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31 Days of Wrestling (12/10/19): Johnny Champion (Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano, NXT TakeOver: New York)


Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies, and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2019 produced for us.

Johnny Gargano wasn't supposed to be there.

We all know the story about him and Tommaso Ciampa working NXT TV despite not even being signed to full-time deals. They were on the equivalent of the NBA's 10-day contracts, and yet they made a mark on fans like myself as the plucky upstart tag team, #DIY.

Tommaso Ciampa wasn't supposed to be there.

And as he recalls in his interview on Chasing Glory with Lilian Garcia, he maintained a great relationship with NXT founder Triple H, and that led to him successfully pitching Gargano vs. Ciampa in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic.


You know the rest of the story from there: the successful chase for the NXT Tag Team Championship, that turn at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, Ciampa's eventual return as the most loathed man in pro wrestling, the Gargano/Ciampa blood feud, the 5-star matches that followed, the flirtation with the #DIY reunion, their quick cup of coffee on RAW, Johnny's run as a heel North American Champion...

It was all supposed to lead to Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa for Goldie, the latter's NXT Championship, in the main event of NXT TakeOver: New York to kick off WrestleMania weekend.

But somehow, no matter how well NXT tells its stories, no matter how much they stick to the details, no matter how many callbacks they squeeze in on TV in the name of long-term storytelling and continuity, life just happens. That's really the best way to describe the unfortunate neck injury that forced Ciampa to relinquish the NXT Championship, and with that, the culmination of one of the best rivalries in modern pro wrestling.

Enter Adam Cole.

At this point, there was no denying Gargano's path to the top of the mountain on NXT. But he needed a worthy adversary to serve as his foil. The Black and Gold Brand needed to look no further than the leader of the hottest faction in WWE, Adam Cole. In Ciampa's absence, Cole filled the void as well as he could have with the brash, abrasive arrogance that just made you want to see him get his ass kicked. It also helped that the dude had three friends who could easily gang up on Gargano and make his life a living hell.

And so it led to this—the main event of NXT's biggest show of the year, a Two-out-of-three Falls Match for the NXT Championship. Johnny Gargano, the plucky and lovable underdog trying to finally get that elusive title, going up against the smarmy Adam Cole, whose popularity was at an all-time high despite his shenanigans as an in-your-face bully on television.



NXT pulled out all the stops during this match, which I was very lucky to be in the actual building for as it unfolded. Johnny Wrestling coming back from a 1-0 deficit, the interference of the Undisputed ERA, injured body parts, countered and stolen finishers. It was as if a checklist were present and Triple H decided to tick every box, including finally giving Gargano the win and turning him into Johnny Champion.

It was the perfect ending for a story that was almost told perfectly. In the moment, it felt no less gratifying, especially for someone like me who'd followed Gargano religiously since he started appearing on NXT. The guy who wasn't supposed to be there was finally standing tall at WrestleMania weekend holding his brand's championship. After years of being told no, and then forging his own path to be a legitimate NXT Superstar, here was Johnny Gargano, having overcome every obstacle both in real life and in kayfabe, as the NXT Champion.

The only thing that could have made it sweeter was having Tommaso Ciampa out there, which blew everyone's mind in the Barclays Center, as Gargano's erstwhile tag team partner came out and shared a touching moment with him and his wife, Candice LeRae, a fitting curtain call for two wrestlers who gave damn near every bit of themselves to tell one of the most compelling arcs in wrestling history.

It was a fitting way to end this arc while leaving the door open for the day that #DIY could reunite once again, this time, as battle-weary veterans who have emerged as the best versions of themselves. Many tears were shed that night and I don't regret any single one of them because a story like that deserved an ending like that, even if the road to get there wasn't the perfect one we'd been hoping to get.



Screenshots from WWE Network

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