Johnny Gargano comments on his return to WWE and why it didn’t happen in Cleveland, OH

WWE star Johnny Gargano did an interview with Chris Van Vliet and here are the highlights courtesy of…

On knowing a WWE return would be coming:

“I had an idea. I always had an idea. People ask me all the time, did you think about going other places? Obviously, we all entertain the idea. But when I left, I always felt like I had unfinished business in WWE. And when the conversations were being had, it was one of those things where when I was a little kid growing up, I watched WWE. I dreamed of wrestling at WrestleMania. I dreamed of becoming Intercontinental Champion. I think all these things I said in my return promo, pretty much. They’re all very real, very true. Those are very real dreams I still do have to this day and I can only do that one place. And I am very lucky to call WWE my home because if you’ve watched my last night in the company it was sad for me because I spent so much time in NXT around those people. I saw them almost every single day for almost seven years. And I wasn’t gonna have that anymore. And that was my own choice because I felt like I needed to move on. And I needed that time away to be with Candice, to be with the baby. And just step away from wrestling for a bit and just recharge. But luckily everything worked out. And I think everything happens for a reason. We’re back.”

How close were you to re-signing with WWE in 2021?

“I made up my mind way earlier. Again people always try to count down to what was going on in NXT at the time, [they thought] Johnny wanted to leave, or they were forcing Johnny out. No, I mean in my mind months prior I needed to take a break and I needed to leave, just for myself. Again we knew the baby was coming too and I already had it in my mind. But that really kind of nailed my decision home. They wanted to keep me and they were very generous. They wanted to have me stick around in NXT, stick around the WWE family and things like that. I appreciated the offer. But at the same time they appreciated the fact I told them look, if anything else happens, if I decide I want to go somewhere else, I will come to you guys and let you guys know first because I feel we have a great relationship. So I did tell them that that if I decided to go anywhere else, I would give them the opportunity to match the opportunity to make a counteroffer if that would come up to come up. [Did it come up?] I did not even try. Like I said I was so outside the realm of focusing on wrestling. Luckily, I have an agent and I have people around me that go and do that for me. Because I told my agent, I told everyone around me like, look, I want to focus on being a dad. You can go and you can talk to people, you can have those discussions, I do not want to, because I want to be so far removed away from wrestling and so far removed from that side of things, that’s like the business side that I’m like, I don’t want to dig in that stuff. And Candice was a free agent at the time. So we were both just sitting at home and enjoying being a mom and dad for the first time. And it’s so very rare we get that opportunity.”

On considering in-ring retirement:

“I always said that I was gonna be done by 40. That was always my go-to age. And then as we get closer to that, I’m still four years away. But as we get closer to that, I think I got a little bit more in me. I mean, like I said, I came back to WWE for a reason. And obviously there were discussions to go other places. And my agent obviously had those discussions. But at the end of the day, I told him, my heart was with WWE. Like, I still want to wrestle at WrestleMania. I haven’t done that yet. I still want to be the Intercontinental champion. Haven’t done that yet. I haven’t won a title on the main roster yet. I want to do that too. There’s still a lot left for me to accomplish and a lot of stories I still want to tell. And I’ve been very excited to do that. And like I said the last night in the company was very sad. And I think Tommaso brought up my tears, and where they came from in that show. And a story I think I’ve only told maybe once before, but I have such a great relationship and I’m very lucky and it’s crazy to say with Shawn Michaels. He was my hero growing up, and I spent a lot of time with him. And I made the shadow boxes for people that are really special to me in that building. I made a shadow box for Shawn, I made a shadow box for Coach Bloom. And I made, I gave cards to all the coaches, everything I’ve learned, spent seven years with Terry Taylor, Steve Corino, I gave them special cards and stuff. I have pictures of us together. Because it was my last night did feel like it was like a goodbye for a while. It was funny I say goodbye for a while but I was literally still going to Performance Center with Candace. We brought the baby to the PC like literally two months later, or maybe three months later or whatever. But I had that gift for Shawn. It’s a shadow box, it had my headband from a TakeOver. He’s the only person other than me that has a piece of my TakeOver gear. I did it for In Your House where it was like kind of my Shawn Michaels gear. So I had that put in a shadow box. Again, I’m luckily I have a great wife that helps me with these things, by the way, because I’m not making shadow boxes by myself. The headband with a picture of me and Shawn, from when I was in high school and a picture of me and Shawn in that year from that TakeOver. And I wrote a really nice note on the back. Shawn actually has it hanging up in his office, if you see any interviews he does, where he’s at his desk, it’s actually behind him, which is cool. So I bought this gift to him. And I said, I’m gonna give you this gift, but there’s a catch. You can’t open it until I’m getting ready to go through the curtain. Because I want to be emotional out there. And you’re going to be the one that’s going to give me that emotion. Like I’m going to see how this affects you. And it’s going to transfer to me. And I’m going to go through the current right when that happens. And literally, I give him the gift. And Road Dogg is counting down the time. He’s like, okay, Johnny, given the gift. And literally, like we’re in a commercial break, and wrote, I was like, okay, 30 29. And Shawn opens it up. And Shawn looks at it. And he starts getting really emotional. And he hugs me. And of course, like I get emotional, then my music starts playing. So when I walk through that curtain, you’re seeing literally the direct reaction of me feeling that moment, but also giving that gift to Shawn and seeing how it affected him. And just that that’s me walking through the curtain for my last time at NXT for then, and then you know, you got it.”

