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By Mike Johnson on 2021-09-21 11:27:00

WWE NXT 2.0 will make its sophomore appearance tonight on the USA Network, showcasing a new generation of younger WWE talents.  The WWE NXT Champion, however, is once again Tommaso Ciampa, who captured the Championship for the second time during last week's NXT 2.0 debut.  On Monday afternoon, Ciampa sits down to reflect on his title victory and what the expect from this new incarnation of WWE NXT.

Mike Johnson: Hey, everybody. It's Mike Johnson in the audio section of It is Monday, September 20th, 2021. Unless you've been completely oblivious, we are now living in an NXT 2.0 era, a new look, lots of new younger talents, and a brand-new NXT champion getting the chance to hold this precious Goldie for the second time officially, Tommaso Ciampa, who's sitting down with us.  Sir, we just joked right before we hit record, how quickly the landscape changes. Have you had a chance to even take a deep breath yet? Where you thought the world was going to be a week ago with NXT, even with all the promises of a new look and a new direction, was probably not what you found yourself walking into last week. Thoughts on everything that's gone down in the last seven to ten days.

Tommaso Ciampa: Yeah. Surprise, right? I think when everybody heard NXT 2.0 was on its way, they saw the colors, they heard the music and this entire repackaging, I don't think people thought Tommaso Ciampa was going to be heading the brand, but who better? You know what I'm saying? Like who better than Mr. NXT himself. This is like my passion project, I feel at this point with NXT, it's just a place that I've come to watch my career grow and I love it here so much. What an exciting time, just overall, the energy, the enthusiasm in the locker room on Tuesday, watching all these new guys and girls debut. What an exciting time.

Mike Johnson: When you compare what you went through last Tuesday and what the roster went through last Tuesday, how different or how similar was it to the NXT that everyone's kind of become accustomed to the last four or five, six years? There was a lot of talk about, oh, it's going to be so different, it's going to be so unique.  We could break it down, there's positives and negatives to everything. But as a talent who's been there and been one of those core NXT talents for this entire iteration of the brand, how different did it feel to you behind the scenes and in front of the camera?

Tommaso Ciampa: Well, I'll tell you more than anything, I mean, it's still very similar to the NXT I walked into six years ago, where you just, you have your veterans and different leaders. Shoot, even then we had Samoa Joe. But you have your Samoa Joes and your Finn Balors and your Nakamuras. Now you have your Tommaso Ciampas and your Pete Dunnes, and your Johnny Garganos and Kyle O'Reillys and so on, but then you also have all these new people who are in a sink or swim atmosphere who are developing right before your eyes. I remember when I was coming in and even before I had gotten here, you watch guys like Tyler Breeze and Baron Corbin, and American Alpha and Vaudevillians, and all these different people developing right before your eyes.  It's more like that than anything. It's kind of ironic in the sense, when everybody got in a tizzy thinking, "Oh, NXT is changing. This is going to be for the worst, this is going to be bad." Or whatever they thought, because at the end of the day, it's what it always has been. Now, in my opinion, doing it better than it's ever done it because Tuesday's show was fantastic. I watched it back and anything can happen. This chaotic atmosphere, watching all these people get out onto the stage for the first time and just killing it, one after another.  That was so exciting to watch, especially coming from my perspective, because I've watched a lot of these guys and girls enter into NXT and this system during the pandemic one day, there was no crowds and they couldn't perform in front of anyone and just working their butts off at the gym and in the ring and behind the scenes, just trying to get better and better at their craft. Now all of a sudden, oh my God, not only do you get a live crowd, but you're on USA, you get the whole world watching you. Then they go out there and they knock it out of the park. Like what an exciting time for me as a performer and as a fan.

Mike Johnson: When you look at all the younger talents who were given all this precious TV time and given this first initial chance to literally make or break their careers, and you've got names like Bron Breaker and Von Wagner, who are the ones that even if you didn't interact with them on camera, were the ones that you were most personally impressed with and said, "Oh, I see something here. One day, I'm going to get a chance to do something and help them and create something," Who were the names? Because there were so many names that were brought out over the course of that two hours, who were the ones that you were most impressed with on a personal level?

