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By Mike Johnson on 2021-06-29 09:01:00

Former WWE NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa continues to grind on, deliverying consistently hard-hitting performances for fans.  With his WWE NXT Tag Team Championship match against MSK set for the Great American Bash special edition episode of WWE NXT on the USA Network, Ciampa reflects on a wrestling world about to return to normalcy, his partnership with Timothy Thatcher and a memorable career that continues to hit new benchmarks and entertain fans worldwise.  This interview with conducted on Monday 6/29.

Mike Johnson:   It's good to talk to you again. Hope all is well. I guess the first natural question to ask you is that tomorrow, on NXT, we are scheduled to see a face-off between yourself and Timothy Thatcher and the NXT Tag Team Champions MSK.  What can we expect from that segment?

Tommaso Ciampa: Man, I wish I had knew.  With Wildcard Timmy next to me, I feel like I never know. He's not much for words, so... You know what I'm saying?  It's like, okay, we're doing a face-off, but homeboy next to me ain't really going to have a conversation with MSK, so... I just feel like at any moment I'm waiting for him to just toss a headbutt in or something.  And then I just got to keep the peace until Great American Bash.  But if that says something to you... And I'm the one who's keeping the peace on my tag team.  That's usually not the case.  But I don't know what to expect.  I don't know that I've ever had a face-off, per se, especially one that was scheduled to take place. So I don't know, I'm just... And I know MSK is a fun-loving duo, and I just hope that they are smart enough to bite their tongues.

Mike Johnson: When I think about yourself and Timothy Thatcher, I feel like it's sort of the modern day equivalent of Gene and Ole Anderson, just two grizzled, angry veterans who know how to break extremities and work over different body parts in very cruel and unusual ways that would probably be illegal under most parts of the Geneva Convention.  You've had different tag team partners over the course of your career.  You were a tag team champion with Johnny Gargano. How do you describe the chemistry between yourself and Timothy, compared to other partners that you've had in the past, and what makes this tandem so unique?

Tommaso Ciampa: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely unique, but... And it's got some comparison, for sure. Like, "sometimes your greatest opponents make the greatest tag partners" type of thing. That was the case with Johnny and I, it's the case again with Timmy and I. Just, we have really good chemistry, whether we're against each other or we're together. And that's, for me at least, that's the key. It's like half the battle is just having good chemistry, being like-minded, seeing things the same way. Timmy's pretty straightforward, he's pretty simple to read. It's pretty easy for me to know what he's thinking, most of the time, when we're in a match. So that helps. And, man, he's just a tough, rugged dude. So I understand the Ole comparison with him and stuff.  He's smashmouth, he's straightforward. It's really been very refreshing doing the tag stuff together. It's one of those things that just fell in both of our laps, with the opening for the Dusty Cup Tournament, and then I think it was just evolving from there. But it's been a fun ride, and it's really cool now to see it evolving into... From the Legado match to the GYV match, now to this with MSK, and we're going for tag titles, and... I mean, it's Timmy's first time having a title match, or at least to my knowledge, in NXT. So it's cool for me to see and be a part of this journey for him. And then for myself as well, man, it's been a tough 18 months as far as professionally goes. So it's nice to have some sort of momentum growing in the right direction again.

Mike Johnson: You talk about how tough it was the last year and a half. Now that things are starting to open up and we're starting to see fans come back to WWE events, it's just a matter of time until NXT starts opening up and running live shows and has takeovers in traditional arenas and environments again. How excited are you to get back to that sense of normal?

Tommaso Ciampa: Oh, so excited, man. I mean, your entire career, my entire existence, for wrestling, you always hear how important the crowd is and how the fans make it and all this stuff. And then one day it's just gone, right? It's taken away. And talk about a moment of just really, really, actually understanding how important a crowd is in this avenue. And just in every sense, from the adrenaline of the match to just creating moments and just... And creating stars, and letting their voices be heard of like, "This is working, this is not working." "We want to see more of this, and not that."  For me, I mean, I think I really thrive off of the part of this business where you can just go off-the-cuff and listen to a crowd and just adjust on the fly. That's one of my strengths, I would say. So just not having them has just been a bit deflating. And just having that match with GYV a week or so ago, we had like 300-something people, I think, there. And even that was like, "Oh, okay." You're just starting to feel the energy again, starting to hear them again. So I, yeah, I can't wait. I can't wait to just start hitting sold-out arenas and getting that takeover environment back. And it's good all around for everybody. So I just, I can't wait for it to happen.

Mike Johnson: Obviously, MSK is a very, very unique team, very different style than you and Timothy bring to the ring. Thoughts on what we're going to see in terms of styles clashing, and how that plays into your favor, or maybe plays into something you've got to work to overachieve in the ring at the Great American Bash in a couple of weeks?

