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Wrestling / Johnny Gargano

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Johnny Wrestling!

"Be yourself, can't be no one else!
Another day, gotta give 'em hell!
It's burning straight through the dark
This rebel heart! This rebel heart!
Can't break what I've been building up this far,
Yeah, you'll never tear me a-part!"
CFO$, "Rebel Heart"

Johnny Gargano (real name John Anthony Nicholas Gargano, born August 14, 1987) is an American professional wrestler who hails from Cleveland, Ohio. He was trained by Josh Prohibition and J.T. Lightning.

He began his career in 2005, working for Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling (1x Junior Heavyweight Champion), and has participated in many other promotions such as Chikara (2x winner of the Campeonato de Parejas with Chuck Taylor), Dragon Gate USA (2x Open The Freedom Gate Champion & 1x Open The United Gate Champion w/Rich Swann), and EVOLVE (1x EVOLVE Tag Team Champion with Drew Galloway), among others, plus some stints in both Ring of Honor and TNA. Other promotions he took part in include Absolute Intense Wrestling (2x Intense Champion, 1x Absolute Champion), Pro Wrestling Ohio (1x Heavyweight Champion), PRIME Wrestling (3x PRIME Champion), International Wrestling Cartel (1x Tag Team Champion w/Michael Facade), Championship Wrestling Experience (1x Undisputed Champion), Legacy Wrestling (1x Heavyweight Champion), and Smash Wrestling (1x Smash Wrestling Champion).

His relationship with WWE started in 2007, in the role of Cedrick Von Haussen, the "Champion of Liechtenstein", in an episode of WWE SmackDown, jobbing to Montel Vontavious Porter. In June 2015, he signed with WWE and began performing in the NXT brand, forming a Tag Team with Tommaso Ciampa called "#DIY" with whom he won the NXT Tag Team Championship in 2017. After their breakup, he began displaying all of what he's capable of, netting WWE two five-star matches, ending a drought of seven years. In 2019, after a harsh Face–Heel Turn, he captured the NXT North American Championship at NXT TakeOver: Phoenix and later captured the vacant NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: New York, becoming the first NXT Triple Crown winner (the same match was also the first WWE match ever to earn a rating of 5.5 stars from legendary wrestling scribe Dave Meltzer).

Rebel Tropes!

  • Affectionate Nickname: Everybody calls him "Johnny Wrestling." This has led to a bunch of variations, depending on the storyline: "Johnny Jobless", "Johnny Badass", "Johnny Failure", "Johnny Takeover", "Johnny Champion", "Johnny Jackass", "Johnny Jump-Ship"...
    • One that is gaining traction online thanks to his friend Chuck Taylor is "Johnboy".
  • Apologetic Attacker: He was semi-reluctant during his 2014 encounters with Candice LeRae in Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Absolute Intense Wrestling. Even after she flipped him off, spat on him, and tried to grab his balls, he still said sorry as he kicked her in the head.
  • Arc Words: "This is my moment!" for his feud against Ciampa. It's a Meaningful Echo to their Catchphrase as a tag team: "This is our moment!"
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • The Revival, over the NXT Tag Team Championship.
    • The Authors of Pain, during early 2017.
    • Andrade "Cien" Almas, during latter 2017 and early 2018.
    • His former partner, Tommaso Ciampa. Though Johnny couldn't find it in himself to really reciprocate the feeling until the buildup to TakeOver: New Orleans.
    • Aleister Black. After all, he had the bad luck of feuding with Ciampa, with whom Johnny had VERY bad blood.
    • Ricochet, Keith Lee, Damian Priest, and Dexter Lumis over the NXT North American Championship.
    • Adam Cole over the NXT Championship.
    • Finn Bálor after Bálor viciously attacked him instead of helping him and Ciampa fight The Undisputed Era.
    • As of late 2022, The Miz becomes part of Johnny Wrestling's hit list. He blackmails Miz into admitting that he paid Dexter Lumis for staging the stalking incidents ever since Lumis' return to WWE.
