Cleveland's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Cleveland, Oh | WKYC.com

Johnny Gargano: NXT is full of underdogs who are ‘hungry, out to prove people wrong’

The NXT locker room is full of hungry competitors ready to prove wrong the doubters.
Credit: WWE
Cleveland native Johnny Gargano (left), seen here wrestling against Velveteen Dream (right), believes the NXT locker room is full of hungry competitors ready to prove wrong the doubters.

CLEVELAND — NXT was created to be a developmental territory for World Wrestling Entertainment’s weekly brands, Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live, but something special happened for the superstars as they made their ways to the main rosters.

Through hard-hitting competition and passionate performances, the superstars made NXT its own sensation by consistently putting on memorable shows across the country, and internationally, so much so that there is now an NXT UK brand that is producing weekly programs and TakeOver specials.

“I think NXT is kind of like the Cleveland, Ohio of professional wrestling,” NXT superstar Johnny Gargano told WKYC.com earlier this week. “We’re that underdog whose hungry, who’s always out to prove people wrong, and that’s kind of what our locker room represents.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have been travelling around the world for over 10 years, scratching and clawing, fighting, just trying to live their dream, just trying to prove people wrong, just trying to show that we belong, and that’s kind of the essence of NXT. We’re young, we’re hungry and we’re ready to show the world that we’re the best at what we do. We’re kind of like the Cleveland Browns right now.”

Competition among the wrestlers has helped elevate the NXT brand and made it a hot ticket, as several of the TakeOver specials ahead of the “Big Five” WWE pay-per-view events (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Money in the Bank, Summer Slam and Survivor Series) have been performed in front of capacity crowds of 15,000 or more fans.

Gargano says “there’s like an unspoken competition” among those in the locker room to put on the best match on the card, and also, give the fans moments that become lasting memories.

“We’re all out to set our best foot forward and to make NXT the best we possibly can, but at the end of the day, we all want to have the best match,” Gargano said. “It’s an incredibly talented locker room filled with guys that are able to go out and steal the show at any given notice.

“You kind of look at our takeovers, and there’s five main events. Like every, single match is a main event, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. It’s unspoken, but all of us go out there and we try to give the people their money’s worth and nothing will stop us from doing that. I said before ‘Halftime Heat’ that NXT will put on a show like you’ve never seen before, and that’s what we always set out to do.”

“The WrestleMania Moment” is something often talked about by competitors, broadcasters and front-office personnel throughout the build-up to WWE’s showcase event of the year, WrestleMania, but with NXT continuing to grow in popularity, “The TakeOver Moment” has become a thing in the locker room.

Gargano did not have a contract when he arrived at the WWE Performance Center in 2015, but through hard work, he has created several memorable moments and will strive to have high-level matches through his entire run with NXT.

“I was on Raw (Monday) night on a red carpet with Shawn Michaels for Ric Flair’s 70th birthday party, and we were talking about how he is ‘Mr. WrestleMania,’” Gargano said. “‘He’s Mr. WrestleMania, and I’m Mr. TakeOver,’ and I take great pride in being ‘Mr. TakeOver.’

“It’s something that’s not pressure. It’s not something that’s too big. It’s something that I see and every, single TakeOver, I’m like, ‘I’m going to give the people something they never forget, and yeah, NXT, man, it holds a special place in my heart.”