A Blackhearted Endorsement: “Johnny Wrestling is Dead, But Johnny Gargano Has Never Been More Alive”

Johnny Gargano

On the most recent episode of NXT, Johnny Gargano shocked the world when he was seemingly revealed as the man behind the brutal attack of Aleister Black. Black, who returned to NXT on a rampage, took out members of William Regal‘s security team before getting to the man himself and demanding to know where his attacker was. In a stunning turn of events, the former NXT champion turned around into a superkick from Gargano who was clad in all black and simply said, “I’m right here.”

While many fan theories had suggested Gargano’s involvement, as far as the kayfabe of NXT, Johnny Wrestling was the least likely culprit. That’s because despite everything that’s happened over the past few months Johnny’s still a good guy…right?

Johnny Wrestling vs Tommy Entertainment

Johnny Gargano’s journey over the last year-plus has been nothing short of extraordinary. When #DIY broke up in May 2017, Gargano was lost, haunted by the ghosts of his past and unable to figure out why his best friend turned on him in such a harsh way. But he fought on and became the biggest pure babyface WWE has had in quite some time. His feud with Andrade Cien Almas showed his vulnerability but also his tenacity. Gargano came so close to capturing the NXT Championship for the first time on several occasions but somehow, Ciampa always stood in the way. Whether it was his physical presence in attacking Gargano to cost him a career vs title match or the emotional after-effects of Almas and Zelina Vega‘s DIY reminders, Ciampa continued to stand in the way of his former partner’s success and showed absolutely no remorse for it.

At every turn, Tommaso was there to remind Johnny how much he hated him, how much he was better than him, how much he was better off without him. That was until Ciampa got his way and got Gargano fired from NXT. Ciampa thought he had put his nemesis in the rearview mirror but Gargano refused to let him do so, all leading up to an unsanctioned match at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, which Gargano won.

For Johnny, he thought that was the end of it. He had vanquished his enemy and would be able to move forward in his own pursuits for the NXT title. But nothing in life is that easy. Ciampa refused to let things end after just one match where he was on the losing end. Gargano and Aleister Black were set to have a title match on the post-TakeOver edition of NXT but the match never got started because Ciampa viciously attacked his former partner during his entrance. Gargano missed several weeks of TV but that didn’t stop Ciampa from fueling the feud in his absence. In one particular segment, Ciampa told the NXT crowd that piece by piece he had broken his opponent, first his mind, then his soul and finally his body.

Everything came to a head on the May 23rd episode as Gargano returned, ripped off his neck brace and much to the displeasure of his wife Candice LeRae said that his blood feud with Ciampa needed to be settled. That the injuries and mental torment he sustained were worth it if it meant he could put Ciampa to bed once and for all. It became even more worth it to Gargano when Ciampa inadvertently knocked Gargano into his wife, sending LeRae off the apron in a thud.

Johnny Wrestling…Johnny Failure

Months of torture had taken their toll and LeRae getting hurt was the last straw. Gargano attacked Ciampa the following week setting up their rematch at the place where it all began, TakeOver: Chicago II. This time it was Ciampa who emerged victorious, but much like how he wouldn’t stop chasing Gargano after the man’s own victory, Johnny Wrestling made it clear that he wasn’t finished with the Blackheart just yet. With the two tied at one win apiece, Gargano wanted his rubber match but William Regal wasn’t willing to grant it. Instead, he gave Gargano a match against EC3, a match which ultimately led to Gargano starting to show traits of becoming the monster he’s been trying to fight. It was really the first instance where Gargano snapped and gave in to his misdirected aggressions on a man who had nothing to do with them in the first place.

A few weeks later, it was Gargano who ended up helping Ciampa win the NXT title by inadvertently hitting Black with the title belt in an effort to prevent Ciampa from using it. Thus the descent into madness continued. Gargano, mere weeks after having a tense interaction with Black, faced him in singles action, a match that Ciampa interrupted setting up the triple threat for TakeOver: Brooklyn 4. That match never happened and as we all now know, it was Gargano’s doing. Wanting to face Ciampa one-on-one to finally settle the score, it’s easy to think back to Gargano’s words a few weeks prior when he said he was willing to do anything to get that rubber match. He did, but once again, Ciampa came out on top as a result of Gargano falling victim to his own uncontrollable rage and anger.

With the attack on Black and subsequent defeat to Ciampa, it was clear that Gargano was not the man he been trying to be. He fell victim to the dark side and continued to struggle with who he was becoming. In the weeks following the attack, Gargano exploded on Velveteen Dream and chants of “Johnny Failure” before seemingly piecing it together to defeat Tony Nese the right way, even if it was clear throughout the match that he was actively forcing himself to hold it together as opposed to it coming naturally.

The transformation of Gargano from beloved never-say-die babyface to a guy whose actions support the expression, “if you can’t beat em, join em,” has been fantastic and while the fans are still undecided, there is one man who couldn’t be happier with the path Gargano has chosen to take.

Following Gargano’s less than remorseful confession that he was the one who attacked Black, Ciampa released an official statement and a bunch of tweets supporting his former buddy for finally seeing the light and finally doing what it takes. Ciampa even suggested that the two should “Glorious Bomb” Black together and talked about how proud he was of Gargano for embracing his darker tendencies.

While fans shouldn’t expect a heel DIY reunion anytime soon, it wouldn’t be totally unheard of for NXT to pair Gargano and Ciampa up in a tag match against, say Black and Velveteen Dream. And the dichotomy of that kind of interaction could be the fresh dose of energy fused into the pair’s feud, ultimately leading up to Gargano/Ciampa IV, likely at TakeOver: New York/New Jersey this April.

NXT has built a fascinating narrative with these two and have managed to keep it compelling for over a year due to twists, turns and so many other great elements of storytelling. If Gargano really is about to work heel for even a short while, that’s just one more interesting chapter NXT can add to what has already been, their best feud in brand history.