At one point in time, NXT‘s beloved Johnny Gargano struggled to be a part of the WWE roster. Before his rise through the ranks and reign as NXT Champion, Gargano portrayed an Elf on WWE television in a match against MVP.
In a recent episode of Lilian Garcia’s podcast, Chasing Glory, Gargano reflected on his WWE journey.
“I was an extra almost every time they came to Cleveland,” Gargano said. “I had my first extra role when I was 19 or 20 years old and I was Cedrick Von Haussen where I faced MVP; you can find that clip on YouTube.”
He recalled having to get changed into an Elf costume and be approved by Vince McMahon. Their meeting was “like a movie” as Vince sat in a “villain chair with his back turned.” During his match as Cedrick Von Haussen, Gargano would suffer a bloody nose courtesy of MVP.
Rebel Heart Destiny
Despite his early tryouts and rejections, Gargano firmly believed that WWE was his destiny:
“I always believed in my heart I would end up in WWE,” Gargano explained. “Gabe Sapolsky gave me great advice that he once told Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. He said being on the indies is like being a doctor. You can’t just start operating on people and be successful at it. You need to go to school, you need to learn, which is how the indies are. I wanted to do as much as I could do.”
He continued,” Being told no made me work harder, being told no made me want it more. They [WWE] would only sign a certain amount of guys at a certain time. At my tryout, it was me, Tommaso Ciampa, Oney Lorcan, Ember Moon, TM61, Chuck Taylor and Drew Gulak, so it was a pretty indie-heavy. Matt Riddle was there but he wasn’t even an indie guy, he was a random guy from UFC, and they brought him in. They brought us in to do this tryout, but they said they could only sign one of us.”
He was told that if he were 6’7″ then it would be a no-brainer. Gargano, however, didn’t fit into that mold. He recalled that “The stigma was still alive in 2015 where I was too small and didn’t have what it took to be here, I was directly told that there wasn’t a spot for me in NXT. I wasn’t good enough to be in NXT. I was told that there might be a spot for me here and there, now and then, but there isn’t a set spot. I still have my ‘no’ rejection email.”
His opportunity finally came during WWE‘s Cruiserweight Classic. Gargano attributed that tournament as playing a significant role in changing NXT. He also believes that he and Tommaso Ciampa were instrumental in shifting attitudes towards smaller, indie workers.
Later, the two Superstars would be told they would be teaming together for the Dusty Rhodes Classic. He credited William Regal for doing all he could to help them be seen by management and the WWE Universe. When asked what he thought changed people’s mindsets towards himself, Ciampa, and indie wrestlers, Gargano points to their matchup with The Revival.
“I think we got that shot against The Revival where we blew it out of the park,” Gargano said. “I think that was where people were like, oh, these indie guys can go. I think that really opened the door to what NXT has become now. It has become a part of an all-star roster mindset to tear it up and NXT has really grown from there.”
Reflecting on his legacy in NXT, Gargano is aware that he hasn’t been around since day one. With NXT‘s new incarnation, however, he feels like Superstars like himself and Ciampa are “The Godfathers” of NXT.
H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.