Episode: CWC #4
Recorded: 23 June 2016
Aired: 03 August 2016
Match duration: 10:47 minutes

The story of Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa

Those two men are the links between NXT and CWC, WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament. Together they made their debut in NXT as a tag team on 9 September 2015 when they beat Tyler Breeze and Bull Dempsey in the first round of the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Since then, Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano didn’t have full committed contracts with NXT because they still wrestled for Independent companies. Because of this they weren’t given deeper and longer storylines; they wrestled in tag team or singles matches when someone needed an opponent.

During that time – like both men said in the pre-match interviews – they enjoyed working together as a tag team. Not much experienced in this department before, “something clicked” which means, from day one they knew how to blindly understand each other in the ring and they became close friends. They also enjoyed to wrestle in NXT that much that they finally signed full committed contracts, which earned them a major storyline to get their first shot for the Tag Team Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II on 20 August 2016.

But that wasn’t official yet when they had to fight each other at the CWC. With its fourth episode, the first round of the tournament was to be completed and Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa was the very last match. They were the links to NXT and their match probably was the only one with a deeper story to it. Because if you throw wrestlers into a tournament from all over the world, you can’t created a huge storyline basically out of nowhere within two minutes.

So, some of the other matches of the first round of the CWC were good athletically but there was hardly any story told. And I need a good story to find a match interesting and worth watching for more than one time. And it was the classic story we got with that match between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa: two good friends who formed a successful tag team but have to beat the close friend in a singles match to progress to the next round in the tournament. Will their be inner conflicts? Will their be too hard aggression? Everything was possible, and Tommaso Ciampa put it into the following words:

“Sometimes you fight family harder than you fight anybody else. And I never hit with the intent to injure but I do hit with the intent to hurt. (…) And I don’t want to see Johnny to get injured but I don’t want to be losing.”

For me personally, this match worked because I like both guys, Tommaso Ciampa a little bit more than Johnny Gargano (and I might be on the minority here). The latter always gets the Johnny Wrestling chants and the universal love from NXT crowds while there are much lesser Psycho Killer chants for Tommaso Ciampa. And this was one aspect that created a bit of the needed heat between the two tag team partners prior to the match. Tommaso Ciampa appeared to be slightly annoyed about Johnny Wrestling, maybe also a little jealous. The other aspect during their interview was that Johnny Gargano apparently had no problem to tune their friendship on hold for as long as the match would last and he told Tommaso Ciampa that he would only see another guy in the opposite ring corner when the bell rings.

The statement of just another guy now hurt Tommaso Ciampa more than he’d like to admit. Instead he promised his boy that he’d hurt him because this match wouldn’t be about Johnny Wrestling. With that being said, the intensity between the two men was created and it was still blossoming when they just about give each other the handshake inside the ring prior to the match. And then the bell rang.

Match description
(Gifs made by Wrestling-Giffer)

After the first careful connection with both of their hands, Johnny Gargano brought Tommaso Ciampa down on his back for the first time and he encouraged the crowd to chant the familiar Johnny Wrestling for him, something that Tommaso Ciampa didn’t want to listen to at all during this match. Tommaso Ciampa then went for a hip toss but Johnny Gargano countered and he also got a one-count pin after a crucifix. A deep armdrag by Johnny Gargano brought Tommaso Ciampa down onto his back again. A scissors reversal didn’t went long but finally Johnny Gargano was able to keep Tommaso Ciampa down for a while with an armbar.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa Tommaso Ciampa was still able to stand up again very quickly while Johnny Gargano held the man’s left arm trapped in his back. So, Tommaso Ciampa needed to free himself and he did so with a crashing elbow right onto Johnny Gargano’s chin. Daniel Bryan on commentary liked it pretty much. And Johnny Gargano perhaps was a little dazed from it. Because his earlier advantage was gone. Tommaso Ciampa was now able to shove Johnny Gargano out of the ring and he still held onto the ring ropes. But only until Tommaso Ciampa came back at him with a vicious knee strike. And Johnny Gargano finally landed rudely outside of the ring.

