• Matty Paddock

Exclusive: Johnny Gargano was 'adamant' about NXT heel turn

Updated: May 16

Johnny Gargano has admitted he insisted on his NXT heel turn - for the sake of his career.

Gargano is one of the black and yellow brand’s most consistent and performers - his incredible run with the show earning him the moniker Johnny Takeover, with the man also now in a record third reign as North American Champion.

A huge chunk of his NXT run so far was, of course, as a babyface - and a big one at that. The man himself even admits he was for years the very definition of a wrestling good guy, having so regularly played the underdog role to a tee.

Whether it was with Tommaso Ciampa as one half of DIY or as a singles star - mostly up against Ciampa - Gargano regularly delivered in the role. After doing so successfully for so long, however, his enthusiasm for that aspect of the character began to wane - as did his momentum.

It was a pleasant surprise to some, then, to see NXT bosses switch Gargano into the unlikely role of villain in January 2020, an opportunity he’s seized with both hands - relentlessly.

Having flirted with the heel role a couple of years prior before reverting to more familiar territory, he has this time made it stick, thriving in the role for the last 12 months - now once again reigning with the gold and the head of the aptly named faction, The Way. (The Johnny Gargano Way, of course...)

Speaking about the incredible transformation, he told me "If you do something for so long, you kind of get typecast in that role. I am the typical white meat, white bread babyface. Look at guys like me and Daniel Bryan - we're always in that role.

"I wanted a new challenge and wanted something different, I wanted a blank canvas to paint on.

"For me, to be able to have Candice with me and to be able to create something and be proud of together, I don't think we've even scratched the surface of what we're capable of.

"In this era, with no fans and no instant reaction where you can hear those boos, you can make people made and I can honestly tell you that you've not seen anything yet.

"The best - or maybe I should say the worst - is yet to come!"

While Gargano’s role as a heel was a new one for NXT fans to wrap their heads around at first, the man himself seemed curiously at ease in his new persona.

He wrestled as a heel in the indies and so knew what it would bring to the table - which is why he took the idea to NXT himself and insisted they run with it.

Was it something he did to effectively save his career? He admitted: “100% it was needed. There were only so many times you can see a white meat Johnny Gargano go out there and overcome the odds, get beat down and put in an ambulance - I don't know how many times you can watch that!

"Creatively it's something [I'd] been thinking about for so long. I have a notepad on my phone full of ideas and I'd just been waiting for this moment and for this challenge - and that's what it is, too, a challenge. It's a challenge for NXT and for me.

"I've been wanting to turn this thing upside down and take everything you know about Johnny Gargano and change it 110% and it is scary, changing something you're comfortable with - and it is a comfort zone.

"For me, I wanted the challenge of going out there and making people hate me because I know I am capable of it.

"Everyone had kinda felt it coming, but I definitely brought it to them as much as possible. It was definitely the way to go.

"I was very adamant about it and was very excited about it."

Gargano defends the NXT North American Championship against Bronson Reed inside a steel cage on NXT this week, airing in the UK on BT Sport on Tuesday night.

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