The Latest Episodes of INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet
April 7, 2022

Why Did Johnny Gargano Leave WWE And What's Next For Him?

Why Did Johnny Gargano Leave WWE And What's Next For Him?

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Johnny Gargano (@johnnygargano) is a professional wrestler known for his time in WWE and NXT. He sits down with Chris Van Vliet in Dallas, TX to talk about why he decided to let his WWE contract expire, becoming a father for the first time with his wife Candice LeRae, why they named their son Quill, what he learned from working with Triple H and Shawn Michaels, his thoughts on AEW, why he wants to retire at 40, his prediction for the Cleveland Browns 2022 season with Deshaun Watson and much more!


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What is the most amount of sleep that you have had since becoming a father?

“Probably the 3 hour flight that I took from Orlando to Dallas that I took today. That’s the most continuous sleep I have had. Babies make a lot of noise!”

So the first time you bring your baby home are you like ‘This noise, is it a good noise or a bad noise?’

“Normally I would freak out. But luckily we have the internet and I’m like ok this is normal. If it was like the 1990’s, I can’t imagine my mom doing this with me making all these noises. At one point I was very gassy as a baby, I believe I made a face and my mom thought I was dying and rushed me to the hospital!”

How do you split up the duties?

“Well we don’t. Candice does a lot of the feeding because, well you know, she has the milk farm that the baby is eating from. I try to handle all of the diaper changing, I know. My dad, he is very proud of the fact that he never changed a single diaper. At this point, I can’t count how many I have changed. It can be every hour or every 15 minutes.” 

How does it feel being here on WrestleMania weekend? 

“I don’t even think about it that way, I have been so disconnected for so long. When I left NXT in December, I haven’t done anything wrestling related since then. This [WrestleCon] is my first foray back into this and it’s really fun. It’s fun to come here and during this period of my life I am going to be very picky and choosy about what I want to do and where I want to do it. But to show up and see so many people, I think like everyone in wrestling is at WrestleCon right now, it’s so weird.”

You recently did the interview with Renee where you explained everything. Now that it is out there and people have had a chance to digest it, how do you feel about it?  

“I feel very content [about leaving]. It was just a time period in my life where that chapter was closed as well as I could close it and end that story the right way and to get to thank people. I thanked people that don’t even work for the company anymore. I had no restraints, I just went out there and spoke from the heart, it was not scripted. To be able to do that, as I said in the Renee interview, that is an incredible amount of trust. That shows the relationship that I had and continue to have with the people in NXT where they trusted me to go out on live television with a live microphone. I could have said ‘I am signing with this place.’ and slammed down the microphone. I could have literally done anything. But I have way too much respect for everyone in that building and for that company. But now I just want to go and do my own thing, make my own choices and see what is out there. You get a rare time to let your deal run out, a lot of people don’t get that opportunity they are just signed for years and years. I knew my deal was coming up and I just wanted to have this time to reassess things.”

You really had that rare opportunity, especially with everything going on in the last 2 years with COVID and everything. You have really bet on yourself.

“Yeah and it’s on a t-shirt too!”

At what point did you realize that things had changed for you and you thought that maybe you weren’t going to renew your contract?

“I think the last year I kind of knew that. I had accomplished everything that I had wanted to in NXT. That’s not to say I couldn’t have gone to Raw or SmackDown and done other things. I just knew that I didn’t want to re-sign, but there was always that option of maybe I do want to re-sign. I had made my mind up but there was always that 1% chance that I could, so there was a 99% chance that I wouldn’t re-sign. But I feel like when Candice got pregnant, that was when that 1% went away. I don’t want anyone to be in charge of my time during the time period where I am with Quill. I don’t want to be sitting at home and have a Connecticut number call me and say ‘You need to be at this show.’ Or ‘You need to be at this appearance.’ I just wanted to have a clean slate, leave and either come back in the future or go elsewhere.”

A lot of people would go ‘I have a baby on the way. I need to be in the most secure place possible.’

“Right, and that is where the whole betting on yourself thing comes from. I am kind of just hoping that this time period where not only from a physical standpoint but a mental one where I can step away from wrestling and get a refresh and be out of that bubble. I don’t want to say learn to love it again, because I have always loved it, but to reignite that passion to a maximum amount. And I also want to be in the best possible place for Quill and for Candice.”

Do you think about what you want to do after wrestling?

“It’s hard. Obviously the name Johnny Garagno in wrestling will always be beneficial money-wise. People will want to pay to see me wrestle, meet me, learn from me. In reality I have a job for life. I could go back to WWE and be a producer, be a coach, train people. [Chris asks if the WWE door is still open] I mean I hope so and I assume so, I have a great relationship with everyone there. But I have said that I want to wrestle until I am 40, and that is only 6 years away. So I only have 5 years to maximise whatever I want to do in this.” 

Since you didn’t win the WWE Championship, is winning the NXT Championship that big moment for you?

“For me during that time, yes, that was my goal. My ultimate goal and the moment I could dream of. But being from Cleveland, we are built to be underdogs, so I am looking for that next mountain to climb. I feel like I am constantly doubted and looked down upon, and I get that it’s a Cleveland mindset. If someone tells me ‘If you go to Raw or SmackDown then you will fail.’ I feel like I can do this or that. If I believe in myself and bet on myself, but is that what I want? I don’t know.”

