The Whole Shebang: The Rise of Johnny Wrestling

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Photo: WWE

In order for anyone to achieve success in any aspect of life, there needs to be continued dedication to their craft. John Anthony Nicholas Gargano first stepped into a ring when he was eight years old. His father was a caterer in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and one customer was Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling (CAPW), owned and operated by J.T Lightning. Lightning allowed the young Johnny Gargano to roll around in the ring, and that moment certainly stuck with Gargano as he would train under Lightning at the Cleveland All-Pro Training center eight years later. Beginning with that introductory training, Gargano was on his way to becoming a professional wrestler. By 2005 he was competing for Cleveland All-Pro, and the following year he won the Junior Cleveland All-Pro Heavyweight championship, defeating one of his trainers, Josh Prohibition.

After taking part in a couple of tryouts, for both Ring of Honor and TNA Impact Wrestling, Gargano discovered that he had a hairline fracture in his back, an issue that was caused by one of his legs being shorter than the other. He took half a year off to enable his back to heal before returning to the ring. From there, he competed for his hometown promotion, Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW), and spent the better part of a decade with them. Though he wrestled for many independent promotions that didn’t mean he was any less committed to his home promotion. He also appeared from time to time with WWE as an enhancement talent. He faced MVP on one occasion, and Brodus Clay on another.

The aforementioned Josh Prohibition was key to Gargano‘s learning and development, as he also worked alongside Prohibition in Pro Wrestling Ohio (PWO). An injury once again put him on the shelf, as another hairline fracture, this time to his vertebrae, led to Gargano missing nearly a year. Once he returned to the ring, he became a top contender for the Pro Wrestling Ohio championship. He ultimately captured the title after defeating Prohibition, who had betrayed Gargano and caused a rift in their relationship. Gargano remained with the promotion until 2013.

Even as Gargano competed with PWO he also worked for notable American independent promotion CHIKARA, taking part in their Young Lions cup tournament. He faced some of the best the promotion had to offer, including Mike Quackenbush and Jigsaw, and competed in the promotions King of Trios tournament. Gargano‘s adaptability was evident as he moved from promotion to promotion, facing the best each company had to offer. Keep in mind he was doing all of this in his late teens and early twenties.

His journey hasn’t been easy, and he has faced several challenges along the way that just made him better. This was never more evident than his time in EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA. He competed in several matches including the Open the United Gate champions and faced the likes of current WWE 205 Live roster member Akira Tozawa, WWE Raw superstar Apollo Crews, NXT tag team champion Roderick Strong and former WWE Cruiserweight champion Rich Swann. He was a well-traveled competitor that was taking on stars on the rise and future champions. He was also part of the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) roster competing in the annual Battle of Los Angeles tournament and the company’s tag team championship. In Canada, he was Smash Wrestling‘s longest reigning Champion (427 days) until the record was broken last year by Tyson Dux (435 days).

Eventually, Gargano took the next step in his career and moved from competing for a number of promotions to competing exclusively for one company. As part of WWE’s NXT brand, Gargano rose to prominence as one half of the tag team #DIY alongside Tommaso Ciampa. In all of their matches, fans were certain to get everything Gargano and Ciampa have to offer, and they made a very successful tag team. Their journey culminated in an NXT tag team championship win at NXT Takeover: Toronto when they defeated The Revival. Their championship success was short-lived though, as they would, unfortunately, lose the titles at the following NXT Takeover event in San Antonio.

That loss planted the seeds for dissent within the tag team. At the following NXT Takeover event in Chicago, they were unsuccessful in their attempt to recapture the NXT tag team championships. However, although the fans applauded their effort, not everyone was feeling as enthusiastic. A battered and beaten Gargano was attacked by his partner Ciampa and left lying. Immediately after, Ciampa took a year off to recuperate from an injury, but that year saw Gargano going on a year of discovery. In that time, he continued to build his following and his character. Fans were gravitating to this technical wrestling machine that endeared himself to the fanbase by putting on exceptional matches.

During that time he faced Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship, and also had a standout match against Kassius Ohno. He wasn’t successful in capturing the NXT belt, but it didn’t matter as Johnny Wrestling was made. After Ciampa’s return from injury, he and Gargano rekindled their rivalry, doing anything and everything to one another. Gargano‘s self-sacrifice, doing everything necessary to ensure that he was successful, certainly made a statement. Today he is a threat to capture a championship, and that is a destiny made for Johnny Wrestling.

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