The current WWE NXT Champion is one of the best professional wrestlers of the last 15 years. He’s only been in WWE for one year, yet if you look at the current landscape, has a chance to be the best heel in the business and is somebody that can make a difference on WWE’s main roster very soon. He’s the Samoan Submission Machine, Samoa Joe.

When you look at Samoa Joe, it’s easy to see that he’s not a prototypical bodybuilding wrestler. He’s 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds with a round shape to him. At times, he’s been called fat. But if you watch him wrestle, you know better than to question him. He doesn’t tire or look out of place. He’s doing what he was born to do and has proven it so many times over the last 16 years.

The Past

samoa joe john cena training
(Joe, on the right, at training with John Cena – in the middle – with others.)

Samoa Joe started wrestling in 1999 when the “Attitude Era” was dominating the wrestling business. In 2000, he ended up at a camp for Ultimate Pro Wrestling in California where a guy named John Cena got his start. It’s pretty crazy that two of the best wrestlers of this generation started out together and haven’t had a proper feud on the big stage, but perhaps that day will come.

In Ring of Honor, Joe quickly established himself as one of the best wrestlers in the world. At 24 years of age, they made him their World Champion. He was so believable as a top guy because of his ability to wrestle a technical style, he could strike as hard as anybody and he had a number of submissions that looked deadly. It didn’t matter if he was wrestling a smaller guy or somebody close to his 280-pound frame; he was able to hold his own with all of them.

(Joe battling Bryan Danielson aka Daniel Bryan as they helped build Ring of Honor.)

After a successful run in helping ROH establish itself as a viable wrestling company, Joe decided to move on. In 2005, there were three Ring of Honor wrestlers who were all rumored to leave the company: Joe, CM Punk and Bryan Danielson (later known as Daniel Bryan). As much as I loved Punk and Danielson, I really wanted Joe in WWE because at that point, he was arguably the best wrestler in America.

The problem was that WWE didn’t tend to hire guys like Joe because of his look. Punk signed with WWE in June of 2005 while Joe went to TNA Wrestling, also in June 2005. Danielson stayed where he was for a few more years.

It wasn’t a bad move for Joe, at least initially. TNA Wrestling was a company on the rise with a national TV deal on Spike TV. They also booked Joe very well from the beginning. He had a very good undefeated streak that made him look like a star right away. His 2006 feud with Kurt Angle is the best thing that TNA’s ever done in my opinion. They had so many great matches together because their styles meshed so well. He also had outstanding matches with the likes of AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Bobby Roode and many others.

Joe went on to hold most titles that TNA had, but in a peculiar move, he only held their World Title one time. Here’s a guy that was one of the cornerstones of the company along with Angle and Styles, yet they didn’t seem to believe in him as much as they should have. For years, I was hoping he would get out of TNA so he could reach his full potential in WWE.

In February 2015, Joe announced that he had parted ways with TNA. He spent nearly a full decade there. Was he there too long? Probably. I just don’t think WWE had enough of an interest in him before that or else he would have been there. If they want somebody bad enough, they have the financial resources to get them.

The way WWE looked at talent changed in the last few years because they used to ignore people who worked in TNA. They wanted to create their own stars, rather than sign people from there. In the last two years, WWE’s NXT brand really took on a life of its own as they signed some “indy darlings” like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and brought in an international star like Hideo Itami as well.

Give credit to Triple H (the head of WWE talent relations) for finally realizing they should sign people regardless of where they came from and guys that had different looks too. Suddenly, the idea of Joe going to WWE seemed very possible.

The Present

When Samoa Joe debuted at the WWE NXT Takeover Unstoppable special on May 20, 2015, it wasn’t a total surprise. There were rumors that he was coming to WWE finally. But until it happened, you just never knew.

People had questions about whether WWE would let him keep the name he had been known as for the past 15 years or if they might change it. Then he showed up at the end of NXT Takeover Unstoppable to confront NXT Champion Kevin Owens. They called him Samoa Joe and didn’t acknowledge TNA at all, but put over the idea that he was a big name.

Upon his arrival in NXT, Joe was booked as a babyface that the fans liked because he would talk about kicking somebody’s ass and then he did it. It was a simple character that benefited from being a big fish in a smaller pond in the past. Things really didn’t take off for him until he turned on his ally Finn Balor, who happened to be the NXT Champion. It was a simple turn done by a guy who yearned to become champion in NXT just like he had been everywhere else.

Balor and Joe headlined the December 2015 Takeover event with Balor winning. Then Balor won again at April 2015 Takeover in Dallas. It seemed like that was the end of the feud. Nope. Joe beat Balor for the NXT Title at a live event in Lowell, Massachusetts on April 21.

