The holiday season is a little brighter for Johnny Gargano as he reclaimed the North American championship from Leon Ruff at NXT TakeOver:War Games. The 33-year-old hopes to make his third reign last.
“It was always my goal to take the North American championship and elevate it even higher,” he said. “I want to put it on the same pedestal as the old workhorse Intercontinental championship. You always looked at that title as the match you needed to be on that show. I want the North American title to be that. I want a chance to have a title and reign and be able to defend it and go on a run because I haven’t had a chance to do that yet.
“I’ve always been the underdog where it was more about the chase for me than the actual title reign. I feel like I want a reign with the North American championship to really cement my legacy.”
He and wife Candice LeRae have enjoyed showing different sides of their respective characters. It’s a villainous turn that could have easily not worked given how beloved they are among fans. However, the couple embraced the new role and the results have been highly entertaining TV.
“People look at me and see I’m this prototypical white meat babyface, but I think what you’re seeing on screen right now is the most lifelike, real life Johnny Gargano there is, which is pretty crazy,” he said. “Maybe Candice would say the same as well. It’s more real now than it has been. It’s a more real Candice dynamic as well, so it’s super fun to show that on screen now.”
Others have also been welcome into the Gargano household including Indi Hartwell and Austin Theory. The two emerging superstars played a role in Candice and Johnny’s matches at TakeOver. They also both were revealed under the “Scream” mask.
“We found out we were going to go with a masked character. Me being me I kind of made a joke about how it should be like this, and it was the ‘Scream’ mask guy,” Gargano said of the idea. “…For some reason that’s the first mask that popped in my head. Because it was around Halloween Havoc, I thought and hoped it would be around the ‘Scream’ guy. It was in a joking fashion, but the more we thought about it the more. We thought there was something there.
“Especially, when you look at how the story panned out. I think one of my favorite parts is there are always two killers in ‘Scream,’ so there is this swerve. So I think there is underlying story-telling there.”
According to Gargano, plans were in motion to align with Theory for quite some time. Going all the way back to when his initial heel turn began.
“Theory was pictured to be with me. I wrestled him a few times in EVOLVE. I think [NXT] view it as the Triple H and Randy Orton-esque relationship, which I agreed with,” he said. “I thought Theory has tons of potential obviously. He was always in the mix to be one of those guys with me. Indi as well. Me and Candice both think very highly of Indie and think she has a very bright future. So we were very happy to have her with us as well.
“We likened it to Evolution in a sense. Obviously, we’re not putting ourselves on that pedestal because they are an iconic stable for many reasons. Just the idea of being able to be in the ring and mold younger talent for the future. We think that is very important. Indi being able to be around us. Austin being able to be around us. It can bring out different elements of their characters and different things the people haven’t seen on screen yet.”
Johnny’s full interview aired as part of today’s 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.