From a plucky underdog tag team, to bitter enemies, to reunited friends; this feud has been one of WWE’s best long-standing storylines in years.
The two men have had six singles matches, first coming to blows on the independents then heading to NXT as prospects, the story built from there. #DIY formed in 2015 as part of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, winning their first-round match before losing in the quarter finals.
They would go on to become NXT Tag Team Champions and have a brilliant series of matches with The Revival and The Authors of Pain before Ciampa turned on Gargano after their title loss and began their mega feud. This list will put all six matches into a ranked list from worst to best in my humble opinion based on the various factors that come into play in a professional wrestling match.
6. Empty Arena Match – NXT, 08/04/2020
The most recent meeting between Johnny Wrestling and the Sicilian Psychopath and by far, the worst. With the current situation in the world, a lot of the WWE product had been pre-recorded to make it easier to release content when the world is in lockdown. They’ve been producing more cinematic matches such as the Boneyard match and the Firefly Funhouse match at WrestleMania 36, and they went the same way with this contest.
After Gargano cost Ciampa the NXT Title all the way back at NXT Takeover: Portland, it was a reignition of their feud but with the roles reversed; Ciampa as the face and Gargano as the heel. Triple H set up this match as the last time ever between the two after they trashed the Performance Center, and would put a ring in a warehouse at the PC to allow the two to get it off their chests. But the match was very slow, very disjointed and didn’t work like the two previous cinematic matches.
There was a lot of walk and brawl with no significant ending, the pair made their way onto the top of the semi-truck but did nothing of note and quickly climbed off it. There were camera cuts to ad breaks, when the action returned, something had happened and we had no idea why. Example being, they ripped up the mat once again and Ciampa hit the Willow’s Bell on the wood but referee Drake Wuertz was taken out. When did he get taken out? Why wasn’t a crucial part of the story shown properly?
The ending was also extremely odd with Candice LeRae coming in and seemingly turning on her husband and asking Ciampa if he’s happy about how much she hated him. It was a ruse as she came back and low blew Ciampa, whilst Gargano revealed he had a cup on to protect him from Candice’s ‘betrayal’. When they’ve had the calibre matches they’ve had, this fully ranks at the bottom.
5. PWG Mystery Vortex 3, 26/06/15
The weirdest thing about this match is that Ciampa was clean shaven and sporting more of a Paul Heyman haircut, he looked more like Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs. This match didn’t really have much of a feud behind it, it was more of a ‘both men are really good’ match and fans knowing this by chanting ‘Ciampa’s gonna kill you’ at Gargano.
It also didn’t have a babyface and heel dynamic. Both men were being cheered and booed by the crowd and both men were playing up to those crowd reactions. Despite this being their first meeting, we didn’t get a feeling out process, both men went all out for their attacks and managing to avoid their opponents. With this being PWG, the fans are about 3 feet away from the ring so the outside attacks are very confined or they include the fans which makes this match more hilarious to watch.
They put the most ‘indie’ spots into this match like a battle to hit a Suplex as fans are doing the ‘oooh’ as each man attempts to land their move. The major difference in this match to anything they would do in the future, is the speed, this is a much slower paced match compared to the matches we’d see in the following six years but that may something to do with the match stipulations.
We get sections of the match where they hit very indie sequences like no selling strikes and does eventually pick up speed to the end but it took more effort for it to hit that next gear. Ciampa hits a Project Ciampa for the closest of near falls before hitting two more and picking up the win.
4. Cruiserweight Classic First Round, 03/08/2016
The second meeting between the two and the only meeting to happen whilst they were teaming together as #DIY, with this match being the final match in the first round of the tournament. Both men came into the match steel eyed, staring holes between each other, no hand shake until the referee instructed them to do so. They didn’t go easy on each other with Ciampa hitting a brutal back elbow causing Gargano’s spit to fly before taking the control of the match, as well as mocking his tag team partner to the fans.
Watching this match after four years, the way the match was laid out is a precursor to what we would get from the two in the years to come. Ciampa, the evil, controlling heel and Gargano as the plucky underdog with the speed advantage. Ciampa hit some unbelievably brutal moves on Gargano including his signature Air Raid Crash on the apron, before intending to hit a bare knee strike until realising what he was doing and who he did it to.
Mauro Ranallo on commentary made a good point by saying “these two are tag team partners?!” due to the brutal moves from Ciampa. From an in-ring standpoint, this match is very good between two men who know each other very well but it lacked something from the storytelling aspect of things. There were interviews with them throughout the tournament but the commentators and wrestlers didn’t really tell a story between them, it was just two great wrestlers going at it.
Normally, we would be clambering for this sort of thing but the matches we received after this had so much more storytelling. The other thing is the finish, Gargano pulling out a lucky roll up, was a poor ending after the brutal moves they went through.
3. Street Fight – NXT TakeOver: Chicago II, 17/06/18
The second match in their trilogy and the one with the least to gain as this was a street fight for the sake of wanting to beat the hell out of each other, and Gargano wanting revenge on Ciampa for knocking his wife, Candice unconscious on NXT.
Gargano as the uber babyface comes out dressed like Captain America with a crutch in his hand whilst Ciampa comes out to no theme music and just a reign of boos from the fans whilst dragging his camouflage crutch, an ongoing weapon in their feud. The match does start hot, instantly going for each other with the crutches before leaving the ring within seconds and leaving ringside in the first two minutes.