Tommaso Ciampa: Yeah, and I definitely think it plays into our favor. Our ability to attack is second to none. And I think that's just speaks to our experience, and that, obviously, none of the tag team people had been together for a handful of months, but just our time in this business, and road-weary, as in they had traveling and doing this, it's been about 18 years for me. I think, Timmy, it's roughly the same. And I think we've showed that already in matches with Legado and GYV, and doing even the recent one with the tornado tag style. We adapt very well. And MSK obviously has, I guess, the experience advantage as a tag team, friendship turned to brotherhood, and so on and so forth. And that's all great, man, on paper and stuff, but they're getting into the ring with two bad-ass dudes, so... It kind of is what it is. I think, in this scenario, at least for me, the champions are the underdogs. And I don't look at them and take them lightly, but I wouldn't bet any money on them, that's for sure.

Mike Johnson: You were first trained, at the beginning of your career, by WWE Hall of Famer Killer Kowalski. How many lessons did he impart about the ability to be versatile in the ring?   Were there any lessons that you can think of that helped from him, that helped you over the last 18 months when the world went kablooey and we were in such a weird circumstance?

Tommaso Ciampa: Yeah, I mean, I don't know about the adaptability part, just because I think Killer made people adapt to him, but... But it's the truth, though. Watch back any of his footage, Killer had Killer's match. But it's more about... His biggest takeaway for me, and I've said this numerous times in the past, he'd always tell you, "Make the people believe." "Make the people believe!" And it's just one of those things that just stuck with me forever, and I'll never let it go. And I think it's cultivated the style that I portray out there in the ring.   I don't like to do anything that doesn't make sense. I don't like to waste a step or a movement. I'm very thought-out with everything. Some people might even say "to a fault", I don't know, but I plan and I think, and I... My reactions to things and stuff are all... And you see Killer in everything I do. And same with Harley Race. The two of them just really instilled my style in me, even when I didn't know that's what they were doing. It was embedded. So I think if anything, I owe to them my realism, and what you see is what you get. And that's credit to both Killer Kowalski and Harley Race.

Mike Johnson: I want to reflect back on the TakeOver Stand & Deliver match against WALTER, which got great raves. Thoughts on him and the NXT UK brand, and what those talents who eventually migrate over here, like the Grizzled Young Veterans, bring to NXT as a whole as well as thoughts on that match and it being so well-received?

Tommaso Ciampa: Yeah. I wish it was in front of a massive sold-out crowd. That's for sure. I think that's my only regret, aside from not being the guy that had toppled his reign. But totally out of my control, obviously, in that sense, out of all of our controls. But he's a fierce, incredible competitor, he really is. I remember in the independents, I'd go to Germany quite a bit, wXw, and he was a mainstay there for years. We never wrestled, and we never even stepped in the ring together. And it was one of those things that I always felt like, "Oh, man, if this ever happens, I have a hunch we're going to have a real good chemistry," and sure enough, we did. I wouldn't mind to have rounds two, and I wouldn't mind to have it on his turf. Just like you said, talk about bringing guys like Dragunov and A-Kid and stuff over here, it's...To me, the exciting thing is for us to go over there. I loved doing tours on the independents, I loved it when we got to do a couple tours as part of NXT. The crowds there are different, they're unique, they're fun. The opponents are fresh and different. So I loved the idea of both happening. I mean, whether it's guys like Tyler Bate or Trent Seven who've already been here, and WALTER, or new guys, A-Kid and Dragunov, or taking some of us and putting us in that environment. It's just the mashups are so fresh, and I think they would deliver on such a different level. I remember they did Worlds Collide, whenever... Maybe two years... Whenever that was ago. And just the idea of an NXT UK-NXT type of clash would just be so cool, because the winner is the fans, right? It's just going to provide amazing matches when the time comes and travel restrictions are lightened up on and stuff. It's just a win-win for everybody.

Mike Johnson: On this Tuesday's edition of NXT, we're going to see a triple-threat match where the winners move on to challenge the women's tag team champions. As someone who's held tag team gold in NXT, thoughts on the women's tag team division and the talents that stand out there?

Tommaso Ciampa: I love that NXT has its own Women's tag titles now, just because it gives so many more people opportunities. So that to me is very cool. And it's also... I just didn't feel like seeing... Just in general, and it really is showcased in our tag divisions, but I love watching characters develop and performers grow and evolve. I loved it as a fan, as a kid watching it, and now that I'm in the business, it's just something that I find to be so genuine and so raw and authentic to our industry, that... Seeing somebody like Raquel and Dakota, and then how they've grown the last couple years, and it's awesome. Watching Shotzi and Ember on a tank together and their gear is always really cool.  I know it's like it's a simple thing, but it's just a cool evolution to everybody's character. It's fresh and you love it. It's done the same thing for Timmy and myself. So it's just good all around. It's awesome when you get to see somebody like, oh, Candice, and now you watch Indi just grow leaps and bounds as a performer in a matter of months. And you're like, "Oh, okay, yeah, well, put her with Candice, that makes a lot of sense." So it's just great, it's great for the women's division, but... And it's great for tag team wrestling. So it's just, again, it's one of those win-wins all around.

Mike Johnson: You mentioned freshening yourself up with the gear with Timothy, what has it been like, especially as someone who... You've been the NXT champion, you had Goldie, you've been such a big part of this brand. What is it like finding that chemistry so that you and Timothy each shine together, as opposed to one of you outshining the other? And what's the key to making that happen, as a veteran teaming with someone to get over a brand new team?

