March 18, 2020
The WWE Performance Center
You can follow me on Twitter @TheHootsPodcast
Transcription by Josh Lopez
— WWE (@WWE) March 19, 2020
The Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa Rivalry
2015 – The Friendship & Cruiserweight Classic
"Two guys who had been wrestling for a decade and who wanted to be a part of @WWE, BADLY."
— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) March 19, 2020
Tommaso Ciampa: The tryout that we both went to for WWE came around 2015.
Johnny Gargano: It was kind of the start of our friendship. We met each other 2010. We grew up together while we wrestled on the indies, but that tryout really brought us together. We were always paired together. We didn’t know why. There was no rhyme or reason to it. It was just happenstance. Like, some could call it destiny.
Tommaso Ciampa: Complete happenstance, Johnny and I got put in the same room together and shared the same rental car.
Johnny Gargano: I was just thankful that car was in his name, so I didn’t have to drive.
Tommaso Ciampa: We wrestled one and other as one of our tryout matches and the tryout went exceptionally well for us. I don’t know, it’s one of those things, there’s a few guys, you know, you could always count them on one hand that you have instant chemistry with, he’s one of them. I know when the match ended just thinking like, damn I hope could do more with this dude. Everything you can ask two independent guys to do at that tryout, we did. So we left it thinking, we had a good shot.
Johnny Gargano: It felt like we all did so well, especially me and Tommaso, it felt like we did so well and people were so high on us that, we were gonna get out contracts.
Tommaso Ciampa: But on the final day, a big group of us got pulled to the side and essentially we were told that …
Johnny Gargano: Don’t have enough contracts to give everyone, if you were 6’9, this would be a different story, but you’re not, so we could only sign one of you.
Tommaso Ciampa: Doesn’t mean that the door is closed or whatever, but we both got told no at the same time.
Johnny Gargano: And that was tough, I mean, to be told you’re not good enough, i’ve heard that my whole life. And to finally get a chance at my dream job and to be told that it’s not gonna happen, it sucks. Simple as that, it sucks.
Tommaso Ciampa: When I got the no from WWE, it was kind of like, you’re either gonna make something of this wrestling career or you just gotta move on.
Johnny Gargano. But luckily enough, I guess. Look at it this way, I had Tommaso that was going through it with me as well, so we kinda felt like we were in this thing together.
Tommaso Ciampa: And that’s actually I think when our relationship with one and other outside of wrestling started to actually happen and we were just both in the same boat. Two guys who had been wrestling for a decade, who both want it really badly to be part of the WWE, that platform, we wanted to test ourselves against the best in the world.
Johnny Gargano: And then, Cruiserweight Classic happens.
Tommaso Ciampa: Johnny is part of the cruiserweight classic, but I am not. So, when I saw Hunter, I just approached him and said, hey, you guys have 32 cruiserweight’s coming for this cruiserweight classic. You’re gonna have 16 matches that first night, what if you just put me in the first round and have me matchup with Johnny? After the conversation happen, everything changed.
Johnny Gargano: The Cruiserweight Classic Match was really the epic first encounter of Johnny Gargano against Tommaso Ciampa.
Tommaso Ciampa: Crowd was on fire that day at Full Sail. I distinctly remember on match 15, you felt this energy in the crowd and they started to realize, wait a second, the only two left are Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. The stage is set. All we got to do is deliver. Shawn Michaels has this thing, that’s all you can do, when you get up to bat, hit a home run. That night, Cruiserweight Classic, kinda got chills talking about it reflecting back. We got up to plate and we hit a home run. If wrestling is art and we’re artist and we’re performers, you can just hang your head on that one and be proud of it. We knew this might live on for awhile.
Johnny Gargano: So many seeds were planted there for the future.
Tommaso Ciampa: There’s a moment in that match if you go watch it back where I hesitate for a second.
Johnny Gargano: Tommaso had that second thought because I’m his friend. And I won’t say I took advantage of that. I got the win there. I don’t want to say I took advantage of Tommaso’s recklessness, but I did.
Tommaso Ciampa: For me, it felt more like, I let it happen. Hard to take in at the moment, but at the end of the day, here’s a kid who just like me, who spent ten years on the indies, he earned it. So, good on him.