Tommaso Ciampa followed his rival of the night outside the ring to give him a few good slaps to the chest and the people in the first row really something for their money. Because now it was Tommaso Ciampa who mocked Johnny Gargano with the Johnny Wrestling chant directed at the crowd. At this point, Tommaso Ciampa happily took over the heel role in this match and he did get some heat.

Meanwhile Johnny Gargano was about to crawl back into the ring but probably still a bit dizzy from that elbow hit to his chin, he couldn’t make it. So, Tommaso Ciampa was able to place him right on the apron for another slap to the chest plus – with a little run before – his vicious knee to Johnny Gargano’s head. Which somehow brought Johnny Gargano back inside the ring for a cover by Tommaso Ciampa. And another one. But those two times, Johnny Gargano was able to survive.

Clearly Tommaso Ciampa had to do a little more to wear his friend down. Frustration wasn’t too high at this point, so Tommaso Ciampa was still patient and went for a chin lock in the centre of the ring. But Johnny Gargano powered out of it and freed himself with a few elbow hits to Tommaso Ciampa’s chest. Tommaso Ciampa wanted to counter a few times but missed, also a run into the corner when Johnny Gargano escaped by scissor legging over the second rope.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa Only then Tommaso Ciampa caught Johnny Gargano again with an elbow to his chin. A little dazed again, Johnny Gargano was about to being set-up in the corner for maybe a suplex by Tommaso Ciampa but again Johnny Gargano was able to escape, then hit an Enziguri to Tommaso Ciampa’s head and finally entered the ring again with a sling-shot DDT to his opponent. Johnny Gargano also got a cover from that move but Tommaso Ciampa kicked out.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa The action then concentrated to one corner when first Tommaso Ciampa was sat on top, then he countered and Johnny Gargano was sat on top. Tommaso Ciampa was probably thinking of an Avalanche Air Raid Crash but Johnny Gargano countered by sliding down the other man’s body and wanted to go for a Sunset Flip Powerbomb himself but Tommaso Ciampa hit back with several punches. But Johnny Gargano just changed plans when he left Tommaso Ciampa alone for one second. A kick to his face through his own legs made this previously strong position into a very weak one.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa And finally Johnny Gargano was able to use the corner for a powerful move when he grabbed Tommaso Ciampa from it to hit a powerbomb on him. Tommaso Ciampa probably wanted to cut off this strong sequence from Johnny Gargano by rolling out of the ring. But Johnny Gargano wasn’t much for an intermission, so he just did a suicide dive through the ropes right into Tommaso Ciampa.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa And Johnny Gargano still didn’t lose any time but picked up Tommaso Ciampa to shove him back inside the ring. With his trademark spear from outside of the ring, Johnny Gargano was on the verge of taking Tommaso Ciampa out for good but instead he was met halfway by another vicious knee strike to his chin by Tommaso Ciampa. But Johnny Gargano was still able to kick out from the following cover.

While both, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, were recovering on the mat, the crowd chanted This is awesome. Now, Tommaso Ciampa went for something like a powerbomb but Johnny Gargano countered with elbow strikes to Tommaso Ciampa’s head. With another two kicks to Johnny Gargano’s head, Tommaso Ciampa went for the powerbomb again but Johnny Gargano escaped again and sent Tommaso Ciampa down to the mat with an Enziguri.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa Both men now rolled on the apron of the ring, outside the ropes, now both of them visibly not at the top of their power. And still they went for powerful slaps to their respective chests which inspired Mauro Ranallo to the following quote:

“Forget about the sounds of silence; you’re listening to the sounds of violence.”

But a huge kick by Tommaso Ciampa to Johnny Gargano’s chin set an end to this slap fest and not just that. Now Tommaso Ciampa was able to get up Johnny Gargano onto his shoulders again to make him crash back first right onto the apron. And Tommaso Ciampa rolled Johnny Gargano back into the ring for a cover but the man just didn’t want to wait for the three-count.

And now Tommaso Ciampa really got frustrated. He probably started to argue with himself about what else he could do to take his friend out to progress to the second round of the tournament. For a moment Tommaso Ciampa was ready to do everything when he dragged down his right knee pad to set up a knee strike that most certainly would have Johnny Gargano taken out.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa But then something changed inside of Tommaso Ciampa’s head. Was this really worth to do? He got some doubts and for one moment Tommaso Ciampa didn’t see an opponent he needed to beat, he saw his tag team partner. And he hesitated just for a moment too long. Because that was the time that Johnny Gargano needed to recover from all the previous punishment. So, after Tommaso Ciampa dragged the knee pad back up, he got a superkick to his face by Johnny Gargano and struggled himself this time.

