Johnny Gargano Talks Tonight's Bout Against Roderick Strong, Recalls Their History On The Indies

NXT superstar Johnny Gargano spoke with Sports Illustrated to hype his showdown with the Undisputed Era's Roderick Strong on tonight's episode of NXT on USA. Highlights from the interview can be found below.

Calls Roderick Strong the most explosive professional wrestler on the planet:

I’ve known Roddy for a long time. I was on the EVOLVE side of the indies and he was on more of the ROH side, so we didn’t come about too frequently, but we did lock up a few times in PWG. After he was done with ROH, he came to EVOLVE and we had a few matches there. For my money, Roddy is the most explosive professional wrestler on the planet. He brings something to the table that very few people have. His athleticism is off the charts, and he has a gas tank that does not quit. He is the definition of a workhorse. Some people consider me a workhorse, too. When you have two workhorses, two guys that are hungry, and want to show the world what they’ve got, you have a great mix for a great professional wrestling match on Wednesday night.

What he's looking to prove in tonight's matchup:

I was pretty excited after last week’s triple threat match [against Strong and Bronson Reed]. I got to mix it up quite a bit with Roddy, and there were people online talking about how they’d like to see a singles match between myself and Roddy, or even a match at a TakeOver. I read someone say they could watch us wrestle for an hour, and that’s quite a compliment. I’m looking to prove that I’m still the ace, that I’m still the guy. I may not have the NXT Championship, I may not have the North American Championship, but I still believe I am the face of this brand. I still believe, when you watch NXT, you watch for Johnny Gargano, who can go in the ring like no one else.

If he thinks they'll have an Iron Man match in the future:

I’ve yet to have an Iron Match in WWE. I’ve had a few Iron Man matches in my independent career, and one was against Seth Rollins a long, long time ago, but I’ve yet to have one under the WWE umbrella. The Iron Man match, for me, is what made me want to become a professional wrestler. Watching Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart [at WrestleMania XII in 1996], that was the defining moment of my childhood. The boyhood dream came true, Shawn Michaels won the title. I would love to be able to have an Iron Man match in WWE. Having one against Roderick Strong, that would be trouble. Like I said, he does not get tired.

Thoughts on Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels:

First of all, they’re both great. Easily top five of all-time. I have so much respect for both. I loved Bret as a kid, but Shawn is my number one of all-time, even more so now that I have a relationship with him and I’m able to work side-by-side with him. I now have even more respect for him and the way his mind works. I was even just talking with my mom about that. She used to make me Shawn Michaels costumes. I was a kid that used to go to autograph sessions to take a picture with Shawn Michaels, I was a kid that dressed up like him, and now I ask him for advice. It’s a dream come true. Shawn and Bret, they’re both great. They both influenced a generation of performers. I don’t think I’d be a wrestler today if it weren’t for those two guys. I can’t even imagine what today’s style of wrestling would be like without those two guys. They ushered in the workhorse style. I can’t imagine wrestling without them.

Watching Keith Lee's journey towards becoming NXT champion:

Keith is one of those guys that is just so special. A lot of people bring up the ‘It’ factor. Keith has that. He is immensely talented, and he can move like no big man can. As a big guy, at over 300 pounds, he’s more athletic and more agile than me. Winning that title, it’s a special moment. For him to become NXT Champion, and make history by having the North American title at the same time, it validates everything he has worked for. I’ve had conversations with Keith about this–you doubt yourself when you get here. You question how good you really are, and you don’t know if you’ll ever get that opportunity. When you actually achieve that goal, that lifelong dream, it’s indescribable. I’m very happy that Keith, a genuinely good person, was able to accomplish and experience that.