Saying goodbye can always be tough. Especially when you’re leaving what, essentially, has been your home for seven years. Guys like Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, and Tommaso Ciampa helped build the old Black and Gold program up from a developmental system into a viable third brand. But by the time Ciampa’s run in NXT was coming to an end, he had already said his farewell.
WWE launched NXT 2.0 is September of 2021. A complete revamp of the product that turned the dark black and gold into a bright multi-colored platform. The company decided it didn’t need a third brand. They needed a developmental factory to build the stars of the future for Raw and SmackDown.
There was an infusion of new talent lead by Bron Breakker and Carmelo Hayes. Characters like Joe Gacy and Tony D’Angelo were prominently featured week in and week out. The writing was on the wall for the old guard. Adam Cole left for AEW right before the 2.0 launch. With a baby on the way, Johnny Gargano elected free agency in December. When the Stand & Deliver premium live event rolled around in April, suddenly Tommaso Ciampa was one of the last men standing.
Ciampa knew that his match against Tony D’Angelo in Dallas was going to be his last in NXT. With a call up to the main roster imminent, the two-time NXT Champion went about his day like if it were any other. As Ciampa told me on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, that all changed when the match ended.
“I’m pretty good at gauging expectations,” Ciampa said. “This isn’t the same NXT. We’re on 2.0 now, it’s our first time traveling. You can’t expect it to be New Orleans. You know what I mean? So I knew how to gauge that. I will say though, the surprise by Triple H at the end, that’s what did it for me. Because I kind of felt numb through the day. I was like, oh man, I don’t, I don’t know. Like I knew I’m moving onto a new chapter, but it just, I don’t know. It just felt like just another day. And I had no clue he was coming out. So him coming out, having that moment. That’s what did. The goosebumps wouldn’t have happened. I felt that like, you know, that ugly cry emotion come over. Like, I said that to him when I hugged him. I was like, ‘Ah, you got me you bastard.’ He did, he just got me.”
It had already been an emotional week leading up to Stand & Deliver. Just a few days earlier. Triple H told Stephen A. Smith he had no choice but to retire from in-ring competition after undergoing cardiac surgery last fall.
The life threatening experience has given The Game a new appreciation for life. Speaking to a media scrum during WWE auditions in Nashville, Triple H advised everyone to cherish the time they have, because life doesn’t last long. As for himself, the 14-time World Champion is taking a new approach when it comes to his lifestyle, which he says involves actually getting some sleep every now and again.
Triple H has been a mentor to so many talents in WWE today and that especially holds true for Ciampa. On the heels of Hunter’s retirement and him closing the book on his NXT career, Ciampa attempted to honor the WWE Hall of Famer by executing his signature water spitting entrance at Stand & Deliver. It... could have been better. He admitting making a crucial mistake.
“Apparently you gotta really fill your mouths with water. However, say there’s six photos circulating, one of them makes it look like I nailed it. So that’s the only one I posted.”
Ciampa realized very last minute he should probably rehearse the spot, and said it was totally on him for not doing his homework.
“It’s funny right before I went out too, like legit, right before I went out, I was like, oh, I never practiced this before. And I went like to like a curtain area and did it with the smallest amount of water. And I was like, oh yeah, it’s easy.”
He was able to laugh it off, joking that he should have been practicing the move in the shower. You live and you learn.
Soon after Stand & Deliver, Ciampa would make his debut on Raw and enter uncharted territory for him. With only a couple brief runs on the main roster under his belt, The Blackheart now had to figure out the lay of the land in Vince McMahon’s world. Or so he thought.
McMahon’s sudden retirement has placed Ciampa’s creative future back into the hands of the man who treated him so well in NXT. But even with his old friend Triple H now calling the shots, Ciampa is not going to change his approach one iota.
“It’s familiarity, but it’s different, you know? For me, it’s gonna just be wait and see, and it’s kind of been wait and see. It’s kind of my approach to everything. Whatever you give me, I’m gonna make the most of. I’ll try to maximize minutes. I’ll try to make the most of an opportunity. And now it’s just a matter of seeing, what direction do they start to go in.
I think in time, it’s gonna be cool to look back at this 20 years ago and be like, whoa, there was a shift. And no one knows what the shift is. I’m just excited I’m on the inside of the bubble for it. And I get to kind of be a part of it all.”
The immediate future will see Ciampa in the corner of The Miz tonight at SummerSlam when he takes on Logan Paul. This is a partnership that has slowly formed over the last several weeks, much to the chagrin of some of the more vocal members of the WWE Universe.
Granted, these two on paper seem like an odd pairing. You have The Miz, Hollywood reality TV star. And you have Ciampa, grizzled and chiseled badass. But The Blackheart says there’s a false narrative that has developed about the two Superstars. If you look past their outward characteristics, these two really have a lot in common. And he’s not going to stand for any Miz slander.
“Well we’re two dudes who have overcome adversity. It’d be weird if it was Ciampa and Logan Paul, because that’s like, hey, you didn’t really pay your dues homeboy. You didn’t really go through the trenches. You didn’t break your neck. You didn’t have surgeries. You’re not bumping on Friday night. You didn’t go have the match in Tulsa. That’s, to me, where the difference would lay. Why would I have an issue with Miz? The dude has overcome, like I know what it’s like to overcome.
Homeboy’s been kicked out of a locker room. He’s been their two-time Grand Slam Champion. He was told he’d never make it after reality TV. Like, I respect it. That’s why I don’t have to go play a character to recognize what he’s accomplished. I always joke. And it’s the truth. He’s my brother’s favorite wrestler. I appreciate him, man. So it’s kind of silly when I see the false narrative of like, my Ciampa wouldn’t like Miz. Well, you don’t know your Ciampa then, because the dude’s earned it. He’s earned it. He’s a freaking main event Superstar.”
Ciampa says he’s been enjoying his time on the main roster so far and he can’t wait to see what the future holds. He expects new match-ups and new career milestones, but you can expect the same philosophy. For Ciampa to make the most out of every minute and every opportunity.
Check out my full conversation with Ciampa in the video above. You can also listen to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts.