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Welcome once again to the NXT TRACKER, where I pick an NXT talent, assess their progression to this point and make bold, sure-to-look-hilarious-in-retrospect predictions about their future prospects. Surprisingly enough, I have never covered Johnny Gargano, so here we are.
Johnny was an indy darling long before his time in NXT. My own familiarity from him stems from the time he spent with Chikara in Philadelphia, though he also worked for Dragon Gate, Ring of Honor, TNA, Evolve and PWG before finally signing with WWE in 2016. He did have a “Wait, that was him?” moment in NXT, just like his old partner Tomasso Ciampa; he wrestled as “Champion of Liechtenstein, Cedrick von Haussen” against a heel MVP, who claimed he had scoured the globe looking for competition. It’s definitely worth revisiting to see how Gargano is presented.
Signature Wins in NXT
Gargano and his future partner Ciampa floundered in NXT as singles for the most part until they were thrown together in a team that I feared would also be used as enhancement. Of course, this turned out not to be the case, as both members found success – and perhaps more importantly, the personas that would serve them for the future – in #DIY. We got a taste of their impending feud in the fantastic final first round match of the Cruiserweight Classic, a brutal match where Gargano eked out a win over Ciampa in the end after being pummeled for almost the full duration. As a team, #DIY had a great feud with The Revival that culminated in the former winning the NXT tag titles at TakeOver: Toronto in November 2016, though their reign was a short one as The Authors of Pain took the titles in January. In May 2017, Ciampa turned on Gargano to break up the team before taking significant time off for injury, leading to Gargano’s somewhat surprising main event push and subsequent thriller with Andrade Almas at TakeOver: Philadelphia.
Gargano seems to be hitting the same notes as Sami Zayn in NXT. He’s almost universally cheered, and more than anything, he succeeds as a result of his believable underdog status. Gargano still isn’t a special talent on the mic, but he was given a lot of opportunity to sell his match with Almas and I felt he did fairly well, primarily playing opposite Almas’s manager Zelina Vega. Ciampa’s return and brutal attack on Gargano after his hard-fought loss should guarantee this dynamic with the fans will continue.
Just as with many other NXT talents, it seems that the bookers have worked wonders with Gargano’s skill set. He’s being properly cast and put in a place to succeed against giants and strong heels, and the audience eats up his act. It’s going to be very interesting to see how NXT follows up on Gargano’s wife, Candice LeRae, coming to his aid during the Almas match; I don’t mind real-life couples being acknowledged sometimes, but hopefully this connection won’t overshadow what both wrestlers are able to bring to the table in their respective divisions.
The Future and Predictions
Not long ago, I felt resigned to Gargano fulfilling a lower-card role or a spot in 205 Live, but given the reactions he’s been able to get – particularly of late – I have to think the company will make a proper go of Gargano on the main roster and see if his underdog act translates there. We’ve seen with acts like Zayn that it’s very hard to carry over that underdog credibility because it almost requires a retelling of the same story now on a larger stage, but I think Gargano can be successful on the main roster to some degree. I don’t think he’s going to be a main event talent there, but I think he can be at a level like Kofi Kingston before New Day or higher, and as we’ve seen, in the absence of the intended main eventer via injury, Gargano can bring it at the highest level when it counts. Like most everyone else, I’ll be cheering him on.
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NOW CHECK OUT THIS PREVIOUS COLUMN: NXT TRACKER – VELVETEEN DREAM: Assessing and predicting the prospects of an NXT wrestler’s main roster future