The rivalry between Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Johnny Gargano, which has been ongoing since NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III in August and will culminate in an NXT Championship match at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, has set NXT down an incredible course over the past several months, creating two bonafide stars in the process.
And to think, it all began with a simple t-shirt.
TakeOver: Brooklyn III
Looking to move forward after perhaps the most shocking betrayal in NXT history at TakeOver: Chicago, Johnny Gargano had redemption on his mind as he entered into TakeOver: Brooklyn III.
In a way, things were coming full circle as last year’s TakeOver: Brooklyn II was Gargano’s TakeOver debut as well as the official debut of #DIY. With Tommaso Ciampa making sure #DIY had come to a devastating halt just a few months before, it only made sense then that Gargano would want his first TakeOver since, to be a new beginning, that of his singles career.
For his opponent, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas, Takeover: Brooklyn III was also a new beginning of sorts as it was his first TakeOver with Zelina Vega as his manager. Since coming on the scene in July, Vega quickly turned things around for the former party-boy, making Almas a force to be reckoned with in NXT. She took that one step further at her first TakeOver, showing herself to be as much as the self-proclaimed puppet-master she claims to be.
Almas and Gargano fought an exceptional match, one that is among the nominations for NXT’s Match of the Year in 2017. While both competitors truly established themselves as ones to watch in the future of the company, it was Gargano that looked poised to secure the victory. That was until Vega decided to play mind games, throwing a #DIY shirt at Gargano, who was noticeably shaken and caught off guard. The distraction allowed Almas to capitalize and capture the victory, his first at a TakeOver since his first TakeOver, back in June 2016.
For someone who had formerly been used to put over the new NXT signees in their TakeOver debuts, with Vega by his side, Almas’ trajectory changed. He went from an afterthought to a legitimate threat, going undefeated over the past five months. This included another victory over Gargano, thanks again to the tactics of Vega.
NXT 415: October 11, 2017
When Johnny Gargano had his first match back after TakeOver: Chicago, he was focused on moving forward and in his own words, get back to being Johnny Wrestling again. However, thanks to the antics of Vega, as well as the team of Tino Sabbatelli and Riddick Moss, Gargano’s past has haunted him at every turn.
The feud with Sabbatelli and Moss was brief but did wonders to tell the story of Gargano’s waning confidence. In matches where Gargano was shown to look off his game, both Sabbatelli and Moss taunted the former tag team champion, saying he was nothing without #DIY. Moss even avoided tapping out to the Gargano Escape, to which Gargano showed a visible look of disbelief. But, despite the adversity, Gargano, one of the best true babyfaces in professional wrestling today, picked up the victories, before challenging Almas to a rematch.
— WWE (@WWE) October 12, 2017
Building off their first match, Gargano and Almas battled with both men looking the part. And once again, Gargano looked to be in control, locking Almas in the Gargano Escape. As Vega urged her client not to tap, she had another trick up her sleeve, and unbuttoned her jacket to reveal a #DIY shirt underneath. Gargano was momentarily distracted, enough to allow Almas to get to the ropes and break the hold. He won the match soon after with two sets of double knees to the back of Gargano’s head as it rested against the turnbuckle.
#DIY shirt – 2, Gargano – 0.
Following that match, Almas was launched into the title picture and at TakeOver: War Games, saw his hot streak continue. Almas defeated Drew McIntyre to win his first NXT Championship. Gargano, on the other hand, couldn’t buy a win, losing back-to-back matches against Fabian Aichner and Pete Dunne.
Despite having more losses than wins in his burgeoning singles career, Gargano found himself in a Fatal-4-Way to decide who would be the #1 contender for the NXT Championship. Gargano was by far the biggest longshot of the trio, facing off against the much larger Killian Dain, Lars Sullivan, and then-undefeated Aleister Black. But like David amidst a sea of Goliaths, Gargano overcame the odds and booked his ticket to TakeOver: Philadelphia, where he’s hoping that the third time’s the charm.
— WWE (@WWE) January 4, 2018
Prediction: Gargano def. Almas (by DQ)
There are about four ways NXT could take this story:
- Almas defeats Gargano due to Vega once again playing mind-games.
- Gargano defeats Almas by DQ after Ciampa attacks Gargano.
- Gargano wins thanks to help from Candice LeRae, who counters Vega’s interference.
- Scenarios 1, 2, or 3, but after the match Ciampa attacks Gargano.
Because no matter the story, especially if Gargano loses, it’s time to close the book on his feud with Almas and re-open the book on his feud with Ciampa, whose timeline has him poised to return any day now. With TakeOver: New Orleans the next planned special, the timing is perfect for Ciampa to make his presence known, kickstarting the much-awaited feud between the two former best friends.
As great as the Gargano/Almas feud has been in creating a compelling storyline between a tried-and-true underdog babyface and despicable, cheating heel, this isn’t the time to take the belt off of Almas. He’s hot and not to mention, NXT doesn’t tend to have their titles change hands too frequently, save for when a performer heads to the main roster. With McIntyre losing his belt so quickly, it seems almost inconceivable that NXT would have another snap title change.
Even if in a city of underdogs, it would make perfect sense for Gargano to have his ‘Rocky moment’. But thanks to the much-awaited return of Ciampa, whose entire use of Twitter over the past five months has been to troll his former partner, what we’ll get is even better, as a feud between these two men should highlight NXT throughout all of 2018.