WWE’s Samoa Joe declares entry into Saudi’s Greatest Royal Rumble, talks return
For as long as Samoe Joe has been in the business, for as long as he’s been considered one of the best pro wrestlers in the world, he’s been underestimated. The thing about Joe is he doesn’t mind. Few thought he would come to the WWE. Then in 2015, he debuted in its developmental brand NXT. Few thought he would make it to the top. Then, through his championship reign, he helped elevate the NXT to a powerful touring brand in its own right. Even WWE didn’t think he would make it to the main roster on the company’s flagship program WWE Raw, according to Joe, but he knew he would, and so he did.
Since debuting, he’s established himself as one of the top talents on the brand, performing with a ferocious intensity, focus and controlled brutality that has produced some genuinely unsettling moments, leading to matches imbued with combat sport legitimacy.
In early 2018, he was injured, delaying his chase for the WWE Universal championship. While it’s been reported he’s near ready, even staying backstage at television tapings, he has yet to reappear, though he’s promised me he will compete in the upcoming Greatest Royal Rumble in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on April 27, entering the first-ever 50-man rumble.
Read our full conversation below:
What are your thoughts on the upcoming Greatest Royal Rumble in Jeddah?
I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s a very unique set of circumstances as far as the rumble goes, and I’m looking forward to competing in it and winning it, that’s quite a feather in your cap that you won the greatest royal rumble of all time.
Daniel Bryan told me recently he thinks it could end up being more important than WrestleMania. Do you agree with that sentiment?
Yes I do. The fan base is expanding on much more of a global scale, and I think WWE recognizes that we have fans all over the world and we’re adjusting our schedules to accommodate that so we can tour and go out there and see those fans, no matter where they may be. I think the Middle East is a key market for anybody. There’s people there that want to see great entertainment, have a great time. When you come to a WWE event, you see that enough spectacle and you get that type of entertainment. I think it’s very key and very important to the growth of WWE as a whole. I look forward to seeing how the WWE Universe of Saudi Arabia reacts.
Will you take time to explore Jeddah, or is your trip strictly business?
I’m looking forward to experiencing Saudi Arabia. One of the great perks of my job in traveling so much is that I’ve had the opportunity to experience and be around a lot of cultures up close and personally and experience them for myself. I look forward to going to Saudi Arabia because it’s an opportunity that not many people get here in the States. I very much look forward to coming over, seeing what Saudi Arabia is like, meeting the people, walking the streets, experiencing the culture and understanding it more.
You wrote an impassioned note after your friend Daniel Bryan was forced to retire in February 2016. What are your thoughts now that he has worked to get back and has been cleared to wrestle in a WWE ring again?
Obviously whenever you speak of people that you consider friends throughout your career, you always look upon that news with a little bit of trepidation, only because I care about Daniel Bryan’s well-being as a person. I would hate to see anything permanently bad happen to him. At the same time, I know he’s been fighting the fight really hard the past few years, and do everything within his power to medically prove that he’s capable and fit to compete in the ring. Knowing Bryan as long as I’ve known him, if he’s attacked that with the same ferocity that he’s attacked his abilities as a professional wrestler, I have no doubt that he’s ready to get back in that ring and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s able to do.
Have you spoken to him about it?
No, not yet. I’m sure we’ll speak about it at some point soon.
How has your recovery from injury gone?
It’s been good. To be honest, I think this was more of a culmination of old nagging things that I never really took care of before. I just didn’t have time. Injuries occur, it’s an unfortunate side effect of the business. It’s not my first one, and sure won’t be my last, but back up and running, feeling pretty good, and we’ll see what the future holds here.
Have you been champing at the bit to get back in the ring watching from the locker room?
As anybody knows me, it’s always hard whenever I’m not in the game, I think is the best way to put it. People know that I don’t like it and I’m not the most fun person to be around during those times, but also at this point I understand how important it is to be ready to go and be 100% healthy. I feel pretty good. Doctors seem pretty positive about everything. Maybe I’m just waiting to unleash at a certain time, we’ll see.
What’s on your agenda once you come back?
Obviously I’ll always have my eyes on the Universal championship. It’s something that’s eluded me just barely, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I should be in there beating up Brock Lesnar not Roman. Obviously Roman has been through his trials and tribulations and he’s made a case for being in there, but it’s always hard sitting on the sidelines when you should be in there hitting home runs. We’ll see what transpires.
What are your thoughts on Brock Lesnar potentially leaving WWE?
For however I feel about Brock, I’ll never doubt his business acumen as a combat athlete, and Brock and Paul are very intelligent individuals so whatever they’re future holds I’m sure they planned it out, but it’d be a shame for him to leave before I beat him up.
Would you consider tag team wrestling, if, say, someone like Braun Strowman needed a partner?
Braun out here talking about how he doesn’t get along well with other people, but I’m terrible at it. That sounds like something that’s very enticing to the fans, but I’m sure two minutes in I’d be punching him in the head.
You had huge success in NXT. Who do you want to see come up from NXT to Raw next?
