Johnny Gargano spent the last five years being synonymous with WWE’s NXT brand, but he ended his run there last December.
Since then, Gargano has stayed active online while he and wife Candice LeRae became parents for the first time, but he hasn’t made any moves back toward wrestling. He will be signing at Wrestlecon this week in Dallas. As he emerges back onto the scene, Johnny joined Renee Paquette on The Sessions to talk about leaving a show where he was a Triple Crown champion and elder statesperson.
He says the decision was one he’d made well before NXT was rebranded as 2.0. It was driven by the feeling he’d done everything there was to do on the show, and thinking some time away would keep his act fresh for fans.
“I felt like I was in a good place. I felt this way for a while to where I felt like I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in NXT.
“It’s kind of one of those things where I said I’m betting on myself because it is kind of a scary thing to have a new baby on the way and decide I’m going to turn down this new contract, that’s a good contract, a safe contract, and you’re going to get money every single week coming in to kind of go off to do your own thing. But I felt really good, I felt complete, and I felt that way for a long time...
“I know people said, like, ‘Oh, Johnny left because NXT changed.’ No, I always had it in my mind that I wasn’t leaving to go to any particular place.
“I kind of just felt like I needed to go because I felt like if you watch a TV show, or if you watch anything in general, if you see the same character, and obviously I changed character, I turned heel, I did funny stuff, I did things like that here and there. But if you see the same person on TV for five years, six years, it gets stale.
“I believe that being off TV and being away makes people miss you. I think people need to have a chance to miss you, and if they don’t, then they don’t really care in general. I felt like for the last year that I was going to have fun this past year, and I’m gonna do whatever I can to try to set this place up for the future.”
The way WWE handled Gargano’s exit made many assume he’d already re-signed. That wasn’t the case, and Johnny Wrestling is grateful the company trusted and respected him in that way.
“But being able to end that story kind of on my own terms, like have that match, and then have like that promo segment where I was kind of able to kind of say goodbye, which a lot of people don’t get a chance to do nowadays, like I was very lucky to be given that chance.
“It’s so funny because so many people thought I re-signed, obviously because no one gets this treatment to where they’re able to do their match, and then come out the next night on live television, which is wild. It’s live television. I could have literally said anything I wanted to. They let me say anything I wanted.
“I sat down with one of the writers, but all the words that came out were my own. I wrote my own thing. I wanted to thank people and I wanted to do things like that because I feel like I just have such a good relationship and rapport with everyone in NXT, and everyone in WWE in general.”
Perhaps that was repayment for the work Gargano did for the brand, something he says was his focus towards the end of his WWE run.
“That’s why me and Candice focused a lot on Indie Hartwell. We wanted to give Indie a good spot. We wanted to give Austin Theory a good spot. We wanted to help out as much as possible.
“I want to try and give guys opportunities that they wouldn’t have gotten. To have a long match with Kushida at TakeOver, I was really proud that I was able to give him that spotlight as well. It was really important for me to try to help as many people as possible before I left to kind of set that place up for a good spot for the future.”
Check out Johnny Wrestling’s entire chat with Renee here.