Tommaso Ciampa: Easy, because I'm not working with someone brand new. I mean, Timmy might not have been in NXT as long as me, but he certainly is far from a rookie. So in our case, it's super simple, and I think that it's, one, because we're like-minded, so our chemistry naturally was there. But, two, we took two stars and we put them together, so it's... We don't have to worry about stepping on each other's toes, we don't have to worry about the other guy not being there or not being able to live up to the moment. He's going to live up to the moment, I'm going to live up to the moment. We don't have to... That's not something that we're overly concerned about. It's different than if you're put in the position where you're taking a rookie under your wing and you're trying to help them develop.  In our case, that absolutely wasn't the case. Timmy's just, I mean, he's a star. So, and I think that's actually a big reason, too, why we've only been together for a handful of months, and here we are, going to the tag team titles. It was just... It clicked really fast. And once, I think, everybody realized how well it clicked, now it's just like, "Okay, now we got some steam behind us." And now, you come off that big tornado tag match, which you walk in MSK, whole different tags, whole different style, a lot of eyes on the show with Great American Bash coming up. For us, I feel like it's probably the most eyes that will have ever been on one of our tag team matches. So that on top of winning the NXT tag team titles, it's plenty of motivation for two guys like us.

Mike Johnson: Are you surprised it clicked as quick as it did?

Tommaso Ciampa: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I won't say that I was against teaming with him. I have a lot of respect for him, but it was, like I said, the last year has been a bumpy road. So it's been kind of like, ooh, man, just trying to find something that would click. But it's not something that, a year ago, if you had asked me, it's not something I would have even thought of it. It was, "Well, yeah, Timmy and I, put us together and see what happens." But right out the gate, from our first tag match with Undisputed Era to even having promo segments together, and sitting in the chairs and stuff. And just seeing us on the camera together, just right away it just made sense. It was like, "Oh, okay, yeah, this is going to work. This has legs to it." And I see the certain fan base that is drawn to us and it makes perfect sense to me. So it's, right now it's a matter of like, "Okay, well, let's see how far we can take this."

Mike Johnson: It was about two and a half years when you, Johnny Gargano, and a couple of other NXT talents began popping up on Monday Night Raw. Obviously you had some injury issues and you had to take some time off. Do you look at the main roster still as a goal? Or do you look at NXT as like, "This is the home and I want to help build this foundation and build this kingdom as large as I can and make this my career accomplishment." Do you still look at Raw and SmackDown and say, "I still look at that and I'd like to get there one day," or "I'd like to have that run," or do you feel like NXT is where Tommaso Ciampa is best presented?

Tommaso Ciampa: Yeah. It's a tough one for me to answer, because I don't know that... That's not how I work, as far as goals go. When I was a kid, it was different. When I was a kid, I wanted like, "Oh, I want to be on WrestleMania and stuff." For sure, those were the goals. Because I was signed at 20, 21, and released, and then did a bunch of independents, and toured around the world, and just found myself and grew as a performer. It's just all these different experiences I had, and it just became more about the journey than anything, and it became more about just becoming better, a better performer.  So when Johnny and I came to NXT and our first thing was doing the Dusty Classic in 2016 or something, even then, I mean, it was just, for me, it was like, "Oh, cool, here's an opportunity to get in the ring with new different people, fresh people, get in front of different audiences and grow as a performer." And obviously it keeps snowballing, but... The Raw brand is fantastic. Great roster, lots of talented men and women. Same thing with SmackDown, same thing with NXT. I'd love to get in there with everybody. It's just more about me doing things that, I don't know, help my own legacy at the end of it, that helped me, as a performer, grow and get better and stuff. There's no door that's closed, but at the same time, there's no weird carrot that's dangling in front of me, where I'm like, "Oh, that's what I got to do." It's just going with the flow of it all and making the most of every opportunity that's presented to me, essentially.

Mike Johnson: Well, the flow is going to bring us to NXT, tomorrow night with the face-off, and then the following week with the NXT tag team championship match against MSK. As we get out of here, why should fans make sure that Tuesday night they're watching NXT on the USA Network?

Tommaso Ciampa: Well, this Tuesday with the face-to-face, I think crazy Timmy is going to do something ridiculous. And I might be wrong, but I mean, he's a wildcard. So that should sell me on the face-to-face. Next Tuesday, that's where we put all of our stock, because I don't think there's a tag team alive right now that is better than Timmy and I. And I know we've only been together for six months and that's a big statement, but I think it's the truth. And I think our body of work is just going to continue to grow, and that statement is going to be proven time and time again over the next six months, 12 months, year or two years, whatever it needs. So Great American Bash, MSK... Good guys, good kids, whatever. We're taking the tag team title.

Mike Johnson: We look forward to when constellations align and we get a chance to talk some wrestling with you again. Appreciate the time and wish you and the family nothing but the best.

Tommaso Ciampa: Thank you, Mike. I appreciate it.

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