When Chad Allegra was smashing home runs for his high school team in Asheville, North Carolina, he could have no idea that he would end up putting down his bat and picking up a steel chair instead. He was not yet Karl Anderson, not yet a bruiser on the WWE stage.
As a teenager, Allegra excelled in anything athletic. But it was not sports where would make his name, but sports entertainment.
A longtime fan of pro wrestling, the Asheville native studied the mat game in Cincinnati before moving to Los Angeles and then to Japan. It was in The Land of the Rising Sun where he truly began to flourish, becoming one of New Japan Pro Wrestling's most successful "gaijins."
Allegra was a cornerstone of the popular Bullet Club stable, a band of outlaws that is now well-represented in WWE. Former members Finn Balor, AJ Styles and Luke Gallows are all a part of the company. As Karl Anderson, he is poised to be a major player in the tag team division and continue the success he had in the Far East.
Before he began mastering spinebusters and powerbombs, though, Allegra was just a country boy thriving on many a sports field.
An Athlete Chases a Dream
Allegra moved from Michigan to Asheville as a young boy. Fishing and farms awaited him there.
At A.C. Reynolds High, he found success in baseball, basketball and football. The baseball diamond saw him shine the most, his play earning him a tryout with the Tampa Bay Rays.
While the look from the Rays didn't lead anywhere, Allegra did earn a scholarship to play baseball for Mars Hill College. He slugged it out for the Mars Hill Lions from 1998 to 2000.
Soon he would try to go pro, in wrestling, though, rather than baseball. A passion for the squared circle drew him in.
In a Culture Crossfire interview from 2014, Allegra said, "I loved wrestling ever since I was a little kid. I watched that documentary on MTV called True Life I'm a Pro Wrestler that followed Les Thatcher's school in Cincinnati. I watched it 500 times. That was it. I was sold."
After wrapping his own wrestling career, Thatcher went on to become a respected trainer, showing Dean Ambrose, Nigel McGuinness and others the ropes. Allegra wanted those same lessons, so he decided to pack up and leave North Carolina for Cincinnati.
Learning the Craft
Thatcher trained Allegra first, then Roger Ruffin (who briefly wrestled for WWE) taught him during the early part of his career. It wasn't long before the man who would become known as The Machine Gun suffered his first injury.
While battling fellow rookie Derek Neikirk, a miscommunication led to a concussion. Neikirk went for a dropkick, Allegra believed another move was on the way instead and the collision had him seeing stars.
That didn't discourage him. It wasn't long before Allegra was training once more and soon getting the chance to wrestle WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Valiant and be in a tag match with Jerry Lawler.
He wrestled as Chad "2 Badd" Allegra, competing in Ohio and Tennessee for various companies.
Allegra later earned a spot in the NJPW dojo in Los Angeles, which acted as a gateway to the famous Japanese promotions for Westerners. That's where Allegra befriended both Fergal Devitt (who now wrestles as Finn Balor for NXT) and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Friends or not, Allegra wasn't happy in the City of Angels. Moving to the big city was hard, and he certainly wasn't making big money in the ring yet.
He told Greg Oliver in an interview for SLAM! Wrestling, "I actually hated my whole time in L.A. There were always great times, but I look back on it now, and I wasn't happy there at all. I just didn't enjoy myself. I was broke. Just the whole time sucked—except the bonds and the friendships that I made."
It wasn't until he moved to L.A. that he adopted the Anderson name. It was an uncomfortable fit at first, with him hesitant to have fans associate him with greats like Ole and Arn Anderson.
Patience and hard work led to Allegra becoming a better wrestler over time. He was learning the nuances of the medium and finding his voice as a performer as he wrestled for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Ring of Honor and elsewhere.
Allegra took to tag team wrestling long before he and Gallows hooked up. Joey Ryan and Allegra formed the Real American Heroes in 2006, a group that certainly got fans' attention.
Ryan and Allegra managed to rile up a crowd in Houston in 2007. PWTorch's James Caldwell wrote of the incident, "Trash, bottles, dirt, and various forms of debris covered the ring at the NWA Pro show on a hot Friday night in Houston after Joey Ryan, Karl 'Machine Gun' Anderson, and C. Edward Vander Pyle incensed the predominantly Hispanic crowd by telling them to leave the country and return to Mexico."
Angering the audience as a heel would end up being one of the skills Allegra would get down cold as he gained experience and his home base move across the ocean.
Big in Japan
NJPW welcomed Allegra in 2008. Wins didn't come often early on, as The Machine Gun was asked to lose to the likes of Koji Kanemoto and Hirooki Goto.
It wasn't until he aligned himself with Giant Bernard (current NXT trainer Jason Albert), forming Bad Intentions. There was something about fighting alongside that big, tattooed brute that had Allegra garner momentum. The duo took off, holding the IWGP tag titles for nearly two full years from 2010 to 2012.
Allegra later moved on to singles competition. He battled Nakamura in 2012 and headlined NJPW's The New Beginning pay-per-view in 2013 against Hiroshi Tanahashi.
He looked good in these bouts, but his career truly took off when he went back to the tag team ranks. The Bullet Club formed in 2013 with Devitt, Bad Luck Fale and others making up the villainous faction.
As part of the group, Allegra often teamed with Gallows. The pair won the World Tag League in 2012 and 2013 and three times claimed the IWGP tag titles.
Beyond the gold and the trophies, there was an electricity around the group that had the wrestling world talking, in and out of Japan. Like the New World Order in the '90s, the Bullet Club were the cool bad guys that had fans buying up their merchandise.
Allegra reflected on the group's success in a 2015 interview with Wrestling Inc's Sean Ross Sapp:
When it first started, I don't think Ferg (Finn Balor), Tama and Fale and I realized how big it would get with the number of shirts we've sold and the positive feedback we've gotten, when those bone soldier shirts came out. We have so much chemistry and so much fun in the ring doing what we do, I should have realized it would be as big.
The Bullet Club's buzz caught WWE's attention eventually. The company decided not only to sign Styles, Allegra and Gallows, but to essentially keep their NJPW gimmick intact.
They go by simply The Club now, but the crew remains together after the move to WWE earlier this year. With Gallows at his side, The Machine Gun is feuding with The Usos. Those two are also key figures in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship storyline, acting as Styles' muscle.
After over 15 years in the business, Allegra has made it to wrestling's biggest stage. He can now write the next chapters in a story that is far from over.
Wresting fans have to be thankful that he wasn't any better at hitting fastballs or else he may have ended up playing baseball in Tampa rather than bashing heads in Tokyo.