  • Being Good Sucks: The justification for his and Candace's Face–Heel Turn, as they are tired of suffering for their kindness while people like Ciampa and Io Shirai prosper for their actions. They decided that the only people they trust are each other and that they will change NXT into their image.
  • Berserk Button: Finn Bálor found a way to mash two of Johnny's simultaneously by viciously turning on him during a confrontation with The Undisputed Era. First off, Johnny Wrestling, as we had already found out in the last two-ish years, does not react well to being stabbed in the back. To make matters worse, the beating that Bálor gave him resulted in him missing his first NXT Takeover event out of the last 14, a streak that it turns out he was very proud of.note  This comes back to bite Bálor several weeks later when facing Cole for the NXT Championship. Gargano comes down to the ring, providing just enough distraction for Cole to polish off Bálor and retain the title. Then, to add injury to insult, Gargano produces a chair and beats the ever-loving hell out of a prone Bálor after the match is over.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: He's one of the swellest guys you can meet, being a very hardened Determinator and a loving husband. But you do not want to make Johnny Wrestling angry.
  • Chess Master: The 2019 reunion of #DIY was engineered by Johnny so that he could betray Ciampa in the exact same manner that Ciampa had betrayed him in the first place, with Johnny even faking a knee injury in the process. When Ciampa tried to drive Johnny into the NXT set just as he had done nearly two years earlier at NXT Takeover: Chicago, Johnny would brace himself with his supposedly injured leg and flash Ciampa a grin before recreating the events of Chicago himself.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: As of his heel run with Candice LeRae.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Served as such to Austin Theory in The Way.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • An interesting note here, as he was one of NXT's representatives for the WWE Cruiserweight Classic as a singles competitor. In storyline, an injury to his knee that happened in NXT competition would cost him a match in the CWC a few episodes after the one he had with Ciampa. But because the CWC episodes were taped a month or so before the NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II live PPV where he would be hurt, he was put in the unique position of having to sell a storyline injury in the CWC that, chronologically speaking, hadn't happened yet.
    • Gargano is perhaps one of the best at this in WWE. Helped along by NXT's booking, Gargano's present character accounts for all the high-profile angles that he had been through since his initial NXT appearances. Previous angles explain most, if not all, of his character quirks, and even some of his move choices.
    • "Bet On Yourself" - the updated version of Johnny's "Rebel Heart" theme song - features nods to Gargano's time in The Way and #DIY.
  • Crush the Keepsake: At TakeOver: Chicago II, Tommaso Ciampa committed the big mistake of pulling the wedding ring off of Johnny Gargano's hand. This only managed to send Johnny onto an Unstoppable Rage. Too bad that Johnny still lost at the end when Ciampa reversed a DDT and got the pin, though.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: Ended Elias Samson's undefeated streak.
  • Determinator:
    • They don't call him the "Rebel Heart" for nothing; when Gargano wants something, he won't stop until he gets it. This is why Ciampa didn't bother trying to get the authorities involved when Gargano started stalking him, knowing that doing so wouldn't deter the latter at all. Instead, he decided to deal with Gargano himself, being the only way that Gargano could leave him alone for good. Unfortunately for Ciampa, Gargano was too much of a determinator for him to handle, taking everything Ciampa had and then some, kicking out or escaping, and eventually triumphing.
    • Exaggerated at NXT Takeover: New York. Being pitted against Adam Cole in a two out of three falls match meant that Gargano was going to be put through the wringer no matter the outcome. While Cole won the first fall, Johnny Wrestling would not stay down. Cole threw everything he had at Gargano and then some. Multiple superkicks (some to the back of the head!)? Not enough. The Last Shot? No way. The Canadian Destroyer known as the Panama Sunrise? Only a two. Getting hit with Ciampa's Fairy Tale Ending on the announce table? Gets back in the ring at the count of nine. The Undisputed Era runs in and O'Reilly and Fish hit their finish on him? Johnny still kicked out. Gargano wouldn't be denied the NXT Championship and mounted a comeback comparable to Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 30 and made Cole submit to the Garga-No Escape, becoming the first NXT Triple Crown Champion.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
  • Evil Costume Switch: During his first Face–Heel Turn in NXT, he used a Venomized version of his personal emoji. Subverted for his second heel run, though.
