When he first arrived in NXT, Tommaso Ciampa was a face, aligned and part of a tag team with Johnny Gargano. Together they were fan favorites and earned notoriety for their phenomenal matches, particularly against The Revival. Fans were disappointed whenever the duo lost but was elated when they captured the NXT Tag team championships. Their win at NXT Takeover: Toronto in 2016 was symbolic, and meant they finally made it as a team. However, after they lost at NXT Takeover: Chicago in 2017, their moment was replaced with…his moment. After their loss at that event, Tommaso Ciampa mercilessly beat down his tag team partner and friend; indeed Gargano considered Ciampa to be like family. What wasn’t as known at the time was that Ciampa had a torn ACL going into that match, and would be undergoing surgery shortly thereafter. The last image of that evening was a seated Ciampa looking down on the battered and beaten body of his former friend and former partner. His actions were met not only with a chorus of boos on that evening but loud expletives as well. What had everyone just witnessed? The dawn of the Blackheart.
While betrayals in wrestling aren’t new or rare, in this instance it started a chain of events that have made Ciampa what many consider the most despised character in the entire company. Tommaso Ciampa re-emerged not as the ‘Sicilian Psychopath,’ but someone different altogether. At a time when heels are often cheered, he engenders loud, vociferous hostility from the crowd. He was cold and calculating and cunning and used social media to remain relevant during his absence, over the course of a year taking numerous shots at Gargano. This helped build anticipating for what awaited Gargano when Ciampa recovered from injury.
I am the God of Wrestling. I am the God of Wrestling. I am the God of Wrestling. I am the God of Wrestling. I am the God of Wrestling. I am the God of Wrestling. I am the God of Wrestling. I am the God of Wrestling. #GodOfWrestling pic.twitter.com/FzmVHhfnIP
— BLACKHEART (@ProjectCiampa) April 5, 2018
Then, at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, Gargano faced Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas in a thirty-minute classic for the NXT title that fans absolutely adored. Rather than Gargano walking away with the respect and adulation of the crowd, he was once again attacked. With his wife Candice LeRae by his side, he was attacked from behind by the soon to be returning Blackheart. The feud that had sat on the backburner for nearly a year was revived in a big way. Ciampa would eventually make his way back to NXT and cause Gargano to lose in his rematch against Almas, with the stipulation for that match being that Gargano’s loss meant he had to leave NXT. In the weeks that followed, every time Ciampa came to the ring, he was met with a chorus of boos and never even said a word. The reaction was deafening and Ciampa couldn’t get in word edgewise. To be able to generate that type of reaction of pure hatred without saying a word, week after week, was incredible.
The animosity the fans have toward Ciampa is special because his mere presence did so much, and he did so little. Ciampa has turned on everyone and anyone, blocking many on social media. He continues to use that platform to antagonize both those who support him and those who are against him. His following has grown though, not because what he is saying is necessarily bad, but people want to know what he is going to say next. During the build to NXT Takeover: Chicago II, fans saw a much darker and dangerous Ciampa come to light. He has earned the hostility of the fans because he has done so much to intimidate and separate himself from someone who cared for him. He lived with someone whose wedding party he was a part of and considered family.
He has gone in a completely different direction from so many heels in WWE go nowadays. His menacing nature his attacks on Gargano are part of it. However, his transition to being a heel has been successful for a variety of different reasons. One reason could be attributed to how celebrated Gargano has been, and thus everything that has happened to him means a great deal to fans. Each time Gargano is hurt at the hands of Tommaso Ciampa, it is another dagger in the back of the fans who remember what was. They are saddened by what became of DIY and their team unity. A second reason is likely how he has managed to use social media as a means to eviscerate anyone that makes mention of him and attempts to antagonize him. A final reason for his success could be attributed to his opposition. Gargano is a beloved face and a sentimental favorite who, when wronged, has the fans behind him.
He is also fully committed to being a heel. When the WWE Network’s Twitter account wished him a happy birthday, they were blocked. His reaction to praise is just as mean-spirited as it is to hostility. The talent on the main roster could take notice of what Ciampa has done, by doing less and thus becoming more.
How does Tommaso Ciampa carry this character forward for the duration of 2018, and beyond? If slowly tearing away a man’s wedding ring and tossing it away is any indication, quite far. It will be important for him to continue to push the envelope with his Blackheart persona. The way he has generated a buzz has quietly made him the heel fans of today need. His unrelenting nature and destructive nature has made him a heel other heels should look to for inspiration.
The Gargano Fairytale is over.
Time for the next chapter.
Hi atWWEAleister, pic.twitter.com/9E9ilCDlWq
— BLACKHEART (@ProjectCiampa) June 19, 2018