Tommaso Ciampa: I mean, so Bron Breakker is hard to ignore, especially when he's standing right in front of me at the end of the show. But he's hard to ignore. That guy is kind of can't miss. Odyssey Jones to me has a certain level of charisma. I've got to know him a little bit over the last couple of years and that's just a humble, hardworking guy who deserves the spotlight. Carmelo Hayes has been working on this for years now and got to NXT and just became an even better performer. He's like a sponge taking up all the knowledge and information from all the coaches.  The Creed Brothers, I don't ever want to step in the ring with, but my Lord do they look ... I don't know what their parents were feeding them. They are insane. And that comes from me. But yeah, that's a team that's ... Man, it's hard to flip the station when those guys are on. It's just there's tons, man. There's tons of different talent.  I mean, watching Mandy come back with her new look and I know that's not a new talent but a new attitude, I guess. It was excitement man, up and down across the board. We haven't even seen everybody. Like there's still a whole bunch of guys and girls ready to be rolled out who the audience has never seen. That's crazy to me. It's crazy to think one day I could step in there with Bron Breakker and Carmelo Hayes, and the next day I could step in there with Pete Dunne and Samoa Joe. You know what I'm saying? That's a wide range of talent and experience when you step in the ring.

Mike Johnson: When you think about the new iteration, the NXT 2.0, it really does strip NXT down to what it was in the beginning, when it first started running in Full Sail, which was, we're going to take a new generation of talents and let them run and see what comes of it.  That's kind of like bringing it back to the initial concept of what it was before it graduated to takeovers and the Barclay Center and places like that.

Tommaso Ciampa: 100%, 100%. I think that, to me, is the part that's so exciting. I'm hoping that people pick up on that more and more as the weeks turned into months. This is very exciting. We're going to see some fresh faces and new match-ups and this is awesome. You know what I'm saying?  People got super invested in that NXT, that NXT developing talents and getting their first takeovers and stuff. It's the same thing. Because even then, we had a core group of guys to help lead that push. It's the same exact thing that's happening right now. It might take people just a little bit to catch on to that because it's not exactly what NXT has been presented as over the last, maybe say two or three years. But man, when this thing starts to fire on all cylinders, it's going to be hard to stop.

Mike Johnson: I was going to say to you, this is probably not breaking news, but the internet is very critical of all change. What do you say ...

Tommaso Ciampa: [Laughs] I've heard.

Mike Johnson: [Laughs.] Yeah. If you look a little bit, you might find a little bit of that dabbling under the surface. What's your message to fans who kind of like fold their arms together and they look at it like this isn't my NXT, this isn't what I was invested in. What do you say to those fans who feel like the gold and black has disappeared, we've got these rainbow colors. This is not what I signed on for. What do you say to those fans who might be kind of rolling the eyes a little bit at some of the changes?

Tommaso Ciampa: Well, man, I mean, coming from me of all people like Tommaso Ciampa is NXT. You know what I'm saying? It's hard pressed that anyone's going to argue with me to tell me that NXT's dead when I'm holding on to the NXT title Goldie Ciampa 2.0 is just started and we're six days in. This is going to be a very special time. Five years from now, ten years from now, people going to look back and think, "Ah, that was the heyday. That was special. I remember when."  That's what always happened in professional wrestling. Everybody always looks at something ten years later and then reminisces about how special and how great it was. It's a constant cycle and that's going to happen again.  I get it, man. I get people who are having trouble letting go maybe of some of the black and gold or they're having trouble letting go of 2018 or 2019. But man, I'll be here to tell you that it's 2021 and Tommaso Ciampa is the two-time NXT champion and the greatest sports entertainer of all time. Now, I get to prove it to the world week-in and week-out. Because that's what I want to do. I want to prove it to the world, week-in and week-out. I want to defend that title, man. I do. I want to showcase that title. I want the NXT title to become the most prestigious title in the entire world of sports entertainment. I want to take on everybody from Carmelo Hayes to Bronson Breakker. I want to take on Samoa Joe and Pete Dunn. Heck, I want to go to Survivor Series and I want to step in there with Roman Reigns and Big E and I want to prove to them and prove to the world that I'm every bit as good as I say I am.  Then I don't know, maybe come end of November, December, January, people are going to look at this NXT 2.0 like, "Hey, you know what? It ain't all that bad. These Takeovers, yeah, they ain't all that bad. These guys are killing it. The passion is still there." Different color scheme, different label, whatever the passion is still there.  That's the key to this whole thing. It's the passion. I hope the fans continue to bring the passion because when I look around in our locker rooms, all the boys and girls and man that passion is there. I mean, it might be there tenfold right now, more so than it's ever been before.  Just give it time, like give it a shot. I know it's just words coming out of my mouth, but let the actions speak for themselves. Tune in the next couple of weeks and see what NXT 2.0 is all about. These guys and girls are out, man. They're out for blood. They want to prove to the world that they're just their next level talents.