  • Expy: His character arc has been told so well and the matches so quality, that almost nobody notices he's literally a palette swap of Sami Zayn. True babyface known for their in-ring skill, personable underdog personas, and their banner story arc involving the brutal betrayal at the hands of a former best friend. Also seems to have a habit of coming up just short in title matches. Also similarly to Zayn, the corrupting influence of the constant battles with said former best friend eventually turned him from a heroic paragon into a much more morally ambiguous character. He's even been referred to at times as the "Heart and Soul of NXT"— the exact title given to Zayn during his run.
  • Face–Heel Turn:
    • Was the one who attacked Aleister Black prior to the originally planned triple threat match at Takeover: Brooklyn III.
    • Turned heel again by costing a now face Ciampa his title match at Takeover: Portland.
  • Face Realization: His match with Caleb Konley on EVOLVE 32 was when Lenny Leonard came to the realization that Johnny had become a baby face. Gargano wouldn't realize it himself until EVOLVE 33, when he realized he couldn't sit back and watch the Premier Athlete Brand torment and attack Rich Swann any longer, even though he didn't like Swann.
  • Failure Hero:
    • He never seems to be able to win a title match despite showing that he is capable of doing so. It didn't really reach this point until he lost two straight TakeOver matches to his Evil Former Friend Tommaso Ciampa, the recent one for the NXT Championship (which Ciampa managed to win in the first place thanks to him, by the way), both due to his recklessness. It's quite telling that The Velveteen Dream, then a heel, is able to get the Full Sail crowd to go from chanting "Johnny Wrestling" to "Johnny Failure."
    • Whilst he won both of NXT's singles titles, he struggled to successfully defend one. Exaggerated when he randomly chose Leon Ruff to get a shot at his North American title, in an obvious bid to break the curse, and Ruff won the belt on a roll-up pin (helped by a distraction from previous champ Damian Priest).
  • The Fettered: Initially in his feud vs. Ciampa. Even with the anger he felt as his former friend's betrayal, there were just some lines he wouldn't cross.
  • Fighting Your Friend: The last match of the the first round of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic was against his then tag team partner, with this trope fully acknowledged. Ciampa had the match all but won, but couldn't find it in himself to truly hurt Gargano, allowing the latter to steal the win with a crucifix pinning combination.
    • He's also fought his wife Candice Larae on several independent shows.
  • Finishing Move: For submission he uses an over the shoulder crossface chickenwing he dubs the "Garga-No-Escape". If he wants a pinfall victory instead, he uses a slingshot DDT to finish off his opponent dubbed the "One Final Beat."
  • Fire-Forged Friends: A promo on the 3/27/19 episode of NXT implies he and Ciampa were this - thrown together as a non-roster invitee tag team and barely knowing each other, but each leaning on the other so they could perform well enough to have a shot at contracts. It really brings the "#DIY" moniker home and makes their story arc that much more tragic.
  • Foreshadowing: When he faced Finn Bálor at TakeOver: Portland, Johnny wore ring gear inspired by Spider-Man villain, Carnage - somewhat uncharacteristically, as Johnny had previously limited his use of villain and anti-hero themed characters to his brief tweener/heel run in 2018. Come the end of the show, Johnny would undergo a Face–Heel Turn by costing Tommaso Ciampa the NXT title.
  • Formerly Fat: Was quite chubby as a kid. He would even at times refer himself as the "chubby eight year-old kid with a dream."
