Exclusive interview: Johnny Gargano looks to fulfill his destiny at TakeOver: New York
The circumstances may have been unexpected, but the opportunity is available to be seized. A week from this Friday at NXT TakeOver: New York, Johnny Gargano will face Adam Cole to crown the next NXT Champion. Ahead of the high-stakes match, Gargano sat down with WWE.com to discuss his NXT career, Tommaso Ciampa, his impending matchup with Cole and why it’s a must-win championship match.
WWE.COM: You have the opportunity to win the one title that had eluded you for the duration of your NXT career. How does that feel?
JOHNNY GARGANO: It's a mix of emotions, honestly. I feel like everything I've been through — not just this past year, and not just the past four years for me in NXT, but since I was 8 years old, when I had this crazy dream to become a wrestler — has built to this one moment in Brooklyn.
WWE.COM: You will share that moment in Brooklyn with your opponent, Adam Cole. How do you feel about Cole?
WWE.COM: I have nothing but respect for Adam Cole. I've known him for a very long time and he's one of the best in the world. He not only has my respect, but he also has the fans’ respect, as he should. Cole’s earned that. Everywhere he's been, he's been successful, and he's been a champion. Cole expects to be NXT Champion, and he has expected to be champion since the moment he debuted in the Barclays Center and held the title above his head. Adam Cole always felt like it was a matter of time. I never expected any of this. None of this was ever supposed to happen for me. Our paths here were vastly different, but destiny has brought us together for this match.
WWE.COM: It was Tommaso Ciampa who was forced to vacate the NXT Championship after suffering a neck injury, which subsequently gave you the chance to compete for the title at NXT TakeOver: New York. What are your thoughts on how things went down?
GARGANO: It breaks my heart for a lot of different reasons. Some could say that everything I've done for the past year was for the sole purpose of getting another chance at Tommaso Ciampa and that NXT Championship. But I don't want to beat Tommaso Ciampa at 25 percent ... I want him at 100 percent. I'm sure that day will come one way or another, because in my heart I feel like we're destined to do this forever. The journey may have changed, but the end game remains the same. The end game was always the NXT Championship.
WWE.COM: You’ve had the chance to compete on Raw and SmackDown LIVE recently. Despite experiencing this new career chapter, why is winning the NXT Championship still so important to you?
I wanted to build something here and my legacy feels incomplete without that NXT Championship.
- Johnny Gargano
GARGANO: NXT is my life. Plain and simple. I've put my heart and soul into this company, and I truly love it and its fans. I wanted to build something here and my legacy feels incomplete without that NXT Championship. It's about more than the accolades, though, it's about what it stands for. I want to go from a guy who was told "no" at his tryout, a guy who was told he wasn't good enough to be here, to the most decorated champion in the history of the company. I want to show the world that anything’s possible if you never stop fighting.
WWE.COM: Let’s revisit the beginning of your NXT career. How did you feel when you first walked through the doors of NXT four years ago?
GARGANO: Scared. Intimidated. Unsure, but ready. I was hungry. You'd think that after four years, two titles and 12 TakeOvers I'd be satisfied, but I'm not. I'm still that same kid that walked in that door four years ago. That drive, that want, that hunger drives me every day. It'll carry me to Brooklyn.
WWE.COM: You mentioned earlier that you never expected to be where you are now. What were your goals when you first got to NXT?
GARGANO: Honestly, just to get on the show. [Laughs] I didn't have a contract for the first year of my time in NXT, and that was very stressful. I had to send an email every few weeks just to see if I was needed for anything at TV. I was still traveling around and doing indies, but NXT was where I ultimately wanted to be so I took every opportunity, whether it was an untelevised match or a Battle Royal, and I fought like it was my last, because honestly, it could have been. I truly feel like the "Johnny Wrestling" chants that filled Full Sail and ultimately the Barclays Center at my first TakeOver helped me get my contract here.
WWE.COM: How are you different, both professionally and personally, from the man who walked through the doors of NXT four years ago?
GARGANO: I've grown, both as a wrestler in the ring and as a man outside of it. I believe that everything happens for a reason. For the longest time I was horrified to hear the word "failure," but I've come to realize that we all fail. It's just a part of life. We all fall. It's how you rebound that shows the type of person you are. That's what makes you a champion. Fun nicknames and chants aside, I could never truly be Johnny Champion until I experienced Johnny Failure.
WWE.COM: What can we expect from you at NXT TakeOver: New York?
GARGANO: You can't call yourself Mr. TakeOver and not deliver something special, right? One thing I've learned this past month is you can't control the future. You can only control the now. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? So, for me and the NXT Championship, it's now or never. I believe it is my destiny to be NXT Champion. I know it's not going to be easy. It’s a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match against Adam Cole in a building where I'm 0 for 3. Plus, we all know that when you fight one member of Undisputed ERA, you're essentially fighting all of Undisputed ERA, so this could essentially be four-on-one. The odds aren't in my favor. But I've been an underdog my whole life – I wouldn't have it any different!
This has been building for a very long time, and to return to the Barclays Center, which is the site of my very first TakeOver, with the whole world watching during the biggest wrestling weekend of the year, with my friends and family in the crowd, it's shaping up to be the biggest match of my life. This has the potential to be the biggest night of my life. I've been dreaming of this night since I was a kid and the only thing I can guarantee, the only thing I can promise, is I'm going to give everything I have on April 5. I know it's going to be a crazy atmosphere, but to the people riding with me in the Barclays Center, I won't let you down.