Before Samoa Joe arrived in NXT there was some worry whether WWE would try to mold him into their vision.
Those concerns quickly dissolved shortly after his debut in 2015.
And in the months that followed it became clear the company would build on Joe’s established history and respected reputation rather than try to reinvent. The move paid off with the imposing veteran reaching new heights. So much in fact Joe reached the top o the NXT mountain by dethroning Finn Bálor and ending his historic title reign.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Joe said, on winning the gold. “NXT has kind of become this phenomenon on to itself. To be the spear tip of it means a lot to me. I look forward to carrying it on moving forward.”
The 37-year-old is days away from one of his biggest challenges against Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II Saturday, Aug. 20 at 8/7CT on WWE Network. The Japanese sensation also brought a built-in fan base on his journey to WWE. Expectations are high due to their respective physical styles.
“I think Nakamura’s talent speaks for itself,” Joe said.
“I think it’s a match that I’ve very much been looking forward to. Very much like Finn, I have a ton of history with Nakamura. I’ve seen him develop form being a New Japan green boy to being the superstar that he is today. And at no point during that development have we gotten in the ring and locked horns one-on-one. So it’s something I’m very much looking forward to and I think the fans in Brooklyn will not be disappointed.”
The Californian finds himself in an NXT locker room mixed with familiar running buddies and emerging superstars. For Joe, it’s a very unique and unusual time in WWE history.
“There is this reaching out to the industry as a whole and bringing in other people from other companies,” he said.
“Just the Cruiserweight Classic and bringing in all these faces from around the world and who you would never ever expect to see, let alone featured in a running series on the Network. It’s a very exciting time because WWE is trying a lot of new and interesting things. To be here at this time I think, it’s special to me because I am kind of in the middle of it and can see it all and watch it materialize right in front of me.”
Working in virtually every major promotion out there in operation, Joe had the experience coming into the sports entertainment leader. However, WWE is a different kind of animal where the transition isn’t always easy. He could feel the trust in his abilities, which has allowed Joe to flourish.
“It was really WWE kind of taking their hands off and letting me do me,” he said. “They kind of gave me the reins to be Samoa Joe and do what I needed to do. They let me keep my moniker. I think the biggest thing is they respected me and my artistic integrity. It has been very welcome to see while working for WWE.
“…The majority of my career, you see people released or on their way out of the company saying various horror stories about how things are. So my expectations were pretty low. But being a part of the company has far exceeded my expectations. It has been a blast the entire time I’ve worked here. I’m not one to grumble and complain much, but I have to admit it has been refreshing just being a part of the company and being part of the NXT brand.”
With WWE embracing talent like Joe and seeing the positive response, other exciting signings followed with similar results.
“We were kind of test cases in that it was something the company wasn’t doing much of for a while,” he said. “I think they looked at us and they saw the reliability with what we were able to do and it was kind of welcomed with open arms. So it is going well so far.”
Among the shining examples has been AJ Styles. The “Phenomenal One” skyrocketed to the main event scene after a memorable introduction at the Royal Rumble. Joe couldn’t be happier for his good friend and longtime rival.
“I was not surprised to see AJ do so well,” he said.
“There are several guys who I have come up with in my career that have gone on to have tremendous success in WWE. That included Daniel Bryan. These are all guys I’ve been up and down the roads with and understand their capabilities. I think if anything AJ was more worried than I was. So it doesn’t surprise me, and I don’t think it surprised fans. A lot of fans, there is a bit of an antagonistic tone when it comes to what will happen if someone goes here or there. And the surprise is mainly because of that and not because they thought he wasn’t capable. I think his talents have translated well.”
The most memorable moments of Joe’s WWE run so far was with former tag team partner and regular opponent in Bálor. The two told a story in their series of battles that resonated with fans and took their respective levels of intensity to new heights.
“First and foremost to be able to work a seven-plus month program and have it branch out completely and see it go through all the twists and turns. Then to have everyone stay with us, it was refreshing,” Joe said.
“You don’t typically see these long feuds much these days. Things don’t usually last that long. Working with Finn, who is a phenomenon and who the fans are rabid to see. Now you see him exploding on the scene on Raw, which is no surprise to me. For the most part it was a great experience, and I think we produced some good stuff people enjoyed and will remember for a long time. I’m glad we crossed paths and hope we will cross paths again.”
One man who enthusiasts may not mind Joe meeting up with is Conor McGregor. The UFC fighter has made headlines and sent the pro wrestling industry in an uproar over some less than flattering remarks about WWE superstars. Joe is no stranger to mixed martial arts, known to implement many submission and striking moves into his arsenal.
“I think that Conor McGregor is a promoter,” he said.
“And I think he is promoting a fight the same night as mine (UFC 202 is the same night as NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II). Also, I have come up with fighters my whole life, so I understand the one thing about fighters is with all the talk they do, there is action. And until I see some action I think the comments he has made are very much a moot point.
“What do you expect? This is the promotion business, and he was promoting his fight. People are rabid and angry, but people also pay someone beat someone up or get beat up. So if he sold a few extra pay-per-view buys from WWE fans that paid to watch him get beat up, then I guess its mission accomplished.”
Joe’s focus remains on adding to his already impressive body of work in WWE so far. The driven athlete’s goal right now is staying NXT champion and further expanding the brand.
“I would love to touch every piece of gold in WWE,” Joe said. “I would love to get those shots and prove myself in that way.”
- NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II airs Saturday, Aug. 20 at 8/7CT live on WWE Network. Watch NXT 8 p.m. Wednesdays on WWE Network.
- SummerSlam airs Sunday, Aug. 21 at 8/7CT live on pay-per-view and WWE Network.
- Watch Raw Mondays at 8/7CT and SmackDown live Tuesdays at 8/7CT on USA Network.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.