Johnny Gargano Reflects on Taking a Break From Wrestling, WWE NXT's Changes, His Favorite Spider-Man: No Way Home Moments

Johnny Gargano, one of the most decorated stars in the history of WWE's NXT brand, bid farewell to the brand on the Dec. 7 episode of NXT. The first NXT Triple Crown Champion's WWE contract expired days later and he later confirmed that he had been planning a break from wrestling for nearly a year. "Johnny Wrestling" recently sat down with ComicBook to discuss that decision, as well as how he feels about the recent changes NXT has undergone, his future plans and how he felt about both Spider-Man: No Way Home and the arrival of the latest Star Wars series on Disney+, The Book of Boba Fett

Gargano kicked things off by saying now felt like the perfect time to step away given that he and his wife, Candice LeRae, are expecting their first child next month. 

"So I miss certain aspects of it (wrestling)," Gargano said. "So I've tried to take kind of a complete break. I'm still a wrestling fan, so I still watch things and I still read things. I'm so used to being busy because I've been on for 15 years, 16 years where I've just been continuously going. And I've been extraordinarily lucky to where I haven't had any major injuries. So I've just been going constantly. If you look at my NXT run, especially, I was on television pretty consistently for like six years. And I'm very lucky to say that. But as far as now having time to step out of the bubble and reassess things, and especially now with the baby on the way, it felt like the perfect time to be able to give myself not just a physical break, but also a mental break on all of this stuff and just kind of dip my toes in other things as well."

Check out the full interview with Gargano below!

(Photo: WWE)

How's the launch of the new Twitch channel (TheJohnnyWrestling) going?

So the Twitch thing's been fun. That was something that I was always very interested in because I've always been very fond of creating content and I feel like I have a lot of creativity inside of me, not just for wrestling, but other things that I want to finally have the chance to kind of go out and do. So yeah, the Twitch thing's been great. We have such a fun little community that is thriving right now. And it kind of just gives me a chance to ... It's funny, because people see my television character, especially in the past year, and they're probably like, "Oh, that's so different. That's so outside the realm of what Johnny actually is." And now, if you watch me on Twitch and you see how I react to Madden or react to me and Candice playing (WWF) No Mercy, you're kind of seeing like, "Oh, Johnny's kind of just a goofball," which I am. But it's fun.

When you do return, will it be as Johnny Wrestling? Or are you planning on some sort of reinvention?

I'll always be Johnny Wrestling. It was such a fun thing, especially for my last TakeOver and I guess my last appearance on NXT television, to be able to come out to "Rebel Heart" and have that back because I feel like that's the pure Johnny Wrestling at his core.

And I feel like people missed that so much, and that was on purpose. I felt like for a long time I did the pure Johnny Wrestling thing... I did the pure Johnny Wrestling thing for so long that if you're a character for such a long time, people grow stagnant of it, people get tired of it. If you watch a television show, you read a comic book and the same character's around and he's doing the same thing all the time, (it) gets tiring, you know?

So I wanted to get people a break from that, but it was so rewarding for me to be able to hear people want that again. That was really fun for me to be able to read the comments. And when I teased "Rebel Heart" coming back, people were so pumped and it was really cool to kind of bring that back for one final go-around. But like I said, I will always be Johnny Wrestling, no matter what.

The gear you wore for NXT War Games was awesome. How did that whole amalgamation look come together?

So the guy who designed it, Jonathan Davenport, or @TheRealDavenpoe, he's very popular nowadays, doing all of New Day's stuff. He's, for my money, the best gear designer in the business, and Main Event Gear, who also makes all New Day stuff. I feel like me and New Day are kind of neck and neck right now, as far as a gear war goes.

So Main Event Gear has always done all of my stuff. They've done my entire TakeOver run. So when I had this idea, it was kind of based off-of ... I knew I wanted do something special for this TakeOver. I knew I wanted to do a culmination of all of my gears from the past, thrown up into one. And there's so many Easter eggs on that thing that you can go back and look at it, but it worked out great to where I just told Main Event Gear, "Hey, all the stuff you made for me in the past, throw it all together." And they have all the fabric, they have all the (materials)... They did it, so they know what it looks like. And they went above and beyond, man.

If you look at the Johnny TakeOver logo with all the different bits of different characters and stuff like that thrown in it, I kind of got that idea based off the Loki series. That's where the idea started in my head. Because I saw the Loki logo. If you look at the logo for the Loki Disney+ show, it's all the changing, the letters keep changing. So that was the idea I kind of took from that. It was like, "Oh, I can do the Johnny TakeOver logo, but then I can just make different versions of that and each letter's a different character." So that's where the idea blossomed in my head, and then I gave it to Davenpoe and he took it to the next level and Main Event Gear also took it to the next level.

One of the guys you worked with a lot over the past year was Austin Theory, and now he's on Raw every week working with Vince McMahon of all people. How crazy is that to see?

