Audiences were certainly surprised to see relative unknown Leon Ruff upset Johnny Gargano and become NXT North American champion. Defeating one of the top superstars on the brand is one way to get audiences to take notice. For Gargano, the idea of building a new name has been brought up for a while.
“I was always kind of a guy to do it with,” he said. “The inclusion of the North American title just added to it. Leon has been known as that sort of ‘job’ guy. I hate to say job, but during this pandemic he was used as the job guy to put other guys over. He has always had a great attitude. Always willing to do whatever is asked of him. I think that needs to be rewarded. That kind of attitude needs to be applauded. He never scoffed at anything. For me to be given the opportunity to help Leon establish himself.”
Much like Gargano, Ruff had also spent time in Evolve. He even enjoyed a run with AR Fox as the tag team champions for the promotion. Even though the veteran has won back the North American title at NXT TakeOver: War Games, he believes the unexpected victory helps change the perception of Ruff in the audience’s mind.
“Before you would see Leon and wouldn’t think twice about him,” Gargano said. “You would think he was used to getting the other guy over. I think now Leon is a ready made character on NXT You can put him in the ring with anyone and be viable.
“That was an important thing for me. I likened it to the 1-2-3 Kid and Razor Ramon. Also, in my head it was sort of Chris Jericho and Triple H when Chris Jericho lost the title on Raw for a bit. I think it helps everyone honestly. You rarely find angles that help everyone. It helped [Damian] Priest establish himself and show a different side. It helped me and gave me something to gripe about for a while. And it helped Leon. It just helped everyone all around.”
Gargano hopes to inspire and help the next generation the same way those before him have. That includes Pat Patterson. The first Intercontinental champion passed away earlier in the month, leading to a slew of tributes across the WWE shows.
“I didn’t get to interact with Pat as much as I liked to honestly. Every single time I saw him backstage, he always had a smile on his face. He was always willing to help anyone out,” Gargano said. “Always willing to lend a hand in anything you wanted. Everyone I know speaks very highly of him. I actually told Shawn Michaels this recently. He told the story that Pat Patterson was the one who told him to do the superkick.
“I told Shawn, “Man, if Pat wasn’t around what would all us indie guys be doing? Would probably being doing that back suplex stuff.” His legacy speaks for itself. I think WWE and NXT and wrestling in general was molded by him. It’s really tragic he is not around anymore. I was happy I was able to be part of the 10-bell tribute on NXT.”
Johnny’s full interview aired as part of a recent episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it’s released Monday – Friday afternoon by clicking here.