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Even after everything his former best friend/tag team partner Tommaso Ciampa put him through, from betraying him, harassing him, attacking him, and eventually costing him his NXT career, even after coming to return that hatred, Gargano never quite gave up hope that Ciampa could be redeemed. That being said, Gargano also acknowledged the possibility that Ciampa couldn't be redeemed; so when Ciampa took his mercy for granted towards the end of their unsanctioned match and tried to cheap shot him with his knee brace, Gargano ducked under the blow, and finished off his former best friend, reclaiming his career in NXT in the process.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Not to say that he wasn't a tough guy beforehand (see Determinator), but this is where his character seems to have landed after the 2+ year Ciampa saga. The new version of Gargano is good, but has some edge that probably wasn't there during his early DIY days. The physical and mental battles with Ciampa have very obviously hardened him, but he remains good at heart, if a slight bit cocky.
  • Happily Married: to Candice LeRae.
    • Subverted (at least on-screen) toward the end of his feud with Tommaso Ciampa, where it was implied (particularly during his Heel run) that Gargano's obsessive quest for revenge on Ciampa was putting a strain on his and Candice's marriage.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: After his defeat at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II, Gargano has become much more aggressive in the ring, not only to his sworn enemy Ciampa, but also to other competitors, almost wrenching EC3's arm out of its socket and brutally assaulting him. The bitterness of his defeat has unleashed Johnny's more vicious and ruthless side. Solidified with The Reveal that he was the one who put Aleister Black out of action prior to TakeOver: Brooklyn IV. Worse, he's gone delusional. Hell, compare his original look (above) to the new twist on his logo...
  • Heel–Face Turn: After #DIY were eliminated in the 2019 Dusty Rhodes Classic, Gargano got the jump on Ciampa after the latter attempted to replicate his infamous TakeOver: Chicago attack on Gargano, only for Gargano to reveal he feigned his leg injury, subtly testing Ciampa's loyalties. After laying out Ciampa with a Superkick (and loud chants of "Johnny Wrestling"), Gargano happily yelled out "Johnny Wrestling's back!" seemingly cementing this trope. Confirmed on the March 27 2019 episode of NXT when he came out with his old face logo.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: He has a tendency to get overzealous in his desire to inflict damage on his opponents, which can end up costing him the match, as seen in his feuds with Tomasso Ciampa and Adam Cole.
  • How Much More Can He Take?: A hallmark of many of Gargano's high-profile matches. Especially any of his matches with Tommaso Ciampa.
  • It Was a Gift: He started using his "Gargano Escape" Finishing Move after Alex Shelley's suggestion when he was looking for a new submission finisher (Gargano considers Shelley as his older brother figure and the latter is one of the earliest users, if not the innovator, of the hold, calling his version as the "Border City Stretch").
  • It's Personal:
    • The absolute most personal one NXT ever had. It took place after Ciampa turned on Gargano after they lost a ladder match for the NXT Tag Team Championships against the Authors of Pain, a match in which Ciampa tore his ACL. Undeterred, Ciampa spent months tormenting Gargano on numerous social media sites, while Gargano was traumatized by the incident and entered a bit of rut in regards to his singles career. Just when he turned it around, Ciampa re-entered his life, almost completely healed, attacking Gargano after his five star classic against then-NXT Champion Andrade "Cien" Almas. Gargano still couldn't quite face Ciampa, so he focused on the NXT Championship, putting his career on the line for the sake of a title shot; and just as he was about to win the title, Ciampa attacked him again, costing him both the title and his career. Thoroughly pissed, Gargano was done evading his former best friend, stalking him throughout the weeks since the incident and attacking him on NXT, culminating in an unsanctionednote  grudge match at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, where, if Gargano won, he would be reinstated to NXT. Once Candice LeRae got hurt in the scuffle, he promised Ciampa that, just as Gargano left Chicago the previous year in an ambulance, he'll leave Chicago in an ambulance as well.
    • Johnny returned to NXT, fifteen months after his departure and six months after returning to WWE, to get his pound of flesh from Grayson Waller, the man who made his name by assaulting Johnny as he made his farewell address to the NXT audience. Things quickly escalated from there, with Johnny once more invoking an unsanctioned match after Grayson turned up at the Gargano home whilst Candice and Quill were there.
