Preview NXT TakeOver New Orleans: Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa

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Credit: WWE

This Saturday marks 322 days since Tommaso Ciampa broke the collective hearts of millions of NXT fans when he turned on his longtime partner, best friend, and roommate, Johnny Gargano. It marks 322 days since Gargano became wrestling’s most beloved babyface and Ciampa embarked on his Twitter journey to become one of its top heels.

There is no better place for Gargano and Ciampa to have their rematch from the 2016 Cruiserweight Classic than TakeOver: New Orleans at Wrestlemania Weekend. Only then, the two wrestled as friends, a dynamic which very well may have cost Ciampa the match and chance to advance in the tournament. As the match neared its end, Ciampa pulled down the knee pad causing Mauro Ranallo to question, “These two are friends?” But then, the man now known as Blackheart, thought twice and pulled the pad back up, allowing Gargano to take momentary advantage and get the win not long after.

But much like at TakeOver: Chicago, where Ciampa didn’t think twice about pulling his knee pad down during his brutal assault of Gargano, there won’t be hesitation or remorse. There won’t be a hug afterward or a word of congratulations. That’s because these two are no longer best friends but rather, bitter, bitter enemies.

#DIY to Done

On September 2, 2015, Gargano and Ciampa, neither of whom were signed to NXT full-time at that point, made their tag team debut as part of the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. The two won their first match before losing to Rhyno and Baron Corbin in the second round.

From there, Gargano and Ciampa, two guys who were mainly singles wrestlers throughout their careers, began working exclusively as a tag team. The duo, which was nameless for about a year before they became exclusive to WWE, began teaming together on the indies, including PWG, Beyond, Dreamwave, and AAW. They made their last independent appearance as a team on July 23rd at AAW United We Stand, defeating the team of Andrew Everett and Trevor Lee.

Following this appearance, Gargano and Ciampa, now going by #DIY, were thrust into the NXT tag team picture and engaged in a fantastic rivalry with the Revival. Gargano and Ciampa came up just short at TakeOver: Brooklyn II but then in what was named the 2016 NXT Match of the Year, finally won the titles by defeating the Revival in a two-out-of-three falls match at TakeOver: Toronto. #DIY would retain the titles until TakeOver: San Antonio in January 2017, dropping the belts to the Authors of Pain. After drawing in their rematch, Gargano and Ciampa earned their way back to being #1 contenders, culminating in the match at TakeOver: Chicago.

Before that match however, Ciampa injured his ankle at a house show just two days prior leading to speculation that the tag match at TakeOver wouldn’t actually happen. Some fans even suggested possible replacement partners for Gargano in the instance that the match would still go on without Ciampa. As it turned out, those thoughts of being replaceable were what led to what would happen later that night.

Gargano and Ciampa laid it all on the line in the brutal ladder match, with the two best friends giving 110 percent. There were several noteworthy spots in the match itself including Gargano stepping in the way of his partner and taking a ladder to the face meant for Ciampa. That show of friendship wasn’t quite rewarded however. Disappointment was on the faces of both men after the loss but as Ciampa pulled Gargano in close, it was likely that no one expected the assault that followed.

Ciampa explained his actions saying that he was not replaceable nor an afterthought and that he only did what he did to Gargano before his partner could do it to him first. And then, he went away because of a torn ACL he had suffered in the ladder match. But Ciampa made sure his presence was still felt, masterfully using Twitter to carry on his half of the feud. Ciampa was relentless, trolling Gargano on occasions such as Father’s Day (who’s your daddy, Ciampa’s your daddy), National Best Friends Day, the anniversary of their Cruiserweight Classic bout, Gargano’s birthday and more.

Meanwhile, Gargano was trying to put the pieces back together as he embarked on the beginning of his NXT singles career. However, thanks to Zelina Vega, #DIY was never far from his mind. During Gargano’s feud with NXT Champion Andrade Cien Almas, Vega’s mind games included throwing a #DIY shirt in the ring for one match and wearing a #DIY shirt in another. Gargano lost both times and was clearly still haunted by the memories of Ciampa’s betrayal.

2018 – #CiampaisNXT

Gargano’s feud with Almas carried into the new year, with the two facing off at TakeOver: Philadelphia in WWE’s first five-star match since 2011. Gargano’s wife, Candice LeRae, made her debut to counteract the presence of Vega but in the end, Almas was just too much for Johnny Wrestling. But the night didn’t end there for as Gargano was leaving up the ramp, battered from the beating he had taken, Ciampa was there with his crutch to offer one last shot.

Several weeks later, Ciampa would once again get involved, this time costing Gargano in a match where his career was on the line. Gargano was heartbroken but Ciampa got a sick joy out of the whole thing, delighting in the fact that he was the one to make sure NXT’s “golden boy” lost his job.

The next month saw Gargano do whatever he could to exact some measure of revenge on his former best friend, including sneaking into the arena to beat him up, attacking him when he was in his rental car, and most recently, showing up at Ciampa’s house at 3:30 a.m. demanding to be let in. That led to Ciampa getting William Regal involved, who made the decision to book the two in a one-on-one unsanctioned match at TakeOver: New Orleans. If Gargano wins, he’ll be reinstated but if he loses, he is banned from NXT forever.

TakeOver: New Orleans

This is the match that has been building for 10 months and it will be Ciampa’s first in-ring action since he tore his ACL in May of 2017. If he is all healed up, then this should be the show-stealer of the weekend. The unsanctioned nature means that anything goes and while that could hurt this match’s five-star potential given how Dave Meltzer tends to rate stipulation matches, it also means that this is going to be an excellent showcase of emotion, intensity, and pure storytelling.

Ciampa and Gargano made their names through NXT together, and now, they’ll continue to do so, only as enemies and not friends. There is a show on WWE Network called Rivalries and one episode featuring Shawn Michaels and Triple H, is titled, “Best Friends, Better Enemies.”

That is exactly what Gargano and Ciampa have become and TakeOver: New Orleans is only just the beginning of what could go down as the greatest rivalry in NXT history.

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