The rivalry between NXT fan favorite Johnny Gargano and his former tag-team partner Tommaso Ciampa is barely over a year old, and it’s already shaping up to be one of the best rivalries in the history of the business. The team formerly known as DIY followed their great Unsanctioned Match at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans with an equally brilliant Chicago Street Fight last night at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II, ironically the same city in which Ciampa turned on Gargano in May of last year.
Ciampa went over this time after tapping out in New Orleans, and though some may be lamenting what seems the end of a phenomenal blood feud, make no mistake. The party is just getting started.
The feud right now
Just watching last night’s match alone, it’s clear that both Gargano and Ciampa have been working extensively with two former legends and NXT bigwigs, Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Whereas Triple H in his prime was and still is the Cerebral Assassin, Ciampa has embraced the moniker of the Psycho Killer. Where Michaels was the traditionally undersized hero with the heart of a fighter and rockstar swagger, Gargano is the never-ending underdog who never goes down easy no matter what the odds. Think of Daniel Bryan, but even more of an indie darling, if that’s even possible.
Now, let’s go back to their match last night. It had the history of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn’s match at Battleground 2016 combined with the A-plus storytelling of Michaels and Triple H’s own Unsanctioned Street Fight at SummerSlam 2002. With Ciampa going over, that puts the scorecard at one win apiece for each man in this feud.
The next logical step would appear to be sending Gargano up to the main roster while Ciampa remains in NXT and makes a run at Aleister Black’s NXT Championship, but that’s only half of the right thing to do. While Ciampa is more than ready for a run as the brand’s top heel, especially in the title picture, Gargano is nowhere near ready for the main roster. There really isn’t a place to put him except on 205 Live and though he won fans over in the Cruiserweight Classic two years ago, the man known as Johnny Wrestling is too good to be pigeonholed into one division. Not only that, he’s still a little rough on the mic and could use some extra time with NXT to refine that area of his game.
Fortunately, as we break from tradition and enter the world of fantasy booking once again, I have some ideas as to how this feud can continue and not lose momentum.
There’s really no other way to book him. Ciampa could and should challenge Black for the NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in August and, win or lose, get even more over than he is now. Like his feud with Gargano, one with Black could be something that lasts a few months and keeps the NXT Universe on its toes. Booking Gargano, on the other hand, is a bit tougher. Sure, he too can enter the title picture and become a top contender if NXT’s creative team feels so inclined, but that move doesn’t make sense just yet.
Rather, think of Gargano’s actions last night. Even though this was a Chicago Street Fight with no disqualifications, there are still more rules and regulations in place compared to an Unsanctioned Match where literally anything goes. In this particular case, while Ciampa was receiving medical attention after going through a table, Gargano put his hands on officials and referees alike despite their pleas for him to leave Ciampa be. This happened at least three times throughout the match and, though NXT Commissioner William Regal doesn’t flex the authority muscle often, this is a time where it can and should happen.
Picture this. Regal comes out to the ring at Full Sail University in two weeks and announces that because of Gargano’s actions towards officials in Chicago, not to mention towards a helpless and handcuffed Ciampa at one point, there is only one course of action to be taken. Johnny Gargano is placed on indefinite suspension. This builds anticipation for his eventual return, plus allows Ciampa to go out on his own as a heel and not depend solely on terrorizing Gargano to get booed by the crowd. It allows him to further develop himself as a heel. You think Tommaso Ciampa is mean now? Well, just wait until he enters the title picture.
And enter the title picture he will, at least for the next few months. In terms of Gargano, his new focus upon his return is up for debate. Perhaps he and Ricochet can be the tag team that finally dethrones The Undisputed Era, assuming Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch can’t get the job done. Maybe he and Adam Cole can battle for Cole’s NXT North American Championship. The key is to improve his promos and keep him over as a babyface enough so that when Ciampa does become NXT Champion at some point before the end of the year, Gargano can challenge him and be taken even more seriously.
A means to an end
Keeping momentum on this feud is tougher, especially because Ciampa’s knee injury allowed for a slow burn on this rivalry that lasted nearly a year. But these two are just so great in the ring together, fans will jump on board the moment a feud is reestablished. Consider this. Gargano and Ciampa battle for the NXT Championship in Phoenix in January, right before the 2019 Royal Rumble. Just when it looks like Gargano has the champ down and near the end, Ciampa low-blows him or maybe breaks out a crutch shot again, keeping up with how the feud was reestablished earlier this year.
This means that their next and last match for the NXT Championship has to be a means to an end. Regardless of who wins, it has to be made clear that this match is the thrilling conclusion to the Johnny Gargano-Tommaso Ciampa rivalry.
You know what’s coming, ladies and gentlemen. On WrestleMania Weekend next year, inside the Barclays Center in front of a white-hot New York City crowd, Tommaso Ciampa will defend his NXT Championship against Johnny Gargano inside Hell in a Cell.
I know, I know. HIAC is a match that happens way too often these days and should only be used occasionally, but how else do you put a pin in this feud? They’ve had an Unsanctioned Match. They’ve had a Chicago Street Fight. They’ll have just had a standard singles match that, despite ending with a dusty finish, surely tore the house down in Phoenix. Gargano and Ciampa will have taken each other to hell and back by this point, so taking a trip there again via the Devil’s Playground is the only way to end the rivalry, at least down in NXT.
And what a match it would be. There will be tables. There will be chair shots. There will be plenty of action inside, outside, and on top of the cell. Maybe both men will fall off the top of the giant cage and go through a table. The possibilities are endless, which is just what Gargano and Ciampa need for this match. We’ll stop just short of picking a winner but make no mistake, this match can easily put all the others between the two to shame.
Think about it. Gargano, win or lose, comes out looking like an even stronger babyface who is more than just an undersized wonder, and Ciampa is the monster heel who wound up going places nobody expected of him. It’s a win-win situation for both wrestlers and should be taken advantage of from the get-go.
This feud is just too good to end right now, so here’s hoping the higher-ups down at NXT take notice and plan accordingly.
Should Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa continue their rivalry? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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