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What's up with Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano in WWE NXT?

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A lot of followers of Ring of Honor (ROH), Gabe Sapolsky's WWN Live promotions and the independent scene in general popped when a backstage scene on this Wednesday's edition of WWE NXT introduced Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa as guest entrants into The Dusty Rhodes Classic tag tournament.

Word had been around since they worked the August 13 taping where their match against Tyler Breeze & Bull Dempsey occurred. We speculated on what their appearance meant at the time.

But that was before we knew the Dusty Classic even existed, and without the context of William Regal putting them over on WWE Network as "the hottest free agents in our entire industry".

And before they were featured in a front page interview on

Though the duo are rumored to be among the latest batch of wrestlers signed to Developmental contracts (along with Rich Swann, Biff Busick and joshi star Kana), the article repeatedly refers to them as "free agents", so we can't confirm anything about their contract status from the piece.

But it is useful in terms of weighing a rumor that's been making the rounds about Ciampa, and considering NXT's new model as a hybrid feeder system/traveling promotion.

Regarding The Sicilian Psychopath, Marc Middleton at Wrestling, Inc. reported that he'd been told Ciampa "rubbed people in NXT the wrong way" by focusing on getting his big spots in over match psychology and complaining afterwards that Tyler Breeze worked stiff with him.

I can't be the only person who shook his head at the notion of the former ROH star, whose style can accurately be complimented as "brutal", complaining about someone else roughing him up. For the other allegation to be true, Ciampa either worked in direct opposition to what he said his philosophy was in the match - or the WWE website story is providing him with an opportunity to rebut:

...neither one of us is in a rush to show our hand the first time out. I don't view this as a one-and-done opportunity. I'm looking at the big picture. I'd like to be able to show more and more as time progresses. I don't want to show everything the first time I come out of the curtain. There's a lot of levels to me. That's going to evolve and be seen by the NXT Universe in time.

That quote, and the general tone of the piece, also provides some insight into this new age of NXT.

Even assuming that they have been signed to exclusive deals, this represents a very different approach to introducing acquired talent. Unlike Neville or Sami Zayn, we're not meeting them with a WWE-trademarked name already attached. Unlike Hideo Itami or Kevin Owens, they'll work their first match without being re-branded.

And unlike any of the wrestlers who were a part of the wave that helped turn NXT into the standalone industry player it is today, Gargano & Ciampa's background is described as being "on the independent scene" - a term with which  the majority of the show's audience is very familiar - as opposed to the nebulous descriptors like "around the world" that were used to describe where the Owens/Zayn rivalry had taken place or initially present Finn Bálor to the WWE Universe.

If they haven't been locked into WWE deals, the pair represents the latest example of NXT's new "super-indy" approach, where Triple H and team will bring in names that they don't control like Samoa Joe or Jushin "Thunder" Liger to generate buzz for a house show or create interest in a larger storyline. It's a win/win for NXT and the wrestlers, who can use the promotion's spotlight to improve their marketability elsewhere - although Hunter may have to manage a morale issue among his core group of talent if there's anything to reports of heat on Leva "Blue Pants" Bates, one of the early test cases for this model.'s profile interview with the pair stays on message throughout on NXT's new positioning as "WWE's indy", with quotes like these:

Gargano: Right now, I feel that NXT is the hottest thing in wrestling. There's no doubt about that. The guys that they're utilizing are some of the best talent in the world. I know a lot of those guys. I've been in the ring with Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens numerous times. You look at a guy like me, I'm not 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, but from what I've been able to do with my talent around the world, I can come to NXT and show the world what I have. Based on the past, that wouldn't happen. NXT gives guys like me that opportunity, to do what we love to do and show the world what we're capable of.

Ciampa: It has an indie, underground vibe to it, but the production value and expertise of WWE leading it. It's the best of both worlds. From the first live special they did, I think that was the first time that the masses saw that this was something special and the place to be. From that point on, seeing things like Sami Zayn and Cesaro's 2-out-of-3 Falls Match, seeing Kevin Owens do so well, it's seeing guys who were the top of the independent world going to NXT and getting a bigger platform to show themselves on. Seeing how well they're doing gives you this drive to want to be a part of it.

Will Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano land in WWE full-time? Can NXT remain both a source of main roster talent and become a competitor for every other wrestling company on the scene?

We're in the process of finding out answers to both those questions right now, Cagesiders. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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