  • It's the Principle of the Thing: His reasoning for saving Rich Swann, who he despised, from the Premier Athlete Brand after their 'End Of Evolution' match. Gargano, who hadn't been winning much lately and was trying to get back to the way he was before, realized that, whether he liked Swann or not, the man he used to be would not tolerate the Brand's sleazy stunts, especially since they had the audacity to pull one right in front of him.
    • In the grand scheme of things, Ciampa's act of pulling off his wedding ring, spitting on it, and throwing it into the crowd, wasn't the worst thing Ciampa's ever done to him. It also seems to be the moment Johnny Gargano well and truly snapped.
  • Jerkass: As of his heel run with real life wife Candice LeRae.
  • Kick the Dog: When him and Candice LeRae ran over and crushed Shotzi Blackheart's tank.
  • Large Ham Title:
    "From Ohio, he weighs in at 210 pounds, he is the bees knees, the cat's pajamas, the whole shebang, all heart, the king of Cleveland, Johnny Wrestling, Johnny Gargano!"
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A week after costing Aleister Black the NXT Championship, Johnny taunts Ciampa that the only reason Ciampa is champion was because of him. Black, who clearly hadn't forgotten what Johnny did, gave him a Black Mass. Even the crowd chanted "You deserved it" to him for his carelessness.
  • Light Is Not Good: Since his second Face–Heel Turn in NXT, he has started wearing a white jacket, even as part of his entrance gear.
  • Mad Libs Catchphrase: Nickname, rather than catchphrase, but the sentiment still applies to his "Johnny Wrestling" nickname, with wrestling being substituted with anything appropriate - such as Failure, Takeover, and Champion.
  • Meaningful Echo: On the March 19, 2019 episode of NXT, Johnny attacked Tommaso Ciampa in the exact same manner that Ciampa had attacked Johnny to end #DIY nearly two years earlier.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • On the 3/26/20 episode a week after their furious brawl all over the Performance Center, Johnny claimed that Tommaso Ciampa "Tried to escape by jumping out the window!", echoing Bobby Heenan's claim regarding Marty Jannetty during the Rockers' breakup.
    • Johnny's attire in his final match in NXT was an amalgamation of his various attires previously worn at TakeOver shows.
    • When Johnny faced Grayson Waller at NXT: Stand & Deliver 2023, he wore gear that paid tribute to his time as the face of "black an gold" era of NXT.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Gargano was so hell-bent to prevent Ciampa from winning the NXT Championship at any cost that he interfered in Ciampa's title match against Aleister Black. This backfired horribly. Ciampa took advantage, and three seconds later, he was champion.
  • Older Hero Versus Younger Villain: He's been both the older hero against Andrade "Cien" Almas, Adam Cole and Grayson Waller, and the younger villain against Aleister Black, Tommaso Ciampa and Keith Lee.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: What Johnny's explanation behind his attack on Aleister Black ultimately boils down to. He believes that only he can defeat Tommaso Ciampa, and Black was just collateral damage to him. When one thinks about it, ever since TakeOver: New Orleans, no one has beaten Ciampa except for Johnny - And that was in an unsanctioned match.
  • Power Stable: The Way
  • Put on a Bus: Rage quit Chikara out of disgust with Wink Vavasseur's management and having Sugar in F.I.S.T.
  • Red Baron: As stated under Affectionate Nickname, any suffix after Johnny, the most popular being Johnny Wrestling. His other nicknames include: The Bee's Knees, the Cat's Pajamas, the Whole Shebang, Rebel Heart, and NXT's Iron Man.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Has dipped into this in his feud with Ciampa, causing the Nice Job Breaking It, Hero moment above as well as costing him at least one match against Ciampa himself.
  • Sanity Slippage: Not only have his battles with Ciampa brought out a darker side of his persona, but listening to him talk has made it clear that he's losing his grip on reality just a bit...
  • Signature Move: A slingshot spear through the top and middle rope. He often does it after being tagged in by Ciampa. However, it is somewhat predictable, and The Revival have countered it several times, including into a Shatter Machine. He also uses the Superkick, often to a recovering or kneeling opponent.
