At NXT TakeOver: Toronto, Johnny Gargano was referred to as “Mr. NXT” during his match with Adam Cole. Some may roll their eyes at yet another nickname for “Johnny Wrestling”, but it may be the most fitting so far. NXT has never had a bad era. Every single TakeOver has been an incredible show and somehow they have got better in the past four years. Reason being? The Johnny Gargano effect. Also known as “The Johnny Gargano Era” in NXT. Which has far and away become NXT’s greatest period of its existence.
Johnny Gargano seemingly said goodbye to his home of NXT following his instant classic with Adam Cole last night when he came up short of winning the NXT Championship. “Thank You Johnny” filled the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto last night as Gargano competed in his possible final NXT match in the same arena he won his first championship gold in NXT. The importance of Johnny Gargano to NXT may be overlooked right now but will go on to be the most important in the black and yellow brands’ history. Finn Balor and Bayley‘s combined Era is seen as the golden age of NXT, but that is only due to the fact that it’s the greatest era, “The Johnny Gargano Era”, just found its end.
Tag Team Prowess
Johnny Gargano’s NXT story is probably the best along with Tommaso Ciampa, which connects this perfectly. Gargano was brought in without any secure contract to be more of an enhancement guy for the top stars of NXT to have a good match with while still winning. Ciampa was exactly the same until the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic came around. This resulted in these two being morphed together, and while the rest his history, became one of the best tag teams NXT has ever seen.
Their first TakeOver match would be against the NXT Tag Team Champions, The Revival, at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II. It was a 20 minute classic that showed that these two guys who were just put together have what it takes to be tag team champions, but they just did not have enough that night. And remember, NXT TakeOver events had started to become a bit of a lull at times in those recent months as NXT had no better choice but to try and get other stars going, #DIY took it upon themselves to carry the show.
Fast forward to NXT TakeOver: Toronto in November of 2016. #DIY get one more shot at The Revival and the tag team championships in a 2 out of 3 falls match. When this one is over, the crowd is going through the roof as #DIY and The Revival put on a mega classic with #DIY picking up the victory and the tag team titles. Gargano specifically has been an underdog on NXT his entire career, which only makes his time in NXT that much more memorable.
#DIY continued to incredible tag team matches with The Revival and The Authors of Pain following their huge victory, before the turn of Tommaso Ciampa on Johnny Gargano that would turn NXT on its head more than we could have ever believed in the Summer of 2017.
Gargano began his “era” when NXT TakeOver left Full Sail full-time and Finn Balor moved on up, we just didn’t know it yet. Gargano put on classic after classic at TakeOver’s which resulted in the nickname “Johnny TakeOver” being given to him. When you have the greatest matches in the history of TakeOver, you’ve probably earned that nickname.
Following his tag team greatness and following implosion, Gargano was left stuck with Ciampa gone due to injury and not ready to fight him. Gargano went on to completely miss NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III, which would technically be the last he would miss to this very point. At NXT TakeOver: WarGames, Gargano faced off against Pete Dunne for the NXT United Kingdom Championship in a match that was taped for the following week of NXT TV, but these two showed incredible chemistry in just a 10-minute bout.
Following another loss for Gargano however, the story was that he just needed a big win. Somehow, someway, he needed an opportunity to get on a roll. Gargano replaced an injured Velveteen Dream in the qualifying matches for the Fatal 4-Way Number One Contenders match on NXT TV leading into NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia in January of 2018. He would shock Kassius Ohno in their matchup, gaining a huge W that would get him into the Fatal 4-Way, proving he just needed that one shot to get back to “Johnny Wrestling”.
Onto the Fatal 4-Way, where he would shock everyone by pinning Aleister Black, a man who had yet to be pinned in an NXT ring, following Adam Cole outside interference (full circle), and gaining a shot at Andrade “Cien” Almas for the NXT Championship. This would be the match that Johnny kicked off the most incredible run of matches in NXT history. He and Almas had possibly the best NXT match of all-time, going 30+ minutes with the crowd in the palm of their hands. Gargano was so close to capturing his first NXT Championship and accomplishing his dream, but that dream would fade when he did not have enough in him to get the job done.