It feels like Austin just kind of went from me being his father figure to Vince McMahon now being his father figure. But yeah, it's wild, man. I'm so happy for him because he does work really, really hard. And Austin and Indi (Hartwell) both, it was always my mission this past year to put them in a position to where they could be Superstars. And they're so young and they're so talented, the both of them, and I feel like WWE has such a gold mine in Austin and Indi that I hope they take advantage of it because I feel like they can make that company a lot of money for many, many years. But yeah, it's so cool to see. I left a comment on one of his Instagram posts and told him to go become WWE Champion because he's got all the tools to do it. So it's just very cool to see him get that opportunity.

There's been a lot of talk about the changes NXT has undergone over the past year. Fans obviously saw it on full display when the NXT 2.0 reboot happened but was there a point earlier in the year where you guys realized things were shifting in a big way?

It's just one of those things where I don't think there was any moment in particular that was like, 'Oh wow, things are way different now.' We knew that a rebrand was coming, but like anything in wrestling, things change all the time. Things constantly evolve. We just talked about earlier in this interview, how if you do something for so a certain way, things get boring and you kind of need to refreshen things sometimes. I think honestly, it definitely needed a little bit of a kick. I feel like they're incredibly happy with how things are going and you have to be happy with how some of those guys have already developed on, in front of your very own eyes. Like I mentioned Bron Breakker for instance. Bron Breakker's a guy that I think I mention all the time, you can pay people to learn how to wrestle, right?

You can pay people to do this, but you can't pay someone to genuinely love it or you can't pay people to want to be better at it. There's one thing to say, "Okay, teach me how to do a wrist lock" and you're going to pay me to do that. And I'm going to learn the wrist lock and that's all I'm going to do. It's another thing to genuinely want to be better. And when you find someone who has both those qualities where they want to be better and they are getting better, that's a diamond. I feel like Bron Breakker is a diamond. There's so many people I can name that I feel like are really taking advantage of the opportunities they're given right now but Bron is definitely one of them that I believe in.

Let's say NXT never jumps to going live on the USA Network and simply stayed like it was on the WWE Network. How different do you think things would be now?

I have no idea, man...Hindsight's always 20/20, right? But it's also something where I don't know because, especially during that time period, I think we all felt like NXT was outgrowing the network and we all wanted to be on a bigger platform. Whether it be one hour or two hours, whatever, we just wanted more eyes on the product.

I felt like a lot of guys worked extremely hard to get NXT in that position. We just wanted the most amount of people that could possibly see it to see it. But again, I have no idea. It's one of those things where I can't even go back and think like, if this happened, then this would've happened or if this wouldn't have happened, then this would've happened. Because who knows? Especially with everything with COVID too, the COVID era of wrestling, that changed the trajectory of just everything in general. Because you can go in down the rabbit hole of COVID never happened. Does NXT start traveling? If NXT starts traveling to bigger venues, does that change the atmosphere of the shows? It's one of those things where you can't even... Who knows, right? So it's all the unpredictability, all the things that we can't predict.

It's a nexus event man, you don't know what's going to happen.

Speaking of, let's talk some Spider-Man. Anybody who follows you knows you absolutely loved Spider-Man: No Way Home. Do you have any particularly favorite moments?

I've seen it twice. I said (Avengers) Endgame was my favorite movie, up to this point because I felt like Endgame was 10 years worth of stories coming to a head. But for me personally, Spider-Man: No Way Home was like a lifetime of stories coming to a head. Because for my money, I'm not counting Batman and things like that cause was a huge Batman guy when I was little, but Spider-Man and Tobey (Maguire) was like superhero cinema for me. That was the peak when I was around 12, 13 years old.

To see him come back and to see, not just him come back, but also all of his movies become canon — Andrew Garfield, I loved his movies as well, his movies become canon — it was just, it's such a fun, fun movie. I think that's the best way to put it is, it's just fun. It makes you feel rewarded as a viewer. I think we talked about this a lot and I feel like wrestling in general needs so much more of this, is just the long-term rewarding of fans for viewing the show. And we talked about that a bunch as well, you know how I feel about that, you can look at my TakeOver gear and that tells you how I feel about that too.

Some of my favorite moments... I went into it knowing either Happy or Aunt May had probably had to go. I kind of figured that's where we were headed. I am happy, I might have to use the pun, but I did not... I like to see Happy's still around. It felt like Aunt May did need to go to get... Now you seeing the end of the movie, to get Spider-Man where he needs to be.
Aunt May going was the correct choice. 

Outside of the obvious, Andrew showing up and Tobey showing up, which I was... Initial reaction in theater, I was so shocked they did it this way. I think everyone kind of thought that they would show up maybe mid-battle. Like Tom would be beaten down and here comes Andrew and here comes Tobey. That's what everyone thought would happen. Looking back on it now, in the process of it happening, I was like, "Oh, I can't believe they doing it this way." But after it happened, I was like, "I'm so thankful they did it this way," because it gave you kind of every combination of interaction you could get, like you got Andrew interacting with them. You got like Andrew and Tobey interacting by themselves. Then you got all of them interacting. You got them interacting in the Spider-Man costumes, you got them interacting in the lab. I'm so thankful they did it that way.

