He wasn’t even supposed to be in the field of competitors for the #1 contender spot, but an injury to Velveteen Dream created an opening. General Manager William Regal believed in Johnny Gargano even when a string of setbacks left the former #DIY-er wondering if he could make it as a singles wrestler, and gave him the nod to face Kassius Ohno in a Fatal 4Way qualifier.
Johnny Wrestling won that, and entered the ring opposite the undefeated Aleister Black and the monstrous Killian Dain and Lars Sullivan on the Dec. 27 episode of NXT with a TakeOver: Philadelphia title shot on the line. It took his usual fighting spirit - and a little bit of opportunism - but Gargano pinned Black to keep his Cinderella Story going, and earn another crack at Andrade “Cien” Almas, this time with the NXT championship on the line.
After fighting back, and knowing when to get out of the way, while Sullivan and Dain wrecked everything in their path:
He took advantage of Undisputed ERA running in to stop Black from pinning Lars, getting even for Aleister beating Adam Cole with the same move in their qualifying match a couple weeks back:
And after hurricanrana-ing Dain into Sullivan (who he’d already sidestepped a charge from, sending the big man crashing into the stairs), Johnny popped over the top rope and straight into a DDT on Black, who he’d rolled back in seconds earlier.
This sets up what should be NXT’s Royal Rumble weekend main event. Gargano and Almas have history, with Cien coming out on top of two great matches between them - with help from Zelina Vega in both. The champ and his associate do not seem concerned...
Theirs is the only official match we have for the Jan. 27 WWE Network special, but this match also foreshadowed Black vs. Cole and possibly Sullivan vs. Dain... but we’ll have to wait until results start coming in from Atlanta’s Center Stage next week to find out for sure.