Before They Were Superstars: Johnny Gargano

Before They Were Superstars

Image Credits:

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.

Online Relationships with Wrestlers

Audience Studies, Works-In-Process

This piece goes to the work I am doing on convergent wrestling.

Writing back in 2006, Henry Jenkins discussed how convergence culture was allowing more fans to have more power. Basically, in this context, convergence culture is this idea that digital technologies like smartphones and the internet have blurred the lines between audiences and producers.

In the past, television and movies would separate out those who produce the media and those who consume the media; in other words, audiences would simply have to take what they were given, and they did not have much say over production. Since the rise of the internet, and especially social media, audiences do have more say: they can talk to producers before, during, and after a television show, or movie, or game, or whatever is produced. As Jenkins (2006) said, “Shows which attract strong fan interests have a somewhat stronger chance of surviving.” That means, if the producers listen to what the fans want, then their productions will do better. Or, at least, that is the idea.

Ten years later, Kresnicka’s (2016) writing reiterates this power of fans by relating it to the “digital empowerment” that has been happening in various areas of life since Web 2.0 and the emergence of social media. With social media, people can connect to one another, control what they consume, create their own content (and thus have their own voices heard), collaborate with others, and curate the information that is out there (dictating what is good and bad in the process). These 5 Cs (Pavlik & McIntosh, 2011) represent some pretty amazing powers given to “ordinary” people, taking away some of the power that had before just been in the hands of producers, politicians, librarians, teachers, and so forth. And this fundamental shift that has led to digital empowerment has been impacting the relationship between media producers, celebrities, and athletes, and their fans.

Let’s look at this in terms of sports – well, sports entertainment, or professional wrestling.

An Autoethnography of AAW

Audience Studies, Reflections on AAW

Two men enter the ring — the “squared circle” — muscles tense, skin already glistening with sweat. They circle the ring, calling out to their fans in the crowd to let their admiration roar and shake the building. The room still reverberates with the booming baselines of their entrance music, leaving the audiences’ ears to ring for the next day or so. The crowd responds in a frenzy, engaging in dueling chants and trying  to outshout the other side as their wrestlers finally step into the middle of the ring to meet.

They size each other up, stare one another down, and give the sense that they do not like one another. Even if they show the sign of respect and shake hands, everything leading up to that handshake and following it is thick with tension and the desire and the drive to overcome the other and win. They may be friends outside of the ring — and that friendship may be completely legit and not just kayfabe (i.e. performance) — but it doesn’t matter. Each man enters the ring to win.

Thus began every single match at the AAW Windy City Classic XI.

This was my first live event. As I have discussed elsewhere on this blog, I am new to this whole professional wrestling phenomenon. In terms of time, I have only been interested in professional wrestling for two years. The 2015 Windy City Classic XI was my first live show experience.