WWE Week: Classic NXT Ladder Match Showed True Limits of Friendship

With two huge WWE shows hitting the city (well, Rosemont), this week we feel inclined at WARR to look back on eventful moments from the past involving the premier wrestling promotion and its storied history in Chicago. Each day this week catch a classic wrestling Sports Entertainment video with a little of our commentary.

Friends? How many of us have them? Not too many of us if you base your relationship knowledge on watching the WWE.

Through the modern age of wrestling we’ve seen a lot of good friends turn on each other, a lot of brotherhoods in the squared circle turned to dust because of greed, lovely valets and all types of other reasons. This kind of “angle” a backstabbing of a long-time partnership, still is one of the most effective story-telling devices available to the WWE and no matter how often we’ve seen it, when its done well again it leaves quite an impact.

Take, for instance, the story of the tag-team #DIY, which saw its plucky, fan-favorite unification dissolve swiftly and harshly in front of a stunned Allstate Arena crowd last June during NXT’s first Takeover: Chicago special (ed. note — that crowd included the D & Davis Crew’s Ken Davis, Demonze Spruiel and Kyle Means along with a cadre of kids). A second Takeover event will take place this Saturday back at Allstate along with the pay-per-view special Money In The Bank on Sunday.

Indeed, we were all shocked by the action in the moment, but not by the action itself. It was well spread out on the internet “dirt sheets” leading up to the show that a #DIY breakup was in the offing and NXT in Chicago was a natural place to have it happen — both the resulting heel Tommaso Ciampa (Milwaukee) and emerging babyface Johnny Gargano (Cleveland) are Midwestern guys who came of age as performers in the independent wrestling scene in this region, both performed quite a bit in the Chicago area for promotions like AAW.

Upon their being signed by WWE and selected to make due in the transitory NXT, which develops most new WWE performers into talents worthy of Monday and Tuesday nights on USA, Ciampa and Gargano showed an undeniable chemistry both as teammates and competitors that made them favorites soon among the rabid NXT audience that mostly sees them in live shows in Orlando, Fla.

That chemistry was tantalizingly teased in a 2016 match in the “Cruiserweight Classic” that saw the two as burgeoning tag team partners square off in a match in a tournament to crown a champion among competitors at and under 205 pounds.

It’s likely that the great match in the CWC resulted directly in the decision to split the team up eventually. To make the eventual turn sear and season, #DIY, which indeed stood for Do It Yourself, actually saw greater success after Ciampa and Gargano’s first square-off. #DIY won, then lost the NXT tag team championships and they struggled to reclaim those titles as a monstrous team named the Authors of Pain took hold of those titles and put a choke-hold on the division around them.

With nothing but heart and their tenuous connection holding them up, #DIY battled AOP in a ladder match for the tag team titles in the main event of Takeover: Chicago, a bit of a surprise as the match held its top spot over both a NXT Men’s Championship matchup and a Women’s Championship, which are the usual main events at Takeovers.

But Triple H and his NXT crew knew what they were doing, and after a match that actually didn’t steal the show but was still another great, physical elevation of the typical WWE in-ring storytelling — what NXT is typically known for now, especially at Takeovers — the big moment came, delayed even after the designated copyright sign-off in the corner of the screen for those watching on the WWE Network.

For those of us in the arena, we just knew that we had no business leaving our seats until both Ciampa and Gargano both made their way backstage. As it would turn out we wouldn’t see either man pass through the curtains — Ciampa thrashed about his smaller partner across the stage in a bout of violence as earnest as you can get without it being completely real.

Reaction to it was swift online and long-time wrestling fans, most who want as much well-earned emotion involved in their shows as possible, were given the type of stunning moment so rarely accomplished in a pre-determined event.

At this point I should say that Ciampa and Gargano are actually great friends, that’s the way it often works in wrestling. If you’re gonna have someone do the kind of things to you that these two have done to each other in the past year, you should be able to trust them. The “dissolving” of a true friendship also helps in selling the story to the audience even though we’re all in on it at all times.

Indeed, that’s what’s happened in the year since. Ciampa first took an extended time off due to an actual knee injury suffered in the ladder match, it was a great way to set up Ciampa’s eventual reemergence while a still stunned Gargano and the NXT followers needed months to gather themselves and figure out just why #DIY had to breakup, why Ciampa went from a psycho with heart to a black heart who’d terrorize not only his former best friend but his best friend’s wife, fellow wrestler Candace LeRae, who’d come to see Ciampa as a part of her family as well.

This has all been delicious storytelling, involving other wrestlers as well as Gargano went on a short and fruitless run at the NXT title while on his own, but since Ciampa ruined Gargano’s best shot earlier this year its been all about these two battling out their demons, which most appropriately is the man each sees staring back at him.

This Saturday the best, most emotional storyline in NXT history stands to come to a close in a “Chicago Street Fight,” but such a classic lawless in-ring concoction may not even settle the score. There has been talk of the Gargano-Ciampa rivalry even extending to the top level of WWE when these two get their much-deserved call-up to either Raw or Smackdown.

Whether these two tough-as-hell Midwest boys eventually make their mark on Monday or Friday, USA or FOX, it’ll be clear that Gargano and Ciampa are modern WWE performers worthy of any stage, among those rare types who can tell a memorable story from inside themselves and project it through the world while letting all of us know just how tenuous, and thus precious, the concept of true friendship is.

Follow Kyle Means on Twitter @Wrk_Wrt; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under “Regal Radio”

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