Gargano and Ciampa make history

Devon Greene, Sports Editor

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After two years of building a remarkable story, the NXT Universe saw the culmination of one of the most well booked storylines in WWE history on Saturday night between Johnny “Wrestling” Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa.

Gargano and Ciampa debuted in September of 2015 as a tag team in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament. After defeating Tyler Breeze and Bull Dempsey in the first round, they lost their next match and found themselves out of the tournament. The two crossed paths again on June 23, as they put on a hard-hitting match in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic that saw Gargano take the victory.

The chemistry between the two superstars was indisputable and Triple H, along with the creative team in NXT, decided to put them together as a tag team known as “DIY” who would go on to be one of the most beloved tag teams in NXT history. DIY got their first shot at the NXT Tag Team Championships on August 20, 2016 at TakeOver: Brooklyn II and came up short against the Revival. However, they found themselves back in the title picture and just three months later, they got another shot at the Revival in a two out of three falls match at TakeOver: Toronto. This was the crowning moment of DIY as Gargano and Ciampa were in the center of the ring and made Dash and Dawson tap out simultaneously to win their first championship.

A two-month tag title reign came to an end as one of the largest and most dominant tag teams in NXT history debuted on the TakeOver: San Antonio card. The Authors of Pain were immediately a force to be reckoned with as they had one of the most iconic managers in WWE history, Paul Ellering, by their side. Akam and Rezar defeated Gargano and Ciampa in a brutal ladder match. Gargano and Ciampa had one final chance to regain their championships on May 20, 2017 in Chicago. DIY came up short again and were unable to recapture the elusive titles. Following the match was one of the most heart wrenching, shocking heel-turns in WWE history.

After their loss, Gargano and Ciampa sat in the middle of the ring to a chorus of cheers and adulation from the NXT crowd. As they walked up the ramp to head back stage, they stopped at the top to take one last look at the crown, the typical WWE trademark came down at the bottom of the screen as it does at the conclusion of every show but this time it was different. Ciampa grabbed his teammate and smashed him against the Titantron. The audience was beyond shocked and the cheers immediately turned to gasps and boos. Ciampa immediately became the most hated man in NXT.

Fans couldn’t wait for the feud to continue but it was discovered later that night, that Ciampa tore his ACL in the match and would be sidelined for a significant amount of time. Gargano went on and had his individual success in NXT and found himself in the title picture for the NXT Championship. At NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia Gargano failed to win the championship in a spectacular match that had the entire wrestling world clamoring but after the match was over, Ciampa made his highly anticipated return and attacked Gargano from behind with one of his crutches. Gargano was granted a rematch for the NXT championship on Feb. 14, 2018, where he would lose his job if he was defeated. Gargano was on the verge of a victory when Ciampa interfered once again and cost Gargano the match.

All of the bad blood between the two former partners came to fruition as an unsanctioned match was scheduled for TakeOver: New Orleans. Ciampa made his entrance on Saturday night to one of the most hostile crowds that I can remember. He ditched any theme music and just let the crowd hurl boos and expletives his way as he entered the ring. Gargano came out next and the roof to the Smoothie King Arena just about flew off with the cheers of the NXT crowd.

The two stood in the middle of the ring and stared each other down to begin the match before blow after blow came from the opponents. Gargano gained the early upper hand and released his months of pent up aggression against the man who betrayed him. The back and forth match left fans in awe as Gargano and Ciampa spilled outside the ring and used the entire arena as they battle ground. Ciampa was power-bombed from the ring onto exposed cement. High risk moves, false finishes and some of the best in-ring storytelling that has ever graced a wrestling ring created the best match in NXT history.

The end of the match saw a callback to Gargano and Ciampa’s first matchup in the Cruiserweight Classic. The two men sat in the middle of the ring as Gargano began to empathize with his former best friend but Ciampa tried to use his knee brace to catch Gargano off guard, but Gargano saw it coming, ducked the brace and used it to force a submission from Ciampa. Gargano’s victory was an emotional release that makes wrestling such an infectious form of entertainment. WWE is notorious for getting a lot of things wrong and having convoluted storylines that often end in a payoff that seems like it was not worth the time that they put into the feud in the first place but this storyline was absolute perfection.

Ciampa has established himself as one of the best heels on the entire WWE roster, and not just on NXT while Gargano has become the purest baby-face since Daniel Bryan. The feud between these two superstars has been in the works for years, but the matchup on Saturday was only the beginning.

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