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.

Before They Were Superstars: Daniel Bryan and Dean Ambrose

Before They Were Superstars

Daniel Bryan and Dean Ambrose spent a good portion of 2013 wrestling each other. They either fought in tag matches or a few singles matches on Raw or Smackdown. None of these matches were as hard hitting as their No-Disqualification war for Dragon Gate USA in 2010.

Daniel Bryan found himself without a job after being a little too brutal during the initial attack of The Nexus. During this time, he ended up going back on the independent circuit and wrestling under his real name again, Bryan Danielson.  He had a few matches for Dragon Gate USA where he wrestled the Japanese talent, YAMATO and Shingo Takagi.  For his final match, he wrestled the unstable Jon Moxley.

Before They Were Superstars: CM Punk and Samoa Joe

Before They Were Superstars

One would become the “Best in the World” and the other the “Samoan Submission Machine,” but before all of their nicknames and accolades, they were simply CM Punk and Samoa Joe. In 2004 they had a trilogy of matches that would make them legends and help make Ring of Honor one of the best independent wrestling promotions in the world.

Samoa Joe was in the midst of a dominating run as the world champ of ROH that spanned most of 2003 and showed no signs of stopping in 2004. He had turned away such challengers as Christopher Daniels, Jay & Mark Briscoe, Homicide, AJ Styles, and many others.

To be honest, Ring of Honor seemed to be running out of challengers for Joe. This is where CM Punk comes in. He and Joe had a non-title match on August 16th where both men were in pretty rough shape. The match ended with Joe beating Punk. Punk had yet to have a world title shot in his time in ROH and in Dayton, OH on June 12th, 2004, at World Title Classic, that would change. Punk and Joe had a match that ended in a 60 minute draw.

Before They Were Superstars: Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens

Before They Were Superstars

Hello, and welcome to the first installment of Before They Were Superstars, where I’ll be discussing the matches and angles that current WWE superstars were involved in before they debuted in the WWE. Many of today’s current WWE superstars were not always in the WWE. A lot of them started on the independent wrestling circuit where they honed their craft in front of smaller crowds.


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They’re currently known as Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins, but they once went by Kevin Steen and Tyler Black respectively. Before they battled each other for the WWE Universal Championship, they were both affiliated with Ring of Honor (ROH). Back in 2010, they were both involved in separate angles in ROH, and on one night in July, they crossed paths in Chicago Ridge, IL.