Inside the Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa feud


Before Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa face off in an “unsanctioned match” at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, I asked the man in charge of NXT, Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque, about how plans changed for this match after Ciampa’s serious knee injury and the difficulties of figuring out how to lay out the plans for this story line.

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans will air live on the WWE Network April 7th starting at 8 p.m. ET.

So out of all of the matches that are scheduled for WrestleMania weekend, it feels to me like Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa has the most heat. With Ciampa on the shelf, Gargano really shined and came into his own in NXT. So what was the original plan before Ciampa got hurt?

“So we we’re still going in the same direction. The turn was happening and everything was in place, but then the injury happened. When we looked at that it was like, ‘Oh my God now what?’

But sometimes the most exciting things and great art takes place out of chaos. In the chaos of that moment we looked at that and said, ‘How can we make this even better?’ That’s one thing I’ve learned from Vince over the years. Anything can happen and you can do anything with it. You can never be married to an idea, or a thought, or a direction because it can change in the blink of an eye.

We had the emotional intensity for this story line between the two of them, but then the injury happened and we needed to reboot. I think it’s played out pretty well.

The tough part about it was trying to play out the story line of Johnny Gargano on television with the idea of knowing where you want to go, but not knowing Tommaso was going to be exactly ready to go. So you’re playing, ‘Where’s he at now?’ I certainly don’t want to rush his return until he’s 100 percent and I want to make sure he’s healthy and can capitalize on the opportunity, but at the same point in time, I’m glued to the updates on his health so I can begin to tell the story in a direction that gets us to match the timing of his return.

So far it’s all worked out great and I’m excited where that story line is. To your point from an emotional story standpoint, I don’t think you can compare it to the emotion of say Daniel Bryan’s return at WrestleMania, but as an angle between two talents it has the most emotional feel to it heading into the weekend.

To that point on things changing on a dime, it made sense when Ciampa appeared at TakeOver: Philadelphia because usually those shows end with a big moment, but when he appeared again in the Gargano vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas title match with the stipulation that if Johnny lost he was done in NXT, I wondered if that should have been Ciampa’s return because it seemed more impactful . Did plans change in-between the appearance at TakeOver and his run-in during Gargano vs. Almas in Atlanta?

“TakeOver is a moment that is going to have the most eyeballs on it. If you do that on a TV taping and 80 percent of the world hears about it on social media, but they don’t see it live, so they don’t get the full impact of the moment and then have to wait three weeks to watch it play out. It’s a different feel and the excitement level is different.

The difference between the two is, at TakeOver, Ciampa was cleared to do what he did and then we had to buy some time to get to where he would be cleared to a little bit more than he was doing.

If it was live every week, it would be a tough puzzle, but it’s not live every week. I have to do a live TakeOver and then I have to tape three weeks and then I have to tape three more weeks, while figuring out to get to WrestleMania weekend. I want to back-pedal him into a certain spot of the tapings because I think he’s going to be cleared here, but you never know what can happen and I have to make sure these episodes are filmed on time.

It’s like putting together a puzzle, but they don’t show you the actual picture that you’re supposed to be working on.”

You gotta draw it in yourself.

(Laughs) “Yeah. Use your imagination, it’s a bridge and some trees, but we’ll show you the result in a couple weeks.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis