Ciampa and NXT Champion Adam Cole treated Portland to a battle of wills that seemingly would not end until Gargano intervened to deal The Blackheart the decisive blow with that very same title, allowing Cole to retain in a stunning sequence of events.
Before Gargano’s shocking interference, the bout was everything you’d expect from two men whose lives have come to depend on holding the black-and-gold brand’s top prize.
While Ciampa showed off the more scientific side of his game early on with a slew of holds, an act of disrespect by Cole ended that deliberate approach in a hurry. The Blackheart responded by launching Cole into the ring steps, steel post and announce desk before obliterating him with a ruthless knee strike — allowing him to reclaim his own trademark applause.
Ciampa took a moment to admire Goldie at ringside, never losing sight of what he had come to Portland to do. But a resourceful wheelbarrow suplex by Cole that sent Ciampa’s surgically repaired neck into the side of the announce table upended things.
The maneuver not only swung the momentum of the match in Cole’s favor, but also gave Cole the requisite time to gather himself and settle into the unrattled approach we’re used to seeing out of the Panama City Playboy, who began to systematically target Ciampa’s neck, hitting enziguris, Ushigoroshis and backstabbers to put The Blackheart in dire straits.
Ciampa didn't just refuse to relent — he completely emptied his quiver.
Cole kicked out of Project Ciampa and withstood two power bombs onto the announce desk, the second of which sent him crashing through the table into a pile of rubble. The Blackheart also hit a jumping air raid crash from the second rope — shades of how he claimed victory for his team over Cole and The Undisputed ERA back at TakeOver: WarGames — as well as another onto the apron after a failed Panama Sunrise.
Meanwhile, Cole found the mark with The Last Shot, but Ciampa astutely rolled to the ropes to avoid being pinned.
As they have in so many of Cole’s matches before, The Undisputed ERA made their presence felt. Roderick Strong was the first to arrive and distract the referee, allowing Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly to take Ciampa out with a high-low attack, but that wasn’t enough for Cole to get a 3-count.
Even three consecutive superkicks and a last shot weren’t enough to put Ciampa away, leaving Cole in utter disbelief.
The referee was incapacitated moments later when Cole shoved Ciampa into him, rendering the scene completely lawless. Cole immediately exploited the situation with a low blow, only to have Ciampa respond in kind with one of his own on a Panama Sunrise attempt. Hitting The Fairytale Ending seemingly put the champion away — but no referee was available to count the pin.
Suddenly, Ciampa had a supporter at ringside with the arrival of Gargano.
Initially cheering him on as Ciampa crawled toward the NXT Title that had been placed in the ring earlier by O’Reilly, Johnny Wrestling became Johnny Turncoat, plucking the title from his former partner’s grasp before clocking him across the face with it.
Cole took advantage and laid across Ciampa for the pin. And with that, Ciampa’s nearly year-long odyssey back to the championship he never lost was incomplete, all thanks to the former best friend he had already gone through hell and back with.
Almost three years after The Blackheart betrayed Gargano and tried to take away his tag team partner’s livelihood, Gargano showed that some things are never truly forgotten.