Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa have illustrious independent careers - the former most famously with Dragon Gate USA & Evolve, the latter best known for his time in Ring of Honor (ROH) - but they’ve been introduced to thousands of new fans over the last ten months working on WWE Network.
“Officially” debuting on NXT last September as part of the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Classic tag tournament, the two men’s booking as a unit and singles competitors was one of the first signs of the crazy, crossover world of pro wrestling many of us now just explain away as “2016!” Ciampa & Gargano work under the same names they do elsewhere (in Johnny’s case, it’s also his real name - Tommaso’s birth surname is Whitney), which isn’t that notable any more. What does standout is how much they’re featured on the show, and scripted to win, despite not being signed to full-time WWE contracts.
Currently on NXT, they’re positioned to make a run at The Revival’s tag titles, and are two of the biggest stars entered individually in the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC).
And we may be able to see more of them (and stronger/more unpredictable booking) soon, if we’re correctly reading the messages they’ve been sending out lately.
Ciampa announced last week that he wouldn’t be taking any more independent bookings after September:
September 25: Ciampa vs Sabre Jr. for Progress Wrestling will be my last independent wrestling date. #SummerOfThePsychoKiller #ThankYou— Tommaso Ciampa (@ProjectCiampa) July 13, 2016
Gargano revealed a similar date (Sept. 23) for his last indy show, along with a longer message that doesn’t name WWE specifically, but is hard to read as anything other than going all in with the biggest show in the business:
I'm ready. #ThankYou pic.twitter.com/C84ygJuw0W— Johnny Gargano (@JohnnyGargano) July 21, 2016
Further confirming-without-confirming, Gabe Sapolsky of Evolve, who’s fully embraced his promotion’s role as a finishing school for Triple H, released a statement on Gargano’s - and a farewell video - in his latest WWNLive newsletter:
I knew the look in Johnny Gargano’s eyes when he returned to the locker room after his battle against Drew Galloway at EVOLVE 65 last Sunday. He realized it was time to go. We have grown to depend on Gargano over the years. He is our ace. However, EVOLVE is not meant to be a destination point in a wrestler’s career. It is meant to be a place for pro wrestling and pro wrestling to evolve. In order for that to happen, change is necessary. The last several months have seen Johnny become more prominent in NXT, gain success in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic and become engaged in an intense war in EVOLVE. It was too much and something had to give. In order for Johnny to grow in this industry, he had to leave WWN. In order for new stars to rise in EVOLVE, Johnny had to move aside from the road he paved. It all leads to what will be the most emotional weekend in EVOLVE history. We say farewell to our icon at EVOLVE 68 in Deer Park, NY on September 10th and EVOLVE 69 in Queens, NY on September 11th. Thank you, Johnny.
Going to go ahead and take this as great news for both men and their fans, but it’s still a strange deal with lots of questions... since they’re both established acts on WWE screens before signing.
If they are committing to work for Haitch and Vince McMahon, does that just mean more appearances and touring with NXT? Do they head to Raw for Stephanie McMahon’s cruiserweight division once they’re done on the indies?
What do you think?