Meet Adam Riches, the secret weapon behind Johnny Gargano’s TakeOver gear

Meet Adam Riches, the secret weapon behind Johnny Gargano’s TakeOver gear

With NXT TakeOver: XXV marking Johnny Gargano’s 14th battle at the black-and-gold brand’s banner event, there is no doubt the NXT Champion is, as the NXT Universe proudly hails him, “Mr. TakeOver.” Yet, while wins, championships and a trail of five-star action have been the lionhearted Superstar’s TakeOver calling card, so is his comic book-inspired ring gear. From the Spider-Man and Venom theme at TakeOver: Brooklyn IV that channeled the inner strife clouding his war with Tommaso Ciampa, to the Iron Man inspiration at TakeOver: New York that underscored his journey from tragedy to triumph, the story of Johnny Wrestling’s road to glory has all been translated far too well in his attire. 

As co-captain of this “Johnny Universe,” renowned artist and comic book enthusiast Adam Riches, the man who designs Gargano’s gear, acknowledges these trinkets as integral pieces to the Johnny Gargano saga.

“It’s like we have to play fourth dimensional chess with these themed outfits,” he says. “It’s satisfying for us to see that come together.”

Speaking to, Riches reveals the inspiration behind Gargano’s famous looks and how they’re helping to bridge the gap between sports-entertainment and comic books.

WWE.COM: Before we go any further, explain how art became your calling card?

ADAM RICHES: Literally, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawing. I don’t even remember a time in my life where I wasn’t making art, so it seemed like the natural path that I was going to go down. I was obsessed with cartoons, comic books and toys. I went to art school, and then I started working in the industry. I wish I had a better answer, but that’s the truth.

WWE.COM: As those stars aligned, your passion ushered you into the industry. Talk about how you and Johnny Gargano crossed paths.

RICHES: Johnny and I first met over a year ago at the MegaCon convention in Orlando, Fla. I was a guest at the show, and at the time I was right in the middle of my run drawing covers for WWE comic books for BOOM! Studios. So, I’m sitting at my booth and I see Ember Moon and Mike Rome walking at the show, and I introduce myself to them, and when they saw that I worked on the WWE comics, they asked if I wanted to film a quick spot for UpUpDownDown. From there, they went to go grab Johnny and Candice [LeRae].

Now, at the time, Johnny had just gotten off his matches at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia with Andrade and TakeOver: New Orleans with Tommaso Ciampa – he was just on fire with consistent five-star matches. It had become obvious that he was starting to develop a theme with his ring gear at TakeOver, with looks inspired by Star Lord, Thor and Captain America. When I met him, the timing was perfect because I’m working on the WWE comic book, plus I had already designed ring gear for a few other Superstars (Billie Kay, Sami Zayn and Mickie James), and I had just recently worked with the same guys that did Johnny’s gear at Main Event Gear. I gave him the pitch right there on the spot: “Dude, we’re both huge comic book fans. I’ve already done gear design; I should design your gear for TakeOver.” He told me, “I’ve been thinking of doing some gear inspired by Iron Man. Would you be down to do that?” I said yes, obviously. Exactly one month later, he hit me up on Twitter, and we were off to the races.

As a comic book artist, it’s really
cool for me because I feel like
I’m helping inspire wrestling
fans to learn more about comic books." 

WWE.COM: Seeing as how the Iron Man theme was revealed at NXT TakeOver: New York, Johnny had to be sitting on this idea for quite some time, right?

RICHES: Yeah, he already had that idea in mind from day one. We were telling people online after that happened that it was always the endgame, and it sounded like we were trying to be cute or something. Truthfully, that was always what he wanted to do. As his journey progressed and he kept getting so close to the NXT Title, and then going off course, it just never seemed to line up. It’s funny because every time we talked about doing stuff, I would ask, “Is this [TakeOver] going to be Iron Man?” [Laughs] It felt like it was never going to come, but that was always the talk from the day we met. 

WWE.COM: That’s perfect timing.

RICHES: I think timing has been a big thing with all of these for so many reasons. From movies to comics to Johnny’s journey and trying to tie everything together into this cool, cohesive plot.

WWE Photo Tommaso Ciampa Johnny Gargano NXT TakeOver Brooklyn

Johnny Gargano looks ready to challenge his bitter rival NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa.

WWE.COM: What was the first piece that you two worked on?