Johnny Gargano: Do I believe I’m a better wrestler than Tommaso Ciampa? I’m Johnny Wrestling. Yeah.
Forming DIY & Rivalry With The Revival
Tommaso Ciampa: We go on from that Cruiserweight Classic to just a ridiculous run as a tag team that no one saw coming.
Johnny Gargano: Heading into Brooklyn 2, DIY versus Revival. For that to be our first TakeOver together, us having our big debut in The Barclays Center.
Tommaso Ciampa: The biggest stage of both of our careers. The place was sold out. The place is packed.
Johnny Gargano: We kinda put our differences aside, whatever those were for a common goal and the common goal was the NXT Tag Team Championships. Tommaso throwing the shirt at me. The night The DIY is born. Having fun, kinda clicking as a team, things felt like they were coming together for us. I kinda looked at him and said, man, if we stay together, I think we can we could win the NXT Tag Team Titles and he said, I think so too. That was one of those real moments where it was like, hmm, maybe we could actually do this. Obviously things did not go our way, but I really felt like that brought us together, even stronger cause after that, we moved to Orlando. Me and Candice got married. Tommaso was in my wedding. It was all three of us in a house together in Orlando trying to make the best of this.
Tommaso Ciampa: I think it’s easier to say now looking back, but I would be a liar if I didn’t say that weighed on me heavily. Hard to say for sure that I wouldn’t have submitted if it was a reversal of roles, but it would be really hard to convince me that I would have submitted. I think DIY worked so well because of our relationship with the people. Energy in the air that night didn’t feel like they were disappointed in us, that it just felt like they were disappointed that we didn’t get that victory.
Johnny Gargano: Do I regret tapping out? Yea, I obviously do. I don’t like letting people down. I did not want to let him down, but redemption was on my mind. People wanted to see us win at Brooklyn, people needed us to win at Toronto, they needed it. In my head, nothing was gonna stop us from winning the NXT Tag Team Titles that night, nothing. Those are the moments you dream of. The moments you worked for and everything we’ve been through up to that point, being told we would never be here, being told we didn’t belong here, we both said screw you. I believe people are loyal to you until their needs change.
Tommaso Ciampa: The crowd reception, that was something different.
Johnny Gargano: You want to be a fighting champion. You want to take those titles all over the place wherever you can and share that with the world. It was cool to be able to experience that with Tommaso too.
Tommaso Ciampa: Whether they know the details or not, they know that our fight and our struggle to get to NXT was a hard fought one and it was something that was handed to us. We were living our dream, you know what I mean?
Johnny Gargano: We were luckily enough to take the NXT Tag Team Championships and tour Australia, Japan, defend them all over the world.
Tommaso Ciampa: It was pretty amazing. And over those next few months, the friendship, tag partnering together, just naturally became closer.
Johnny Gargano: We really just grew together as a team, even as tag team champions, we were still growing together as a team. So to be able to share those moments with him, obviously didn’t go the way we wanted, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.
Tommaso Ciampa Getting Injured, Losing The NXT Tag Team Titles
"Toronto was a dream come true. San Antonio was a nightmare."@JohnnyGargano & @NXTCiampa's #WWENXT #TagTeamTitles reign ends, and a new chapter for #AOP begins… @Rezar_WWE @Akam_WWE pic.twitter.com/15GcSlE4uX
— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) March 19, 2020
Tommaso Ciampa: I was just banged up at that time. I had two shoulders that needed to be repaired. I had two torn labrum’s, so it was tough and it was weighing on me. I didn’t feel quite like the performer that I should’ve been, could’ve been.
Johnny Gargano: I think his needs changed. I don’t think his heart was in DIY anymore.
Tommaso Ciampa: Then AOP enters the picture and these are just big, strong, tough dudes and those are the worst opponents possible when you’re not feeling 100%.
Johnny Gargano: Toronto was a dream come true, but San Antonio was a nightmare.
Tommaso Ciampa: They took the title from us their first try and damn, man, we just couldn’t get them back.
Johnny Gargano: Once we got the tag titles, once we accomplished that goal, we kinda had a championship hangover. We could never get our footing again after that.
