Although he now serves as a key member of WWE’s main roster on the Monday Night RAW brand, big things weren’t exactly expected out of Samoa Joe when he first joined NXT two years ago. However, with fans reacting very well to his performance in NXT, he’s a main roster rookie at the age of 38, and living proof that it’s never too late for someone to make a big splash upon their WWE debut.
On the most recent episode of Talk is Jericho, Chris Jericho spoke with special guest Samoa Joe, who shared some interesting tales from his earliest days in the WWE. Before signing his developmental deal with WWE in 2015, Joe was a mainstay of several independent promotions, experiencing the most success as a member of Ring of Honor and TNA Wrestling. However, even with the world titles he won in those companies, he wasn’t promoted immediately to the main roster, rather spending the next year-and-a-half dominating opponents in NXT.
Apparently, WWE officials didn’t see much upside in Joe, as he related to Chris Jericho on the latter’s podcast. According to quotes from the podcast obtained by Wrestling Inc., the original plan was for Samoa Joe to simply be used on NXT programming, but not. on the main roster.
“I think the initial idea was, ‘let’s just bring him in for NXT’ and we got such a good response with everything that it kind of really blew up even beyond that and here I am on the main roster.” Joe said, “and really to the company’s credit, it wasn’t something that was set in stone. Like, the scenario that was laid out before me was like, ‘listen, we can use you here in NXT, but we don’t really think that it’ll go much beyond that.'”
With Samoa Joe’s NXT stint potentially not having any follow-up on the main roster, the California-born wrestling veteran sought to make the most out of it, hoping to transform his development stint into a “foot-in-the-door” opportunity. However, with people rooting for his success, he was confident he’d one day make it to Monday Night RAW or SmackDown Live, which he eventually did on January 30, when he debuted on the RAW after the 2017 Royal Rumble.
Additionally, Samoa Joe’s NXT run was necessary, as he told Jericho, because WWE didn’t want to risk the possibility of another ex-TNA standout failing under the company’s watch. One classic example of this was Low Ki, who competed in WWE in 2010 under the name Kaval. Low Ki, as IGN recalled, was released the very same year, despite winning the second season of NXT, back when it was a reality-based rookie search. He’s since made his return to TNA, doing so in April, about a month after its rebranding to Impact Wrestling.
“I think that for a long time, past TNA projects that they had brought in hadn’t done well,” said Joe.
“And I think there was a major push within the company that says, ‘we’re going to build guys from scratch on our own.’ They had put a tremendous amount of money into the PC and the Performance Center, which is producing great talent. So it was kind of like, ‘hey, this is a guy who can help us build NXT into a brand.'”
— Still Real To Us (@stillreal2us) May 10, 2017
Samoa Joe joining NXT, as it turned out, was sort of a new frontier for WWE, which was previously reluctant to sign wrestlers who had made a big name in other well-known promotions. According to Joe, he understood that this was how WWE was running business at the time he signed, and it was thanks to WWE executive/part-time wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque that wrestlers like him were given a chance.
“Like I said, I can understand it. I may not have necessarily agreed with it, but I could get where they were coming from.”
Since the time Joe signed his WWE developmental contract, the company has seen AJ Styles, Bobby Roode, and other grizzled veterans with no previous full-time WWE experience debut either on the main roster or in NXT, and enjoy great success in their new home.
As the saying goes, all’s well that ends well, and Samoa Joe has graduated from being a two-time NXT Champion to being one of the top heels on Monday Night RAW. He may not be a serious contender for any of WWE’s main roster championships as of the moment, but all signs point to Joe getting there at some point shortly.
[Featured Image by WWE]