Johnny Gargano has been making his name in the independent circuit for over 10 years, and has earned the status of being one the most talented and respected wrestlers in the business. Nicknamed “Johnny Wrestling”, Gargano has used his birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio as a launchpad to his success, as he makes sure to represent his home state in his achievements, as well as fellow Ohioans who have also become successful in the profession. Names like Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Matt Cross (Son of Havoc) and Dana Brooke are all from the Buckeye State, and names that were mentioned by Gargano as successful progeny of Ohio.
WWE Hall of Famer and former multi-time world champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage is also a native Ohioan, born in the capital city of Columbus in 1952. “I met ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage once,” said Gargano. “I met him at an autograph signing, I was a young lad. I met him, and I went up to him and he said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘My name is John.’ And his reply was (reenacting Savage), ‘That’s my name too.’ He signed my autograph, and dissecting this later on as an adult now, knowing that number one, that’s not his name; number two, that your name is John, when I know you as ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. To me, your name is ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. Your name is not John, ‘Macho Man’ (laughs)!”
Idolizing Shawn Michaels as a kid was one of the primary factors of Gargano knowing he wanted to have a career in professional wrestling. “I used to put on his little outfits. My mom used to make me outfits of Shawn Michaels’ little bedazzled hats and jewelry to wear.”
To this day, Gargano admits that he is still an avid wrestling fan, and enjoys it as a spectator just as much as a performer. “We’re all marks, to some extent,” explains Gargano. “It’s such a taboo term in this day and age to be a mark, but I wear it as a sense of pride.”
Even pro wrestlers should still be fans of the business, as Gargano explains, “When you get to the point that you are not wrestling with your heart, then things start to go south. I think you always have to wrestle with a sense of pride and a sense of passion. Every single time I step in the ring, I have pride in my work. I take pride in what I do, and I know it's cliché, but it doesn’t matter if it’s 20 people I go to at an indie show, or an NXT taping where there’s thousands of people. It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna give the people their money’s worth. I make it a point to give the people their money’s worth.”
This concept has garnered a high level of acclaim for Gargano, and his efforts on the independent scene resulted in performing for the WWE’s NXT promotion. Gargano immediately found success in NXT while teaming up with former Ring of Honor Television Champion, Tommaso Ciampa, defeating Bull Dempsey and Tyler Breeze to advance in the Dusty Rhodes Team Classic Tournament. Recently, the team would also give the Vaudevillians their final loss on NXT TV before being promoted to official members of the main roster.
With nearly a dozen years of experience as a pro wrestler, and defeating a long list of world champions that include Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Austin Aries, Kevin Owens and Davey Richards, Gargano still remains humble and grateful for an opportunity to compete in the WWE, and does not believe that he has “earned his spot” from his previous achievements.
“Everyone needs to earn their spot,” expresses Gargano. “I think you need to pay your dues wherever you go. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been doing indies for, I know from wrestling in NXT, I don’t expect anything. I don’t expect to be treated differently, I expect to be treated like everyone else. That’s just how I’m used to operating. I don’t want preferential treatment. I like to outwork people, I like to show people that I work hard, and I’m kind of a workhorse; I can do whatever is necessary.”
With WrestleMania 33 scheduled for the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL., Gargano was asked to book a dream feud from the Royal Rumble to the event on April 2. The material he was given was that he was going to be eliminated by a heel during the Royal Rumble match, which would spark the feud that will culminate at WrestleMania. His second choice was Kevin Owens, due to them traveling and wrestling together so much over the years and his opinion of Owens as being one of the best wrestlers today.
His first choice was one of his favorite all-time wrestlers, Chris Jericho. “Very easily say it could be me and Chris Jericho,” he states. Gargano further explains his booking by stating, “I was a big fan of Chris Jericho growing up, I looked up to him, I idolized him, my first concert was Fozzy and I only went to it because of Chris Jericho. So Chris Jericho is a guy who I kind of pattern my whole career off of, outside of Shawn Michaels. He was my inspiration, my go-to guy. So, to be able to wrestle him would be an honor and a dream come true, and you can build the match up as such. You can show clips, kind of how when Chris Jericho wrestled Shawn Michaels. You showed how alike they were and you showed how Jericho idolized Shawn Michaels growing up and things like that. You can almost do the same thing for me and Chris Jericho. So that would amazing for me because it would be a dream come true.”