbie Butler, revealed the lengths her family was willing to go to for Gabi's pursuit of cheerleading glory. Gabi and Debbie left their other family members behind in Florida and headed to the West Coast so that Gabi could join an elite cheer team in California. According to Debbie, micro-managing her daughter's cheer career had become her full-time job, and the amount of money her husband had spent on it was a six-figure sum. 

Gabi was 14 when she joined California All Stars' Smoed squad, which was being filmed for the AwesomenessTV web series "Cheerleaders." On the show, Gabi explained her decision to move so far away from home, saying, "I wanted to be on an amazing team that had a chance at Worlds, and I wanted to cheer with one of my inspirations, Kiara Nowlin." Gabi had previously referenced Nowlin in a 2012 blog post for Inside Cheerleading Magazine. At the time, she was a member of the Trinity Athletics gym in Georgia, but on "Cheerleaders," she revealed that she wasn't overly impressed with her teammates. "Not all of the kids were into the competition mode," she recalled. She found the more aggressive team spirit she was looking for at the California All Stars gym — Smoed won their division at the 2013 Cheerleading World Championships and successfully defended their title the following year, per the Reading Eagle.

She got homesick and took a break from cheerleading

While her move to the West Coast made it possible for Gabi Butler to boast about being a world champ, she discovered that winning isn't everything. In a 2014 episode of "Cheerleaders," she revealed that she was suffering from an extreme case of homesickness, and visiting her friends and family members back in Florida only made it worse. "I basically forced myself to go on the plane," she said of her reluctance to return to California. She ultimately decided to give up her spot with California All Stars so that she could go back home, and she launched a new YouTube channel, Gabi Butler Cheer, to keep fans updated on her life.

During a Q&A, Butler assured her fans that she had no plans to give up cheering for good. "I just kind of took a break," she said. "It's good to have a break once in a while; it gives you time to just relax and do your own thing." Butler also briefly veered away from solely creating cheer content — she filmed a holiday special, hopped in the ring with MMA pro Kimbo Slice, and got a crash course in BMX riding. But a month after her experiment with being a YouTuber began, she announced that she had joined the Kentucky-based team GymTyme Blink – which just happened to be the subject of another web series, "Cheer Full Out." Butler's international coed group placed 3rd at the 2015 Cheerleading Worlds, per Flocheer.

The flyer transformed from a cheerlebrity into a celebrity

Gabi Butler's collegiate cheerleading career began at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Her squad won their division at the 2018 NCA & NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship, and when they successfully defended their title the following year, they did so with a Netflix camera crew in tow. While Butler was no stranger to the world of reality TV, the docuseries "Cheer" reached a much larger audience than her web series. "We really didn't expect it to take off the way that it did," she told People. "Hearing that major stars were loving the show and tweeting about it was very surreal."

With mainstream fame came countless opportunities for the flyer to raise her profile even higher. She appeared on "The Late Show" and pepped up unmotivated New Yorkers for a bit titled "Mat Talk for Regular People." She also met "Cheer" superfan J.J. Watt on the "Today" show and got a front-row seat at New York Fashion Week.

Butler's competitive spirit made her the ideal addition to the reality competition "Celebrity Show-Off." Viewers watched her face off against her sister Ashley Gaffoglio-Ricardo and brother John Michael Butler by completing an "American Ninja Warrior"-style obstacle course — if it were created by Fisher Price. But watching herself on "Cheer" made Butler realize that she needed to dial down the competitiveness. "I actually learned how to have fun doing what I'm doing and not take it so seriously," she told The List.

She defended her parents

Some "Cheer" fans didn't walk away with the best impression of Gabi Butler's parents. In one infamous scene, her mom, Debbie Butler, shared some dubious diet advice. Per InStyle, she claimed that eating jackfruit would make it possible for Gabi to endure up to 12 hours of depriving her body of any other nutrition. "Gabi Butler's parents are controlling and neurotic, and they have done nothing but milk her like a cash cow," one critic tweeted.

