Johnny Gargano doesn’t know where he fits in the current wrestling landscape

Johnny Gargano speaks about his NXT departure, main roster appearances in 2019 and figuring out who he is when he's not competing in the ring

Photo Courtesy: WWE

Gargano looks at the current wrestling landscape and wonders where he fits in.

It has been several months since Johnny Gargano finished up with WWE and the NXT 2.0 brand. He is currently a free agent and is now taking bookings for signings and meet-and-greets. The most recent match Gargano had was at NXT WarGames in early December.

Gargano and Candice LeRae welcomed their first child into the world in February and he spoke about that journey and more with Renee Paquette on The Sessions podcast. During their conversation, Gargano discussed when he sees himself getting back into the ring.

As of the podcast recording, he is unsure of where he fits into the current wrestling landscape but also, Gargano wants to figure out who he is outside of the ring.

That’s the thing, so wrestling’s out of my life right now and there’s so much uncertainty in my mind in the wrestling world because I don’t really know where I fit in. I don’t know where I wanna be, what I wanna do and with wrestling being out of my life, that is my one identity. I’m Johnny Gargano the wrestler. Yeah, I’m Johnny Wrestling. If I’m not Johnny Wrestling then who am I? So I’m kind of having an existential crisis in itself to where I’m going through that.

He looked back on being able to say goodbye to the audience live on NXT 2.0 before his departure. Gargano said he established a good relationship with those in WWE and that afforded him the opportunity to have some freedom in what he wanted to say in his exit speech.

Before his segment, Gargano gave gifts to Shawn Michaels and Matt Bloom as a ‘thank you’. Gargano told Michaels to open his gift before he hit the curtain and Michaels became emotional which made Gargano emotional.

Being able to kind of, I guess end that story [time in NXT] kind of on my own terms, have that match and then have that promo segment to where I was kind of able to say goodbye, which a lot of people don’t get a chance to do nowadays and I was very lucky to be given that chance and it’s so funny because so many people thought that I re-signed obviously because they’re like, ‘No one gets this treatment’ to where they’re kind of able to do their match and then come out the next night on live television which is wild. It’s live television, I could have literally said anything I wanted, and they kind of let me say anything I wanted. I went and I sat down with one of the writers, but all the words that came out were my own, I wrote my own thing. I wanted to thank people, I wanted to do things like that. I feel like I just have such a good relationship, good rapport with everyone in NXT and everyone in WWE in general that the saddest thing to me and you can see the footage, I was crying. Like I was literally crying and I was crying for a particular reason when I walked out is because I gave a present — I gave two presents. I gave a present to Matt Bloom and I gave a present to Shawn Michaels. I told Shawn the caveat was he needed to open his present in front of me right before I went through the curtain and Shawn’s an emotional guy and we have a great relationship. So I gave him this present and he opens it and he starts crying and in turn, made me start crying. So when you watch the show, I’m coming out crying already. It’s because we had that moment right before I went through the curtain.

I did like tribute gear to him at an ‘In Your House’ TakeOver event and I had a headband and no one in the world has a piece of any of the TakeOver gear I’ve worn so me and Candice [LeRae], the night before, did a little shadow box and we did a shadow box with the headband in it and we did a picture of me and him dressed in the gear and then me and him when I was a kid when I met him, so like kind of side-by-side pictures… and then I wrote a nice message on the back as well about how much he’s meant to me and how much he’s meant to my career and things like that so, I was able to give that to him right before I went through the curtain and obviously he started crying, I started crying.

He went on to speak about the period of time when he and Tommaso Ciampa worked with the NXT brand before being signed to exclusive deals. Gargano said conversations were held about him being under a deal where he would be able to work independent dates as well. He claims that Samoa Joe was supposed to be under the same deal when he first arrived to NXT.

We’d [Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa] always hear this thing like, ‘Maybe we’ll give you this weird contract where you can still do indies but we’ll also have you do NXT’ when that was being discussed at the time.

Like Samoa Joe was gonna be under it when he initially was brought in. It’s a whole weird thing that never ended up happening because legal was like, ‘Wait a minute, what are we doing here? We can’t do this.’

Back in early 2019, as NXT was heading into TakeOver: New York, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Malakai Black and Ricochet became regulars on the Raw and SmackDown brands. Gargano and Ciampa were moving towards their singles match at TakeOver, but Ciampa had to be pulled from the show because he needed surgery.

When Gargano received word about that, he immediately contact the powers that be in NXT and asked to come back to the brand instead of possibly continuing on the main roster. He said that environment can be stressful and he likes to know what he’s doing on TV storyline-wise and likes to have his hands in the mix.

Yeah, I believe we were at Raw or SmackDown and Tommaso [Ciampa] saw the doctor and Tommaso pulled me aside and said, ‘They’re pulling me. They’re making me go get surgery’ and then when that happened, I was like, ‘Okay, well what do we do now?’ Because I think the ultimate plan was for us to do Raw and SmackDown stuff but keep doing NXT stuff as well because Tommaso’s the NXT Champion and I was North American Champ and I just lost it so, but, Tommaso had to get neck surgery. I remember as soon as I heard that, I texted Shawn [Michaels], I texted everyone and I was like, ‘Hey, Tommaso’s out. If there’s no plan –‘ if the plan was just for me and him to be a tag team and then I think the plan was for me and him to be a tag team, the turn to happen, me and him to feud up there, I’m not really sure logistically, but, ‘If you don’t have plans right now, just send me back to NXT so they have somebody that could main event this TakeOver’ and then everyone agreed that, ‘Okay, we’ll send you back and then we’ll bring you back eventually’ and then luckily, the USA [Network] deal happened and then they’re like, ‘We need Johnny on USA’ and then it was just one of those things where it never got talked about again.

It’s just such a stressful environment and some people are great in that environment, some people love the stress, some people love that atmosphere. I really like to know what I’m doing, I really like to know how much time we have and if time gets cut, that’s fine. But I just like to know and have a hand in the story and the process and things like that. But like I said, everyone in WWE is great, they’ve always treated me great. But, it’s just the environment sometimes is a little wild, as you [Renee Paquette] know.

Gargano is scheduled to do signings at WrestleCon this week in Dallas. His former tag partner Tommaso Ciampa is set to compete at NXT Stand & Deliver against Tony D’Angelo.

If the quotes in this article are used, please credit ‘The Sessions with Renee Paquette’ with an H/T to POST Wrestling for the transcriptions. 

About Andrew Thompson 4229 Articles
A Maryland native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.