One of Survivor Series weekend’s biggest matches will take place on NXT TakeOver: War Games, as former NXT Champion Aleister Black takes on the man who attacked him in the parking lot at Full Sail University and kept him out of action for months, former NXT hero Johnny Gargano. Gargano’s attitude change has been one of the big stories in NXT this year, following through on two years of storytelling involving Johnny Wrestling and his former best friend and tag team partner turned megalomaniac — and NXT Champion — Tommaso Ciampa.
2K Games announced season 5 of WWE SuperCard this week, and to celebrate the mobile game’s release, we had a chance to talk to Johnny Wrestling about being a gamer, how he’s feeling heading into this big weekend of shows, some of his most memorable opponents, and more. Huge shout-out to 2K for setting this up, and to Johnny Phonecall for letting us ask him why WWE 2K19 gave him such a deep tan without hanging up on us.
When you’re done reading, head on over to the app store to check out SuperCard’s latest edition (spoiler alert: it’s so much more involved than when it was first released), and make sure your eyes are glued to WWE Network on Saturday night to watch the best brand in WWE put on another in a seemingly endless string of awesome TakeOver events.
With Spandex: Let’s talk about season five of WWE SuperCard. Now, I played SuperCard when it first launched, and I kind of fell out of it, but with this latest update, there seems to be a lot of stuff going on. So, what sort of info should I know, that would bring me back to the game.
Johnny Gargano: So I’m super pumped about all of it. I’m super pumped to be the brand ambassador for season five of WWE SuperCard. And the thing about it is, I kind of played SuperCard when I’m traveling, I play it when I’m on the road, I play it when I’m on buses, on cars, when I have downtime, that’s the beautiful thing about it, is I pick it up and play wherever, ’cause we always have our phone with us.
So I’m a big video game guy, and I think SuperCard is super cool, because it’s just got so many different cards, and so many different people you can collect. Actually season five, may be interesting to you, because it will be the season five in game debut of Ricochet, Candice LaRae, who is near and dear to my heart, and someone who may be near and dear to your heart, EC3. He will be making his SuperCard in season five. So if that’s enough to bring you back, I don’t know what is. You can get an EC3 card. C’mon.
I’m a big fan of The Deviant Michael Hutter, what can I say?
I figured as much. So there you go. I mean, you don’t want to pull an EC3 card? I don’t know if there’s a variant Michael Hutter card, but you never now. SuperCard’s got a lot of crazy things up their sleeve, so you never know what can happen.
Now, I know you’ve been on Up Up Down Down, playing those impossible Disney games from the ’90s, and I know you’ve been in the League of Legends, NXT vs. WWE series as well. So do you like being known as one of WWE’s top gamers?
I do. I don’t know if I’m even considered one of the top gamers, ’cause some people are very very good. I just love the face that I’m able to do all these different things outside of wrestling. It’s all stuff I’ve never dreamed of before, ’cause I am such a nerd at heart, very much so. I’m very open about my nerddom. Me and Candice both are. But to be able to be, to play video games, and I never thought that was even a thing when I was growing up, that one day I could be in WWE, but also be playing video games, and also be doing all this stuff.
It really is a dream come true, on many different levels. And those sort of things are never lost on me. The face that I see myself in WWE 2K19, and the fact that I have an action figure, and all that stuff is not stuff that I’m gonna get used to, and I never want to get used to it, just because I still remember being that little eight year old kid who used to just buy every wrestling video game imaginable, and buy every wrestling action figure imaginable, and now to be one of them? Every day is a dream come true, it’s amazing, man.
That’s heartwarming to hear. Do you have any loyalty to play as yourself in these games? And I know Candice is part of the DLC for 2K19. Do you have any loyalty to play as yourself in the games? Or do you beat yourself up? How does that work?
The first time I ever played the game, they were doing a media event at the Performance Center, and I walked in, it was like eight in the morning, and I saw the game setup, it was the first time I ever saw it. I said, “Hey, can I play it?” Like, “Yeah, of course.”
So the first game I played was me against Shawn Michaels from 1996, and Shawn Michaels from 1996 beat the crap out of me. I hit him with like a million spears, and then he just Sweet Chin Music’d me, and beat me. But I think that’s about right, I can’t beat Shawn Michaels in 1996. Like no way, I shouldn’t. So the game is very realistic to that extent. So I do play as myself, just ’cause I think it’s amazing. Those are my moves. Moves I’ve created and done for many many years are in the game, and I can do them to people. Because I remember, I used to have to create myself, and I used to create really, really bad versions of myself. So to be able to have a character in a game that actually looks like me is pretty cool.
Yeah, I know 2K19 gave you like a really deep tan this year, I don’t know if you noticed that.
Johnny Gargano: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Because I hated my model in 2K18. I felt like I had a different … like it was my old body. Like I had my old body, and then I got my new body, where I’m leaner now, so I think I made sure to just get scanned on a really good day, so I looked really great when I scanned, and then when I saw my model, I was like, “Yeah 2K! Yeah, way to go man. You make me look great. I’m pumped.”
