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5 Things That Never Happened to Tommaso Ciampa (and one thing that did)

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1. Louisville

OVW hadn’t even bothered to wish him luck in his future endeavors. Just a note telling him to clean out his locker, it wasn’t working out. Tommaso throws his stuff in his car and slams the door, enjoying the vicious sound of it. He peels rubber out of the parking lot and flips the offices the bird for good measure as he goes.

But as he’s driving, the clean good rage gives way to something else. His knee hurts like a son of a bitch, and he realizes his hands are shaking on the steering wheel. So he’s blown it. So that’s it. He’s washed out, lost his chance at the top, and he isn’t even twenty-three. He’s going fast now, well above the speed limit, his foot hard on the gas. The future stretches ahead of him, bleak and relentless: scraping by, starving, in pain, knowing he’s never going to make it where it matters.

He closes his eyes and his hands tighten on the wheel.

Then he slams on the brake and yanks the car over to the side of the road, throwing open the door and storming out into the tall grassy weeds. ”Fuck wrestling!” he screams at the road, the woods, the uncaring sky. He scrabbles into the back seat, grabbing his gear. “Fuck wrestling, fuck it, fuck it,” he pants, hurling his trunks and boots out into the grass.

He drives away and leaves them there. Tomorrow he’ll apply for a job at UPS.

His gear lies soaked in dew, abandoned.

2. Reseda

“Good match,” says Johnny Gargano in the back later. Tommaso just nods. He won, that was what mattered.

“You know,” Gargano says, “they’ve got that Dusty Rhodes Classic tag team tournament going on soon at NXT. There’s a call for teams to apply.”

“I heard,” says Tommaso. Hadn’t everyone?

“I was thinking about giving it a shot,” says Gargano.

“Good luck,” says Tommaso, throwing his gear into a bag, his mind already on the road, on his next match.

Gargano squints at him. “Would you like to team up for it?”

Tommaso does what must be a classic double-take. Gargano’s looking at him, his head tilted to the side, sizing him up. There’s something hopeful in his eyes. Tommaso doesn’t know what to do with that. For a second--just a second--he wants to say yes. Wants to find out what would happen.

Instead he scoffs. “Do I look like a tag team wrestler to you?” he says, throwing his bag over his shoulder and turning his back.

Later he hears Gargano teamed up with Chuck Taylor and they got to the second round before being eliminated. But by then he’s moved on, aiming for the PWG championship.

He doesn’t give Johnny Gargano a second thought.

3. Full Sail

The Cruiserweight Classic. Johnny’s on his hands and knees on the mat, his eyes glazed. He’s fighting on instinct alone. Tommaso rolls down the sleeve covering his knee and gets ready to deliver the blow that will end him.

Johnny looks up at him, and Tommaso hesitates for just a second. But this is wrestling, and you can’t let friendship get in the way of getting to the top. Johnny knows this. They talked about this. He knows this.

Tommaso hits him with the exposed knee and Johnny goes down in a heap. Tommaso can feel his heart hammering as he pins him, nearly as loud as the bell that rings to end the match. There’s blood at the corner of Johnny’s mouth, and Tommaso pulls his hand from the ref’s grip to kneel and check on him.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

Johnny’s eyes are unfocused, but he almost smiles. There are trainers running to the ring, pushing Tommaso away from Johnny. They find out later it’s a concussion. Johnny’s out for a month.

Tommaso advances to the next round and loses to T.J. Perkins in a match that’s mentioned in Match of the Year lists. Tommaso figures there’s no shame in losing to the eventual winner of the tournament.

Johnny doesn’t hold it against him, of course he doesn’t. They remain good friends.

But they never tag together again.

4. Brooklyn

Johnny’s crumpled in the ring, his face twisted with the agony of loss more than the agony in his knee. He looks up at Tommaso and his eyes are filled with tears. On the ramp the Revival are lifting their belts, taunting them.

The audience has gone still, muted with shock and disappointment and something else. Tommaso looks out at them all, waiting and watching. He reads the forums. He knows what everyone expects of him. The Sicilian Psychopath, the Psycho Killer, of course he’ll turn on Johnny. Tommaso feels the old familiar stifling feeling at his throat, the weight of everyone’s distrust. Johnny’s looking at him, and Tommaso can see that same thread of worry under the trust.

Maybe he’s had enough of smiling and being positive. Maybe he’s had enough of all of it.

In the end, it takes three refs to pull him away from Johnny’s limp body; it takes Regal screaming at him from the ramp to stop attacking his former partner. What does it matter now?

He and Johnny have a feud that lasts the rest of the year, but eventually Tommaso gets future endeavored for “poor impulse control.” It’s all bullshit anyway. What had impulse control ever gotten him?

5. Orlando

When Johnny asks him to move in, Tommaso is tempted, he really is. But he’s pretty sure they’d get sick of each other, banging around in the same place constantly. And really, would Johnny still want to be his partner if he saw Tommaso during the bad days, the low days, the dark days when the world seems pointless and bleak? No, he’d kick Tommaso out within a month. Not worth the risk.

So he turns Johnny down politely and finds his own place. As it works out, it was definitely the right decision. Living together would have been a disaster; they’d have split, ruined their friendship, and they never would have made the main roster.

They never do beat the Revival, but that’s okay. They get on Superstars and Main Event regularly. They even get on TV sometimes. It’s a good life, better than he ever expected, and Tommaso has no regrets at all.

And one that did: Toronto

Johnny’s lying on his stomach, touching the title belt resting on his hotel pillow, his fingers shaking. He’d touched Tommaso the same way a few hours ago: reverent and greedy at once. Tommaso can’t stop looking at the way the light reflects onto his face, turning his eyes warm and golden.

“We did it,” Johnny whispers again. He rests his cheek on the title and smiles at Tommaso. “We did it.”

“Yeah,” says Tommaso. “We did it.”

“It feels like everything’s always been leading up to this,” Johnny says. “It feels like it could never have gone any other way. Like it was destiny. Inevitable. You know?”

Tommaso closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the breathtaking, beautiful certainty in Johnny’s, and breathes a silent prayer of thanks to all the roads he didn’t take.

“Yeah, I know,” he lies joyously.