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa Not for too long though because this kick also washed away the self doubts, the hesitation, the friendship between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. Tommaso Ciampa countered with a lariat and the Project Ciampa move that’s his finisher on the Independent Circuit. But still Johnny Gargano survived while Tommaso Ciampa simply couldn’t believe it any more.

Another This is awesome chant from the crowd saw Johnny Gargano trying to recover and Tommaso Ciampa sitting on the mat, clearly out of working ideas to be able to finish off this match with himself as the victor. But there was still the will to win when Tommaso Ciampa went for another series of hard slaps to Johnny Gargano’s chest

Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa But those were slow strikes and somehow Johnny Gargano came back to his feet again, finally being able to hit back one time. But this just awoken another faster series of chest slaps by Tommaso Ciampa. Then his right elbow pad went flying towards Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa set up another vicious attack. But Johnny Gargano escaped again, set up a roll-up, Tommaso Ciampa countered with his armbar but Johnny Gargano countered again – for the last time in this match – to win this match with a roll-up.

Winner: Johnny Gargano

Now that the match was over and he lost by a simple roll-up, Tommaso Ciampa couldn’t believe it. He probably argued with himself that hesitation took to him in that specific moment where he would have been able to take out his friend. He blamed himself but also his friend when he was standing there, offering his hand for the handshake. Right after this heartbreaking loss, Tommaso Ciampa just wasn’t able to get back to business and his friendship with Johnny Gargano. So he refused the handshake and went out of the ring.

But there hesitation took to him once again. The crowd chanted Go back and this was the moment when Tommaso Ciampa fully turned back face. Johnny Gargano, exhausted from the match and devastated about this match could be the reason for calling their friendship a day, had sat down to the mat. But Tommaso Ciampa came back inside the ring, already visibly not willing to let one singles match cleaning off their friendship. He sat down right next to Johnny Gargano and finally hugged him and lifted his arm, accepting his loss but keeping the friendship alive. And he emphasized that by just saying Johnny Wrestling during their post match interview.

Match analysis & interpretation

This match is simply said everything that I love in wrestling and probably the best match I’ve seen since the last match of William Regal against (Antonio) Cesaro. This match was everything of why wrestling sometimes can be called beautiful and magical. This match had a beautiful story and it was told in a magical way.

Such a story – to me – depends much on the two competitors, of course. If there is a story of two “brothers”, i.e. good friends, who have to go at each other in singles competition, I need to like both and root for both, so during the match there will be conflicting feelings. You just care for both of them, you want for both to win, you probably don’t want for them to throw their friendship into a bin when the match is over.

And you also need two men – or two women – who are able to portray not just this friendship but also the conflicts during the match that come with certain happenings or incidents. If you’ve got just one of them who can’t act, i.e. wearing his emotions on his skin and in his eyes, it just won’t work. They also need to have good chemistry inside and outside the ring. It simply has to click between those two opponents.

Now, I like Tommaso Ciampa more than Johnny Gargano. I just find his character and style more interesting. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t care for Johnny Gargano in this match. He played his role as the beaten up underdog who finally somehow won this match very well. Even though I didn’t read the spoilers, I knew that Johnny Gargano would win this match. He’s just more appealing to the masses while Tommaso Ciampa is some kind of hardcore psychopath who is loved by the IWC – generally.

But all of this didn’t matter during this match. Because there were chants for both competitors throughout the match. This match had history, it was nicely build-up with a great pre-match vignette and it transported a great story, portrayed by two men who know what they’re doing. My favourite moment, of course, still happened after the match when Tommaso Ciampa came back to the side of his friend, accepting his loss, knowing that it was his own fault but knowing at the same time that he sacrificed his win for the sake of his friend.

And still being together in NXT, they can now go for glory as a team, at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II on 20 August 2016 against The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championship. They’re going to win these belts – I just know it already.

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