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The wrestling world was taken by surprise in the best way on Aug. 22 when Johnny Gargano made his return to WWE during Monday Night RAW.
Ever since that unforgettable evening, the man known as Johnny Wrestling — a nickname Gargano earned over the course of his career thanks to his unreal grasp of the sport of professional wrestling — has been embroiled in a feud with Austin Theory that has taken up the majority of his time.
Thus far, Gargano has had the upper hand in the rivalry over the past few months, scoring multiple wins over the reigning Money in the Bank briefcase holder. (It seems like Theory has been cursed ever since he won the briefcase, doomed for a downward slide into mediocrity, but that’s a story for a different day.)
USA Insider was able to catch up with Johnny Gargano for one of his first interviews since returning to WWE, where he talked about everything from fatherhood to his future on the red brand. Gargano was open and candid about every question we threw his way, proving why he’s one of the most popular and well-liked Superstars on the RAW roster.
Gargano welcomed his first child with wife and fellow RAW Superstar Candice LaRae in February, and he had a thing or two to say about being a dad for the better part of the past year. Fans will be happy to know that he has no intention of slowing down his in-ring style or playing it safe just because he has a newborn at home.
“At the end of the day, I’m working for my son. I’m working for his future. I love wrestling, and this is what I’ve always wanted to do – and I don’t think I’ll ever wrestle a ‘different’ way,” he reassured. “I wrestle from the heart, and I don’t wrestle from the brain … to my own detriment at times, but that’s what got me to where I am. I wrestle with all passion, all heart, and I leave everything in the ring every single time out. And the minute I start not doing that, is when I shouldn’t do this anymore.”
That should put that notion to rest once and for all: Johnny Wrestling isn’t going to change up the playbook that brought him to the big dance anytime soon.
Gargano’s time in NXT is the stuff of legends, as he was involved with some of the most memorable feuds in wrestling history — his jaw-dropping series of matches against Tommaso Ciampa is the current high watermark for any feud in the past 10 years — while performing at a level in the ring that would make Shawn Michaels himself blush. But it was his farewell from NXT that gave the WWE Universe one of the all-time greatest moments in his career, and he didn’t even have to compete in a match to give it to us.
Proper goodbyes are rare in the world of professional wrestling. It’s not that certain Superstars aren’t worthy of a proper goodbye, it’s just that there’s only so much television time in a given week. That’s why Johnny Gargano’s NXT farewell was so special. With a microphone in hand and standing in the middle of the Capitol Wrestling Center, Gargano poured his heart out and gave his farewell to NXT in memorable fashion (and we’re still salty that Grayson Waller had to ruin everything by the end of it). At any rate, Gargano was gracious enough to take us back to that special night in December.
“The fact that they literally gave me an open platform on national television to go out there and say whatever I wanted to say, to have a farewell — that doesn’t happen in anything really, let alone wrestling,” he said.
“It’s crazy to think about,” he added. “If I were anyone else, I don’t know, I could’ve easily gone off the rails and said whatever I wanted on live television. I definitely could’ve done that. But I think it just speaks to the relationship and the respect that I share with Shawn [Michaels] and Hunter [Triple H] and everybody involved with NXT.”
It was many months before the wrestling world heard a peep from Johnny Wrestling after his departure from NXT. At that time, rumors were swirling; it wasn’t a secret that Gargano wanted time off to be a dad and care for his family, but did that mean he was done with wrestling for good? Was he ever going to come back to WWE? At one point, he was heavily rumored to be coming back to wrestling, but not necessarily under the WWE banner. Gargano revealed that discussions did in fact happen with other wrestling companies.
“Especially during this time period, you’d be dumb not to talk to other places,” he admitted. “That’s just the nature of the beast, currently. Luckily, I have a team around me that goes out and has those conversations for me, so I don’t have to do it. During my hiatus, I was very, very much focused on being a dad and not worrying about professional wrestling because I’ve been doing it for 15 years. And to be frank, I just wanted a break and I wanted time away from it.”
Continuing, Gargano spoke about how he knew that he’d eventually be back in WWE at some point, even if he made a pit stop somewhere else.
“Obviously those conversations [with other companies] were had and they needed to be had. But at the end of the day, I think I knew, honestly, that when I left — looking big picture — WWE was always going to be the place for me. But whether that was two years from now or three years from now, I didn’t know when that time would come. I knew I would eventually come back to WWE, I just didn’t know when, but it turned out to be now,” he said.
Johnny Gargano has always been a family man, even before his newfound fatherhood, so it’s not surprising that the relationships he formed over the past years helped to make the decision to come back a relatively easy one.
“My relationship with Triple H, that relationship holds a special place in my heart, and having the opportunity to work with him again and to be in this family environment again was just too good to pass up,” Gargano revealed. “Especially with Candice here, it’s such a cool thing to be a part of. And every person I’ve bumped into in the back, it’s never been ‘welcome back,' it’s been ‘welcome home.’"
Now that he’s back in WWE, the sky truly is the limit. But in the end, nobody knows Johnny Gargano better than the man himself. He’s been wrestling since the mid-2000s, and now, 15 years later, the question must be asked: Does he consider himself to still be in his prime? Fans will be delighted to find out that according to him, he was never in his prime until now.
“Yes, and I think that is a weird thing to say. Obviously I’m 35 years old now. But I think ‘wrestling prime’ is way different from any other pro sport. I think ‘wrestling prime’ is a whole different realm because in wrestling, you need a perfect combination of not only your athleticism but also your brain. And you need to be smart about certain things and the way you do things. And I think that comes with time, that comes with reps, that comes with experience,” he said.
“And you look at guys — and it’s weird to say this, but I always think about Shawn [Michaels] during his second run. I feel like — and he’ll tell you — he was even better during his second run than his first run,” Gargano explained. “He was older then, obviously, but he was so much better, and so much happier with his second run. And you look at all these guys these days, guys who are in their late 30s, early 40s who are absolutely killing it and absolutely tearing it up. So from how I see it, I think wrestling prime is 35 to 42. So I am just now entering my prime.”
We consider the rest of the Monday Night RAW roster to be officially put on notice. Who has a bigger upside than an in-his-prime Johnny Wrestling, motivated to succeed beyond his wildest dreams thanks to his newborn son?
The sky’s the limit for Johnny Gargano, we can’t wait to see what he’s capable of.
Tune into Monday Night RAW each week to see more of Johnny Wrestling as he continues his upwards momentum ever since he returned to WWE! And catch up on all things WWE on Peacock.
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