They both bring it back to the ring and bring out the toys whilst also keeping it a relatively normal wrestling match with Ciampa hitting multiple German Suplexes. They carried on the storytelling from previous weeks of NXT TV, Ciampa injured Gargano’s neck so he carried on attacking it by wrapping Gargano’s head in a chair and throwing him into the steps. One of the most beautiful spots in this match was Ciampa putting Gargano’s arm around him, emulating the original heel turn before brutalizing Gargano more.
He took Gargano to the top of the production boxes, ripped off his wedding ring and spat on it before throwing it on the floor. Ciampa would receive instant karma after Gargano picked him up and hit an Air Raid Crash off the boxes through two tables. Gargano would show his darker side after dragging Ciampa off the stretcher and back into the match. Despite the brutal final spots in the match, the Air Raid Crash Ciampa hitting the draping DDT on the wooden boards, they weren’t as innovative with weapons as they had been in their previous encounter.
This match did give us two major things to keep the feud going, Ciampa got the win to even it out at a win a piece and Gargano took that slow dark turn following this loss, giving us the reformation of #DIY as heels and that absolute classic against Aleister Black at NXT Takeover: War Games. The combination of the original storyline and the new one with Gargano’s neck injury and Candice being knocked unconscious, kept the storyline fight going between the two and added even more to their brutal match and the brilliantly thought out finish of the match.
In addition, Gargano’s attack of Ciampa’s injured knee was consistent and gave the fans something to cheer for and a false hope of a Gargano win.
2. Unsanctioned Match – NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, 08/04/18
Ciampa had turned heel on Gargano back at NXT TakeOver: Chicago in 2017 when they lost a ladder match to the Authors of Pain. Ciampa would injure his knee about out of action until NXT Takeover: Philadelphia when he would return and again attack Gargano post-match.
He would cost Gargano his job and the NXT Championship by interfering in a match on NXT TV against Andrade, which set up this showdown. An unsanctioned match with Gargano’s NXT career on the line, if he should win, he would be reinstated. As Ciampa entered the arena in New Orleans, he was met.
With chants of ‘a**hole’ and ‘you suck’ from the fans and he embraced it, the real Sicilian Psychopath had arrived and became the most detested man in wrestling after his actions. Both men stare each other down but quickly start throwing fists, mainly Gargano which you could expect. This match is so emotionally charged, anything that either man did had a multiplied effect, thanks in part to the fans who had a clear favourite in Gargano.
Ciampa had control of a lot of the match as he was able to quash the adrenaline dump from Gargano and neutralised the match after hitting a Suplex from the announce table to the floor. The perk of the unsanctioned stipulation wasn’t so they could use weapons, it was so Ciampa could flourish in this sadistic psychopathic character doing anything he wanted and not having to worry about repercussions, this match gave us one of the best heel characters in WWE history.
But it also gave Gargano the same license, allowing him to Powerbomb Ciampa on the bare concrete from the apron. After absolute brutality between the two, Gargano has the crutch and the advantage but shows some remorse towards his former best friend, unable to effectively stab Ciampa with the crutch.
Both men looked exhausted and regretting their decisions before Ciampa would attempt to attack Gargano with his brace, Gargano ducks and locks in an STF with the aid of the brace for the win and his return to NXT.
1. Last Man Standing for the NXT Championship – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV,
The third and what we thought was the final meeting between the two, originally booked as a triple threat match for the NXT Championship to also include Aleister Black. That was until he was taken out by a mystery assailant, which we all found out was Gargano. Thus, William Regal would change it to a singles match and added the last man standing match stipulation. Following Gargano’s slow turn to a darker character led up to this match, and he represented it well with his gear, representing the Marvel anti-hero Venom.
The match started with Gargano attacking Ciampa before Kayla Braxton had finished the introductions leading to another frantic start. This match had the most storyline behind it as everything had built up across the two NXT Takeover matches adding in the NXT Championship, Ciampa’s prized possession. This match had a lot of call backs to their previous encounters, Gargano pulling up the padding outside the ring, a nod to Ciampa doing that to the ring at Takeover: Chicago II, before they actually ripped the ring up again. That does lead to an inverse of the finish of their second encounter, Gargano hitting the DDT on the bare wood to Ciampa. The match stipulation is the most perfectly suited for these two, they wanted to attempt to kill each other and that is effectively the basis of a last man standing match, to put your opponent down for 10 seconds.
The main reason I have put this second is simply, we had seen this twice before. This match and their first encounter are just as good as each other, in ring and emotionally. That emotion makes you forget during this match that the title is on the line until you get reminded by the commentary team, Ciampa and Gargano tell such a good story that you forget everything except the brutality going on inside and outside the squared circle. One of the absolute highlights of this match for me is after Ciampa hits three Project Ciampa’s and sits on a chair waiting for the 10 count, he’s counting along with the referee.
Gargano stands up at nine, hits a Superkick and collapses, a huge middle finger to Ciampa and shows what makes Gargano the heart of NXT. Both men end up on the stage, Ciampa handcuffed to the set and begging off Gargano, who isn’t having any of it and showing his darker side by ignoring his pleas and continuously hitting Superkicks until he hits a knee on Ciampa and goes flying over the set which is his downfall. Ciampa manages to roll off the stage and stands up whilst Gargano is rolling on the floor.
A finish which I believe it’s brilliant and shows Ciampa as the more superior member of the two and can outsmart Gargano who thinks way too much with his head.
Six matches, they are tied for three a piece but not including the PWG and Cruiserweight Classic one, we’re at two a piece which means we need a final tie breaker in one of the best feuds in WWE history.
Despite Triple H saying the most recent was the last encounter, I believe we will see more interactions in the future. I also learned that these two do not like the announcers, one of them was throw over the table in each match.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @George_Geal_. Thanks for reading!