The online backlash to Debbie and John Butler's behavior became so intense that Gabi decided to address it on Twitter. She revealed that none of the money she makes goes to her parents, and she credited them with making her successful cheer career possible. "So please stop with the negativity towards them," she wrote. "They are my biggest support system and have helped me to be on top of my game." Showrunner Greg Whiteley also apologized [16:20] for the way the show's editing painted Gabi's parents in a mostly negative light. "I think I could have done a better job as a storyteller in fleshing out the other elements of them," he admitted on "The Business" podcast.

But when Gabi appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," she revealed that watching "Cheer" caused her mom and dad to have an epiphany about their overbearing behavior. "My parents were like, 'Wow, maybe we do need to let her be more independent and let her make her own decisions for herself,'" she said.

She remained friends with ex-teammate Jerry Harris after his arrest

In July 2022, "Cheer" star Jerry Harris received a 12-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to receiving child sexual abuse material and soliciting sex from minors, as reported by AP. The reactions of his former teammates at Navarro were filmed for Season 2 of "Cheer," and Gabi Butler admitted that she found it hard to abandon her relationship with Harris, whom she considered family. "I can't turn my back on him because he was there for me when I needed it," she said on the show, per Insider. Her remarks didn't go over well with many fans. "She seemed more sad for Jerry than sad for the literal VICTIMS!!" read a comment that was echoed by others on the "Cheer" subreddit. "As a victim myself Gabi's words were very hurtful to me and harmful for all victims," another Redditor wrote.

It was also suggested that Butler's feelings about Harris would likely change once she had more time to recover from her initial shock over the allegations. However, after the second season of "Cheer" premiered on Netflix and Butler saw viewers' reactions to her comments, she didn't take back anything she said on the show during interviews with E! and other outlets. She even told ET that she was still in contact with Harris. "I write to him ... I'll hear from him every once in a while," she said, adding that she'll always love her former teammate.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Gabi Butler is a bikini mogul and model

Long before Netflix launched the flyer into a new stratosphere of fame, Gabi Butler's cheerlebrity status made her an in-demand model for companies selling cheer gear. She was a spokesmodel for the Stunt Stand training device, and she posed on the cover of the 2013 GK Cheer catalog. More opportunities to work with brands came after she appeared in "Cheer," including collaborating with Rebel Athletic Cheer on her own line of activewear and modeling prom dresses for ASHLEYLauren. By the time countless other companies had started clamoring to work with her, Gabi was already a seasoned pro at posing for the type of sun-drenched modeling shots that induce envy in the hearts of Instagram influencers' FOMO-afflicted followers. 

In 2019, Gabi and her sisters, Ashley Gaffoglio-Ricardo and Amanda Butler, co-founded a swimwear line called The Bikini Block. Speaking to Us Weekly, Ashley shared the origin story of the company's name. The sisters had started purchasing bikinis for themselves from a Brazilian brand, and they saw dollar signs when they became the belles of the beach. "The next thing you know, everybody on the block was wearing our suits. So it went from bikinis for the block to The Bikini Block," she explained. 

The sisters often model their swimwear themselves and use Instagram to promote their brand. They stress that they sell swimsuits designed with active women in mind, and Gabi has proved that their bikinis don't budge even when she's performing cheer stunts in them.

Her surprise return to Navarro

At the end of "Cheer" Season 1, Gabi Butler said that her days cheering with Navarro College were done, per Insider. She joined the Top Gun All-Stars squad in Miami, a team she'd previously competed with during her early cheer years. "7 years ago I left my home on a fantastic journey. It was an amazing ride that I will never forget," she wrote on Instagram. "Now it's time for me to return to my roots, the place where it all started." However, because it wasn't a college team, Top Gun wasn't her highway to the Daytona zone. 