Tommaso Ciampa: During the time that Johnny and I were living together with Candice, I think they knew what I was going through, but it’s just hard to put yourself in other shoes, right? TakeOver Orlando, we find ourself with AOP and Revival in a three way.
Johnny Gargano: That weekend is just a blur. It’s just, I don’t know, once we lost the titles, I don’t know if our heart was in it anymore.
Tommaso Ciampa: Trying to get those titles back and coming up short again.
Johnny Gargano: We both had dreams of coming here. Obviously, the tag titles and the tag team was something thrown together, but we made the best of it and we grew together and we ended up loving it.
Tommaso Ciampa: Something I never said before, but it is true. That night in Toronto, Johnny was the star.
Johnny Gargano: There weren’t a lot of Tommaso Ciampa chants. A lot of Johnny Wrestling chants.
Tommaso Ciampa: At the end of the day, we won the titles in what a lot of people called, the greatest tag team match in the history professional wrestling history. So, that’s awesome, but the competitor inside me knows, that Johnny outshined me that night.
Johnny Gargano: I think that doubt, that anger, that thought of that, maybe this DIY wasn’t gonna work out anymore, sorta creeped into his head. I think he started to resent me. We’re both very competitive and two alphas in one team, eventually one guys goes the other way.
Tommaso Ciampa: I just gotta let it digest and sit there. It is what it is. I know Johnny better than anybody at this point and I’m not dumb. I know he’s gotta be thinking, if he wants those tag titles back, what’s the best play on his part?
NXT TakeOver Chicago
— WWE (@WWE) March 19, 2020
Johnny Gargano: Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa is a story of moments. Chicago, it’s the first time we main evented a TakeOver.
Tommaso Ciampa: It’s DIY vs. AOP.
Johnny Gargano: Ladder Match. Feels like the last shot at the titles for us.
Tommaso Ciampa: And there’s a lot on the table for us.
Johnny Gargano: Chicago is a night that I will never forget. It’s a night that he will never forget because that is where our lives changed.
Tommaso Ciampa: I did what I had to do. It wasn’t a personal decision. At this point, it’s just business.
Johnny Gargano: He knew he was going away with ACL Surgery. He knew was going away to get his labrum repaired, so he wanted to take me out too.
Tommaso Ciampa: I gonna be out for nine months, that’s what was next for me.
Johnny Gargano: He wanted to make sure I was gone as long as he was gonna be gone.
Tommaso Ciampa: I looked at Johnny and I said, tonight wasn’t our moment, it’s my moment.
Johnny Gargano: Turns on me. Goes off to get surgery. Nothing I can do about it. He’s gone. I just have to sit and wait
Rebirth Of Johnny Wrestling, NXT TakeOver New Orleans
Tommaso Ciampa: He went on a slump, he did and I watched it from a distance and then he re-found himself, he rediscovered Johnny Wrestling.
Johnny Gargano: Everything felt like it was going well. I knew in the back of my mind, he’d be back.
Tommaso Ciampa: Then he got himself an NXT Title Match.
Johnny Gargano: He sees that I have this big opportunity for the NXT Championship.
Tommaso Ciampa: I gave Johnny his opportunity to have his moment.
Johnny Gargano: Unfortunately, I came up a little short against Andrade.
Tommaso Ciampa: I didn’t cost him the title. I didn’t come out during the match. Nope, I waited. Let him have his moment. He lost, then I took my moment.
Johnny Gargano: He’s back in my life. I still want the NXT Championship. That was always my goal, to be NXT Champion. I put my career on the line against Andrade for one last shot at his NXT Championship.
Tommaso Ciampa: That time I did cost him and he did lose his career.
Johnny Gargano: I put my career on the line against Andrade. What happens? Tommaso comes back and he cost me my career.
Tommaso Ciampa: From that point on, it was about me. In DIY, we played to Johnny’s strength. There always chanting Johnny Wrestling. They ain’t chanting for me.
Johnny Gargano: Tommaso entering arenas, booing, chanting Johnny Wrestling. I haunted so much that I forced him to a match at TakeOver New Orleans, Unsanctioned, for a chance to get my career back.
