RondaRousey.com’s Classic Match series takes a closer look at significant and super cool matches from wrestling history.
NXT TakeOver: Portland is coming this Sunday, but let’s flash back real quick to a simpler time: May 20, 2017, to be exact. The world was grooving to “Despacito,” The Boss Baby was still racking up box office returns, and, in what seems like a lifetime ago, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa were BFFs and tag team partners. Sure, sometimes that last one’s still the case these days… but this was right before they broke up in the first place.
And that night at NXT TakeOver: Chicago at the Allstate Arena, it all changed, as DIY—the team of Gargano and Ciampa—faced the then-NXT Tag Team Champions The Authors of Pain, Akam and Rezar, in a ladder match for the titles. The menacing Authors of Pain, accompanied by legendary manager Paul Ellering, had vexed the smaller, scrappier DIY for months—eliminating them from the Dusty Rhodes Classic in October 2016, defeating them for the NXT Tag Team titles three months later at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio—leaving the two indy wrestling standouts with a lot to prove, and at least a smidge of simmering tension.
It’s a bit surreal at this point to see both Gargano and Ciampa as fiery upstarts—wearing their matching light blue #DIY shirts—but that’s how they arrived for the ladder match, with Authors of Pain initially getting the better of their smaller opponents (a 220-pound collective weight difference, according to Nigel McGuinness). DIY soon shifted the momentum, knocking their opponents out of the ring and going to the outside to grab ladders. Cutting the AoP off at the pass, Ciampa smashed Rezar into the ring steps with a drop toehold, leading to Gargano nailing a somersault senton off the apron onto Akam. All looked good for DIY. Or so it seemed.
Spotting the opportunity, Gargano and Ciampa brought the giant ladder from the entrance ramp to the ring area, with Gargano soon hitting a suicide dive to the outside under the ladder, bad luck be damned, with Ciampa pulling down the middle rope for the assist. Rezar eventually regained the advantage for his team, catching Gargano in midair and dropping him onto Ciampa.
A few moments later, the AoP attempted their signature Super Collider double team—powerbombing both of their opponents, but smashing them together first for good measure—but DIY, clever men they are, had the good sense to slip out from that position and try to climb the ladder. With Akam and Rezar back on offense, Akam held the ladder for Rezar in a heartwarming bit of teamwork, before thinking better of it and getting a few more licks in on Ciampa and Gargano.
Looking to maximize the mayhem, AoP set up parallel ladders horizontally from opposite corners of the ring to the guardrails, looking for simultaneous powerbombs—but DIY reversed, avoiding certain doom and, in the highlight of the match, climbing the giant ladder in the middle, each splashing onto an Author of Pain, driving them brutally through a ladder while causing sizable physical harm to themselves. As McGuinness put it, “Yes. And no at the same time.”
As the dust cleared, Gargano was left as the last man standing, about to secure the belts for DIY—until Ellering, at this point a visibly fit 63 years old, pulled “Johnny Wrestling” off the ladder—and getting a superkick as his penance. This gave way to an extended, ladder-assisted beatdown on Ciampa, with Gargano heroically taking a ladder for his partner. Gosh, sure would be a shame if something happened to this team, right?
In another highlight, Ciampa met Rezar halfway up the ladder, and served up a German suplex off the ladder and into a ring propped up in the corner. DIY got their finisher, Meet in the Middle—a knee smash from Ciampa and a superkick from Gargano, launched from opposite corners—and all seemed promising for DIY, despite showing visual damage from the match. Both climbed a ladder in tandem, but just as it looked like they had things won, the Authors of Pain swatted the ladders away, leaving DIY dangling from the hook that secured the belts—and ripe for a Super Collider. From there, it was easy, with the Authors of Pain freely climbing the ladder and winning the match at around 20 minutes.
The rest is history and one of the most iconic betrayals in WWE history: DIY got a standing ovation from the Chicago crowd due to their valiant efforts in defeat, but as they made their way up the ramp—and most shockingly, after the copyright notice appeared in the bottom-left corner—Ciampa turned on Gargano, as fans had worried might happen for months. (His old nicknames were “Sicilian Psychopath” and “Psycho Killer,” after all.) Ciampa beat down Gargano for about five minutes, first sending him into the video screen on the entranceway, and plunging him into multiple tables with an Air Raid Crash off the stage. Forgive the drama, but it was a tragic end to a team that started as part-time NXT talent and beat the odds to become major fan favorites.
Of course, that was only the beginning for Ciampa and Gargano—Ciampa injured himself during this match, putting him on the shelf, but returning in January 2018 to attack Gargano. The two had multiple memorable matches, and eventually, it seemed Ciampa had seduced his former partner to the dark side—with DIY even reuniting in the 2019 Dusty Rhodes Classic, the same tournament where they first teamed together in 2015. Yet that was just a prelude to Gargano getting some long-awaited revenge on Ciampa, which looked to be leading to an NXT Championship match over WrestleMania weekend—but Ciampa got injured again, meaning that he had to relinquish the title and this feud still lacked resolution.
When Ciampa was out with his neck injury, Gargano ended up winning the NXT Championship that his former friend had to give up. It was immediately after that match at NXT TakeOver: New York that Ciampa came out to celebrate Gargano’s win, proving that time really does heal all wounds. While now mostly focused on their singles careers in NXT, Gargano and Ciampa have since reunited again as DIY. But you have to believe: That life-changing night in Chicago has to play in the back of both men’s minds non-stop.