The Velveteen Dream has interwoven himself into the larger Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa story and it has led him to an NXT North American Title match.
Note: The author wrote this piece independent of any NXT spoilers and with the knowledge of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa’s quasi-promotions on the Feb. 17 episode of RAW.
After falling short in his Last Man Standing match against Tommaso Ciampa at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV, Johnny Gargano’s downward spiral reached a new low when he endured a roast session courtesy of the Velveteen Dream on the Aug. 29 episode of NXT.
Dream — who the NXT creative team still booked as a heel at the time, albeit one that received plenty of cheers — chided Gargano as “Johnny Wrestling” bore his heart out the Full Sail University crowd, saying that he was sick of the same old “Poor Johnny” story and labeled Gargano “Johnny Failure” in light of his recent setbacks to Ciampa.
This led to a match between the two the following week; a rematch from their number one contender’s tussle from January 2018 when Gargano scored the pin to punch his ticket to NXT TakeOver: Philadephia against then-champion Andrade “Cien” Almas (now just Andrade because Vince McMahon’s brain apparently can’t hold too many full names) later that month.
In match two of their series, Dream squared things up when he baited Gargano into charging at him following some more “Johnny Failure” taunts which allowed Dream to compress Gargano’s chest with a Dream Valley Driver to pick up the clean win.
Following the loss, Gargano left the arena as dueling “Johnny Wrestling/Failure” chants serenaded him on the way backstage. A few weeks and one enhancement match later, and it seemed as though Gargano re-discovered whatever he lost during those battles with Ciampa.
Of course, everyone knows how that turned out:
If you took the time to watch the clip about, you surely saw Dream hanging around on the ring apron prior to Black’s blitz through Full Sail University and the reveal of Gargano as Black’s mystery attacker. That’s not an accident.
While he obviously isn’t the main focus, Dream has become an integral strand of one of NXT’s longest-running story threads. Aside from the aforementioned match in January 2018 that led to Gargano’s classic with Andrade in Philly and Dream’s teasing, the D.C. native also implicated
Lucifer NXT Champion Ciampa as Black’s attacker, which led to Dream receiving a title shot at TakeOver: WarGames 2018, where he lost to Ciampa in an underrated gem.
Following that defeat, Dream once again placed himself in the middle of the Gargano/Ciampa feud/partnership when he decided to use the title shot he earned at the Worlds Collide tournament to challenge Gargano for his newly-won NXT North American Championship, turning down a potential rematch with Ciampa in the process. Like before, Dream poked and prodded at the North American Champion to get what he wanted while giving him yet another derisive moniker: “Johnny Jacka**”.
The roles in this rubber match are now reversed in a couple of ways; Dream has now embraced the fans as a full-fledged babyface while Gargano has succumbed to the darkness as a self-righteous heel and unlike the first two matches, Dream is the one that has to prove that he can win the big match as opposed to merely “giving the fans an experience”. But this match could lead to in-storyline ramifications that could not only alter the Dream’s career trajectory but also where the Gargano/Ciampa story goes as the developmental promotion inches closer to TakeOver: New York.
Odds are that Dream and Gargano will give the Full Sail audience the sort of classic that’s usually reserved for the TakeOver Specials (unless the writers infuse some incidental outside interference by Ciampa to rekindle the rivalry with Gargano). But this title match also represents how the NXT creative team weaves side programs within their larger narrative to keep feuds fresh. In this case, their efforts should result in a thrilling main event between two of the brand’s biggest stars.