Tommaso Ciampa: I was gonna get what I wanted. The opportunity to step onto a TakeOver stage and be me, the greatest sports entertainer of all-time.
Johnny Gargano: That was a moment.
Tommaso Ciampa: Johnny won at TakeOver New Orleans, but he didn’t. I won. I was the star.
Tommaso Becoming The NXT Champion, Johnny’s Downward Spiral
Johnny Gargano: I knew in the back of my mind, the story wasn’t over. Chicago Street Fight.
Tommaso Ciampa: This time, not only do I out perform him, but I also get the win. And then we go from TakeOver Chicago to my first opportunity at the NXT Title and I did something Johnny couldn’t do.
Johnny Gargano: He won the NXT Championship because of me. Then we go to TakeOver Brooklyn, Last Man Standing. At this point i’m so obsessed with fixing my mistake, that I do whatever it takes, but I cost myself.
Tommaso Ciampa: And by now, Johnny started to realize what everyone was starting to realize, they missed the boat with Tommaso Ciampa. And I started notice, he start sinking to my level.
Johnny Gargano: I needed to make Tommaso Ciampa believe that I was just like him. When we reformed DIY, I knew I was two steps ahead.
Tommaso’s Neck Surgery, Johnny Becoming The NXT Champion
Tommaso Ciampa: Just before anything could get going any way, I find out I need neck surgery. Just like that, my entire, my entire time at NXT Champion gets completely derailed.
Johnny Gargano: Nobody could’ve predicated that. I didn’t see that coming. So Tommaso relinquishes the NXT Championship.
Tommaso Ciampa: 238 days. 238 greatest days of my entire career are over.
Johnny Gargano: Fate. Fate stepped in and I find myself against Adam Cole, TakeOver New York, a match that was supposed to be me versus Tommaso. In that moment, I don’t know, maybe I was caught up in the emotion because I saw my best friend, I saw that guy again. And we embraced, I feel like I did it. I was the NXT Champion. On top of the world, what was this guy gonna to do? He’s got a broken neck.
Tommaso Ciampa: After watching Johnny have his moment in New York and succeed and hold that NXT Title, the title that meant the world to me, it felt right to just put it all behind us and I went away. Time for neck surgery, time to figure it all out. And I watched and I rehabbed. Johnny’s first title defense, he lost the title. During all that time that I was away, he keeps having trouble getting his feet under him again.
Tommaso’s Return, Second DIY Reunion, NXT TakeOver Portland
Johnny Gargano: But I watched as Tommaso came back, he comes back from neck surgery. And for some reason, the fans give him a hero’s welcome. They chant, daddy’s home. They’re so excited to see and I couldn’t figure out why. I do what the fans want me to do, I help out Tommaso. I reform DIY, it was my idea, that’s what the people wanted.
Tommaso Ciampa: And suddenly, I’m kinda the face of this brand. Next, I get my NXT Title back. I want the title back I never lost and Adam Cole just happens to be holding that title, so I go straight for him. In October, when I came back from neck surgery, the first thing on my mind. I want goldie back. I want the title back I never lost and Adam Cole just happens to be holding that title.
Johnny Gargano: I see every week, Tommaso comes back, people chant daddy’s home, they were all in Tommaso now. You know, maybe I got caught up in it cause I wanted to believe my best friend was back. Just like in New York, I got caught up in it.
Tommaso Ciampa: Tommaso Ciampa versus Adam Cole, TakeOver Portland. Daddy’s taking back goldie. Damnit for 30 minutes, I swore that was happening. I told Adam Cole before that, man, you’re gonna have to kill me. You ain’t gonna beat me. No one was gonna keep my shoulders on the mat for three seconds. Ain’t no one was gonna make me say I quit. And then Johnny Gargano’s face appears again and something in my stomach just dropped.
Johnny Gargano: I wanted to believe my best friend came back to life, so I come out, my intention was to support my best friend and you know what I saw? Only a look I would know. The same look I saw in Chicago three years ago. The same look I saw before he spat on my wedding ring.
Tommaso Ciampa: And that’s where Johnny and I differ. When he had his big title match at TakeOver, I allowed him to have his moment and he lost. When I had my big title match at TakeOver, he didn’t give me a chance.
