Exclusive interview with Johnny Gargano: Why TakeOver: Brooklyn needs to be the birth of Johnny Wrestling
Some might call it the big return, while others may see it as overcoming the odds, but for Johnny Gargano, his comeback to the ring marks a new, exciting chapter with endless possibilities.
“Physically, I felt great being back in the ring,” Gargano told WWE.com.
Let us consider what Johnny Wrestling has gone through. Last May at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, Gargano was attacked by his now-former best friend and longtime tag team partner, Tommaso Ciampa. Subsequently, Gargano was sidelined with a slew of injuries that prevented a return to in-ring action. But this week on NXT, that all came to an end. Gargano is healed up and prepared to embark on a newly paved road as an NXT singles Superstar.
“Honestly, the minute I stepped through those ropes, any concern or worry I had of ring rust went right out the window,” he said. “I was back home.”
Gargano’s return home did not come without a few changes. In a show of independence to the entire NXT Universe, Gargano shed the theme song that once signified his partnership with Ciampa as #DIY and revealed a new song and a new TitanTron entrance video. Johnny Wrestling’s return saw him emerge victorious in a hard-fought, one-on-one bout against Raul Mendoza.
“I’ll admit, I was very anxious making my return,” he said. “Nervous energy, perhaps. That's just how I am, though. I don't see myself as anything special. I'm just Johnny Gargano. I always have been. No matter what I'm about to do or where I am.
“I always question whether people are going to know who I am, and I’m always blown away by the love and reaction I receive,” Gargano added. “Those feelings were probably amplified by a thousand considering I’d been gone for a few months.”
Without question, the NXT Universe welcomed Gargano back with open arms. And his return was not just an emotional victory; Gargano claimed the hard-earned W against Mendoza, giving a sweet sense of satisfaction to the former NXT Tag Team Champion.
“Being away from the ring was really tough,” Gargano revealed. “I'm used to traveling all over, going from town to town every weekend. But for the first time in probably 12 years, I was just sitting at home. It was the longest I'd ever not been in a wrestling ring since I started seriously training some 16 years ago. When my hand was raised, it just reaffirmed my beliefs that I can do this.”
Gargano views his time away as a much-needed opportunity to heal — both physically and mentally — and to be the man that the NXT Universe remembers.
“Johnny Wrestling to me isn't just a cool nickname or a fun thing for the crowd to chant,” he explained. “To me, it's a state of mind, and it's just who I am. I first stepped foot in a wrestling ring when I was 8 years old. Growing up, I was a socially awkward kid who didn't know where he fit in, and I didn't have many friends, but I always had wrestling. I always had what was in between those ropes, and that always put a smile on my face no matter what.”
Now, Gargano is turning his attention toward another opportunity to smile: A chance to take part in the looming event known as NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III. Gargano has made it abundantly clear that he must be there.
“There's just a different vibe in the Barclays Center, an electricity that’s hard to explain,” Gargano said. “I need to feel that again to be whole. Last year in Brooklyn was my very first TakeOver. That was the night #DIY was born. It’s been a year and who knows? Maybe a part of me still feels like I let some people down when I tapped out that night. I wanna make that right. I can't let any more people down. Last year was the birth of #DIY, but this year, I want it to be the birth of Johnny Wrestling.”