RICHES: The very first one we did was NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV, which was the one that looked like Spider-Man and Venom. That was Johnny vs. Tommaso Ciampa for the NXT Title. At the time, Johnny had conflicted feelings about things – he was caught between Ciampa and Aleister Black and had been betrayed by his best friend. So, he was in a weird spot, where he was being pulled in different directions, and it felt very reminiscent of Spider-Man being pulled out by the Venom symbiote. I thought a cool idea for that was a redesign of his wink-face emoji logo to represent him evolving through his journey. That became such a popular thing, and it stuck ever since. Now, I think people look forward to the redesigned logo as much as the gear itself.

The biggest changes that occurred for him once we started working together were we just started putting our combined comic book nerd hats on and trying to create looks that emulate or mirror what’s going on in his journey. Prior to working with me, I think his gear was themed after comic books for the sake of comic books. Whereas together, we just started figuring out how to tie in themes to what’s actually going on with him. So, the Spider-Man and Venom design led to NXT TakeOver: WarGames II, which was The Punisher look.

WWE.COM: And like The Punisher, Johnny sort of became the anti-hero during this phase.

RICHES: Right, he had revealed himself as Aleister Black’s attacker. It was also starting to look like he was on his way to succumbing to all of Tommaso Ciampa’s bad influence. So, I suggested to Johnny, for his look going into TakeOver, the scenario of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Punisher was the perfect character for that, tethering between right and wrong.

There’s a lot of little Easter eggs in these. You’ll notice on that one we changed the trunks from saying “Johnny Wrestling” to “Johnny TakeOver,” with the thought being he was going to embrace his ego a little bit and this was his show now. Also, what better look to be inspired by for WarGames than the guy who’s always ready to go to war?

WWE.COM: He embraced that ego even further at TakeOver: Phoenix. What went into that creative?

RICHES: Dark Phoenix was the inspiration for Johnny vs. Ricochet for the NXT North American Championship. I’d say of all the gear design we’ve done thus far, that was by far the most difficult. I think it’s easy for fans to assume that the drawings they see online are the only ones and that’s it. But there’s been certain looks where we’ll do 20 different concepts and 10 different versions of a logo before arriving at a final design. It can sometimes be a real process, and Dark Phoenix was definitely that.

At that point, Johnny was in a dark place and had been consumed with winning and championships, and it was all about ego. That’s why at Phoenix, he embraced that darkness. So, the fact that his trunks there said “The Johnny TakeOver” because he was consumed, and it felt like maybe there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, he ended up finding that light, and the most recent design —with the Iron Man gear at TakeOver: New York — reflected that.

WWE.COM: What was the process like creating that intricate gear? 

RICHES: That one was both easy and hard in many ways. A ton of credit definitely needs to go to Main Event Gear for that. This whole process is truly a collaboration. These are my ideas and my designs, but they’re the ones that bring them to life. It’s a lot easier to draw something on paper than having to figure out how you actually do that. I try to be conscious of that when I think of what I want the gear to look like, but making that functional — with the armor plating and lights — and to work all these Easter eggs in there is definitely no small task.

WWE.COM: After keeping the idea in the chamber for so long, what was it about Gargano’s matchup at TakeOver: New York that called for the Iron Man attire?

RICHES: The Iron Man look was supposed to be Johnny’s “Boyhood Dream” moment, so if you really look carefully, the sides of his trunk have the same silver sequin fabric lined with black and gold as Shawn Michaels wore at WrestleMania XII, when he won the WWE Championship. The back of his vest has this little cupcake logo for Candice LeRae. So, with this design more than any other, I’m glad I got to play a part in a big moment for him.

WWE.COM: Of all the designs so far, do you have a favorite?

RICHES: It might be the Dark Phoenix just because it was so unexpected for the fans. It’s one of those things that, in hindsight, you go, “Oh, of course. TakeOver: Phoenix and Phoenix, duh.” But the lead-up to that match went in so many directions, and everybody was trying to figure out what it was. Even when he came out, a lot of people had questions like, is that Ghost Rider? As a comic book artist, it’s really cool for me because I feel like I’m helping inspire wrestling fans to learn more about comic books. So, when people look at the Dark Phoenix character, they realize it really parallels what was happening. It’s cool how one fandom can lead into another.

WWE.COM: What can fans expect to see when Johnny arrives on that TakeOver: XXV stage?

RICHES: I’d say, when you’re the NXT Champion, you’re the captain of the roster. So, when he faces Adam Cole at TakeOver: XXV, if he wants to successfully retain that championship, he’s going to have to go higher, further and faster. Most comic book fans will know what I’m cooking there.

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