Johnny Gargano on saying goodbye to EVOLVE Wrestling
Over the past year, Johnny Gargano has become a fixture in NXT. Alongside Tommaso Ciampa, Gargano has grown from a free agent standout to an integral part of the NXT roster. On top of that, Johnny Wrestling was a favorite in the early rounds of the Cruiserweight Classic, and has been featured in highlight reels promoting the arrival of the cruiserweights on Monday Night Raw on Sept. 19.
As Gargano becomes more ingrained in WWE, the time has come for the Cleveland native to say goodbye to the independents, especially EVOLVE Wrestling, where he broke out as a star. This weekend’s EVOLVE events in Long Island and Queens, N.Y., will serve as Gargano’s farewell. WWE.com caught up with Johnny Wrestling to get his thoughts on the huge weekend.
WWE.COM: So, it’s been a crazy few months, hasn’t it?
JOHNNY GARGANO: It has. It’s something I never thought I’d see. It’s something I’ve always hoped for and had in the back of my mind. I think a lot of people have thought, “This could be really cool.” The fact that it’s actually happening is pretty wild.
WWE.COM: Between NXT, the Cruiserweight Classic and competing on the independents, how has this whirlwind of a summer been going for you?
GARGANO: It’s really been beyond my wildest dreams. The fact that I’m still able to wrestle on the indies and, yet, still do my stuff in NXT, and the fact that I wrestled in front of 15,000 people at the Barclays Center at TakeOver and then, the following weekend, I was still doing indie shows, is wild. I’m not saying that I’m unhappy doing indie shows; I love doing them. But, a lot of fans came up to me at an indie show I was on last weekend, in Easton, Pa., talking about how they traveled to Brooklyn, and now they’re standing five inches away from me at the merch table saying hello to me. At the Barclays Center, they were hundreds of rows away. It’s pretty crazy. That sums up 2016. That that kind of thing can happen is exciting and amazing.
WWE.COM: You’ve recently been introduced to the WWE Universe at large during Monday Night Raw’s promotion of the upcoming Cruiserweight division. What does that feel like?
GARGANO: I was actually at my bachelor party when the clip aired on Raw. My phone started blowing up with people saying they saw me. As a wrestling fan, Raw’s the flagship, what we tune into every single week. When you think of wrestling, you think of Raw. To think that there’s going to be guys like me, and when I say that, I mean the cruiserweights — I’ve known a lot of them and wrestled them before WWE. These guys are like me, they were told through their entire career that they were too small and would never make it or be on Monday Night Raw. For all of us to be coming there together is super cool. We’re all excited to show the world what we can do. There’s a New Era in WWE, and we’re going to prove that.
WWE.COM: You coming to Raw means saying goodbye to the indies, and EVOLVE Wrestling in particular. What does EVOLVE mean to you?
GARGANO: If it wasn’t for EVOLVE Wrestling, I wouldn’t be in WWE. If it wasn’t for EVOLVE, or WWN Live as a whole, I wouldn’t have made it as far in my career as I have. It started with Dragon Gate USA, where I started as a guy on the pre-show and wasn’t promised anything. I kept coming and doing what I do, and ended up on the main show and eventually won their championship. Gabe Sapolsky ran that. During that time, he started up EVOLVE Wrestling, which was the brainchild of him and Daniel Bryan, who named the promotion.
When it first started, Gabe had this concept in mind. It was very different and unique. If you look at the Cruiserweight Classic, it’s similar to EVOLVE. I might say that EVOLVE planted the seeds for CWC. We’re coming up on EVOLVE 68 and 69, which are my last two shows there. I may have missed a few shows here and there, but for the past six years, I’ve been a part of the company in a big, big way. The flyer for the show calls me the “WWN icon,” because I’ve done so much for them. I’d say that I have grown the most in EVOLVE. Gabe gave me the ball. I was his guy, the one who could wrestle 30 minutes in the main event every single show, because that’s what I wanted to do. EVOLVE means the world to me.
WWE.COM: You were on the very first EVOLVE show in 2010, correct?
WWE.COM: How have you seen the promotion grow over the past six years?
GARGANO: It doesn’t seem like it’s been six years, but time flies. I’ve watched a lot of people come and go from EVOLVE. I’ll use a really horrible pun here, but the company really has evolved from day one. The talent has changed, the rules have changed. Back at the start, we didn’t have entrance music, we all came out to the same song. It was treated like a pure sport. That still holds today, but more pro wrestling elements are included. It’s evolved into what it is today, and it’s better than ever with the talent there now.
WWE.COM: How have you grown since then?
It’s really cool for me to think back to EVOLVE 1. I was just a kid, 22 or 23, relatively new to the industry. I had never been on that big of a stage. EVOLVE had a big buzz around it. I was a young, hungry kid who just wanted to show the world what he was capable of. I was nervous, scared and worried if people were going to like my match. Six years later, I’m on the poster, getting a farewell and top billing; it’s wild. I use that word a lot, but it is.
WWE.COM: Why should WWE fans check out EVOLVE Wrestling?
GARGANO: If you like the Cruiserweight Classic and NXT, EVOLVE is right up your alley. It has some of the best talent in the world. If you watch the Cruiserweight Classic, you want different professional wrestling. You want guys who are going to go out there, put their bodies on the line and show you passion. EVOLVE is full of passionate guys.
Watching CWC, you might have seen some of our wrestlers for the first time. If you watched EVOLVE, you would have seen a lot of them before. I compare indie wrestling to going to see an underground band. If you want to get in on the ground floor and see guys before they’re wrestling in front of 15,000 people, you should go to an EVOLVE show. Go check them out when they’re five inches from your face. You want to be able to tell your friends that you saw Johnny Gargano at La Boom [nightclub] in Queens. They’ll say, “Wow!” If you want to do that, check out EVOLVE. It’s the closest you’ll get to being able to do that.
WWE.COM: EVOLVE is billing this weekend’s show as “Farewell to a WWN Icon.” When everything is said and done, how are you hoping to leave EVOLVE behind?
GARGANO: I want my lasting legacy to be that I was a good wrestler, but a better person. I want people to remember me as a good dude. I think that’s very important. A lot of people will be good wrestlers, but not good people. I think being a good person is a little more important.
It’s weird. I’d always thought about what it would be like, being one of those guys to leave. I’ve been an independent wrestling fan for a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of those farewells. I could name a lot of names who gave impassioned speeches at their farewells. I always wondered what I would do and say in my final act. I still don’t know. I’m going to take in everything around me and see what happens.
I hope that when I leave, people will remember how hard I worked, the matches I’ve had, and that I did whatever it took, no matter how I was feeling, no matter if I was tired, sore or hurt, and gave everything I had. I gave it all away. A lot of me will be left in an EVOLVE Wrestling ring.
Johnny Gargano’s farewell to EVOLVE Wrestling starts this Saturday, Sept. 10, in Long Island, N.Y., where he will take on fellow CWC competitor Zack Sabre Jr. His final EVOLVE show is this Sunday, Sept. 11, in Queens, N.Y. For complete information on these events, including tickets, visit EVOLVE’s website, EVOLVEWrestling.com.