Johnny Gargano Breaks Curse, Retains North American Championship

Johnny Gargano Breaks

WWE NXT’s last broadcast of 2020 had good fun with the “Gargano Curse”, placing omens like black cats and ladders in Johnny Gargano’s path leading up to his title defense against scrappy babyface Leon Ruff. Earlier this year, Ruff unexpectedly snatched the North American Championship from Gargano’s grasp. Gargano managed to reclaim it, but his reign has been comically overshadowed by what announcer Wade Barrett called a “freak statistic”: whenever Gargano manages to gain gold, he loses the belt on his second title defense.

Black cats and broken mirrors aside, Ruff and Gargano met in the ring to decide who would ring in the New Year as North American Champion, with Candice LeRae, Indi Hartwell, and Austin Theory at ringside. From the off, Gargano seemed intent to weaken and subdue Ruff, targeting his arms in a series of locks. Gargano managed to get Ruff down in submission early on, but the irrepressible Ruff fought to his feet. Again, Gargano targeted Ruff’s arm, but Ruff utilized his wily athleticism to work his way out of Gargano’s hold. Ruff got his first cover on Gargano, who kicked out.

Gargano, sensing that things weren’t going his way, headed out of the ring to blatantly enlist the aid of his Machiavellian Scooby Gang, The Way. Austin Theory was drafted to distract Ruff, meanwhile Gargano attempted a slingshot spear. This maneuver was not successful; Ruff evaded the spear, and wrapped Johnny into a crucifix pin. Ruff, trapping his opponent’s arm, continued to rock and roll Gargano. Gargano took to his feet only for Ruff to bash him against the turnbuckle. ‘Unlikely Champion’ was Ruff’s brand after capturing the North American title from Gargano, and he seemed set to repeat his Cinderella Man showing.

However, Gargano was just as intent on holding the gold and breaking the so-called curse. Once again, Gargano took the action outside the ring, and went on the offense with hard blows to Ruff. Ruff, with cat-like agility, utilized the crowd barrier, clinging to it and leaping to and fro, till he was back in the ring. However, once both athletes were back in the ring, Gargano was in control. Once again, Theory heckled Ruff to aid Gargano, who slammed Ruff with a neckbreaker, and a slingshot spear into the barricade. As the Capitol Wrestling Center crowd chanted “You suck!” Johnny Gargano seemed to adulate not only in their ire, but in the writhing of Leon Ruff on the floor, in obvious pain.

Gargano continued his punishment of Ruff in the ring, and after some hard swipes hit a neckbreaker on Ruff and got him into a cover. Ruff kicked out, and seemed to be willing himself into a second wind. Gargano covered again, and when Ruff wriggled out Gargano followed with a submission lock. Ruff, however, was not done yet, and got back to his feet, launching a series of kicks against Gargano; Gargano answered with another neckbreaker, but Ruff was well and truly alive again and answered with a German suplex and a corkscrew cannonball, getting Gargano into a cover.

Gargano kicked out, and the two men were soon back on their feet, trading clotheslines. Gargano superkicked Ruff, got him down and into a cover; Ruff kicked out. After another superkick, Gargano picked Ruff up, and launched him like a dart into the turnbuckle. Gargano covered, Ruff kicked out, and scrambled quickly into his next set up. Attempting to work the ropes, going up and over in an attempted crucifix bomb, Gargano caught him and ended up in control. After a hard clothesline followed up by a powerbomb, Gargano pinned Ruff once again, and once again he kicked out.

Gargano got Ruff into submission, but Ruff managed to touch the ropes in time. Both men were fighting tooth and nail for the North American title. Gargano shoved Ruff outside the ring, lifting the challenger with the intention of another dart throw; Ruff had other ideas. He not only escaped Gargano’s grasp, but leaped to the apron and dove for a flying neckbreaker. Ruff followed up with an admirable frog splash, for a cover that Gargano was just barely able to kick out of. Ruff hoisted Gargano to the ropes in the corner, battering Gargano with punches.

Here, Gargano took his chance. He slammed Ruff face-first into the turnbuckle and floated over into a cover on Ruff. The curse was broken, and Gargano held onto the North American Championship.

However, Leon Ruff certainly gave him a merry chase for it. With Damian Priest seemingly tied up in a feud with Karrion Kross, it seems that Gargano’s rivalry is now firmly with Ruff, who will surely be taking another shot at the North American Championship in 2021.

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