Before They Were Superstars: Johnny Gargano

Before They Were Superstars

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Sometimes a wrestler becomes so well known in a certain alignment it’s strange to see them wrestle the other way. Ric Flair was widely known as a heel, but would wrestle as a face periodically. Hulk Hogan, for much of his career, also wrestled as a face — to the point that it was a major shock when he joined the NWO as a heel.

Currently, Johnny Gargano wrestles as a fiery, underdog babyface in NXT, but he had a solid run as a heel in Dragon Gate USA. At the end of 2011, Gargano won the DGUSA Open the Freedom Gate Championship from YAMATO as a face. In the middle of his reign in 2013, he turned heel. Being smaller in stature, he would take cheapshots whenever possible, avoid contenders, and cheat to win. His promos were arrogant and self-important.

This was no different at DGUSA’s Freedom Fight 2013 when he had a “Roast of Johnny Gargano” before his championship defense. At the start, Gargano claimed that he was everyone’s hero. The crowd took exception to this and even his former partners, Chuck Taylor and Rich Swann, appeared to let their feelings of disgust be known. A top contender to Gargano’s title, Ricochet, even showed up to call him a coward before his opponent, Chris Hero, would come out to begin their match.

The following images are screenshots from Club WWN.


This match would be Chris Hero’s first upon returning to the indie wrestling scene after he was released by NXT. He was given, pardon the pun, a hero’s welcome and the crowd was desperate to see him dethrone Gargano.

The match starts with the two jaw jacking in the middle of the ring. Hero finally breaks the standoff by hitting a mafia kick on Gargano and going for a quick pin. Gargano kicks out, but Hero follows it up with a flurry of offense that sends Gargano out to the floor. Hero goes to roll Gargano back inside, but Gargano rolls right back out. Gargano pays for it by getting chopped, punched, and kicked senseless at ringside.


When they get back in the ring, Hero follows things up with a standing senton that nearly gets a three count. Hero goes for a move off the top rope, but Gargano pushes him off and sends Hero to the floor.  Hero takes a nasty bump by falling on his left arm. The referee goes to check on Hero and Gargano follows and starts working on Hero’s arm. Gargano slows down the pace by continuing to work over Hero’s arm and kicking him while he’s down. Hero tries to mount an comeback by trying to throw one of his patented elbows, but Gargano is able to stay out of reach. Gargano goes for a submission, but Hero is able to make it the ropes.

Gargano starts putting the boots to Hero some more, but Hero shrugs them off and throws some wicked chops. Hero goes for another elbow, but Gargano is able to avoid it by taking Hero down to the mat and kicking him in the head. Hero ends up rolling outside and regains the advantage on the floor.

When they get back in the ring Hero finally hits Gargano with an elbow but it doesn’t keep Gargano down. Hero attempts a submission, but isn’t able to lock in the hold since his left arm is still bothering him. Hero hits one of his signature moves, Hero’s Welcome, and follows it up with a multitude of strikes.  Gargano is able to survive the onslaught. When Hero goes for another elbow strike Gargano is able to reverse it into his GargaNo Escape submission.


Hero makes it to the ropes and Gargano takes a while to break the hold. Hero fights back with another series of strikes and goes for a moonsault. Gargano moves out of the way and, like a good indie heel, hits Hero with a Pedigree. Hero kicks out at one.

Gargano hits a Hurts Donut and a super kick as a follow-up before locking in the GargaNo Escape. Gargano starts kneeing Hero in the head, and the referee has no choice but to stop the match due to Hero not being able to fight back.


Gargano quickly flees with his title to a chorus of boos.

This run can be a bit of a surprise if you’ve only seen Gargano wrestle in NXT. While I think his heel work in this match is good, I feel that he works much better as a face. The Johnny Wrestling persona works better when he’s trying to gain sympathy from the crowd before a big comeback. It’s easy to watch Gargano in NXT and wish for him to succeed. I find myself invested in what he’s doing and cringe whenever he takes any kind of damage or punishment.

I think Gargano could wrestle as a heel again, but I think the story has to be right in order for it to happen. The match with Hero took place almost five years ago, and I’m sure Gargano has picked up some new tricks in the interim. For now, I’m perfectly happy rooting for Johnny Wrestling instead of booing him out of the building.

CFP: Sport / Spectacle Conference

Sport­ / Spectacle: Performing, Labouring, Circulating Bodies Across Sport, Theatre, Dance, and Live Art

Friday 14 and Saturday 15 September 2018, Kings College London, Strand Campus
Day 1, Keynote and Screening with Jennifer Doyle, 14 September, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM, Nash Lecture Theatre
Day 2, Papers, Workshops, and Performances, 15 September, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Anatomy Museum. Reception to follow. 
Organized by Broderick D.V. Chow (Brunel University London), the Dynamic Tensions: A Research Network for Theatre, Performance, Sport, and Physical Culture, and the Kings College London Arts and Humanities Research Institute. Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Brunel University London.
Call for Proposals: Papers, Provocations, Performances, Workshops (Deadline 2 July 2018)
“It is fundamentally wrong to pay more attention to the dead weight lifted, than to the living body that lifts it” — George Hackenschmidt, wrestler, physical culturist, performer and philosopher, Vienna, 1925.