Mike Johnson: In recent weeks prior to the shift to 2.0, you had been teaming with Timothy Thatcher. How surprised were you to find out, by the way, this is the direction we're going with you now? What did that moment mean to you where you get to be the cornerstone of the company again, and you get to be the champion of the brand again?

Tommaso Ciampa:  Yeah. Circumstance too, right? I mean, I know what it's like to relinquish the title for injury with the neck and hope Samoa Joe gets back on his feet as quick as possible. I know what it's going to do to him. I know that he's going to come back all graded and hungry. I can't wait for that matchup. That's going to be very special in a lot of ways, but for me, right place, right time, you know? There's been a lot of times in my career has not been right place, right time so this is an exciting new for me. To be able to hold that NXT title and this new branding of NXT 2.0, it's extremely, extremely special, man. I take the responsibility very seriously. If anything, it goes to show that just keep working hard and just do it day-in and day-out and it pays off, because that's kind of been something that I've kind of kept saying to myself over the last few years since returning is just, you just worry about you, you put the work in, you can't control what you can't control. I just kept my head down and just kept plowing ahead and just working my butt off, trying to get in the best shape of my life, trying to stay healthy. To be at the place I'm at now and to see how much it's all paid off, yeah, man, that's special. It's a really, really cool feeling.

Mike Johnson: When you compare that moment to Ciampa versus Gargano and the first time holding the championship and the I quit match, all these iconic NXT moments that you've had, where does last Tuesday rank in terms of importance with all those other moments that we've seen you have over the course of your WWE run?

Tommaso Ciampa: Yeah, it's incredibly hard to compare different moments. It really is. It's like when someone says what's your favorite match? I just don't have one because they're just all special in different ways. The first time I won the title was with Aleister Black. The first time I won the tag title was with Johnny with revival. All these different moments, looking back on them and how special they were and how much they played a role in this journey. I think for me, that's like the key part of it all ,is that we all get to go out there and tell stories. Then at the end of the day, all those stories culminate into like one giant autobiography or whatever you want to call it. For me, that's so cool. Like I'm creating this little legacy for Tommaso Ciampa. I just hope 20 years from now or so, people look back on it fondly. People are happy with the work that I've given and put forth. Because it's a passion project for me at this point. It really is.  It's hard to answer that question, but I'll tell you this. It's up there at the very top. It really is. As far as moments that I hold dear to my heart that were special, that are memorable. There's a photo someone sent me and it's from the match. The title is on the podium and I'm right by it. My wife and my daughter are in the backdrop of it. She's almost three now and it's the first time she's ever watched me live, like where she could actually remember it. You know what I'm saying? Like with COVID and stuff, she just has not been around. Yeah, it's extremely memorable and it's up there at the very top of cool moments in my careers thus far.

Mike Johnson: Well, the entire point of NXT is to create cool moments for the audience and get every younger talent prepared to one day, hopefully, move up to RAW and Smackdown. You've been an amazing part of that over the last couple of years and now you get to be in the pole position once again as the NXT champion.  I want to thank you for sitting down with us. I want to let everybody know that you can track down Ciampa at NXTCiampa on Twitter, but don't expect a lot of tweets. He's very much an analog guy in a digital world, which I can respect.  NXT this week is going to feature Roderick Strong challenging Kushida for the NXT Cruiserweight Champion. I am sure we're going to see more from Bron Breakker and Tommaso Ciampa on the USA Network this week.

Mike Johnson: Sir, I appreciate the time. If you've got any final words for everybody to close this out, I'd love to give you that forum.

Tommaso Ciampa: No, man. I just want to say thank you to you and thank you to all the people out there who keep following this journey, for me personally and for NXT as a brand. If there's any hesitation, just keep watching. That's all I can say. Just keep watching, keep an open mind. Because what you're about to see is going to be really special and I promise you that much. It's going to be a special time for NXT, the brand, the black and gold or whatever you want to call it. It's going to be a very special time.

Mike Johnson: Tommaso, thank you for the time.

Tomasso Ciampa: Thank you.

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