Tommaso Ciampa made his big return to NXT last week to face down his attackers, which happened to be the newest additions to the black and gold brand Karrion Kross and Scarlett. He made it quite clear that this is his house, and while he's impressed with what Kross has done so far, the winning streak stops at TakeOver: In Your House. It's going to be a brutal battle for sure, and ComicBook.com had the chance to speak to Ciampa ahead of tonight's new episode of NXT to talk about the anticipated matchup, as well as his past with Scarlett, his journey back from neck surgery, and being a father. First though we had to start with what weaknesses he sees in Kross, and unfortunately, the playbook is still mostly unwritten.
"I don't know that we've seen enough of him to know a weakness, so I kind of feel like, in a weird way, while I have home-field advantage, he has the advantage of studying my tapes and knowing what I do and what I don't do and my tendencies," Ciampa said. "I don't know much about him, so that's a hard one to answer. He's big. He's very strong, and he seems like he's technically sound. I don't know what his weakness is, and kind of how I said it last week on television, this doesn't feel as much to me like a match that is going to be won or lost by weaknesses as much as it is by just who comes in and gives their A-game, and I think my A-game just happens to be better than his A-game."
Those who watched last week's episode also noticed that Scarlett held the ropes for Ciampa as he made his way in, and Ciampa's expression was one of caution. You can understand why after what happened with Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae, but as he explains, in this case, it was more a feeling of Deja Vu from their Ring of Honor days.
"Yeah, I don't know how many people are aware of it, but Scarlett and I have a bit of a past as far as wrestling goes," Ciampa said. "We were both in Ring of Honor at the same time, and our paths crossed when she was managing Matt Taven. It was more than anything just a familiar face that I know what she's capable of ringside and the distraction that she causes and it was one of those days, you have your moments, I think of just Christ, we're doing this again. This time around, she just happens to have a monster behind her. I don't know, man. Deja vu more than anything, and in a very different way than Johnny and Candice."
Ciampa has delivered some great matches since coming back from neck surgery, and we don't expect his match with Kross to be any different. Fans who follow Ciampa on social media have seen that journey play out in a very personal and raw way, and that kind of insight isn't something we typically get without something like Undertaker: The Last Ride or a 360-style documentary. In this case, it started as a suggestion from Triple H that got the ball rolling, but then it snowballed organically into a perfect portrait of Ciampa and his life inside and outside of the ring.
"Initially, it started with... when I had my ACL and my shoulders done, nobody documented any of it," Ciampa said. "Obviously, I had all my doctor visits and everything, but nobody as far as filming goes. it was not documented, so I think on this one, I want to say it was Hunter who originally came up with the idea of 'hey, we're going to send a crew with you, with your permission'. He said, 'This might never see the light of day. It's just good to have.' I don't know how it all snowballed. I know that when we were at the doctor's office, the fellow filming it, Jimmy... I call him Paradise still, just because of his wrestling days in OVW, he was Paradise, but he's a friend of mine, and because of that, it was very easy for me to just let my guard down and just be open and just be real with him."
"When he was filming us in Birmingham, my wife and I, talking to the nurse, it came up that we had our daughter through the In Vitro process. Honestly, one thing led to another where the story was heard, and it was like 'oh, crap, we might want to share this. This is an interesting message'. I don't know what channels that goes through, but that's the vibe I got. When it started to get pieced together, it was one of those things that was brought to me, as like hey, the best moments of this are the real moments, the raw moments as far as wrestling goes. That's what everybody loves. You talked about Undertaker's Last Ride, and I just watched episode three, and that moment of Hunter, Shawn, and him standing at the top of the ramp, it's raw, it's real, there's nothing fake about that, and I think that's what was captured in the documentary and the recovery process."
In fact, this journey and process are also the reason Ciampa's not the pure heel he was previously in NXT, as it really didn't feel natural once the curtain was pulled back.
"Honestly, for a guy who spent the better part of two years being the most hated person in professional wrestling, once that was taken out of my hands, and it was like oh, we're going to tell your story, everybody else just felt... I just kind of went with what felt natural as far as just letting people in on the rehab and stuff," Ciampa said. "It's kind of like once we pulled back the curtain, there was no shutting people out again. It wasn't like I was going to return and be that same villain that I was prior. There's nothing I could do to be that hated person. I think it just became like okay, well, we pulled back the curtain, we might as well just now go with it and be organic and real. I'm still eagerly awaiting the time when something happens and I can go back to my villainous ways, but until that happens, I will continue doing what I'm told to do."
One of the best parts of the journey was to have his wife Jessie and his daughter Willow attend TakeOver WarGames, which was actually his daughter's very first TakeOver. Having it happen after all the work he did to come back from injury was special, though just having his family there would've made any occasion equally as special. That said, WarGames turned out to be the perfect event for Ciampa to enjoy the entire experience.
"It would have definitely meant as much regardless," Ciampa said. "I think it was cool the way it happened because it was War Games, so many moving parts and components and stuff. In a weird way, it was far less pressure, because just so many people, less to remember, maybe, less to worry about. Say it was the single's match with me and Adam Cole. I just feel like I would have been a little bit more in that zone."
"I don't know that I would have been able to enjoy the day as much with my wife and daughter, but because of the situation and having Kevin (Owens) there was awesome, too, because we're just really good friends, so it was really special to have him there and a lighthearted... and, I say that, I don't know, a lighthearted WarGames," Ciampa said.
He enjoyed the match immensely, but as soon as it was over, Ciampa shifted right back into dad mode. "I just remember coming back through the curtain after the match at WarGames, and Adam and I just fell off the top of the cage, and I might have spent a total of 15 seconds in Guerilla, just oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, and then I just wanted to go find her, just go back to Dad. That's the most interesting part to me."
"She comes to every TV taping on Wednesdays, even if it's just for an hour or two during catering or something," Ciampa said. "She just always comes, and so it's just been awesome to share that with her. It's the only wrestling she ever is around. She never watches it on TV or anything. It's very cool to have her around."
With her growing up in the world of professional wrestling, you might assume Ciampa wants her to follow in his footsteps. That's actually not necessarily the case, though not for the reasons you might assume.
"I do hope she never does, and not even for any of the reasons anybody would possibly think," Ciampa said. "When we found out we were having a child, I was like I want the child to be healthy, but when asked do you want a boy or a girl, I wanted a girl. It was simply because I was like I already did the boy thing. I know what that's like. This is new for me. This is fun. It was just a new fun thing."
"With that, I feel the same way about what she does in life," Ciampa said. "I'll never tell her what to do or what not to do, but I lived this life. I've done this wrestling thing. I would love it if she just did something that I'm not familiar with. That gives me this new venture, this new thing to learn about and be interested in and whatnot."0comments
"With that said, if she chose to one-day step foot and do this, I just hope she's good, I guess. I just hope she doesn't suck," Ciampa said. "I hope I have a child with flair on my hands. That's all you can hope, right? In wrestling, obviously, you can get better, but you have to have a bit of an it factor. You kind of know for the most part within the first couple years if you're good or not, so I just hope she doesn't suck at it if she decides to do it."
Fans can see Tommaso Ciampa take on Karrion Kross on NXT TakeOver: In Your House when it streams on the WWE Network Sunday, June 7th at 7 PM Eastern, and you'll want to tune into NXT tonight on USA Network at 8 PM Eastern to find out what happens next!