As said prior, this was the start of TakeOver after TakeOver where Johnny Gargano would be in the main event or the best match of the night, much of the time both. With Ricochet, Aleister Black, Adam Cole, and of course Tommaso Ciampa.
NXT’s Greatest Rivalry: Gargano vs Ciampa
When saying “The Gargano Era”, it really feels like “The #DIY Era”, which it should be if Tommaso Ciampa did not face injury as much as he has in the past four years. But this rivalry is the reason we have some of the greatest matches and moments in NXT history, all in the past couple of years. For most of 2018, there wasn’t a man more hated under the WWE umbrella of talent than Tommaso Ciampa, and there wasn’t one more loved than Johnny Gargano.
This rivalry was delayed almost an entire year due to the knee injuries Ciampa had suffered in the last few matches of #DIY’s time, but somehow that made it even more spectacular. After the grueling match Gargano had with Almas, where he came so close to winning the NXT Championship and received a standing ovation as was leaving the arena. This is where the “Sicilian Psychopath” struck for the first time in months, laying Gargano out with his crutch and kicking this feud back into high gear.
Gargano vs Ciampa was the main event of three straight NXT TakeOver shows and gave a different feel every single time, being among the best matches in NXT all year. Gargano and Ciampa were setting the world on fire without the NXT Championship even slightly being in the picture. That was until NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4 when Aleister Black was removed from their match, later being revealed Johnny was the one to take him out, leading to the final encounter between them, perfecting the trilogy. This rivalry drove “Johnny Wrestling” off the rails into a character no one would have expected.
Leading the brand for much of 2018 and into 2019 when they reformed as a team was the most spectacular way to end this rivalry considering Ciampa would go down with an injury. All signs pointed to Gargano taking the Goldie, the NXT Championship, away from Ciampa but it wasn’t fate. Instead, their rivalry had the abrupt end of Gargano throwing Ciampa into the screen on NXT after Ciampa tried to turn on him for a second time, following their elimination from the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, where it had all began for them originally. Fast forward to the unbelievable bout between Adam Cole and Gargano at NXT TakeOver: New York, where Gargano canceled out his demons and achieved his ultimate goal.
He won the NXT Championship and had Tommaso Ciampa out there, not to hurt him or continue their rivalry, but embrace as their journey together found its ending with “Johnny Wrestling” becoming the NXT Champion.
Chase Conquers The Reign(s)
What the most incredible aspect and real reason “The Gargano Era” is the greatest in NXT history is because of what “Johnny Wrestling” managed to do as the storyteller and overall pro wrestler he is. He made the championship chase the most important factor of NXT, whether it was TV or TakeOver. More important than any championship, including the one he was chasing. Match quality and the story of Gargano took center stage of NXT for two years plus and finally ended last night. Whether it was being the resident underdog against Andrade “Cien” Almas, competing against his former partner in the greatest rivalry of the brand, or putting on a trilogy that is NXT’s greatest with Adam Cole in which he captured his first and only NXT Championship, Gargano was the main force of NXT success.
Gargano’s run on top was never about his reign as a champion. He didn’t successfully defend the NXT North American Champion or NXT Championship once when he had it. That was not the point of his greatness. It was the chase to get the championship, most importantly the NXT Championship. In present-day pro wrestling, especially the WWE, it becomes difficult to create such special and important moments. When Gargano captured the NXT Championship, it was the exact special moment fans and Gargano wanted to see after all these years.
All signs point to “The Johnny Gargano Era” of NXT being over. Gargano went out the best possible method he could have and very much the same way he led NXT to its greatest period ever. Standing in the middle of the ring to a standing ovation following one of his plenty unbelievable bouts in NXT, win or lose.
NXT has a load of talent to carry them into their next era, but what we just witnessed was their greatest, with Johnny Gargano at the helm.
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