...I felt so rewarded as just a Spider-Man fan seeing this movie. Yeah, it's easily my number one. I went down and I think you probably saw the Tweet, of course, where there was a process where I was like, "Okay, this is definitely my favorite Marvel movie of the year. It might be my favorite Marvel movie of all time." And then I was like, "Wait a minute. Is this my favorite just movie of all time now? Is this my answer now?" It might be. I think it is.

Where do you think they go with Tom Holland's Spider-Man from here?

So I love the way they did it, as well. Because now I think you get Spider-Man at his purest form. I feel like these three movies, the Home series, just was Spider-Man's origin story just spread across three movies.

Just for everyone that called him, "Iron Boy," and they hated how he was just a little Tony Stark and things like that. But now, you basically have Spider-Man in his classic suit, on his own. No one knows who he is. No one knows who Peter Parker is. He's by himself completely, living in a rundown apartment, literally listening to a scanner. You have the purest form of Spider-Man, so I think they've positioned him, Tom Holland in general, as like ... Obviously he was supposed to be the next Robert Downey Jr, but I think this movie put him there. Anytime Spider-Man shows up now, it's a huge deal. He's the guy now. He's lead Avenger now, for my money. So I'm very curious to see what they do as far as the symbiote goes now, because obviously that was left in this universe.

How would you feel if they gave Andrew Garfield a third Amazing Spider-Man movie?

I'm totally fine with it. I know some people did not like Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man. They thought he played Spider-Man too cool. But I feel like this movie, in general, was his resurgence and he played it perfectly. I thought Andrew Garfield out of any of them, stood out the most as being the most endearing and nerdy. And I love the way Andrew Garfield played it. So I wouldn't mind seeing him have a third movie. Because I think that was my other favorite part of the whole process, is they weren't afraid to laugh at the other movies, and I feel like that was very important. It was very meta, in the sense that they were just able to laugh at the things that you should be able to laugh at.

You're also a huge Star Wars fan. What did you think of the Book of Boba Fett's premiere and will it differentiate itself from The Mandalorian?

That's the thing I'm looking forward to seeing. Because when we were watching it, Candice asked me, "The same people that make this made Mandalorian, right?" And I was like, "Yep." But you could tell from the way it shot, from the way it sounds, everything is very Mandalorian. Obviously Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni are geniuses and I think they should be in charge of all Star Wars, everything going forward. Forever. But I am curious to see how they differentiate the Boba series from the Mandalorian series because it is very similar right now. I'm not saying that's a bad thing as well, because I loved it. I hope we get some Filoniverse characters that are going to hit live-action for the first time. I've been waiting for a live-action Cad Bane for a long time. So I'm hoping, I don't know if he's going to show up in the Boba Fett series. I don't know how the timeline matches up. He might be dead already, but I mean in a flashback or something in general, I do hope we get some Filoniverse live-action characters.

Last thing — any words for the wrestling fans out there waiting to see what you'll do next?

I very much appreciate that people want to see me wrestle again, but like I talked about, I do believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or older, because we were talking about Marvel. This break, I feel like not just for me, but also for them, is very important. For me, I just honestly wanted to get, like we talked about, not just my physical health, but also my mental health in check. Because people don't realize and we live in a current age where everything's on social media and the minute you do something or you have a match or you do a promo, especially if you're on live television, that's just the nature of the beast to where, especially during the COVID era, Twitter and social media was really the only instant response we all had.

Especially not performing in front of a crowd, we all had to go and be like, "What worked, what didn't work? What are people liking? What are people not liking?" And social media unfortunately is very negative. I know people will say that you're in the public eye, you've got to have thick skin, you've got to take it all in. I totally agree with that and everyone's entitled to their opinions, but also there's only so much you could take in before it starts weighing down on you and starts beating you down and starts making you question yourself or question things you're doing.

So for me, I just really wanted to take this time to get away from all that and not have to worry about all that. Not have to worry about who hates me or who doesn't like my matches or who does like my matches or just anything like that. I just wanted to completely break free of all that and refresh myself, and especially with a baby coming soon, I wanted to be in the best headspace I possibly could, not only for Candice, but also for the baby.

I appreciate that people really want to see me wrestle again. Right now, I'm focused on spending as much time as I can with Candice because people don't realize that this is the last about, I don't know, four to five weeks that it's just going to be me and her for a long time. Me, her and Pawdme for a long time. Then for 18 years, at least, we're going to have a little rugrat running around. So I'm excited to spend that time with her. I'm excited to spend that time with the baby, but I always do say this. I say this and I said it on my Twitch stream. I say it all the time. I do still watch everything. I do still listen to everything. So if you chant Johnny Wrestling loud enough, who knows what can happen?