Last weekend marked the two -year anniversary of Dragon Gate USA.
When the promotion held their first show in July of 2009, it’s a safe bet that no one had Johnny Gargano pegged as the guy who would be considered the top American wrestler in the promotion two years later.
At Enter The Dragon 2011, DGUSA’s official second-anniversary celebration, Gargano seemingly cemented himself as just that by surviving an exhausting six-man elimination tag match and submitting both Austin Aries and CIMA, two of the top names in the wrestling world.
When “The Whole Shebang” debuted with DGUSA, he wrestled a dark match at the promotion’s first-ever show. Two years have passed and he is on the cusp of becoming the first American born wrestler to ever hold the top singles championship in DGUSA, the Open the Freedom Gate title.
Gargano is from Cleveland, Ohio and has firmly established himself at the top of his homestate’s wrestling scene. He currently holds the Absolute Intense Wrestling Championship for Cleveland based AIW, and he also just recently lost the Pro Wrestling Ohio Championship.
Last summer at CHIKARA’s Chikarasaurus Rex event, Gargano joined Chuck Taylor and Icarus in a post-match beat-down of Gran Akuma, officially replacing Akuma as the third member of the F.I.S.T. (Friends In Similar Tights) trio.
With Gargano in the fold, F.I.S.T. became more dangerous than perhaps they had ever been. The group made it all the way to the finals of this year’s King of Trios tournament, scoring a controversial win over tournament favorites Team Michinoku Pro in the semi-finals before ultimately falling to the Colony in the finals.
While Gargano and Taylor have been successful as a team when joined with Icarus in CHIKARA, they have also became major players in Dragon Gate USA when teaming with Rich Swann to form the increasingly popular stable known as Ronin.
Ronin was formed following months of lobbying from Gargano to become the American representative of CIMA’s Warriors International stable.
After continually being denied and disrespected, Gargano joined up with Taylor and Swann to deliver a vicious attack on CIMA and Ricochet at Bushido: Code of the Warrior, DGUSA’s first-ever iPPV event. Ronin was born.
The trio has become one of the most popular groups in DGUSA and has also spent time competing for Dragon Gate in Japan.
Earlier this year, CIMA turned heel and his Warriors International group became the Blood Warriors, a massive stable which has been dominant in both Japan and the United States. The group includes the likes of Brodie Lee, Ricochet, Austin Aries, Naruki Doi and Genki Horiguchi.
The feud between Ronin and the Blood Warriors has probably been the most interesting storyline in DGUSA over the past few months. The young talents in Ronin have risen to the top of the DGUSA roster by battling against some of the top names from Japan and the American independent scene.
Gargano has arguably evolved the most during this rivalry. He still remains the cocky, arrogant upstart with a slightly offbeat sense of humor, but we’ve seen a far more serious side of the guy who refers to himself as “The Bee’s Knees and the Cat’s Pajamas” lately.
He has developed a painful variation of the crossface that he calls the Gargano Escape, which he used masterfully to submit both Aries and CIMA at Enter the Dragon 2011.
His full-nelson/reverse STO combo, the Hurts Donut, has also proven to be a very effective finisher. Gargano has also been known to lawn dart his opponents into the turnbuckle, a move he likes to call You’re Dead.
Gargano’s in-ring skills have developed considerably over the past year and he has proven himself as a viable threat between the ropes. But he is also becoming one of the top mic workers in DGUSA.
This was made especially evident when Gargano took to the mic to thank the crowd and close out the Enter the Dragon 2011 iPPV, an honor that usually goes to one of the top Japanese stars in the promotion, like YAMATO or Masato Yoshino.
It seems as though an Open the Freedom Gate title shot will be coming Gargano’s way sooner than later and it would be no surprise if this newfound boost of confidence that the 23-year-old has found leads him all the way to championship gold.
Gargano might not have been pegged for the role as the top American wrestler in DGUSA two years ago, but he has taken hold of the opportunity and drastically stepped his game up. He is young, talented and loaded with potential.
The future is indeed looking very bright for “The Whole Shebang.”
This is the fourth in a series of articles focusing on up and coming, rising stars of the independent wrestling scene. If you're curious about who to look out for in the wrestling business, check out my previous articles on Akira Tozawa, Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly, and Ricochet. Keep an eye out for more features here on Bleacher Report about talent that you should be checking out.