Johnny Gargano: He’s a snake. He’s a liar and he can’t be trusted. That’s why I fixed their mistake. Everyone else, the fans, they’re too stupid to see it, I’m not.
Tommaso Ciampa: I think what the issues is right now, it’s actually gone beyond the NXT Title. This is two guys who want to be the face of the black and gold brand, but only one guy can be. So that brawl that everyone saw at the performance center, it’s just business.
Johnny Gargano: This psychopath obviously invades my space. I’m trying to give the world their reason why. And before I can even tell people, he comes out and attacks me. We brawl all over the performance center. And that’s really appropriate, isn’t it? Because that’s where this story started. We had our tryout at the performance center. We were thrust together at the performance center. We formed our bond at the performance center. We tore the performance center apart.
Tommaso Ciampa: Eventually, these paths will collide. People chant fight forever. When it comes to Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, might just do exactly that.
Finn Balor Promo
2014, Prince Devitt, best wrestler in the world. NXT do what they do best, they signed the best wrestler in the world and Finn Balor is born. Every night, I prove that I’m the best wrestler in the world and became NXT Champion. Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens and Finn Balor know exactly what i’m talking about. For 292 days, I proved to everyone that i’m the best wrestler in the world. Raw, first round draft pick. Raw wants the best in the world and they picked Finn Balor. First night on Raw, I ran through Cesaro, KO, Rusev and Roman Reigns. All lose to the best wrestler in the world. Three weeks later, my first PPV, SummerSlam, Universal Championship Match, Seth Rollins loses to the best wrestler in the world and that’s it. Finn Balor, first ever Universal Champion, but i’m hurt. Everyone’s upset. Everyone’s heart broken. People are saying, oh poor Finn. Not poor Finn, Finn is the best wrestler in the world and he just proved it to everyone. Nine months, torn labrum, torn bicep/pec, nine months of rehab. I come back 100%. Something has changed. The atmosphere changed.
Put Jinder Mahal in the ring with Finn Balor and all of a sudden, he’s having the best matches of his career. Put Baron Corbin in the ring with Finn Balor and all of a sudden, he’s having the best matches of his career. Put Bobby Lashley in the ring with Finn Balor and all of a sudden, he’s having the best matches of his career. You see the common denominator here? You’re putting the best wrestler in the world in the ring with anyone and their having the best matches of their career, you’re welcome. 2019, Phoenix, Royal Rumble, Finn Balor vs. Brock Lesnar. There’s that feeling that I haven’t felt since NXT. That fight feeling. You’re in a fight for your life. And yes, Brock beat me that night. Brock made me realize what i’ve been missing. That I feeling I had against Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens. That feeling I had in NXT. Brock beat me that night, but he saved my life because he brought the passion back to Finn Balor. He made me realize what I was missing. He made me realize what I needed. I needed to wrestle and I needed to wrestle in NXT, the only place I knew I could get that feeling.
I’m addicted to it. I’m addicted to the adrenaline, to the pain. For three years, it wasn’t there, it was gone. Yeah, you’re wrestling every night, shirts, action figures, fans, posters, autographs signing, how about the wrestling? I just want to be in that ring and prove to everyone why i’m the best wrestler in the world and the best place to do that is NXT. I can’t sleep at night. Waking up in my hotel at 4am, craving that adrenaline rush. I know what I had to do. I needed to stop trying to please everyone, start pleasing myself. Please the marketing department, please the merchandise department, please the live events department, please the media department. What about pleasing myself? I didn’t do it for too long. I’m sick and tired of pleasing other people. I need to do what’s best for me. I don’t care about anyone else. I’m 38 years old, i’ve been doing this 20 years, I won’t be doing this for much longer.
So I ain’t gonna waste another three years in WWE, doing things I don’t wan’t to do, that I don’t believe in. What’s best for me was to go back to NXT and chase that feeling. But it wasn’t so much about going back to NXT, it was about going back to me, going back to the prince, going back to the best wrestler in the world, going back to 2014, going back to something that I believed in. Pleasing myself. To do what I felt was right. Johnny Gargano, nothing personal, this was about me, this was about the prince. 2018 Finn Balor is dead, long time ago. I’m The Prince. The best wrestler in the world. In these uncertain times, we don’t know what’s going to happen. One thing is for sure, I will stand in the ring with WALTER and I will get what I want, but I know there’s a lot other NXT Superstars out there that are addicted to the same thing that i’m addicted to. So if you want to dance, The Prince is here.
