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WWE Raw star Johnny Gargano, during his interview with Corey Graves on "After The Bell." was asked why he left NXT in December 2021:

"I kind of made a decision that I was gonna let my contract expire maybe a year before that, honestly. So it had nothing to do with anything going on currently at the time. It felt like to me, I was fulfilled with everything I did in NXT. I'm very much a person that wants to enjoy the place he's working. I love NXT. That's why he was there for so long. Like, make no mistake about it, you can ask anyone you want, it was my choice to be in NXT for that long just because I genuinely loved everyone I was working with. I love the writers. I love the locker room. I love the office. I had great relationships with everybody. But there was also another side of it to where, what more can I accomplish there?”

I've always had this chip on my shoulder, underdog mentality, where I'm always trying to search and find out what I can do next? I'm always trying to do the things that people tell me I can't do and that was my whole NXT run. I did everything there was to do in NXT. So I'm always someone who's looking for that next mountain to climb.”

“For me, I think after I did everything on NXT, it was kind of one of those things where like, okay, do I go to RAW or SmackDown? I don't know if I want to do that in the current climate of my life. I was like, I don't know if I want to go there yet. So I was okay letting my contract expire and kind of seeing what else is out there, for lack of a better term, but also, like, when the time came, I think everything happens for a reason, obviously. Candice got pregnant, and when Candice got pregnant, that kind of solidified my decision to where if I was 50/50 going into my contract being expired, when Candice got pregnant, and we found out the timetable of everything, our baby was gonna be born in February, my contract was going to expire in December, I kind of decided like, Okay, I have a rare opportunity now to let my contract expire, and also be able to just sit at home and enjoy the first couple months of fatherhood that I wouldn't have got a chance to any other way. So, like I said, I think everything happens for a reason. There was no one thing that made my decision, but it was just an amount of different things, and also, you know, the baby, which is a big thing that made me decide."

Gargano talking about if he was thinking about permanently staying home wants he walked away from NXT:

"Yes and no. I gave myself kind of a year. When I left in December I said okay, I am content being gone December, I think December 7 might have been my last NXT show, December 7 to December whatever, December or January. I was okay taking off a full year, letting my body rest, letting my body recover, but also letting my mind recover, and also re-energizing myself.”

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“I've done this for almost 18 years at this point. I've been very lucky. I haven't had any major injuries. I haven't had any major time off. So I haven't had any downtime. So for me, and as you guys know, there is no off season in what we do, so we're just going consistently, especially when, before I even got here on the Indies, I was going pretty hard every single weekend. Multiple shows, double shots, like wrestling multiple times a weekend, staying in shape, doing all that stuff like that. It mentally wears on you, especially in this current day and age with social media, and things like that, that get in your head and the mental health problems we all kind of have to go through. I was just totally fine taking this year, spending it with my baby, and being a stay at home dad, working on my dad bod, which I did, working on my dad bod getting ready to go, and just you know, like, be happy. I was totally fine with that with wrestling being in my life.”

“I don't know if there's any point where I decided, like, maybe I won't come back. Obviously, it crossed my mind a few times when I'm sitting at home and I'm able to do whatever I want. I don't have anyone to answer or anywhere to go. I wake up in my own bed every single day. I work out in my own gym. I hang out with my kid. It's a great life.”

“I'll tell you guys a story and this is how my mind works apparently. So you guys have seen Stranger Things obviously, right? Okay, so the song 'Running Up That Hill, by Kate Bush, became very popular. This is when I knew what I wanted to do. I was watching Stranger Things and the song came on. The first thing that popped into my head was, wait a minute. That's Shawn versus The Undertaker song from Wrestlemania. Placebo did a cover of it. That's where my mind went. I was like, I remember that. I watched the hype video for Shawn and Taker from Mania. I sat there in the kitchen and I watched this hype video. 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 like, 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. So in a roundabout way, Stranger Things, playing that song, and me correlating it to Shawn vs Taker from Mania, which led me to watching the hype video again in my kitchen, led me being like, that's what I want to do. I want to wrestle at WrestleMania. So that's a long winded story of how we ended up where we are."

On his return to RAW and why he did not debut in Cleveland:

"So it happened very fast, the whole thing. It's very fun to be able to literally keep a secret in a time period where that doesn't happen. Everything leaks nowadays. Everything in wrestling leaks. I remember when I was younger, I loved things during the Attitude Era where you'd be watching Nitro or you're watching RAW and someone just showed up and you're 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 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 come 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 to my hometown. I still haven't wrestled in that arena, which is mind blowing to me, outside of when I was Cedrick Von Haussen, but that's a different character. It's a different universe. It was really important for me to just keep this whole thing under wraps as much as possible." 

If you use any portion of the quotes from this article please credit After The Bell with Corey Graves with a h/t to WrestlingNews.co for the transcription.