This past Wednesday, Joe met Balor one more time in the main event of “NXT Takeover The End” in a steel cage. It was the first steel cage match in NXT history. They had another very good matchup, with each man kicking out of the other man’s finishing move. As Balor tried to climb out of the cage to win, Joe stopped him, put him on his shoulders and nailed him with a Muscle Buster off the middle ropes. Joe won the match while putting an end to this rivalry.

It’s likely that Balor will be called up to WWE’s main roster within the next few months. As for Joe, he’ll likely continue in NXT possibly for the rest of the year. Nobody really knows for sure, but it’s important that WWE keeps some big-name performers in NXT, even though he would be an asset on the main roster as well.

(Joe brought the pain to Finn Balor at NXT Takeover this week.)

There are several potential opponents for Joe as the NXT Champion. Shinsuke Nakamura comes to mind as a guy who could have a classic match with Joe at any time. Then there’s Bobby Roode, who has likely signed a WWE deal by this point, even though it hasn’t been made official. They had many matches during their TNA run, so it would be a familiar rival for Joe.

No matter how long Joe stays in NXT, the big questions are when is he going to be on the main roster and what will he do when he gets there? The possibilities are endless.

The Future

(That’s Joe with Seth Rollins aka Tyler Black back in their ROH days.)

There are so many names on the current WWE roster that Joe could feud with who would feel very fresh. Guys like Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Cesaro and so on. Don’t forget about AJ Styles, who Joe wrestled hundreds of times in TNA and was one of his best opponents.

At 37 years of age, Joe likely doesn’t have another 10 years as a full-timer. But as long as he can stay healthy, he should be able to have five more good years as a performer. A lot of wrestlers are able to go into their 40s and that’s when they tend to slow down.

What’s great about Joe is that he’s effective whether he’s a heel or face. I think he’s better as a heel, just because he has that tough guy aura about him. He’s not the type of guy to put on a fake smile and cut promos sucking up to the fans. Joe is there to beat people up. If they need him to be a face, he can do it. But his best role is as a heel.

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(The Beast vs. The Samoan Submission Machine? Yes please!)

The feud with Lesnar is what intrigues me the most because Joe is exactly the kind of wrestler Lesnar could have a physical match with that looks realistic. They could easily set something up for them by having Lesnar in the ring with Paul Heyman, as Heyman mentions that Lesnar (who is a face) is looking for a fight.

That’s when Joe can attack from behind, put him in his Coquina Clutch and make Joe look like a star immediately on the main roster. Then you can have a major PPV match for the first time ever. It would feel like a big deal.

A rivalry with Cena would also be really good because they could touch on the fact that they trained together 16 years ago. I have no idea if they are still friends or if they lost touch over the years, but I would imagine something like that would be intriguing to both men. Joe would work well as a pure heel against Cena as the prototypical face, even though some of the audience hates him. Much like Cena’s current rivalry with AJ Styles is a dream feud, Cena vs. Samoa Joe would be as well.

Joe would also be a natural rival with Roman Reigns, due to both of them being Samoan. No, they are not related although there’s a joke online about how Vince McMahon might think they are, since so many people are related to Roman’s family. A veteran worker like Joe could bring out the best in Reigns just like Styles did.

If it was up to me, Joe would lose the NXT Title to somebody (maybe Nakamura) at the August Takeover special. Then he would start on Raw or Smackdown right after it. Match him up with Lesnar or Cena right away to get fans to understand that he’s a main event talent.

Why wait? If they wait too long, he’s going to lose some steam. A surprise appearance in the Royal Rumble could be worth doing if they want to keep him in NXT longer, but the main roster needs some quality heels and there are few people in the business at Joe’s level.

 

In Closing

Samoa Joe has been one of my favorite wrestlers of the last 15 years. He’s the guy that made me a Ring of Honor fan more than anybody else in the early 2000s. In TNA, that Angle feud was one of the best of the last decade. It may have been the best of the 2000s.

During his 10 years in TNA, I kept wanting him to go to WWE with the hope that he would get to shine on a bigger stage. Then it finally happened last year and I marked out huge. You could tell how happy he was. Even though he’s a heel that scowls a lot these days, it’s pretty easy to see that he’s enjoying himself as much as ever in 2016.

After nearly 20 years as a professional wrestler, Joe hasn’t had a match at WrestleMania. That should change at WrestleMania 33 next year in Orlando. It took too long for it to happen, but when it does happen it will be clear that nobody deserves that WrestleMania moment more than him. Congrats to Samoa Joe on a successful first year in WWE. Here’s to many more.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He joined The Comeback/Awful Announcing team in 2015. Follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net. Cheap pop!