The Week in Wrestling: Candice LeRae and Johnny Gargano Prepare for Christmas

A look at LeRae and Gargano's holiday plans and the wrestling legacy of late football star Kevin Greene.
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Candice LeRae and Johnny Gargano hosting "A Very Gargano Christmas" for NXT.

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Candice LeRae and Johnny Gargano bringing “A Very Gargano Christmas” to NXT, as well as unique Christmas traditions to their home

Life will imitate art Wednesday night on NXT, as Candice LeRae and Johnny Gargano host “A Very Gargano Christmas.”

The Christmas season is an eventful time of year for the married couple, and they plan to share a piece of their love for the holiday on screen.

“I am very passionate about Christmas, and Johnny’s very passionate about Christmas,” says LeRae. “We’re going to take people on an escape to a new and exciting world, and I promise people will at least laugh once. It’s going to be a very fun night.”

Not all of their Christmas traditions will be shared, and that is because of the timing. There are strict rules between Gargano and LeRae when it comes to the art of gift-giving.

“Our big tradition is that we wait until the other is asleep until we put gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve,” says Gargano. “You need to sneak out of bed without the other noticing. I know things are a little different this year, but I love Christmas and I’m looking forward to celebrating with her.”

LeRae admits that it took her some time to embrace Gargano’s unique manner of surrounding the tree with presents at an unusual hour.

“I adore Christmas so much, but I had no idea the stresses of Christmas until I started dating Johnny,” says LeRae. “I’d always wrapped presents and put them under the tree right after I wrapped them. I remember how shocked Johnny was when I did that. To him, presents don’t go under the tree until late Christmas Eve or very early Christmas morning. Sneaking out of the bedroom is very complicated, especially when you’re next to a light sleeper. But it is cool to go to sleep and wake up to presents all around the tree.”

Two days away from the holiday, LeRae and Gargano have already received some special Christmas presents.

For LeRae, what appeared to be a certain break in her arm from a vicious Shotzi Blackheart spot during their WarGames match earlier this month has turned out to be less serious than initially feared.

“My arm didn’t break, my wrist didn’t break, so that’s my Christmas miracle,” says LeRae, who was injured when Blackheart jumped onto her off a ladder, sandwiching her between steel chairs. “I’ve been having some rib tenderness from when Shotzi landed on me, but I’m surprised and thankful that my arm wasn’t broken.”

LaRae showed off incredible toughness and grit when she continued and finished the WarGames match with one working arm.

“When I went to check my ribs, that’s what I realized I couldn’t move my arm,” says LeRae. “Medical came out to check on me, and this might sound crazy, but I said to myself that I couldn’t leave the cage because technically that would end the match and my team would lose. That’s all I could think about in that moment.”

Despite being in severe pain following that match, LeRae requested to postpone her trip for X-rays so she could watch her husband’s triple-threat bout against Damian Priest and Leon Ruff, which is where he reclaimed the NXT North American Championship.

“Candice is the strongest person I know,” says Gargano. “She asked to stay and watch my match despite her arm feeling like it was going to fall off. We were going to go to the hospital together anyway, but then I ended up needing stitches, so we got to be there together. And I was so impressed by her match, especially working hurt, but everything she does in the ring is special.”

While LeRae’s Christmas gift is an unexpectedly healthy arm and wrist, Gargano’s present is the joy he receives every Sunday from watching his beloved Cleveland Browns.

“I still have to remind myself that the Browns are 10–4,” says Gargano. “I don’t know if I’m living in the real world anymore.”

Johnny Gargano used his attire to celebrate the Cleveland Browns' playoff-bound 2020 season.

Gargano wore Browns-inspired gear at TakeOver: WarGames, which was extra meaningful because he won the North American title shortly after the Browns held on to pick up a critical win against the Tennessee Titans.

“I was backstage watching the Browns-Titans game, and I was going to be so crushed if they lost,” says Gargano. “But then they won, and I won the North American Championship in my Browns gear. It worked out great.”

The possibility exists the Browns could clinch a playoff spot–their first since 2002–Sunday, and Gargano is cautiously awaiting some postseason football.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up too high, but things are looking good right now,” said Gargano. “The Chiefs still scare the crap out of me, but that would be a great playoff game. Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield had crazy battles in college, so that would be exciting to see. And the Browns actually winning a playoff game, I can’t even fathom that. This whole season has been amazing.”

The TakeOver match against Priest and Ruff was also a standout performance from Gargano, who takes extra pride in bringing out the best in his opponents.

“I put it on myself to bring out the best in people,” says Garano. “Some guys get bogged down by what they think is the WWE system or what they can or can’t do. To me, wrestling is wrestling. You can make a lot of things work.

“I need to elevate people. I need to make them look better than me. That’s something I take a lot of pride in doing. I take great pride in having the respect of my peers, and Shawn Michaels and Triple H have put faith and confidence in me. I don’t take any of that lightly.”

An example of Gargano’s finesse, and ability to elevate his peers, was on full display at Takeover: WarGames during the triple-threat match when he beautifully sold the effects of a diamond cutter from Ruff.

“I wanted to give Leon that moment,” says Gargano. “He’s put a lot of guys over, especially during this pandemic, and he did it with a great attitude. He is also extremely passionate about his work.

“This had been planned for a while to give Leon a new platform, and when the North American Championship was added into the story, it fit perfectly. Plus, you never want a show to be too predictable, so it was great for him to deliver such a surprise by winning the belt. That story worked for all of us. Damian had a new edge, I had something to complain about, and Leon showed the world he can go.”

Gargano is now working alongside LeRae, Indi Hartwell and Austin Theory in NXT’s newest faction. He is also relishing the long-awaited chance to play the villain as he pursues his next goal.

