When wrestling can’t speak for itself, it shouts instead.
Oftentimes, this is true on a metaphorical level where matches that don’t have any story or context behind them compensate with over the top flashiness and athleticism. A midcard spotfest shouts because there’s nothing to build on otherwise. In the case of One Final Beat, the culmination of the three plus year feud between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, this is true on a literal level.
“BROTHERS, HUH? BROTHERS?!”
“He’s got a bad neck, Johnny!” “OH I KNOW HE’S GOT A BAD NECK.”
“YOU ALWAYS TALK ABOUT MY ACTIONS BUT YOU NEVER THINK ABOUT THE INTENT!”
“YOU’RE A FAILURE AS A MAN. YOU’RE A FAILURE AS A HUSBAND. YOU’RE A FAILURE AS A FATHER.”
“SAY IT! SAY IT! SAY IT! YOU’RE A PIECE OF SHIT!”
For forty excruciating minutes, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa take turns explaining their feud to us in between all the spots they’ve strung together in order to remind us of all the rich cleverness that they’ve put into this feud. See, if they don’t shout out the key themes, plot points, and lines they clearly wrote for promos that couldn’t be filmed for one reason or another, then how are we supposed to ever understand the depth, the sheer genius of all these layers and callbacks that they’ve been building to for years.
This is their magnum opus and it demands to be understood.
Watching this match feels like listening to a rapper stopping after every bar to shout their Genius lyric annotations at you.
I want you guys to understand that even before the coronavirus changed how we produce and interact with art and wrestling in particular, Gargano vs. Ciampa IV was a Bad Idea. The feud peaked at New Orleans and then continued shambling along forward through twists and turns that only served to muddle and taint what might have been one of the best things NXT ever did. When this match got announced after the #DIY reunion, after Tommaso Ciampa’s face turn, it felt wrong. Why would Gargano be the heel? Why would Ciampa be the babyface? The only natural conclusion of running the match again is for Gargano to win. So the only way for this to end is with the heel winning the match that’s meant to be the final encounter between these two. Had this match taken place in front of a sold out arena, it would still have been borne from a fundamentally flawed understanding of this story and narrative structure in general.
It only took the coronavirus to push it over the edge as The Worst Thing Ever. There are a stunning amount of Artistic and Visual Choices made in this match, all of them seem specifically made to make it the match actively worse.
First of all, the overall production design. One Final Beat marks the third in a series of WWE “cinematic” matches released in the past week. Unlike the Boneyard match and the Firefly Funhouse which used the pre-shot and edited medium to highlight the supernatural elements of its characters in both The Fiend and The Undertaker, One Final Beat is played entirely straight. With a singular ring in an empty warehouse and ominous music playing as Johnny Gargano enters the building, it is clear that there’s no wiggle room here for irony or humor. Gargano and Ciampa are here to put on a dramatic epic.
The insistence on playing the match as a straight drama instead of schlocky insanity means that the infamously cheap and shoddy WWE production stands out more than ever. The footage here is littered with the hyperactive Kevin Dunn cuts and hideous angles that expose the action that you’ve come to expect from a terrible episode of Monday Night Raw. The fact that they mix these elements with close up shots that obscure the action and an inconsistent sound design that leapfrogs between levels only makes things all the more disjointed and horrific.
It is stunning how bad the production on this match is given that it is an edited piece of work. One of my favorite moments comes when Johnny slings himself over the top rope to dive onto Tommaso on the floor. Ciampa intercepts by braining Gargano with a trash can lid. A standard hardcore spot that we’ve seen multiple times before. It works because of the element of surprise. One man goes for a spectacular piece of offense only to be cut off with swiftness and brutality.
For some reason, someone at Titan Towers decided that the best way to film this moment would be to include a quick shot of Ciampa grabbing the trash can lid off the floor in between shots of Gargano executing the move. It’s a baffling misunderstanding of the basic elements not only of filmmaking but wrestling as well.
Then there’s the drone.
In the midst of this heartbreaking, brutal fight for the ages, Ciampa and Gargano wander out to the Full Sail parking lot and climb up a production truck to brawl on the roof. Well not exactly. First they stand dramatically on opposite ends of the roof as a drone shot films them from overhead. Now, putting aside the many kayfabe questions that this calls to mind–Why did WWE officials have a drone ready? Did they have a production assistant ready to man the drone in case Ciampa and Gargano fought on the truck? Is a drone operator an essential member of the crew during this coronavirus lockdown?–the main problem keeping me from ignoring the drone shots is that I can actually hear the drone.
For the entirety of Ciampa and Gargano’s brawl on the truck, the drone’s propellers buzz in your ear with manic insistence. It imposes itself upon the mise en scene, implanting itself upon the kayfabe.
The climax to this setpiece on the truck? We cut to commercial so that the two can wander back into the building to get to the next overwrought spot they had in mind.
Spots which include Ciampa nailing the Air Raid Crash from the top rope to the floor in a moment so poorly edited that it becomes disgustingly apparent that neither nor Gargano could be bothered actually taking that bump. And if they did actually take it, they can blame whoever edited this trash from eliminating any impact that might have had on the proceedings.
There’s a brief moment here where Gargano reaches for Ciampa’s hand only for Ciampa to pull away in disgust. In whatever cabin fever addled, sleep deprived brain this moment came from, this probably meant to signify some final loss. An indelible separation that highlights the tragedy of a friendship that’s fallen apart. Perhaps that moment would work better if that same emotional beat hasn’t been done sixty million times across this entire feud. That moment only ever worked once and it was at the end of their Unsanction Fight in New Orleans–a match that I hold onto as one of the best of the last decade. Redundant as is, that same emotional beat gets played on again for this finish of this monstrosity.
Candice LeRae wanders into the venue distraught at the carnage these two men have wrought. She stands unnaturally in the middle of the ring, begging both men to end things now. “I hate my husband!” she declares. Even for Candice, Johnny Gargano has simply gone Too Far. Painful as it is to say, this is truly what NXT has been building to. All the crumbs lead here. Here with Candice low blowing her husband in a moment meant to elicit thoughts of putting down a dog gone rabid.
This is the peak of the NXT Morality Play.
Ciampa attempts a reconciliation with Gargano in the moment. He has realized that things have gone Too Far. But, what’s this? Oh ’tis but a ruse! Candice low blows Ciampa and Johnny reveals he was wearing a cup the whole time. Wearing a cup to protect him from the low blow that he and his wife had planned together? Surely Candice would just pull the kick if it was a ruse all this time? Or is wrestling kayfabe so airtight and precious in this moment that we daren’t expose that a low blow can be faked?
This match not only reaches beyond itself and falls flat on its face, it also serves to ruin the actual good work that came before it. It is bad on an almost stunning degree. It accomplishes everything it set out to do so poorly that the wrestling itself feels almost secondary. The action pales in comparison to the overwhelming incompetence that surrounds this match on all sides. I never thought it would be easy for me to make this declaration but Ciampa, Gargano, and the WWE machine have created a masterpiece of terrible that is simply undeniable.
Worst match I’ve ever seen.