Tommaso Ciampa will challenge Bobby Lashley for the WWE United States Championship on tonight's edition of Monday Night Raw. The match comes just one week after the former NXT Champion won consecutive qualifying matches (including a pinfall victory over AJ Styles) and sets him up for the biggest match of his career on WWE's main roster. Ciampa has already cut a pair of emotional promos regarding the match and his opponent, but on Monday he took to Instagram with a more somber tone as he dedicated tonight's bout to his former coach and WWE Hall of Famer, Harley Race.
"Tonight is dedicated to Handsome Harley, The King, the first ever United States Champion....or as I always called him 'Boss.' In 2008, when I moved to Eldon, MO to train with Harley Race, I was a lost twenty-two-year-old kid. I had just been released from my developmental contract, I lacked confidence, and I was battling depression. The decision to leave home, step outside of my comfort zone, and start fresh in a new territory was horrifying to me...but it was a risk I needed to take. When I reflect on my career today, it's extremely clear to me just how big of an impact Harley had on me...personally and professionally," Ciampa wrote. "Harley is a no-nonsense man. His mere presence demands respect...this I could tell from the moment I met him. However, as the days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months, I came to discover that Harley had a heart of gold. He cared about his students, not only in the ring but outside as well.
"Harley's confidence in me as a man and as a performer allowed me to regain confidence in myself. He allowed me to make mistakes, and he helped guide me to fix those mistakes," he continued. "Before class every day, I would try to get to the school early and I would ask Harley to watch tapes with me. Sometimes he 'politely' said, 'not today kid'. But sometimes the answer was yes...and I'll tell you this, not many things compare to tape study sessions with Harley Race. My best memory from my time training at the Harley Race Academy actually took place away from the ring. It was Thanksgiving of 2008 and I (along with many others) could not afford to travel home for the holiday. Harley invited a bunch of his students to his place for a home cooked Thanksgiving feast. He treated us as family. It was incredible! I'm grateful for the time I spent with Harley in '08... I wouldn't be the man or performer I am today without him. Harley passed away almost exactly three years ago from today. And still, I can hear his voice clear as day, 'you done good kid, you done good'. Thank you, Boss. Thank you for everything. 🖤"
Race is recognized as the first United States Champion in the title's lineage, winning the gold in January 1975 for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling back when it was known as the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship. The title was added to WWE's roster in 2001 after the purchase of WCW.