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Johnny Gargano announces first indie date post-WWE

WWE, AEW, Johnny Gargano, Forbidden Door, NXT

There was a time when Johnny Gargano looked like one of the hottest free agents on the market following a successful end to his time in WWE.

On paper, he had everything going for him; pre-existing feuds with opponents across multiple promotions, an exciting in-ring style that works equally well as both a heel and a face, and a similarly-free agent wife in Candice LeRae who can not only perform alongside her husband in mixed tag matches but also has an incredible resume of her own thanks to impressive runs in PWG and Stardom.

And yet, it’s been six months since Gargano decided not to return to WWE and a month since LeRae failed to re-sign during her maternity leave, and week after week, “The Whole Shebang” has yet to return to weekly televised action, let alone the wrestling ring in any capacity.

Well, fear not The Way fans, for Johnny has officially announced his return to the wrestling world in an event called “What’s NeXT with Johnny Gargano” which will take place in Nashville, Tennessee as part of Starrcast V. Get your spaghetti ready, Gargano fans, this is going to be good.

Is Johnny Gargano gearing up for a major post-WWE in-ring return?

It seems like a month can’t go by without Johnny Gargano-watch in All Elite Wrestling. He was supposed to debut at Beach Break in Ohio, again at the Interim Championship Casino Battle Royal, and at seemingly every Pay-Per-View since his release in December, including Forbidden Door, where some expect Gargano to be Bryan Danielson’s mystery opponent against Zack Sabre Jr.

But why? What is it about Gargano that has captured the hearts of AEW fans and would make him a perfect fit in the promotion? In a word: History. Over his 17 years of in-ring action, Gargano has wrestled many of the best performers in the world, including many who are currently employed by AEW. He’s wrestled NXT staples like Adam Cole and his buddies in The Undisputed Era reDRagon, Samoa Joe, FTR, and Leon Ruff, who took his title in a very weird program sure, but Gargano was also a noteworthy figure in PWG, where he wrestled the likes of Brian Cage, The Young Bucks, and Best Friends, usually with his once and (hopefully) future tag team partner Tommaso Ciampa.

Factor in an EVOLVE feud with Ethan Page, and an on-again, off-again tag team with Chuck Taylor that probably won’t be resurrected on the indies or in AEW, and you’re left with a ton of interesting opportunities for Gargano to wrestle dozens of dream matches both in a dedicated promotion and on various bigger indie promotions like Prestige, Beyond, and even GCW if Gargano wants to take things back to his CZW roots.

In the modern-day, post-Forbidden Door era of wrestling, optionality really is the way indeed.

Who knows, maybe there’s a reason why Johnny Gargano hasn’t graced an AEW, Impact, or even Ring of Honor screen since his contract with WWE expired at the end of 2021. Maybe he genuinely wanted to take a break in order to spend time with his newborn baby and will return to the ring soon enough, maybe even as Bryan Danielson’s replacement at Forbidden Door. But for now, fans can at least mark down Starrcast as an official date on the post-WWE Johnny Gargano calendar – hopefully, it’s the first of many.