What do you feel like was the moment where WWE went ‘We can really do something with this guy in NXT?’

“I feel like my match with Andrade at TakeOver Philadelphia, which was the first time that I main evented a TakeOver. I feel like that match was the one that solidified them of like wow! Seeing the reaction, the praise, that was what got them. But what got them there was that me and Tommaso vs. The Revival was very, everyone loved those tag team matches. I felt like that opportunity came when me and Andrade did an opening match on a house show in San Antonio. It was right before WarGames in Texas, and Hunter was there. I looked at Andrade and I said ‘hey man, let’s just go out there tonight and go nuts and kill it!’ Of course Andrade is always game, I love working him, he is one of the best in the world. But we went out there and we tore it down, and I feel like Hunter watching that match live he was like ‘wait a minute.’ I had hired a nutritionist and looked shredded, and you kind of need both. You need to look a certain way and act a certain way, it all got to that perfect storm that lead to TakeOver Philadelphia.”

I am so curious as to the moment where you and Candice first had an interaction.

“My dates are all wonky, but I think the first time that we interacted was 2013? 2014 maybe? We interacted at PWG All Star weekend, I think that was my PWG debut. Me and her cousin started talking because I think she had a Samsung phone. I kind of slyly chatting up her cousin so I could get in there. Candice had an iPhone and thought that was better and I’m like ‘No it’s not.’ Then I tell her about the show Catfish, which she had never heard of, so I find her on Facebook and send her a link to a Catfish episode. The other play I did, we were on Facebook messenger and she said ‘Why don’t you text me, here is my number.’ I sent her my number back and said to text me, I sent the first Facebook message, it was her turn.”

What was the first date?

“So it was in Illinois, we were working for a promotion called Dream Wave. We snuck away and we went to a Subway of the hotel. We are there eating, look out the window and we see our friend Trent and he is coming to Subway. He comes in and he realizes what he is walking into, but it is too late then.”

You are known for your wrestling gear designs. Which one was your favorite?

“The Iron Man one will always have a special place in my heart because that was where I won the title at TakeOver New York. The SpiderMan/Venom gear and the Wolverine gear are also ones that I like.”

What do you think is the biggest thing you have learned from working with Triple H?

“I mean Triple H has a tireless work ethic. He and Shawn are great at the small details and seeing the big picture in itself. It was so good to pick Shawn and Hunter's brain about things. Hunter was great at making home stretches mean so much more. I mean look at that match with Andrade, we had it going a certain way and he was like ‘How about this?’ and he made it 10 times better. I am so lucky to have a rolodex of great minds in my back pocket.”

Everyone online assumes that you are going to AEW, but are you just keeping your options open?

“Definitely, I am keeping my options 100% open. I watch everything, you can watch my YouTube video where me and Candice are watching AEW, NXT and Elimination Chamber while in the waiting room. I just love wrestling and want everyone to be successful. But right now, I don’t know where I fit in the wrestling landscape. I feel like the landscape changes on a weekly basis, you don’t know what will happen next. A new company can pop up, someone new can be in charge, it literally changes on a weekly basis. I feel like I am in a pretty good position where I can sit outside of the bubble and view everything. Because right now, I don’t know where I fit in.”

Take us behind the scenes when you got called up to Raw. It felt really rushed and there wasn’t really a plan.

“It was [rushed] and it wasn’t [planned], not that I know of. I told the story on Renee’s podcast, but I was in Cleveland when I got the call that I would be on Raw the next night. I had to call Tommaso to run by my apartment to pick up my suit and my gear, I literally had to fly from Cleveland to Lafayette, Louisiana. So I didn’t know what was going on, and I know you have to be ready for everything, but I feel like I work better when I have a plan. That was why I worked so much better in NXT, I can commit to the long term stories. I feel like wrestling is best when you plant that flag and commit to how you are going to get there with the long term story. It just feels like there was no long term goal in place. But for me in that time period, I felt like there was more I could give to NXT. To have that match with Adam Cole over NXT weekend, that was the goal. I like my chapters to have a clean ending and have closure. Until I get that, I wasn’t able to fully commit.”

Do you still want that WrestleMania moment?

“Of course. I don’t know when or if that will come. I have said numerous times that I have a great relationship there, but what sacrifices am I going to have to make to make that happen. But I would hate to be on the road and miss Quill’s first word or walking for the first time. Me and Candice only plan to have one kid, so we only have one shot at this.”

Who came up with the name Quill?

“It was a Candice choice. On her phone she had a screenshot of a baby names website and she had the name Quill screenshotted in 2017. 5 years ago we decided on the name Quill. All we needed was the boy, and the boy came.”

What if he wants to be a wrestler?

“I believe that you should let the kid make their own choices. I will support Quill to the end of the world. If he loves wrestling, hates wrestling, wants to be a contractor or a firefighter. I support him 110%, it is his life, his choices, I am just his dad and I am going to back him whatever he does.”

I end every interview talking about gratitude. What are 3 things in your life that you are grateful for?

“Family, health and time.”