“I’m having fun showing off a whole new side of my character,” says Gargano. “My goal now is putting together a run with the title. When I was an underdog, it was all about my climb and my chase. It’s different now.

“For me, I want to defend this title and I want to elevate it. As a kid, the Intercontinental title was the workhorse title. You knew you just had to see those matches. I want that for the North American Championship. I am going to do everything in my power to make the North American Championship the most must-see title in wrestling.”

LeRae is still working for her first opportunity as NXT women’s champion. Despite not yet staking her claim to the belt, she has accomplished a feat perhaps even more special, which is making her work captivating and compelling without the added benefit of carrying a title belt.

“I would love to be NXT women’s champion, but even without the belt, I feel more whole than I ever have in the ring,” said LeRae. “I feel like I’m at the top of my game, and the women in this locker room push me as a wrestler and a performer. The title is still my dream. When I was a kid, I wanted to be intercontinental champion. Now my dream is to be NXT women’s champion.”

Even more meaningful than a title reign, LeRae explains, would be holding the belt at the same time as her husband is also champion.

“Johnny and I want to hold titles together,” says LeRae. “That’s something we’ve talked about and would love to do. And we want to keep people entertained, which is what we’re going to do on our Christmas special.”

***

The (online) week in wrestling

· AJ Styles spoke with Alex McCarthy of Talksport and shared his feelings on WWE’s third-party restrictions when it comes to Twitch: “Will it change? They’re working on something as we speak. Will I be happy with it? Probably not. But, the opportunity to stream in the future is wide open. I obviously have the equipment, I just don’t have the opportunity right now

· Even after the outrageous scene when he burned the Fiend at TLC, it’s nice to see Randy Orton promoting Sasha Banks’s outstanding work on The Mandalorian

· It was interesting to see Charlotte Flair’s return at TLC receive considerably more attention from viewers on YouTube than Orton’s setting fire to the Fiend, but even more eyes were on Alexa Bliss on Raw on Monday as the story took its latest twist.

· This is a phenomenal shot of the Hurt Business. And I am hopeful we’ll finally see Bobby Lashley have a run with the WWE championship in 2021.

· On the subject of the Hurt Business, after his tag title win at TLC, Shelton Benjamin posted a tribute for the late Shad Gaspard.

· A scheduling reminder: Dynamite will air after the conclusion of Wednesday’s Celtics-Bucks game.

· Ring of Honor had a good showing with its Final Battle pay-per-view last Friday, particularly the Dragon Lee–Tony Deppen match. The upcoming program pitting La Facción Ingobernable against the Foundation should be solid content.

· For those seeking some of that Christmas spirit, look no further than this week’s Being the Elite. And yes, John Silver gets more entertaining every week.

· Congratulations to Cody and Brandi Rhodes, who are expecting their first child.

· All my condolences to Dave Meltzer, who has transformed coverage of professional wrestling over the years, on the loss of his mother.

· Now this is an incredible post-match photo of Jon Moxley, who is on the cover of the upcoming Orange Crush: Volume II and the subject of a must-read piece by Mike Johnson.

· To me, this looks like the future IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion.

***

Steve McMichael on the late Kevin Greene: “Everybody lives, but Kevin Greene really lived, baby”

Late football star Kevin Greene leaves a lasting wrestling legacy.

Football legend Kevin Greene died unexpectedly on Monday at the age of only 58.

Greene, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, left a legacy that will endure on the gridiron. An all-time elite pass rusher, Greene recorded 160 sacks, which still stands as third highest in NFL history.

World Championship Wrestling received a jolt of adrenaline from Greene upon his arrival in 1996. When former NFL player Steve “Mongo” McMichael, who had been adding color commentary for Nitro, needed a teammate in his feud against Ric Flair and Arn Anderson, he called on Greene.

“My old tag-team partner,” says McMichael. “The world losing Kevin Greene, that is hard to put into words. We had such a good time together. I am deeply hurt by this loss.”

The tag match took place at The Great American Bash in 1996, and it was a highlight of the show. Greene looked outstanding in the 20-minute tag, and the crescendo occurred when McMichael turned on Greene and joined the Four Horsemen by hitting him in the head with a briefcase.

“Ric Flair knew Kevin from Charlotte and helped set it all up,” says McMichael. “When Kevin came to WCW, it was magic.”

Greene continued to make an impact in football even during his time in wrestling. He forced NFL teams to rewrite professional football contracts, adding a clause preventing players from partaking in pro wrestling matches during the offseason.

“I had to promise I wouldn’t hit him in the head,” says McMichael. “We had a great time together, and he loved being a part of WCW.”

Greene returned to WCW in 1997, teaming with Flair and Roddy Piper in the main event of Slamboree that May. They defeated the NWO’s Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and X-Pac, which was a massive deal when it happened, and the setting of Independence Arena in Charlotte only added to the moment.

That match led to the 49ers’ creating the clause that there would be no more pro wrestling in the offseason, and the Panthers followed suit before he signed the following season.

Greene returned to WCW in 1998. Originally scheduled to team with Bill Goldberg in a tag match against the NWO’s Curt Hennig and the Giant at the Bash at the Beach, those plans changed when Goldberg won the belt days before the pay-per-view. Greene then wrestled the Giant at the pay-per-view.

“It’s such a shame that he has passed,” says McMichael. “In terms of football, he was incredible. Kevin had 160 sacks. Isn’t that just phenomenal? 160 sacks. The Hall of Fame is where he belongs, and he was a great person, too. There aren’t enough great people like him in the world.

“Everybody lives, but Kevin Greene really lived, baby. That will always define him. Kevin wouldn’t want anyone to be sad. Knowing him, he’d want us to celebrate his life. That’s what I am going to do.”

Tweet of the Week

The Kevin Owens–Sami Zayn dynamic only gets better over time.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.