If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.Napoleon
Like most of our favorite types of Lore, this story can be traced back to the bible. It started with Cain and Abel – two brothers who were destined to destroy each other. Both were the son of Adam and Eve. Both were the apples of their father’s eye and both made sacrifices to their god, but it was written that God favored Abel’s sacrifice more. Cain soon grew jealous of his brother and decided to murder him. These days, he might have hired somebody to off his brother. But, being that Cain was one of only four people on earth, that wasn’t exactly conducive to hiring a hitman. Plus, Cain knew that if you want something done well, you have to do it yourself. So, he took a rock and literally bashed his brother in the head, while figuratively stabbing him in the back.
It’s a tale as old as time, and it’s one that the world of professional wrestling has bore witness to time and time again. Whether it was The Steiner Brothers, The Hardy Boys, Bret and Owen Hart, and countless others – Brother vs. Brother is a story that writes itself, because it’s already been written.
Of course, perhaps the most apt depiction of Cain and Abel in pro wrestling was the story of Kane and The Undertaker. But in wrestling, as in life, the bonds of brotherhood are not strictly born from blood (alliteration, am I right?). Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly, and so many more have played out like a Shakespearean tragedy. But it’s the story of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa that has captured our hearts and minds more than any other. The story of DIY is the stuff of legend, with countless betrayals, reunions, and nods to history. It’s one of those stories that transcended professional wrestling. It’s a story of friendship, of brotherhood, and broken hearts and broken legs. It’s everything that is good about pro wrestling and it’s the story we’re going to dive into. It’s a story with heroes and villains. It’s a phoenix rising and a fall from grace. It taught us that blood is thicker than water and sweeter than wine. And it showed us that if you want to achieve greatness, if you want to etch your name in stone… you have to do it yourself.
In the Beginning
When Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano first signed with WWE’s NXT brand, it was not with the same fanfare that accompanied other signings, like Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura or Matt Riddle. Many people didn’t even know who they were. Indy Wrestling fans knew, of course (they know everything and if you don’t believe that, just ask them) but the vast majority of the WWE audience knew very little about the two. They didn’t sign with much hype and they had very little help from WWE in terms of ‘getting over.’
They had to do it themselves.
Individually, Gargano and Ciampa were not making major waves in NXT. They were good hands, who put on good matches, but nothing ever really stood out. Then, in 2015, NXT General Manager William Regal announced the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament. Gargano and Ciampa weren’t a team prior to the tournament. They were just two guys looking for an opportunity. Since they weren’t getting many of those on their own, they decided to band together and make an opportunity for themselves.
On September 9, 2015, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa teamed up for the very first time on WWE TV, in an opening round of the Dusty Rhodes Classic. They battled Tyler Breeze and Bull Dempsey in a match that would preview bigger things to come for the not-yet-named DIY. They would follow that win with their first crushing defeat in the hands of none other than Rhyno and Baron f*cking Corbin, back when Corbin was only a little annoying. Despite the loss, Gargano and Ciampa actually put on a pretty good match with Baron Gore-Bin (which is what that tag team should have been called). Gargano took the pinfall loss, which would begin his run as the ultimate underdog of NXT.
About a month later, the two would face Chad Gable and Jason Jordan, again in a losing effort. They were slowly starting to turn heads however, and the higher-ups in WWE were beginning to take notice. Ciampa and Gargano were putting on great matches; they just weren’t winning them. This was partially due, one would assume, to the fact that Ciampa hadn’t actually signed a contract with NXT.
That all changed on April 2nd of 2016. Ciampa signed his first WWE contract (minus that time back in the mid-00’s when he got chokeslammed by The Undertaker). The signing allowed one of independent wrestling’s “grizzled young vets” to begin his true journey to the top of NXT.
He did so alongside Johnny Gargano, and the two began to take on all-comers in the subsequent weeks. Gargano himself resigned with NXT in an exclusive deal, which meant both men were now more or less completely WWE-bound. They took on a variety of teams early in the spring of 2016, from The Vaudevillains to TM-61 and more.
With Friends Like These
As spring turned into summer, Triple H announced a Cruiserweight Classic Tournament as a way to showcase some of the world’s top stars in a new and unique way. Both Gargano and Ciampa entered the tournament and, as luck (or possibly fate) would have it, they were scheduled to meet each other in the opening round.
“It doesn’t matter that he’s my tag team partner,” Gargano said in a pre-match interview. “It doesn’t matter that he’s like a brother to me. Tonight, when I look across that ring, I’ll see just another guy.”
This declaration absolutely did not sit well with Ciampa, and audiences were given a brief insight into the psycho killer’s psyche.
“Johnny Wrestling, Johnny Wrestling” Ciampa mocked. “That’s all I ever hear, is Johnny Wrestling. Tonight’s not about Johnny Wrestling.”
Ciampa continued, challenging Gargano about his verbiage. “You call me just another guy? After tonight, to you boy, not only am I going to be ‘the guy’ that puts you out of the cruiserweight classic, I’m going to be ‘the guy’ that hurt you.”
“You do what you gotta do,” Gargano challenged.
As the two stood across the ring from each other, each competitor’s eyes told a different story. Gargano had a look of determination. He was eager to prove himself as the better man. Gargano is a competitor first, tag team partner second, and he was not afraid to put friendship on the backburner in order to forward his career.
Tommaso Ciampa’s eyes told an entirely different story. He almost had a look of total detachment. The two engaged in brief chain wrestling but it was Ciampa that would throw the first strike.
Ciampa may have hit first, but it was Johnny Wrestling that hit best. After some brief hesitation from Ciampa, who debated whether or not to hit Gargano with his unpadded knee, Johnny Wrestling would kick out of a Powerbomb Lungblower pin attempt, surprising fans and utterly shocking the Psycho Killer.
As Gargano struggled to his feet, he was literally reaching out to Ciampa. Ciampa, by this point, had grown frustrated with Gargano’s resiliency, and he planned to put him out to pasture for good. However, he made a mistake by showing Gargano mercy earlier in the match because Gargano surprised Ciampa, and the world, with a pinning combination that led to the 1-2-3. Johnny Gargano had beaten Tommaso Ciampa in their first encounter.
Following his win, Gargano offered Ciampa his hand but, at first, Ciampa refused. He began to exit the ring and, as he did so, he pounded his head as if to rid himself of the evil thoughts that were looming behind those cold, hazel eyes. Eventually, Ciampa would return to the ring and sit next to his partner offering him congratulations. But his body language suggested that there was more than meets the eye when it came to the “brotherhood” between the two. The seeds were sown for an explosive feud that would launch both men into the WWE stratosphere. For now, however, they would lick their respective wounds, bury any animosity and go on to become one of the greatest tag teams in the world.
And they did it all by themselves.
Follow Nick Perkins on Twitter @WesternRebel