“The thrill of coming home has never changed.”Guy Pearce
This past week’s NXT saw the young, arrogant and brash, Grayson Waller continuing his feud with the authority figure of NXT, the GOAT, Shawn Michaels. Waller has been one of the few bright spots of the NXT brand these days as it is far removed from its Black and Gold glory days. Waller has been running down Shawn Michaels for weeks and been a thorn in his side.
The irony is that the Grayson Waller character is very reminiscent of how a young and brash, Shawn Michaels was back in the day. Shawn has gone on record saying that he was not a very likeable person back then and the stories of how arrogant and cocky and full of himself has been well documented. So, in a lot of ways Shawn is staring at himself when he looks at Grayson Waller.
Waller took really deep cuts at Shawn on the mic as Shawn tried to be the executive that he is, but the spark of the old HBK couldn’t go on taking the abuse. Waller claimed he wasn’t given the opportunities in NXT because he wasn’t one of “Shawn’s kids” or kissed his ass. The line that was particularly cutting was saying Shawn was only in the position he is in because his friend (Triple H) had a heart attack. Now in my opinion, that was the shot that should have set Shawn off, but it was when Waller ran down NXT as a brand that did it.
Shawn ran down the list of people that built this brand and many of them he had an actual hand in their development and Shawn got especially close to during their time working together. Waller was trying to goat Shawn into coming out of retirement for one last match. I loved what Shawn said here that others have been trying for years to get him to have a match with him. AJ Styles in particular was very open to wanting a match with arguably the GOAT. Interestingly enough, Waller goateed AJ Styles into having a match with him, which did not end well for Waller.
I’ll be perfectly honest, there was a split second where I thought Shawn might actually accept the match and once again HBK would steal a WrestleMania weekend by putting on a performance that only Shawn Michaels could have. However, HBK did a brilliant swerve that made complete sense, he announced there is someone that wants to kick your ass more than me and this brand means more to him than even me…cue the return of the undisputed heart and soul of NXT, Johnny Gargano returning home.
The Prodigal Son Of NXT Returns:
This is complete whole circle storytelling that I’m so glad they were able to make this happen. When Johnny Gargano’s contract expired in December 2021, his future was unclear as he had done everything there was to do in NXT and the main roster call up being incredibly bleak as Vince McMahon would never look at Johnny the same way that his work dads, HBK and Triple H looked at him. NXT was morphing into 2.0 and the stars of the Black and Gold were being forced out.
However, Johnny had too much respect for Shawn, Hunter and the NXT brand that he agreed to stay longer with the purpose of putting the young talent over on the way out of the company. The last one he put over was Grayson Waller by allowing him to beat him down and out of NXT. There was no guarantee that they would end up having the match as Johnny’s future was unknown.
Honestly, if Triple H didn’t ascend to the throne in WWE and if AEW didn’t sit on one of the hottest free agents out there, the return of the man with the rebel heart would not have likely happened. Johnny loves the wrestling business and putting Waller over on his way out is the time-honored tradition that he followed.
However, the lasting image from that night is probably this amazing photo of an emotional Johnny Gargano hugging his childhood idol, who became his mentor, Shawn Michaels. Much like the NXT talent that was there under Dusty Rhodes, like to be called Dusty’s kids, there is no question Johnny was one of Shawn’s kids.
It is rare to meet your idols and for them to not only live up to the hype you have for them in your mind, but to actually be considered friends is truly rare. Shawn was the reason that Johnny Gargano wanted to pursue professional wrestling in the first place. Shawn wrestled as the underdog that defied the odds and stereotypes of his day and Johnny Gargano has done the same today.
There’s a bond there between Johnny and Shawn/Hunter, so it makes perfect sense that Johnny would step in to not only defend their honor but the honor of NXT as well. The Johnny Gargano both on and off camera cares a great deal about them. So, knowing all of that and the history of the man that “took” Johnny out of NXT in December 2021, is the one picking on Shawn, it fits perfectly that Johnny would be the choice to take on Waller at Stand and Deliver.
Just like Shawn was Mr. WrestleMania, Johnny has established himself as Mr. Takeover. The one guy that you can count on to deliver a memorable performance that could steal the show. I expect the same from Johnny and Grayson at Stand and Deliver. It is a match that really both men need for their careers in all honesty.
Johnny’s WWE return on the main roster has certainly not delivered the way it should have in my opinion as his booking has been lackluster or downright non-existent most weeks. Johnny certainly delivered an unbelievable performance at Elimination Chamber. The Chamber match, which was my February match of the month, did exactly what it is supposed to do, it allowed all the talents in the ring to showcase themselves and to elevate themselves. Johnny arguably had one of the best performances in that match and it would be a shame for him to not be able to showcase what made him Mr. Takeover on WrestleMania weekend.
Sure, it is a shame that he is not being given that opportunity on one of the actual WrestleMania nights, but for him to be featured on a major show that weekend and to finish up his storyline in NXT to complete that is something that makes it worth it. Johnny Gargano will do what he has always done, make sure that himself, his opponent and the brand he represents gets more over than it was before the match.
I was there when Johnny faced Andrade at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, in arguably one of the best matches in NXT history. Andrade may have won the match, but both men were bigger stars because of that match. I don’t believe Andrade has ever had a better match before or since that night. Gargano and Waller have the potential to deliver something truly special here and I for one cannot wait to watch it.
Photo Credits – WWE