In January 2020, Butler told Elite Daily that she was still in communication with her former coach at Navarro, Monica Aldama, and if the Bulldogs found themselves short a cheerleader, Butler was ready and willing to take their place. But the following month, she decided that she wasn't just going to sit around and wait for someone to get injured to give her an excuse to rejoin the team. "I'm gonna be on mat in Daytona this season," she said on "Smallzy's Surgery." Butler also revealed that she'd been trying to keep her return hush-hush but didn't elaborate as to why.

When Butler shared the news on Instagram, it was in the form of a special message for Aldama. "Getting the chance to be coached by you one last time is truly a blessing," she wrote. "You are always gonna be like a second mom to me."

Pandemic heartbreak and a heartbreaking loss

The Navarro team trained hard in hopes of defending their championship title, but their dreams were crushed when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 NCA & NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship. "It was like a knife just kind of slowly grinding its way through your heart because it was like you worked so hard for something all year and we were right there," Gabi Butler told The List. It was supposed to be her final year competing with Navarro, but she didn't end her college cheerleading career on that low note. She explained to Marie Claire that the 2020 season essentially didn't count, so was still eligible to compete in 2021.

But when Butler and her teammates made their triumphant return to Daytona, Navarro's longtime rivals, Trinity Valley Community College, emerged victorious. The loss served as the bittersweet ending of the second season of "Cheer." In an interview with Distractify, Butler admitted that her team's defeat was deserved because they made a mistake. "It definitely was a very sad situation because that routine, I can say hands down, it was the best routine that Navarro ever put out," she said. "We put so much time into it and so much effort." Speaking to ET, Butler also defended Monica Aldama, saying that Navarro's loss had nothing to do with the coach's decision to join the "Dancing with the Stars" cast and place an assistant coach in charge of the squad's training.

Gabi Butler briefly cheered with another top team

In 2021, Gabi Butler moved to Utah to join Weber State University's talented cheer team, the Wildcats. According to a piece about Butler published on the college's website, Weber's squad and Navarro are in different divisions. However, every team that competes at the NCA & NDA Collegiate Cheer and Dance Championship gets a shot at the Grand National Title. It goes to the squad with the top score overall, and Weber took it home in 2021 — so you can see why the school would appeal to Butler. "The talent here is just like on another level of insane," she said of her new teammates. 

But Butler didn't return to the Daytona bandshell as a Wildcat. On "Off the Vine," she revealed that she had decided to leave the team. "I had a really hard time in Utah; I was going through a lot," she explained.Butler r eached out to Monica Aldama to ask her ex-coach if she could return to Navarro yet again, and Aldama was more than happy to have her top flyer back. This time around, Butler had just one remaining year of eligibility to compete with a junior college team like Navarro. "I was like, you know what, if I'm going to give my year to anybody, I want it to be Monica," she said. 

The decision resulted in one more Daytona win for Butler, and on Navarro's Instagram page, she's pictured posing with her fellow 2022 champs.

Inside Gabi Butler's brutal fitness regimen

For cheer competitions, Gabi Butler undergoes a hair and makeup transformation not unlike that of a beauty pageant contestant. However, her primping is preceded by her body taking a beating week after week. To ensure that she was properly prepared to perform her challenging cheer stunts during the 2020 season, she relied on the expertise of trainer Marc Bowron. "All the exercises we do can help translate into cheer-specific movements and training," Bowron told Shape of their hour-long workout sessions.

Some days were centered on strength training, while others were all about endurance. And Bowron didn't just tell Butler to hop on a treadmill and call it a day — he incorporated lunges, burpees, and other calisthenics into her sweat sesh. He also designed special power workouts for Butler that were aimed at keeping her body primed to perform the explosive movements that tumbling requires. Butler has crafted her own workout routine as well. In a vlog, she revealed that she does a lot of core work, such as leg lifts and plank hip dips.