  • Stalker Without A Crush: To Tommaso Ciampa after he cost Gargano his NXT career. Gargano became obsessed with getting back at Ciampa, attacking him at the PC after the former's physical therapy, and on NXT proper, leading to security forcibly removing him from the building. He even went as far as to visit Ciampa's house at 3 a.m., pounding on his door and demanding his former partner come out and face him. It wasn't long until Ciampa got sick of him, which eventually led to Regal scheduling an unsanctioned match between them at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, with Gargano's reinstatement on the line.
  • Shout-Out: "The Johnny Gargano Way" and Power Stable The Way are both references to a memetic line of dialogue from The Mandalorian.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The Gargano/Ciampa feud has taken the main event spot over the NXT Championship match for two Takeover events in a row. When the triple threat match for the NXT Championship was announced between the two and Aleister Black, fans joked that the NXT Championship was finally main eventing a TakeOver card. Though considering that it is currently one of if not the biggest story line in NXT as well as both matches receiving high praise, this is not exactly seen as a bad thing.
  • Terrible Trio: F.I.S.T.: Icarus, Chuck Taylor, and him as the replacement of Gran Akuma. They were even referred to as "Chikara's Most Dangerous Trio".
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: After his Face–Heel Turn on Tommaso Ciampa at NXT Takeover Portland.
  • Tranquil Fury: Gargano was perpetually in this state after Ciampa cost him his NXT career, with only occasional bursts of anger to show how truly enraged he was at his former best friend. Especially apparent during the start of his unsanctioned match with Ciampa; whereas the latter was spitting out insult after insult during their stare-off, Gargano was dead silent, content with giving a Death Glare that could melt steel.
  • Trauma Button: Anything connected to DIY, ever since being betrayed by Ciampa. At least until Ciampa got him kicked out of NXT, at which point it became a Berserk Button.
  • Unholy Matrimony: With Candice LeRae following their heel turn in early 2020.
  • Villain Protagonist: If there's a such thing as a wrestling show having a singular protagonist (if not, then Gargano in 2018-2019 came as close as anybody for NXT), Gargano slipped into this during his brief heel run in 2018.
  • Wham Line: "I'm right here..." note 
  • Whole Costume Reference: Several of Johnny's Takeover/PLE attires have been references to different Marvel characters, but he hasn't limited himself just to the House of Ideas' characters.
    • At TakeOver: Philadelphia, he wore gear inspired by Star-Lord.
    • At TakeOver: New Orleans, he wore gear inspired by Thor's gladiator look.
    • At TakeOver: Chicago II, he wore gear inspired by Captain America.
    • At TakeOver: Brooklyn IV, he wore gear inspired by Venom.
    • At TakeOver: WarGames II, he wore gear inspired by The Punisher.
    • At TakeOver: Phoenix and Royal Rumble 2019, he wore gear inspired by Dark Phoenix.
    • At TakeOver: New York, he wore gear inspired by Iron Man.
    • At TakeOver XXV, he wore gear inspired by Captain Marvel (2019).
    • At TakeOver: Toronto, he wore gear inspired by Wolverine.
    • At TakeOver: Portland, he wore gear inspired by Carnage.
    • At TakeOver: In Your House, he wore gear inspired by The Mandalorian.
    • At TakeOver XXX, he wore gear inspired by Star-Lord, once again.
    • At TakeOver 31, he wore gear inspired by Ahsoka Tano.
    • At Halloween Havoc 2020, he wore gear inspired by Jack Skellington, with Candice joining him as Sally.
    • At TakeOver: WarGames IV, he wore gear in the colors of the Cleveland Browns.
    • At TakeOver: Stand & Deliver, he wore gear inspired by fan art of The Way as comicbook characters, with Gargano's look drawing inspiration from Iron Man.
    • At TakeOver: In Your House 2021, he wore gear inspired by Shawn Michaels, with the other members of The Way dressing as other members of The Kliq.
    • At Royal Rumble 2023, he wore gear inspired by Kang the Conqueror.
    • At Elimination Chamber 2023, he wore gear inspired by Bluey as a tribute to his son Quill, who celebrated his first birthday on the day of the show.