Some wrestlers win with daring acrobatics. Others win with cunning. Samoa Joe finishes his matches by choking opponents until their heads turn purple.
Samoa Joe earned the reputation of a menacing Judo-trained ass-kicker for 13 years before he joined WWE in 2015. Prior to that, he’d been a headline attraction in promotions such as Ring of Honor, Impact!, and Pro Wrestling Guerilla. He shined in WWE’s developmental program, becoming the first ever two-time NXT Champion before joining the WWE main roster in 2017. Since then, he’s become a main event-level talent, challenging Superstars like of Brock Lesnar and A.J. Styles on pay-per-view all while maintaining his teflon status as one of the company’s most legitimate threats.
Samoa Joe’s decades-long warpath will wind through the Target Center as part of WWE’s SmackDown LIVE show tonight. In advance of the contest, we had a pointed conversation with the so-called Samoan Submission Machine about his bruising past on the indies and his WWE hitlist for 2019.
City Pages: You’re renowned as one of the best talkers in all of professional wrestling. How did you develop that skill?
Samoa Joe: A lot of people put on a character when they speak and start from that mindset, and you end up imitating a persona instead of actually being the persona. Communication is far more than the words coming out of your mouth; in fact, the majority is how you speak. I’m a very expressive person, and I like people to know exactly what I mean when I say it.
CP: You’ve been wrestling for a decade and a half now. How has the wrestling industry changed in that time?
SJ: The biggest change is in the experience of the fan. Fans now have a much more comprehensive fight IQ than they did in the past. Fans are very, very particular, and you can’t just have that blanket appeal anymore. That’s gone. Fans root for guys that click all their boxes.
It makes it more competitive. Now, the stars that resonate with people, there’s a lot of thought put into their character and what they present. It’s a more high-skilled, specialized sport. The guys who meet those challenges, those are the ones who are mobilizing the fanbase.
CP: You’ve had a lot of great matches over the years with guys like CM Punk, Kurt Angle, and A.J. Styles, but are there are any guys you’ve always wanted to get in the ring with?
SJ: From a purely fantastical standpoint, I would’ve loved to get in there with Bruiser Brody and Stan Hansen, those legendary tough guys. It’s hard to say you wouldn’t want to be in the ring with the Rock, either when he was at his height or even now. Big matchups like those, it’s a shame it didn’t happen, but I’m sitting here looking down a SmackDown roster at a plethora of great matchups with Rey Mysterio back, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura. I could go on all day.
CP: As a former NXT champion, when you look down at the talent there, what do you think?
SJ: NXT is a murderer’s row. Lars Sullivan, here’s a guy that I feel a lot of fans haven’t really seen his full potential, and he’s getting to come into his own. He’ll be an interesting addition to whichever roster he lands on. Keith Lee is a big, incredible athlete. Then there’s Matt Riddle. He has a tremendous combat pedigree, and he’s made a triumphant transition to pro wrestling. He’s a force to be reckoned with.
CP: Back when you were in NXT and in the independents, you were using the Muscle Buster as your finisher. We haven’t seen you use it since the injury to Tyson Kidd. Will we ever see the Muscle Buster again?
SJ: The Muscle Buster is something I use at my pleasure when I choose to. Trust me, when the opportunity arises and the conditions are right, you never know what I’ll pull out. Maybe I’m not ready to pull it out of my arsenal yet.
CP: Survivor Series didn’t quite go the way you wanted, with you getting eliminated from the match quickly. You got SmackDown tomorrow in Minneapolis and the Royal Rumble coming in January. What are you doing to get back on track?
SJ: Survivor Series? What was that about? Before I went out there, I knew what it was. It was just Shane [McMahon] trying to look good in front of his sister, and I end up getting punched in the face. Sibling B.S., I ain’t about that.
When you play poker, do you play for Jolly Ranchers, or do you play for money? I’m out here for real. At Survivor Series, there were no stakes. Why should I win it for SmackDown? Just so Shane can dance around? What I got down the pipe is I’m not gonna be distracted by this ridiculousness. I’ll strike when I strike.
WWE SmackDown LIVE
With A.J. Styles, The New Day, Becky Lynch, and more
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27
$23-$503; more info here