There’s so many talented individuals down there. Top of the list, obviously the champ [Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas]. He’s a bad dude. He’s proven time and time again that he’s ready to go. If ‘Cien’ wants to bring that 100 up here, I wouldn’t be surprised. Aleister Black I don’t think is any surprise to anybody, he’s a tremendously, unlimitedly talented athlete and I would expect that eyes would be on him sooner rather than later. Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan, two tremendous athletes that really caught my eye. I like their style and I like what they’re doing out there. Heavy Machinery and the Authors of Pain, two massive, mean tag teams. They could do a lot in this tag team division. We’ve got guys like the Bludgeon Brothers, the New Day, and the Usos, who are incredible. We’ve got these really great tag teams and these hungry young wrecking crews waiting to come up. I think next year is going to be a very good year for tag team wrestling.
A lot of wrestlers I talk to don’t have a chance to watch much wrestling because of the demands of the schedule. In your time off, have you had a chance to watch anything, and what has caught your eye?
It’s funny. I think I watch things now and keep up with things, but I watch more non current things than current things. Random guys will get a call from me about a match they had three months ago, like ‘hey man, that thing you did was pretty good.’ They’ll be like ‘wow that was forever ago’. I’ll be like ‘I just got around to watching it now.’ I do watch a lot of wrestling, but it’s totally out of date. I’d be like man, Les Kellett, you’ve got amazing interviews! [Laughs] It’s all over the place.
Let me put it this way, I’m up to date with what’s going on but I don’t get to watch the matches either months later when by happenstance either a YouTube clip or a CD comes across my way that might have the match on it.
You had huge success against Brock Lesnar last year. What was your ethos behind that feud?
When it comes to my approach to how I handle a feud, I try to make it very visceral, very real, and I try to get in their face, and make people uncomfortable. That’s what I do. I’m not going to sit back and trade a bunch of dialogue with you. If I do, it’s going to be very poignant, and very snappy dialogue. That’s basically it. I just try to do my best to make the tension feel a bit amped up any time I’m in the ring.
What’s your relationship with Vince McMahon like?
I’m terrible at small talk, so me and Vince’s relationship is—I don’t want to say dispassionate, but when we have talks, they’re very brief, short, we lay out a few things and I go from there. It’s not a lot of, ‘hey how are you doin’, how’s this, how’s that’. It’s calling the play, what do we need to get done, and I go out and get it done.
Do you get as much satisfaction out of wrestling as you did at the start of your career?
In some aspects more so than it did when I started my career. When you start your career, you have a very limited view of accomplishment and what satiates you and what makes you satisfied. When I started out, it was just hearing maybe five people in the crowd maybe dug what I did, and I felt good. Now, being able to come in here, make an impact in the main event scene, that means a lot to me. It’s a more business-minded aspect to where I know that I’m contributing to this company, that I’m making it stronger and making it better. That started down in NXT. My goal in NXT was to help build it from developmental to an international touring brand, and we accomplished that.
Now that I’m here in the WWE, I want to drive people to the matches like the 2017 SummerSlam main event, I want to make this must-see TV. these are the greater heights that you find satisfaction in. If you leave your expectations and your satisfaction with what you started in your wrestling career, you will become miserable because you’ll become numb to it. You have to adjust your goals according to your career path. That’s something that I’ve been able to do, so it’s kept me interested in what I’m doing.
What is your approach to the producing weekly TV? How have you adjusted to the WWE style of storytelling?
When I’m brought here, you’re almost presented with a puzzle in some senses, where it’s like, we need to get these things across, and this is the framework in which we have to do it. A lot of people would be like, from an artistic standpoint, oh I can’t work under these conditions! I’ve always been under the school of thought that the great artists will find a way to make it work whatever the conditions. It’s definitely a mindset-based approach as opposed to, ‘I should be free and do whatever I want! If I want to pain on the walls I’ll pain on the walls!’ No, you provide me a canvas and I’ll do my best to make a masterpiece. That’s how I’ve approached this, and a lot of my guys in my position have varying thoughts on it, and I don’t knock them for their thoughts. What we do is art in a form, and so how you choose to express it is how you choose to express it. But if you can do it with restrictions on you and still make something fantastic, I think that’s something special too.
Have you passed on wisdom to any of the younger talent?
To those who have asked. I’m not big on preaching to an unwilling mass. Several guys have, and I feel it is a great honor, when guys have come to bounce ideas off of me, throwing around technique ideas, and I’ve always been more than willing to offer an opinion, but I’ll always preface it by saying, I’m not saying this is the right way, but this is one way. There’s 22 million ways to skin a cat, and so whoever does it the prettiest that makes it work out. If you like the things that I offer up, cool. If you don’t, that’s fine also.
What is your main goal overall in WWE?
I think my biggest thing overall is leaving lasting memories with fans. Years from now, they can look back on fondly, and say, remember that moment? It was huge! Or it made me feel a certain way, or was polarizing in a certain fashion. That’s the thing that I’m most looking forward to doing.