Right now, in NXT, the story that you got going on, you’re sort of going through a transition in your character. How’s the reaction from the fans been to you, through this? ‘Cause I know you’ve gone from sort of a hero, sort of a broken man, to now you’re somewhere in the middle.
Yeah, it’s all over the map, and I think that’s the pretty cool thing about it though, is kind of everyone’s picking sides, and all the sides kind of have to do with my side, so it’s all, “Oh, we want Johnny Wrestling, we want the Johnny Failure, boo, why Johnny why, oh I get it, oh, I don’t get it. Why’d he do this? Why’d he do that? Oh, he shouldn’t have done this. Oh, maybe he should’ve done this.” It’s so all over the map, and I think that’s kind of the atmosphere I get when I perform now, too.
I’ve only done one show since that, but I think The Staples Center is going to be madness. I think it’s gonna be wild. And I think that’s kind of the beautiful thing about NXT, is we can kind of tell stories like that, because at the end of the day, in real life, the world does change people. Certain situations do change people. I’m not the same person I was, same person I am now, that you saw wrestling back in whatever, 10 years ago. I’m not that person. Things have happened that have changed me. I’ve grown, I’ve changed, I’m different.
And I think characters need to change too, based on things that happen in their lives. For me, I feel like I’m still the same person, I’m still the same guy. I feel like I’m very justified in my actions, ’cause in my head, in my mind, I made a mistake, and Tommaso Ciampa’s NXT Champion because of me. It’s my fault, I’ve owned up to that, that’s my mistake. But it’s my mistake to fix. I’m gonna be the one to fix it. I have to be the one to fix it. Aleister Black unfortunately just got in the way. It’s a two person story, it’s me and Tommaso. Aleister Black was not supposed to be involved. Did I mess up by costing him the NXT Championship? Yes, but I was going to fix it.
In my head, the ends justify the means. The end is me defeating Tomasso Ciampa, for the NXT Championship, everyone celebrating, everyone going nuts, you’ll be happy. That is the end. If one person had to be jumped in the parking lot to make that happen, I’m sorry Aleister, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s basically what it comes down to.
There’s been a little bit of conversation about Candice’s NXT persona. I know on the independent circuit she was a very different character; took control of her own agency, and she was fighting everyone, and then in NXT she’s been very very different. How do you feel about Candice’s persona in NXT right now?
So, I feel, and I’ve gotten this a lot, and I’ve seen this a lot, too, that they want Candice to be her own person, and she definitely should be her own person. She is not Mrs. Johnny Wrestling, she is not Johnny Gargano’s wife, that is not who she is. She is Candice freakin’ LaRae, she’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. And that is, I will preach that until the end of time. The thing is, it takes certain … it takes time for certain audiences to grow, and I think it takes time for certain characters to grow.
The Johnny Wrestling you got, at Takeover Philadelphia was not the Johnny Wrestling that was fighting Baron Corbin years before that on NXT. It takes time to get where you ultimately are. Yeah, it takes time, and I feel like, yes, was Candice brought in, was she introduced to the NXT audience at Takeover Philadelphia as my wife, coming to help me against Zelina Vega? Yes. Would she be effected if her real life husband was going through these issues? Would that effect her character? I feel like it would, I feel like in a real life scenario, like if she’s going through something, I’d be effected too, that’s just how it works.
Unfortunately, that’s just how stories are being told, but I know that Candice LaRae’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. I know everyone in NXT knows that Candice LaRae is one of the best wrestlers in the world. And when the time is right, Candice will shine, and Candice will get her moment, and it will all be worth it. I fully believe that, I fully believe everything happens for a reason, and I fully believe that at the end of the day, we’re gonna get Candice freakin’ LaRae.
That’s good to hear. One of my favorite matches from the original Mae Young Classic was Candice and Shayna Bazler. I loved that. I wanted to see you versus Shayna Bazler really badly.
I joked about that, after that happened, when she kicked at me, I was like, “Oh, we did a great build to me versus Shayna right now.” You never know, hey, we’ll see.
So, speaking of characters becoming their own self, and injuries effecting matches, obviously the big story in WWE right now is Becky Lynch’s injury. How does it feel when a badly timed injury sort of changes the plans and the stories and everything that’s going on for something that’s really, really important?
You can never control injuries. Accidents happen, that’s just how things go. But I feel like WWE, and as much crap as they get for whatever, I feel like they always make the best of really bad scenarios, and I will point the Tommaso Ciampa going away. I feel like it made people wait for me and Tommaso’s inevitable match. I feel like it made the story longer. And the thing is, I feel like in this day and age, we’re such a, “We want it now sort of culture.” Like I’m watching a YouTube video, and I fast forward if it’s … if there’s a 30 second ad, I’m losing my mind. I don’t want to sit and watch an ad.
