Johnny Gargano: Heart of a Rebel

“Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, you move’.”

-Captain America

In the shroud of darkness, within the confines of an arena, a fight is fought. The competitors former friends turned bitter enemies. They froth at the mouth with hatred, borne of a betrayal at the hands of Tommaso Ciampa that stung the fans and Johnny Gargano. On this night, they threw all they had at each other in a Chicago Street Fight in the Allstate Arena.

I’d been privy to the storyline a small amount, having only recently started watching NXT on Wednesday nights, hearing that the bond of Ciampa and Gargano’s D.I.Y. tag team had become a beloved combination of two amazing talents and that their story was gripping, fraught with emotion.

As is often the case, what connects viewers to people like Johnny lies not in work-rate or promo skills, not just the intangibles (all of which he holds), but his passion and love for the business and for all the things he truly feels for. Marvel fan, gaming fan, Star Wars fan, he is a freaking nerd and he wears it proudly. Literally: it’s on so much of the gear he wears, those garments adding to the story, telling it through the symbolism of characters. 

Credit: WWE

There was one heart and soul of NXT before him in Sami Zayn, but Gargano was able to harness it even more, breathing that name for good reason. The way may lead him astray from time to time as we humans often stumble across the path we are expected to be on, but even in that he proves to be an excellent leader, with his wife Candice LeRae and his adopted kids in Austin Theory and Indi Hartwell (not to mention her betrothed, Dexter Lumis)!

To have the amount of five-star matches and accolades the industry over, it speaks to the storytelling and wrestling ability that Gargano displays. I can’t help but smile when the dude is onscreen and in the ring. 

He was someone befitting of any championship he held, be it singles or tag team won in wars against rivals such as Ciampa, Adam Cole, Aleister Black, Karrion Kross and Andrade Cien Almas.

Gargano fighting like the hero he is feels like destiny. It feels like hopes and dreams come true in a way that only professional wrestling can make us feel – that no matter what the struggles, no matter the beatings we take, we can get there if we get up enough times and just…keep…fighting.

Wise amongst this, however, is knowing when to step aside and let life simply breathe.

Case in point, the regime change. When black and gold was traded for bright colour splashes and giants were sprouting to obscure the small, Gargano took the opportunity to reflect on his time with WWE, who he had been signed to for years at this point, to stream and be a dad to his new-born child, Quill. 

NXT 2.0 had become a haven for larger than life characters, juxtaposed with the previous independent vibes of Triple H’s developmental brand. Bron Breakker, the force of nature spawned from another generation of wrestlers. Tony D’Angelo, the mobster who captures your attention while his foes end up sleeping with the fishes. Grayson Waller with his cocky, rich boy attitude. 

As Gargano and his faction of The Way survived the threat of release and budget cuts (well, aside from Dexter Lumis), he saw the writing on the wall and the way he went out was perfect, like a snapshot in time that reminded us of what was, and the hope for what one day could be.

Credit: WWE

NXT Wargames 2021, it eschewed the Takeover, but make no mistake; the brand had been invaded. Hungry young talents were ready and no more evident was that than when Bron Breakker assembled a team of upstarts with D’Angelo, Waller and Carmelo Hayes. For Tomasso Ciampa, he had to put to bed the past and reunite with Gargano, for he too had become a target of the newcomers, and they were flanked by old faces in LA Knight and Pete Dunne.

Black and Gold vs 2.0. 

Where Johnny would normally let his gear speak for him, he would instead let the music do the speaking. His “Coming Back For You” theme now replaced by the one he carried to glorious star-making performances in the classic “Rebel Heart”. He became that same Johnny once again that made us believe, cry, and sit on the edges of our seats. 

Black and Gold fought valiantly, but in the end, the future won. 

Johnny’s since been on the main roster, showing glimpses of that same heart and soul with that same smile and determination. Every now and then, however, he unlocks that taut tenacity, as seen in his bout with Grayson Waller at NXT’s Stand and Deliver. His time now isn’t at the forefront, where he used to be. That’s perfectly fine with him – he’s the underdog and he’ll fight his way up. A southpaw in a world of right-handed, he’ll make his way. That’s how he likes it. He’s a superhero who is meant to overcome adversity.

Yet the memory remains in stories of old. One day the protagonist will leap from the panels of the comic book and remind us that, yes, superheroes are real and they are among us.

“I believe there’s a hero in all of us that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.”

-Aunt May