On knowing it was time to go back:

“I just kind of felt it. It felt like that’s where the wind was blowing. And I’ve had such a great relationship with Hunter. I can’t say enough great things about Hunter and Shawn. It sounds like I’m gonna make it sound like I’m just going on and on about Hunter and Shawn, which I am, I will. I have such a great relationship with them. Like so much so that I always kept in contact with them. Even when I was gone. The day Quill was born I got a text from Hunter. I got a text from Shawn, like, unprovoked. Quill was born they reached out and said, Congratulations keep in touch. And Hunter literally said when Quill was born, I can’t wait to meet him, I’m very excited. And I literally said that day do me a favour though, when you meet him, you need to do the fingerprint picture okay. He said, You got it, would be my honour. So, like I said, I just enjoy them so much as human beings, that I just really wanted to work with them again. And when the opportunity came up, where the world changed and everything went down. Shawn reached out to me and said, Hey, are you open to coming back? And I’d say I definitely talk about it. And literally a couple hours later Hunter called me. And then we had a conversation. And then he talked to my agent and things were in motion really, really quickly. He wanted Candice back as well. And then it just one of those things is Candice ready? Am I ready? And I wanted time to get ready too because I wasn’t ready to come back yet. So I needed to get in shape really, really quickly. Things like that. But everything happens so fast. Because I think there was a Cleveland Show. And then like two weeks later, I came back. [People asked] Why didn’t you come back in Cleveland? It’s because I wasn’t under contract. Those things are still being discussed. And luckily, it was fun to come back in Toronto, because everyone expected Cleveland. And to be able to come back in Toronto, in a building I’ve wrestled in before and have it be an absolute surprise. Like no one knew, the only people that knew I was back in the company, and I wasn’t even officially under contract yet. Terms were agreed upon and I was ready to go. But I wasn’t officially back back yet. That’s luckily the way it was kept under wraps too. The only people who knew was me, my agent, Candice. And I think Hunter and maybe one other person in TR and that was it.”

On the surprise comeback:

“So funny too, is like people always talk about the reaction. And people are like, oh man,they should have gave him a much better return. And that’s the reaction that’s awesome about it. It’s out of commercial. It’s not built up at all. Literally the music hits. People are like wait a minute, that kind of sounds familiar. My name comes up on the tron. They’re like, wait a minute, what’s happening, and I walk out and people are like, oh. Big Johnny Wrestling chants and things like that. And it was just such a cool moment to be able to keep that a secret and make that happen. Candice’s was also kept a secret. Like no one knew that me and Candice were at the Performance Center together training, like getting her ready to come back. Having a child. So yeah, we’re incredibly lucky and incredibly cool that everything worked out the way it did.”

On fan backlash:

“I feel like I’m like a cog. I collect all the vitriol and all the hatred, just because I am undersized. I guess I’m an average white guy, I’m working with what I got here. I’m not super athletic. I’m just negging myself like crazy right now, by the way. I probably should talk to you about this too. My self-esteem is horrible. I hate all my own matches. I hate all my own work. So anything anyone tells me is bad. I’m like it is bad, I just believe you, sure. You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know. I think I’m an easy target for people to be like, That guy doesn’t look like a wrestler, he’s bad. Sure, I guess. But I think wrestlers, especially in 2024 can come in all different shapes and sizes. And I think what I do have is a very relatable factor to where people can see me. I think there’s two types of stars. I think there are stars like The Rock, [people go] I want to be The Rock. Man. I would love to be The Rock one day. And there’s people like me, they’re like, I can see myself and Johnny Gargano. I could be Johnny Gargano. And I feel like that’s what I really have going for me. And trust me though. It does eat away. Because every every good comment you have people can tell you you’re the best wrestler in the world. Like 15 People can say that match was amazing. But the one person that says you suck and like you have no charisma and whatever the heck else they’re gonna say to me, that’s the thing that sticks with you. So like, that’s the thing you hear.”