Before Tommaso Ciampa became a staple of NXT, he was in Ring of Honor for four years. He won the ROH Television Title and had a couple of World Title matches, but was never able to break through as a main eventer.
Ciampa talked about his character in ROH and what led him to leave the promotion when he joined Lilian Garcia's podcast.
"I'm in Ring of Honor about four years. I was cast as The Sicilian Psychopath there and right from the start one thing that felt weird where I got signed after a tryout because Jim Cornette saw me and 'Delirious' Hunter Johnston and they really liked my promo. The match was fine, but they really liked my promo," said Ciampa.
"I got signed and was put in with a group called The Embassy. I had three managers, not one, four technically because it was myself, R.D Evans, Prince Nana, Ernie Osiris, and Mia Yim. Mia wasn't a manager; she was like the female wrestler. I had a lot of mouthpieces and it was very confusing. For the first two years, I wasn't allowed to speak. They hired me for my promos and I wasn't allowed to speak so I was like what the heck is going on?"
Outside of the lack of promos, the matches Ciampa was in were subpar as well. He says that ROH usually brought in enhancement talent for him to work with and he couldn't really show off his abilities in those short, squash matches.
"I remember hitting a point where I was like, I am not getting better here because I was begging to have matches with Chris Hero or El Generico [Sami Zayn], Claudio, but I just never got to do it so it was just so frustrating," revealed Ciampa. "I had finally come to the point where I was catching the momentum but then I had torn my ACL, which is kind of the story of my life where I keep getting injured from an ACL. I came back from that and really started to pick up momentum but I just felt like I was hitting this imaginary ceiling where it was like, man, I don't know.
"To me, it felt and I might have been wrong but because of the psychopathic character I just felt like it was too distant from me and I couldn't humanize it enough for that fanbase. Ring of Honor fanbase is so real and so true. It's like an NXT fanbase; it's the same fanbase. You can't just feed them crap. You have to be raw with them. If you are not raw with them then they will see through it and not going to buy it. I felt that way that they weren't buying it. I kept asking if we can switch this or get rid of the nickname. I know it was little stuff, but to me they were purposeful things that we needed to do."
Ciampa eventually was able to have a trial match with Jay Briscoe and the two knocked it out the park. They got great feedback and a pay-per-view match between the two was set up before, out of nowhere, the match was changed to a four-way.
"The reason why it was switched to a four-way was because the people in the office didn't believe that I could sell on a pay per view," stated Ciampa. "It was disheartening, especially because the match went so well and I and Jay Briscoe play off of each other well. I felt like they can run like six months with us because we can both talk and we both play the prototypical guy. This is a dude and he's getting ready to fight. There's nothing wrong with the MMA style but we both played that 'man' character where he will fight you in a bar or in the street. It just felt like we meshed, but then it became this four-way match and then I find out why it became this four-way match and I was like, wow, that is rough and my contract is coming up."
Right when Ciampa's contract came up for negotiations, ROH signed a deal with Sinclair TV which would have presumably been a good sign for the amount of money he was looking for. He was working a second job at a gym at the time and believed he would be able to sign a good deal with ROH that would allow him to leave that other job.
"I am thinking that this is the break that I needed where I don't need a job anymore and I can have a job in wrestling and it becomes like the offer I got was just awful. It was an extremely low down-size salary, not exclusive. I couldn't do television anywhere. I couldn't work for WWE or Impact but I can take independent bookings. The number was something that I couldn't accept. I would have to keep doing my job and all that," said Ciampa.
"I remember going into negotiations with them. I told them that I would sign for five years, I would sign for 10 years, I will make my career here in Ring of Honor if you guys show me that you are looking to invest in me the way that I will invest in you. And the conversation, which I thought was going well, just randomly took a real hard turn. Then there was this one moment where I was talking to Joe Koff, the owner at the time, or still the owner, in person. It was just the two of us and the first time the two of us negotiated together and I told him that this is how I feel and he was like, listen, no one is going to offer you more than $20,000. I remember just sitting there freezing. I was like, oh, I didn't realize, okay, I didn't realize that you thought that of me. I felt like I had this demeanor. This lightbulb hit me where I realized that we don't have to do this anymore."
That's when Ciampa made the decision to leave ROH as he couldn't fathom that management had that low of an opinion of him.
"I went to [ROH Senior Producer] Hunter Johnston that day because we were on the road somewhere and I said that, oh, I discussed stuff with Joe Koff and I am wrapped up. I will finish my dates and I gave him a timetable around WrestleMania weekend and then I said after that I am done. That was official. I went home and I was thinking, crap, I wanted to keep the narrative under my control," Ciampa said implying that ROH could have buried him on his way out.
"I looked at Samoa Joe. I think he had left Impact Wrestling not long before that and I backtracked his tweets to see what he had said when he left. I almost verbatim copied him because I always viewed him as a very good professional in how he carries himself. I made a comment about me leaving Ring of Honor and the time I was leaving and that was it. I was glad that I did that because they were almost forced to give me a sendoff because at least the fans knew and they were just going to have me which I still did it but I had a match with Jay Lethal, beat up the official afterward and then be thrown out of the company. It would have really muddled if it was a storyline or real, but thank God I put it out before that so that there wouldn't be any question marks and people can see that there is an on-screen reason as to why I am gone. My final match was with Jay Lethal. He is one of my favorite people to work with. When I left there, I just felt like I was on the cusp of something."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Chasing Glory with Lilian Garcia with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.