Over the course of the Royal Rumble weekend, Johnny Gargano did what he’s done so often: give a performance for the ages. The new NXT North American Champion is in the midst of one of the greatest runs in WWE history.
The world is an unpredictable place. There are so many things permanently in flux that any constants are few and far between. You have death and taxes, as the old adage says. But maybe it’s time to add “Johnny Gargano is the best in-ring performer in WWE” to the mix.
Yes, Gargano has earned himself a reputation of late as the most consistent talent in a WWE ring. And while consistency is great, how about the fact that Johnny Wrestling is consistently having great matches? It’s not like Gargano is riding the middle of the road — he’s killing it on a regular basis.
Look no further than this past Royal Rumble weekend for proof. At NXT TakeOver: Phoenix, Gargano defeated Ricochet in an instant classic to become the new NXT North American Champion. Besides the tremendous in-ring action, Johnny’s storytelling was off the charts.
While some may find fault in everything being so dramatic in many of Gargano’s big matches, it’s never over the top for the sake of being over the top. Everything he does fits the overall story of the match, and the larger storyline that the match is a part of.
This latest TakeOver match was a perfect example. “Johnny TakeOver” has been slowly creeping towards the dark side since this past summer in his quest to win the NXT Championship. There’s direct parallels to the story that saw Sami Zayn refuse to succumb to evil en route to his NXT Title reign. But the struggle Gargano displayed before ultimately taking the shortcut to defeat Ricochet allowed for great psychology throughout.
Gargano’s appearance in the Royal Rumble was really just a cherry on top of a great weekend that also gave him the opportunity to watch his wife Candice LeRae enter her first Royal Rumble. But looking at everything Johnny has done over the past year and a half, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s been better.
This incredible run goes back at least to Gargano’s return to NXT after being betrayed and assaulted by Tommaso Ciampa at TakeOver: Chicago in May 2017. Since going solo following that dark day for #DIY, Johnny Wrestling has been, in the words of Bryan Alvarez, “the American Okada.”
If we go strictly by Wrestling Observer star ratings, Gargano’s performance at TakeOver would likely make him among the greatest ever, as he’s averaging 4.67 stars in that timeframe. Gargano also emerged as the top wrestler of the year in the crowd-sourced TWB 100, organized by Tom Holzerman (yours truly had Gargano ranked at number one, as did four other voters).
Johnny has also cleaned up in the NXT Year-End Awards in his WWE career. He’s a two-time winner of the Match of the Year award — once as a singles star, once with Ciampa in #DIY — and may have already locked up the 2019 MOTY. And let’s not forget the man is only 31 years old, so he’s likely going to be around for quite some time.
Throw in the fact that he’s getting one of the spots in the big Halftime Heat match during the “Big Game” next weekend, and it’s clear Johnny is being set up for big things in the future. And if Gargano can continue the kind of run he’s had for the past 18 months, whether in NXT or on the main WWE roster, he could go down as one of the best wrestlers of all time.