On the most recent episode of NXT, Johnny Gargano was interviewed backstage and made it very clear that he wanted an opponent for NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III.
Later on in the show, Zelina Vega said that if he was looking for an opponent, look no further than her ‘associate’, Andrade Cien Almas. This came after the luchador defeated No Way Jose in the main event.
Not long after the show ended, it was announced that Gargano vs Almas would take place at the live special. This is a match that will excite some fans, but more for the reason of seeing Johnny Wrestling in his first ever singles match on a TakeOver.
The breakup of #DIY was one of the most heartbreaking yet well-executed moments in recent memory. The team of Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa were so beloved by the NXT faithful, and to see such a turn from the latter was demoralising.
Since then we learned that Ciampa will be out of action for quite some time with a knee injury. This means that Gargano will have to find other people to feud with, and his first TakeOver match will be against a man who has had minimal luck on these events in Almas.
Despite this fact, Gargano is definitely the man in this match who needs to score a win. Being his first major match since his tag team days, NXT need to give him the victory here to make him a formidable opponent for the top heels on the roster such as Bobby Roode and Hideo Itami.
Gargano is truly something special. He is an elite worker and conveys his emotions like not many else can. One of the true in-ring storytellers today, the beloved Johnny Wrestling is the quintissential underdog. And NXT loves to tell an underdog story.
Sami Zayn made a name for himself in NXT for being an underdog. This concluded with him winning the NXT Title at TakeOver: R-Evolution, before losing it just months later to his friend-turned-rival, Kevin Owens.
To a similar extent, we saw the underdog characteristics in the #DIY tag team. Now it is time for Gargano to do it alone, and a win over Almas will be the first step in cementing him as a babyface singles star that the brand can build around.
The thing with underdogs is making sure you find the balance between not winning every match to the point you are no longer one, but at the same time not losing every match to the point you are treated like an afterthought. Case in point: Sami Zayn on the main roster.
Gargano is certainly someone who can excel in this role. By no means should he be NXT Champion any time soon. Perhaps some time next year, if he is still in the developmental system, they could pull the trigger and give him a similar moment to Zayn in 2014.
The main reason though that Gargano must be kept strong is for his rivalry with Tomasso Ciampa. When his former tag partner returns from injury, Johnny needs to be in a spot where he matters in order for the feud to feel of the utmost importance. Wins over guys like Almas keep him relevant, and that is what will need to happen for the eventual program with Ciampa to matter more.
Just imagine this: Johnny, after months and months of fighting hard and picking up victories that nobody thought he could, is finally in the hunt for the title. He’s getting closer and closer to a title shot, and Ciampa returns to take it all away from him. That right there, is a licence to print money.
If NXT plays their cards right with Johnny Gargano, they could have a big star on their hands. He is already a massive fan favourite, and gets a strong reaction whenever he wrestles. NXT just need to keep him looking like a threat and give him victories when he needs them. Even in defeat, he must always look like the resilient warrior and underdog that we all know he portrays so well.
This can all start with a hard-fought win over Andrade Cien Almas at TakeOver on August 19. Get ready Brooklyn, this is the night Johnny Wrestling begins his takeover.