Johnny Gargano: Despite My Heel Turn, I Still Wanted To Make People Smile During COVID-19 Pandemic

Even though he was a heel, Johnny Gargano still wanted to make people smile.

In January 2020, Gargano, who had been a beloved babyface on NXT, turned heel on Tommaso Ciampa to add another layer to their storied rivalry. The two men continued to feud, but "Johnny Wrestling" recently revealed that the initial vision for his villainous character substantially differed from the final product.

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During the "What's NeXt?" stage show at Starrcast V, Gargano looked back on this heel turn and noted that his gimmick, along with that of his newly-heel wife, Candice LeRae, was meant to be much more serious.

" At the early stages, when we were together, our characters were supposed to be completely different. We were supposed to be serious, like you were gonna get a whole different version of Johnny and Candice that you never got a chance to see," he said.

LeRae chimed in, saying, "We were supposed to be really intense."

Gargano continued by describing how, once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, he realized that he wanted to be a source of brightness for people at a time when the world was filled with negativity. For this reason, he and LeRae shifted gears with their characters and focused more on entertaining the viewers.

"Yeah, a whole different dynamic you never got a chance to see. But when the pandemic happened, I kinda sat back and I was like man, there’s so much negativity right now in the world, and I know I’m a heel, but I want to do what I can to put a smile on people’s faces. I wanna make people laugh and smile and be entertained during this time period. That’s why we focused more on the entertainment than on the pure being a heel aspect," he said.

Likewise, Gargano noted that once Austin Theory and Indi Hartwell joined them to form The Way, they wanted to show the young duo that it's important to have fun.

"Our goal ultimately, because I kinda knew that maybe I was reaching the end of that current run of me there, with Austin and Indi, I think we did, like I think they have so much more confidence now, so much more character. They’re way more confident in front of a camera because they got that experience with us. They kinda just learned this is supposed to be fun, so you gotta have fun with it," Gargano said.

Throughout the stable's time together, The Way delivered plenty of comedic segments and memorable moments, including the InDex wedding. LeRae was often tasked with being the "straight man" of the group, and she made it clear that this was an unenviable position because she was working with people who were very funny.

“Impossible. I never want to be the straight man in the group ever, ever again for the rest of my life. Especially Indi and Theory are hilarious. There was a day, I think we must have been in commercial break, and Indi was heartbroken, and I was looking in the ring, and I turn around, and no joke, she’s laying on the ring stairs like this [mimics lying on the stairs]. I don’t know how I’m supposed to be serious in that moment. They would do it backstage, like we’d be doing like a backstage promo and these guys are fighting up here, and there’s all this chaos happening, and she just kept going for Dexter, and I had to turn around and laugh so many times. If you go back and watch any of that stuff, if you see me like this at any moment, it’s because I’m laughing," she said.

The panel also featured a partial reunion of The Way, as Dexter Lumis appeared, and Johnny Gargano quipped that he loves doing indies.

In another highlight of the panel, Gargano discussed his future in wrestling. His comments are available here.

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