At the centre of both sport and cultural performance are bodies. In the spectacles of professional or amateur sport, plays, musicals, dance, and opera, bodies are made to transcend their fleshly existence by the mise-en-scène and the audience contract. The (sport) spectacle transforms the embodied subject of the athlete/actor into a representation of human potential and possibility. At the same time, bodies are the primary medium, material, tool, and commodity of the spectacle: they are circulated, exploited, bloodied, bruised, and torn apart. This spectacularization/exploitation of the body’s potentiality intersects with other embodied racialized, gendered, and sexual experiences and identities. 

What is at stake in spectacularising bodies? What are the consequences of the body’s participation in a spectacular regime of labour, circulation, and performance? How might the body resist its spectacularization through gesture, movement, or stillness? 

This interdisciplinary conference aims to work with existing and potential intersections in theatre, performance, and sport research to explore these questions of the body in the spectacle of sport, athletics, and performance. Previous events and networks have begun to mine this rich seam of interdisciplinary research, including the Fields of Vision research network on sport and the arts (, At Leisure: Amateur Sport and Performance (QMUL, 2014), and the theme for the North American Society for Sociology of Sport’s upcoming 2018 annual conference: Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, and Culture. In theatre and performance studies, sport has long been influential to theory and practice; and a number of contemporary live artists and theatre makers have built on this history by drawing on athletic practices in their work (Cassils’ Becoming an Image, PanicLab’s Rite of Spring, Amber Hawk Swanson’s Online Comments + CrossFit). Sport / Spectacle aims to build upon this fertile ground by interdisciplinary and collaborative research in performance and sport. In particular, it aims to encourage innovative and especially embodied research methods (such as autoethnography and artistic Practice-as-Research). 

We welcome proposals for traditional (15-20 minute) papers, shorter (5-10 minute) provocations, workshop activities, lecture-demonstrations, performances, and other presentation forms that may not necessarily fit into the categories above. Possible themes and topics might include (but are not limited to): 
  • The economies of spectacularised bodies: how do bodies circulate, labour, reproduce? 
  • Professional, trained, and amateur bodies
  • Gendered, racialised, queer identities in the sport-spectacle
  • The mise-en-scène of sport
  • Athletic practices in theatre, live art, dance, and other cultural performance
  • Mass spectacles of bodies; mass sporting events
  • Embodied labour across sport, theatre, dance, and performance: how is human labour highlighted or hidden? 
  • Embodied activism and performance; gestures of resistance
  • Everyday spectacle in sport: training, gyms, etc 
  • Aesthetic sports: gymnastics, bodybuilding, figure skating
  • Professional wrestling and liminal spaces between sport and theatricality
  • Theatricality and performance as critical lenses for sport research
The conference will open on the evening of Friday, 14 September 2018 with a keynote presentation from Jennifer Doyle, Professor of English, University of California, Riverside, followed by a programme of video art that Professor Doyle has curated. In 2013, Jennifer Doyle started research into the “Athletic Turn”, which explores the recent and extensive turn toward sports in contemporary art and performance. She is the author of Campus Sex/Campus SecurityHold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art and Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire. She was the 2013-2014 Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation at the University of the Arts, London, and editor of The Athletic Issue, a special issue of the journal GLQ.  In 2010, she co-hosted The People’s Game, a World Cup daily podcast for KPFK in Los Angeles; in 2011 she wrote a series of articles on women’s soccer for Fox Soccer’s website. 

Please send 300-word proposals for 20-minute papers or alternative proposals, along with a short biography, to the conference convenors at the following address: Deadline: 2 July 2018. We will notify authors of abstract acceptance by 20 July 2018. 

Eight travel bursaries of £50 are available for post-graduate students, adjunct/temporary faculty, and independent scholars and artists to aid participation in the conference. Please indicate on your proposal whether you would like to be considered for the bursary, and under which category you are applying.
Broderick D.V. Chow, PhD, FHEA
Senior Lecturer in Theatre
AHRC Leadership Fellow 2016-2018
Department of Arts and Humanities
T +44 (0) 1895 265493
Office GASK111
Follow @bruneltheatre on Twitter
Follow @broderickchow on Twitter

Brunel University London
College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences
Brunel University London, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH, United Kingdom
T +44 (0) 1895 274000 | F +44 (0) 1895 232806

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (June 14, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

Hello, good wrestling fans!