Rhea Ripley Promo
NXT is like my mosh-pit, but it wasn’t always that way. Actually when I started two weeks before the first ever The Mae Young Classic, man I was 20 years old, new to everything, terrified, but I knew this was something that I wanted since being a little child. This was a whole new world, pretty much. I was a big fish in a little pond over in Australia and now I was a little fish in a big pond. Being so young and coming from Australia, which the wrestling scene wasn’t huge at the time, to be part of the first ever Mae Young Classic and get my name out there and get Australia out there was an incredible thing. The only problem was, I wanted to please everyone. But by pleasing everyone, I lost myself. Then I started getting compared to people like Charlotte, Toni Storm, even Lana just because I had the long blonde hair and I was just coming out, I was smiling and I was doing my job and I wasn’t me. So going into the second Mae Young Classic, I was like, you know what?
Screw this. I’m gonna do what I want. I’m gonna wear what I want. So I went into the second mae young classic, blew it out the water. To be completely honest, that was when I knew that I was on the right track and I was doing it on my own terms. I love proving people wrong. It’s my number one thing that I loved to do. NXT UK was just starting out. So going into the NXT UK Women’s Tournament, I just had to go in there with all the aggression that I knew I had built inside of me. Going into the finals with Toni Storm was insane. It was absolutely insane because there was a lot on the line. My name, I wanted it to be on that line in the history books. I wanted to be the first ever NXT UK Women’s Champion. Absolutely everyone was wanting Toni to win this tournament, expecting Toni to win this tournament. I knew I had it. I knew I had Toni right where I wanted her to be. I was in NXT UK for nearly two years. There’s not many female competitors at NXT UK. And I felt like I had faced them all, done everything there was to do. At the same time in NXT, Shayna had pretty much gone through everyone as well.
This was my one chance to show everyone exactly who I am. After Survivor Series Weekend, everyone knew who Rhea Ripley was and that’s exactly what I wanted. But you know what was missing? What was missing was, Rhea Ripley, NXT Women’s Champion and that’s what I wanted. The big day came, I finally had Shayna Baszler in a championship match. I was stressing, but I was excited and I knew this was my time. I finally accomplished something that I had been working on for so long and that’s becoming the NXT Women’s Championship. It was such a cool thing to share the ring with the WWE Universe. Having them in there celebrating with me is a memory I will never forget and helped cement the Rhea Ripley name. Becoming the NXT Women’s Champion was a great way to end 2019. Pretty much, merry christmas to me, right?
It was super cool to be one of the hottest new faces in NXT and do the things that i’ve done in such a small amount of time. But then going into 2020 and being at the Royal Rumble, seeing Charlotte Flair be the last women in the ring, I knew right then and there, that I wanted to challenge her and I had a feeling should would accept. No one wanted to see Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch again, they’ve already seen that before. They didn’t want to see Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley because they’ve seen that before. You know what they haven’t seen before? Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women’s Championship. I knew it was my time to confront her and try to get what I want, which my WrestleMania golden ticket. To be the best, you have to beat the best, I saw my opportunity open, so I challenged one of the best in the company.
2020 has had a lot of curve balls so far, but here we are. WrestleMania is still on. This time it’s not in Charlotte’s world, she’s used to the stadiums. Instead, we are in my world, the WWE Performance Center, where i’ve put my time, blood, sweat, tears every single day. We’re in my world now. Charlotte and I are two very different individuals. Charlotte likes to thrive off the crowd, she gets what she wants. When she woo’s, they woo back at her. Guess what’s gonna happen at WrestleMania this year? No one is gonna woo back cause no one is there for you. You know who’s there though? Just me and that’s what you have to focus on. The venue for WrestleMania might have changed, but the result won’t. I’m walking in WrestleMania, NXT Women’s Champion. I’m pinning Charlotte Flair and i’m walking out, NXT Women’s Champion.
Checkout Episode 196 of The Hoots Podcast