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Johnny Gargano explains why 'a big part of him' didn't want to make WWE return in Cleveland

Gargano will make his in-ring return on WWE Raw.
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Johnny Gargano says it was important to him to keep his WWE return a secret. 

Gargano made his unadvertised return to the company on the August 22 edition of Raw from Toronto. During a recent appearance on After the Bell, Gargano commented on the reaction he received that night and also why he was hesitant to have it happen in Cleveland. 

"It was very fun to be able to literally keep a secret in a time period where that doesn't happen," Gargano said. "Everything leaks nowadays. Everything in wrestling leaks and I remember when I was younger I loved things during the Attitude Era where you'd be watching Nitro or you'd be watching Raw and someone would just show up and you'd be like, 'What the hell is going on? I can't believe they're here.' The dirt sheets and things like that were around but it also wasn't as prevalent as it is today with the internet and whatnot." 

"That was the most important thing to me for this secret, for this return was to make it a complete surprise. Obviously, I could have came back two weeks prior in Cleveland but everyone believed that, everyone thought that was going to happen. That's probably why it didn't happen. It would have been great, I would love to come back in my hometown, I still haven't wrestled in that arena, which is mind-blowing to me." 

"It was really important for me to just keep this whole thing under wraps as much as possible. The fact that we were able to do that, the fact that I flew into Buffalo and I was snuck across the border." 

"Snuck legally across the border, we're not getting in trouble here, snuck across the border into Toronto," Gargano clarified. 

"A big part of me didn't want to come back in Cleveland because I knew if I would have came back in Cleveland it would have gotten an amazing reaction but people would have been like, 'Oh you know, he's this little kid from NXT and he got the reaction because it's his hometown.'"

"So, to come back in Toronto in an arena, I think, like, 16,000 people might have been in that arena. It was really cool because a commercial break happened, we came back from commercial break and then my music started playing. The reaction was such a cool reaction to experience because it was like, the music hit and everyone was like, 'Wait a minute, that's familiar, what is this?' And then my name came across the Tron and everyone was like, 'Wait a minute, what's going on right now? What's happening? And then I walked out and everyone lost their minds, and then the Johnny Wrestling chants started, and everyone was super fun to play with."

"That, for me, is going to be one of the lasting memories for me is that gradual pop and that gradual reaction when people realized what was happening." 

Gargano also told a story about how watching Stranger Things and listening to the Kate Bush song, "Running Up That Hill" during his free agency played a role in his decision to return to WWE.

"This is when I knew what I wanted to do. I was watching Stranger Things and the song came on and the first thing that popped into my head was, 'Wait a minute, that's Shawn vs. The Undertaker's song from WrestleMania.' Placebo did a cover of it," he said. 

"I watched the hype video for Shawn and Taker from Mania and I sat there in the kitchen, Candice was right there she can tell you this, I sat there in the kitchen and I watched this hype video as she's doing baby stuff, and it just hit me watching this video, I was, like, this is what I want to do, this is where I want to be and this is what I want to do. This is why I got into this, to have videos like this about me but also to have these WrestleMania stories and matches and I haven't had that yet. I haven't had that WrestleMania moment, I haven't had that WrestleMania match."

Gargano was also asked how close he was to signing with another company during his free agency.

"It crossed my mind but I was at the point too where I wasn't ready to come back yet. I was enjoying myself. Obviously, I have people who work around me that go out and talk to other places. I luckily have a great team around me that makes stuff happen for me that had those discussions so I don't have to." 

"Obviously, it crossed my mind," he continued. "I watch everything, I'm a wrestling fan at the end of the day. We're all just wrestling nerds, so I watch everything but it always just came back down to when I was a little kid, and I said this in my return promo, when I was a little kid I dreamed of becoming Intercontinental Champion, I dreamed of becoming WWE Champion, I dreamed of wrestling at WrestleMania. Those things hold so much weight to me"