I’m back with another entry into the Nylons and Midriffs series. Not exactly the same time as I promised in my last post, but ’tis life sometimes. Due to circumstances out of my control, this post is one week later than I hoped it would be. Therefore, this week I’ll discuss the events of the previous two weeks of RAW and Smackdown Live, not including the go-home shows to Money in the Bank. I’ll discuss those in my next post, to talk about everything MITB-related.

With that, let’s jump right in.

The Good

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I liked that in the weeks leading up to the go-home for MITB, the women were given more time than usual in segments and matches. We saw women receive attention that are typically disposable when it comes to airtime, like Lana, Naomi, and Mickie James. The primary exposure for them were matches rather than segments, and ones that were given at least a commercial break in the middle of them. This is great! I just want to see women wrestle!

And the wrestling was sound. While the pacing and sequence choreography could use some work, the female Superstars have the moves to carry matches. Fans also have new rivalries to daydream about — can you imagine Sonya versus Naomi, Sasha versus Ember, Charlotte versus Becky (again)?

And as one small aside in this section, Becky Lynch picked up a victory over Charlotte! While I have a lot of feelings about the pedestal that Charlotte has been put on during her time on the main roster, it is undeniable that at this point, having her put you over means something. I hope it signals a push for Becky in the future, because that woman is criminally underutilized for her wrestling ability.

The Bad
The most bothersome thread throughout the last couple of weeks has been that WWE is confused on how to make women clear-cut heels and faces. Let’s look at two examples.

The first: Nia Jax. She only just finished a triumphant, anti-bullying feud with Alexa Bliss to win the title, but now she’s in the murky area of tweener against Ronda Rousey. She used a jobber to show off her power to Ronda while cutting a very heelish promo.

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Then, the next week, she quasi-injured Natalya, and acts overly concerned for her to seemingly irk Ronda, who we are supposed to believe is Natalya’s actual friend. What? Is Nia the heel or the face? Being less half-assed about Nia’s characterization would really help the fans invest in this feud, because we have schemas for face v. face, heel v. face, etc. Even if it’s silly to turn Nia heel so soon after her feud with Alexa, it would be a lot better than what we’ve been given thus far.

Second: Lana. She is a part of Rusev Day, who WWE are for some reason trying to push as heels. She teased breaking Rusev and Aiden English up when she returned to TV, only to have Aiden give her an endearing song for fans to sing during her matches. When she qualified for MITB, she celebrated with Aiden like a face. But during her dance-off with Naomi, she attacked Naomi after teasing a truce with her. How does this benefit Lana?

Last: Sasha Banks and the Tale of the Never-Ending Feud. One week on RAW, we had Ember Moon, a face, tag with Sasha Banks, a…tweener(?), and Alexa Bliss, a bonafide heel. Why??? I understand that sometimes heels and faces tag together to build tension in an ongoing feud, but a) none of these women are feuding, and b) it only works if the characters are distinct and use that to play off one another. Sasha being lost somewhere between heel and face made this trio very odd.

And then, when Bayley came out to “save” the match after Alexa left to gain victory for the face team, Sasha took the win like a face. But afterwards, when Kurt Angle told the team that they lost by DQ, Sasha instantly hated Bayley again, like a heel. Who is this feud for?! Who is the face? Who is the heel? WWE is wasting some of its best and most unique talents by damning them to purgatory. No one likes you when you’re in purgatory.

The Thorny
I would be remiss in my ranting if I didn’t mention my rage at the Gauntlet Match on RAW a few weeks ago. The announcers spent the whole night touting the match, spewing “historic” and other hyperboles into our ears. And it was all well and good, until we entered the third hour and there was still no match. We got to half an hour before the end of the show, still no match. We got a damned comedy segment about barbecue before we got that Gauntlet Match.

WWE insulted our intelligence by assuming we’d forgotten that the men’s gauntlet match from several weeks before lasted nearly two-thirds of the show. The women’s Gauntlet started at 9:43pm, Central Daylight Time. Twenty minutes. Less than twenty minutes. A match with seven participants, one of which who was in her hometown. This is disgraceful and unacceptable.

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I am glad that we have reached the point of doing. Yes, we now allow women into previously uncharted territory. Now we need to work on the execution, and I don’t mean on the part of the wrestlers. On the part of Creative, producers, and decision-makers in WWE. They need to advocate for women to get the exposure they deserve.

We cannot tout women’s liberation if we are going to only allow women to shine as long as the men shine brighter. That is “women’s empowerment” that fits politely within the patriarchy. If WWE really wants its women to transcend the shortcomings of the past, the company needs to execute the booking of their women’s division in a more audacious way. They deserve to take up space.


Through and through, I’m still amped for MITB. My thoughts on the go-home shows are mostly positive in terms of the female Superstars, so hopefully the pay-per-view itself delivers some satisfying results.

Until next time, stay legit bossy,