After a huge North American Championship win at this evening’s WWE NXT TakeOver: Phoenix, new champion Johnny Gargano proved he’s not even close to rising from the ashes.
Johnny Gargano had a hell of year in 2018; I can’t stress this enough. Yet as we all know, no matter how hard he worked, how high he rose, and how far he ultimately fell, there was little Johnny Gargano could do within WWE NXT to win some of the top prizes in NXT.
2019 has proven to be a different ballgame for Gargano already. This evening, after an early MOTY-contender, Gargano beat the superhuman North American Champion Ricochet to earn his first taste of singles gold in NXT.
It should have felt like sweet, sweet justice, and there was a portion of the live crowd tonight in Phoenix that regarded as such. Even Mauro Ranallo, Nigel McGuinness, and Percy Watson regarded Johnny’s win as him “rising from the ashes”, a seemingly fitting metaphor for someone decked out in some Dark Phoenix gear in the heart of the Arizona desert.
But let’s be real here – Johnny Gargano’s North American Championship was nothing to be celebrated, but the only thing Johnny proved tonight is that he is far, far from earning himself a blaze of glory.
Johnny proved tonight that he and his arch-nemesis Tommaso Ciampa, the whole reason we even got ourselves in this mess in the first place, are now effectively one and the same. (Their show of solidarity to close the show emphasized that point.)
Johnny sealed the deal when he (after one hesitation spot, I’ll give him that) proved he was willing to go to any depth to win, as he ripped the outer mat off of the floor and planted Ricochet onto it.
No, Johnny Gargano did not “rise” in any sense of the word tonight; in fact, Johnny may be at the lowest of lows right now.
Speaking for myself, I could understand how Johnny went a little crazy trying to get to Tommaso Ciampa. I could understand that he took out Aleister Black to keep him out of a match that Johnny felt he needed to get Ciampa alone in.
Everything Johnny did up until tonight could be empathized with, even if you had to squint really hard to see that, but tonight Johnny proved that he’s moved on from doing whatever it takes to get to Ciampa, to doing whatever it takes to become Ciampa.
So no, I wouldn’t exactly call this a real win for Johnny, as much as I want to feel like it is. This isn’t the end of the Cinderella story you wanted for him, because this Johnny was no underdog. This Johnny took it a step to far, and the worse thing we could have seen was him profit from crossing the line between obsessed and imitation.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, Johnny, and I have a feeling that there may be some point down the road where Johnny realizes that his actions in his championship win tonight made him just that – a Tommaso Ciampa knockoff.