When she was training with her teammates, Butler's workouts were even more brutal. According to Muscle & Fitness, cheer practice was three hours long, and sometimes it was scheduled twice a day. As far as her weight is concerned, Butler doesn't worry about it — she just focuses on eating healthy. "To me, if you have strength, then it doesn't really matter about being super, super tiny," she said.

The flyer found love with a Cheer tourmate

While Gabi Butler was finally forced to say farewell to her spot as Navarro's flyer, she didn't stop performing with some of her teammates. In 2022, she embarked on the "Cheer" Live Tour, a one-of-a-kind event created by her ex-coach, Monica Aldama. It allowed Butler to show off her impressive stunt work in a fresh new way, and she revealed that she and her castmates worked tirelessly to perfect the show. "Learning new things everyday, all day for 12+ hours is definitely not anything I've ever done or experienced before," she wrote on Instagram. "But doing this tour with all the people I love, doing what we love has been the most amazing/beautiful process." One of those people was the rock-steady base to Butler's frenetic flyer, University of Kentucky gymnast Ricky Nunn.

Butler and Nunn have both expressed their love for each other on Instagram, with the latter writing, "I never foreseen any of this but some of the greatest blessings in life are unexpected and you are a Blessing in mine," Not to be outdone, Butler gushed, "I am so thankful that God put you in my life when he did because you truly are one of a kind and have a heart of pure gold." The couple has also shared videos of some of the heart-stopping, high-flying stunts that they've performed together during the "Cheer" tour, proving that there's definitely a high level of trust in their relationship.

Gabi Butler has considered many different post-cheer careers

What's a girl to do when she can no longer cheer in college? Take acting lessons so that she can star in a "Bring It On" remake, perhaps? While Gabi Butler didn't list this as one of her possible post-cheer career options, she did say that one job in the film industry appealed to her. "I actually used to talk about being a stunt double ... That's something I would absolutely consider," she told Elite Daily.

While Butler knows that she can't tumble and defy gravity forever, the flyer does tend to gravitate toward professions where there's a high potential for bodily harm. She told Cosmopolitan that she'd love to join the Cirque du Soleil cast, saying, "I mean, it's hard, but I've trained a lot." She's even considered becoming a professional dancer. "Cheerleading, it is a lot on your body and it's very harsh, but I think dance — hip hop dancing, or just dancing in general — that would be a really good thing for me to get into," she said in an interview with Marie Claire.

Butler told Cosmopolitan that she believes that she'd also make an excellent cheerleading coach, but she has one big goal she'd like to accomplish before she hangs up her oversize hairbow for good: competing in the Olympics. "I would love to represent USA ... and with my work ethic, I think I could do it," she said in an interview with People.

Gabi Butler trades the mat for the wrestling ring

Gabi Butler surprised "Cheer" fans in November 2022 by announcing that she had signed a contract with WWE. She told People that she realized professional wrestling isn't that much different from competitive cheerleading while she was watching WWE icons such as Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar entertain the SummerSlam crowd with their stunts and theatrics. But while wrestling and cheerleading both require precision, athleticism, and artistic flair, there's a key difference — when WWE stars enter the ring, they already know who the winner will be. This element of the sports-theater hybrid might be difficult for a fierce competitor like Butler to adjust to. However, at SummerSlam, she did get to watch another athlete in action who made a transition from true competition to the WWE, former MMA fighter Ronda Rousey.

Butler realized that she would have her work cut out for her if she wanted to turn wrestling into a career after learning the ropes at the WWE Performance Center. "You have to be committed to be wrestling, that's for sure. It definitely doesn't look easy," she told People. But the cheerleader was coming to the ring with a few tricks — er, stunts — up her sleeve. According to The Face, Butler even has a cheer stunt named after her: the ​Gabi Butler needle. This sounds like it could be modified into a pretty brutal signature wrestling move. And what tag-team partner wouldn't benefit from some motivational mat talk?