We’re such a, “We want it now,” culture, so when you make us wait for something, we kind of throw a fit like children. ‘Cause we’re like, “We don’t want to wait, we want it now! They’re screwing up! Give it to us now!” Sometimes, things are worth waiting for. And I feel like it worked out really well with me and Tomasso, and I feel like it may work out really well with Becky Lynch, ’cause Becky Lynch has made the best of every situation she’s been given, and she’s the hottest thing right now in WWE, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. She’s been doing amazing work, and I feel like they’ll make the best of this as well. And things will turn out for the best.
Another thing that you posted this week is, “Score one for the good guys,” for Daniel Bryan’s title win. Do you want to expand on that at all?
[laughs] Yeah. I mean, it was shocking to me. I didn’t see it coming, obviously. I mean, a lot of us saw it coming. But, I get it. For me, I get it. For me, I kind of watch a guy like Aleister Black go around, and he does whatever he wants. He Black Masses whoever he wants. He beats up security guards, he threatens general managers. Tommaso Ciampa, does whatever he wants. Undisputed Era, they do whatever they want. And they’re very successful.
I don’t know why it’s different for me and Daniel Bryan, ’cause we’re the small, pure, lovable underdogs, so we can’t play from the same playbook they’re playing from. It’s just not fair. They’re handcuffing us, and I think now that you took the handcuffs off me, you take the handcuffs off Daniel Bryan, it’s a whole new world.
Man, I wish they would just give you 10 minutes at the beginning of every episode of NXT just to explain how you feel about things. It makes a lot of sense.
Right? I mean, you see my side of it, I mean, hashtag Johnny Gargano Did Nothing Wrong, I mean, c’mon, it’s real.
Velveteen Dream, is he as good as everybody says he is?
Oh yeah. Velveteen Dream, and I’ve said this to him personally, I think he’s gonna main event WrestleMania one day. The fact that he’s as good as he is, at such a young age, and he gets it, and he has a great attitude, and yeah, he’s got it all figured out, and he’s got all the tools. I told him that he’s gonna main event WrestleMania, I’ll make it public, I think Velveteen Dream’s just amazing.
Finally, I want to ask you to settle a debate for me. One of the debates that I have with a lot of my coworkers, and a lot of my pro wrestling friends, is what is the best Johnny Gargano NXT match? And a lot of times, you know, the Ciampa matches obviously come up. New Orleans was a masterpiece. The match with Cien Almas comes up a lot. My personal favorite is always gonna be DIY and The Revival, in Toronto. What do you think? What is the best Johnny Gargano NXT match?
So I hate all of my own matches. I’ll preface this by saying that. I hate all of my own matches, I hate all of my own work. I am my worst critic. So I just want to throw that out there.
How dare you.
People are like, “Oh man, you did that,” I’m like, “Aw, it could’ve …,” I know, right? It’s a blessing and a curse, ’cause I’m never satisfied, so I continually want to outdo myself. But, still, I’m never happy. So yeah, I never enjoy my own work, but I think the beautiful thing about the matches you mentioned, is it shows that … every match shows a different side of what I bring to the table.
I think the DIY versus Revival match, I think as far as tag team wrestling goes, I mean, it definitely showed that side of me. I think me and Andrade will be probably the unanimous pick by a lot of people, and I think that showed my pure wrestling ability. And I think me and Tommaso, I think it told my storytelling ability. Also, you know, there were weapons and stuff involved, so it showed that aspect of me.
And I think that’s kind of what I want to get across, is I can be put in any scenario, and I can kind of thrive, and I can kind of do my best with what I’m given. Because for me, like I know wrestling is very opinion based, and I feel like certain people like certain things, and there is no right and wrong answer. Like, I like a certain flavor of ice cream. If I like vanilla, you like chocolate. If I like strawberry, you like, whatever, chocolate. Everyone likes chocolate, whatever. I think it’s so divisive.
That’s the thing that blows my mind about Twitter, and things like that. ‘Cause obviously we all ready everything, we see everything, and people don’t realize, it’s okay to have an opinion. It’s okay for one person to like this match, it’s okay for one person to like this match, that’s fine. You don’t have to yell at someone on Twitter because they don’t like the same match as you, they don’t like the same wrestler as you. It doesn’t mean … That’s the thing that blows my mind about social media, is I would never go to a Marvel movie, to watch the Avengers, and then go home, after watching the movie, and tweet Josh Brolin, and be like, “Josh Brolin, you suck, you’re the worst, you should die!” Never would I do that. I would never do that, I don’t know why. That’s just not me. Maybe certain people, but I don’t know. But yeah, I think it’s so divisive, and I think it’s so opinion based, so I just try to give every kind of genre a taste, and hopefully they find something they like.
So what you’re saying is it’s not about Johnny Failure, it’s about Johnny Perspective?
Yeah, pretty much.
As a reminder, as if you needed it, NXT TakeOver: War Games airs live this Saturday night on WWE Network, ahead of Sunday’s Survivor Series event. As for SuperCard:
WWE SuperCard is available for free download on the App Store for iOS devices, as well as the Google Play Store and Amazon App Store for Android devices. In addition, players can enhance their free-to-play experiences through purchase of individual cards, card packs and more.
Download it and play it during the brief periods of time when wrestling won’t be happening this weekend!