NXT enforcer Samoa Joe joined Out of Character with Ryan Satin earlier this week to talk about his WWE career. Joe detailed joining NXT shortly after his run in TNA ended in 2015, revealing that he jumped at the chance to work for WWE due to it being the one place he had never really worked in his career.
“I had left TNA and I was kind of ready for something new,” Joe said. “I think at that point of my career, I would’ve been if it was a few more years and I would’ve transitioned to some other things I was working on at the time. But I said ‘you know what, why don’t you put out some feelers?’ I remember kind of sending messages through the grapevine through several different intermediaries, through Paul Heyman, through Joey Mercury at the time, through Road Dogg.
“I asked ‘hey, what would be the interest in me over in WWE?’, which for the most part off had been largely locked off from anybody who hadn’t come up in the system. TNA guys explicitly I think were very much not sought after. It wasn’t an official edict, but I know they were in no rush or they weren’t trying to hire any TNA guys. So it was just kind of a shot in the dark. And within a few minutes I got messages back from all the parties above and they were like ‘Triple H is kind of trying this new idea. NXT is this new thing and you may be a perfect fit here for what we’re looking to do.’ That’s kind of where the discussions started.”
Satin asked Joe if he was told, similar to Kevin Owens upon signing with WWE, if not to get his hopes up about a run beyond the NXT brand. Joe confirmed that to be the case, though it didn’t bother him.
“The same, if probably a little bit less of a good forecast,” Joe said when asked if he received a similar message to Owens. “I think people think I get hurt when I hear that, but I’ve experienced this my entire career everywhere I’ve gone. Everywhere. I give Gabe (Sapolsky) a bunch of guff about this now when I see him, but my initial time in Ring of Honor it was ‘hey, we can’t afford a Californian boy. We’re bringing you in for this one match, it’ll be cool.’ Then we went out there, had one match and then it was like ‘hey, you’re working for us every month, every week. Every time we have a show, you’re on.’
“TNA, and Dutch Mantel is probably one of my favorite people in life, one of the great characters in wrestling. I remember I’m going to walk out for my match on Impact, my very first match. And he looks me up and goes ‘well son, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Doesn’t look like you’re about to make a good one. Alright, go out there and get them kid.’ I had known Dutch for a little bit, so I’m dying laughing as I walk through the curtain. So being doubted walking through the door is absolutely, I’m numb to it. So even being told that, I’m like ‘that’s great. Cool.’ And once I was in things started changing rapidly. I’m just happy that WWE was willing to change with those thing as they changed rapidly. We went through several contracts in that short amount of time, but we finally got on one we all liked and we went from there.”
Arguably Joe’s biggest program during his first NXT run was with Finn Balor, who he initially teamed with before starting a long rivalry over the NXT Championship. Joe detailed how he met Balor years before their WWE stints and how much he enjoyed working with him.
“I think it was inevitable and I think we both knew,” Joe said. “But at the same time we both were very excited to tag with one another. It’s funny because me and Finn, we have been friends for awhile. But it was always kind of friends in passing, because obviously Finn lived and Ireland and was primarily working with New Japan. The first time Finn came to the United States he came to my wedding. I remember Rocky Romero drove him straight from the airport. He told him ‘hey listen. We’re going to a wedding.’
“First time I’m meeting, he’s partying at my wedding and having a great time. And it was funny, we kept running into each other. I’d be overseas in Japan, we’d have the same sponsors and the same friends and we’d always end up running into each other and having a great time. It was finally fun to get to work alongside of him in the company. And while we were tagging we had a blast. It was just a lot of fun, lot of cool road trips. It was a really good time.”
Joe was then asked what his favorite aspect of working with Balor was. The Samoan Submission Machine pointed to Balor’s charisma and how easy it made it for both to work with a hot crowd.
“I mean he’s just incredibly charismatic,” Joe said. “It makes it easy when you’re in there with him. When he’s on and he’s made that connection with the crowd? To give you an idea, I remember walking out before a TakeOver. I think I was backstage and I think Finn went out first. And the crowd with everything, the lights and I mean, the place was just on fire. And I remember just standing backstage saying ‘oof, follow that kid.’ It was one of the few times, it was such a phenomenon at the time, it was one of the few times where the crowd was 100% in his corner. I remember we had the match in Ireland. You could feel it, it was in the air that night. The hometown boy was going for it. Those experiences I think are my favorite thing about Finn. Just an incredibly charismatic performer and he makes my job easier when he can rile up a crowd and get their ire going. They want the Demon to kick ass.”
Joe talked glowingly about the match the two had at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, a match notable for being stopped due to Joe getting legitimately bloody (something he points to as great due to the chaos it caused. Ultimately Joe would defeat Balor for the NXT Championship at a live event, instead of a TakeOver or NXT TV taping. It’s a decision Joe remains happy with.
“I loved it,” Joe said. “That is what I kind of signed up for. Those completely out of left field ‘what are they doing? This is not right. No no no, wait, it is right. It’s so right, it’s the greatest thing ever. No it’s the worst thing ever. It’s the greatest thing they’ve ever done. No it’s the worst mistake they’ve ever made.’ All of that too. Me and Finn were on board from the beginning. I remember when Hunter pitched it to us, the Cheshire Cat smile that came over both of our faces was massive. At the time I agree it should’ve been that. Finn was hot and it’s like ‘let’s not beat him on TV. Let’s beat him on a house show.’ That happened a few more times on NXT. We want that to be part of that road experience when you come to an NXT show. That unpredictability, we wanted to brand that on the NXT product at the time.
“It was a really wonderful night. It’s wonderful in the fact that it was great for us. It was great for me, I got to win the NXT Championship. But the fans that night. They do a quick pan of the crowd and their faces and the shock and, like, elation. And people are jumping and hugging their children like they won the World Series. I knew they were booing me a few minutes before but it was such this weird ‘what just happened?! Where are we? Are there TV cameras somewhere?’ It was just this really incredible, amazing experience. And to be able have the opportunity to do that at this level is an absolute rarity. It hasn’t been done in an age. I loved every minute of it and I loved when I heard about it.”