The Untold Truth Of Samoa Joe

The Untold Truth Of Samoa Joe


In pro wrestling, there are few who cut a
figure as intimidating as Samoa Joe. With two decades of experience working for nearly
every major wrestling promotion, and holding championships in virtually all of them, Samoa
Joe has had one heck of a career. On April 7th, 2019, Samoa Joe made his first
appearance at WrestleMania, successfully defending the United States Championship against luchador
legend Rey Mysterio in front of a crowd of 85,000 people. For most wrestlers, that kind
of crowd size would be intimidating, but for Joe, it was just another day at the office.
After all, he’d performed in front of a bigger audience before. That happened back in 1984 when Joe, then
just a 5-year-old Joe Seanoa, was a part of the family business. His parents, Pete and
Portia, had founded a Polynesian dance company called Tiare Productions in 1965. Back then,
Pete was working as a Polynesian dancer at Disneyland, a career that wound up lasting
28 years. By 1984, Tiare Productions was big enough that when the Summer Olympics came
to Los Angeles, they performed as part of the opening ceremonies, dancing in Los Angeles
Memorial Coliseum for a crowd of over 93,000 people. Joe’s career would go in a bit of a different
direction, but he certainly kept up with the craft between bouts in the ring, and even
brought the family business with him to the world of pro wrestling. In 2005, TNA’s first-ever
Bound For Glory, their smaller-scale equivalent to WrestleMania, opened with an entrance that
included Joe dancing with his family’s troupe before taking on, and defeating, Japanese
legend Jushin Thunder Liger. Joe’s connection to his roots fed into a common
misconception among some wrestling fans about Joe’s origins: he’s frequently mistaken for
being a member of the Anoa’i family, a prominent but completely different Samoan family. But
to be fair, that assumption isn’t baseless. The Anoa’i family is one of the most prolific
wrestling dynasties that the business has ever seen. The extended family includes the
Wild Samoans Afa and Sika, Yokozuna, Umaga, Rikishi, multiple-time WWE Tag Team Champions
Jey and Jimmy Uso, and three-time WWE Champion, and one of the company’s biggest current stars,
Roman Reigns. Also Afa and Sika’s father considered “The High Chief” Peter Maivia to be a “blood
brother,” meaning that their extended family also includes him, his son-in-law Rocky Johnson,
and his grandson The Rock. And those are just the Anoa’i family members you’ve heard of
on TV. The family does not, however, include Samoa
Joe, a fact that he joked about on an episode of the Notsam Wrestling podcast, telling host
Sam Roberts, “I’m sure if you ask any of my cousins if
they’re related to the Rock, they’d be like, ‘Oh, the Rock? Yeah, you mean Dwayne? Oh,
DJ? Oh, you’re talking about DJ, we call him DJ.'” Still, it’s a good lesson for fans about stereotypes
and making assumptions. Once you know that he didn’t have a family
connection to the business, you might start wondering how Joe made his way to a career
in pro wrestling. The answer? It kind of happened by accident. One of the reasons that Joe’s style has such
an edge of hard-hitting realism to it is that he has a strong background in martial arts,
winning the California State Junior Judo Championships as a teenager and going on as an adult to
train with UFC Champion Bas Rutten. In between those two events, though, Joe was working
as a mortgage broker in the early 2000s. Joe called up a gym in California one day in order
to get back to training, looking to take up Jiu-Jitsu. The gym owner told Joe that if
he was really looking for an intense workout, he should stick around after the Jiu-Jitsu
class for “when the pro wrestling guys come in.” He took the owner’s advice, and found a whole
lot more than an intense workout. Joe’s background, athleticism, and dedication gave him a knack
for pro wrestling, leading him to quit his mortgage broker job after a year of training
to go full-time. In addition to the intense workout he was
promised, the new career, and an eventual path to worldwide fame, Joe’s time training
gave him something else he didn’t expect: a name that would stick with him for the next
20 years. As he told Sam Roberts, “There were two dudes in the gym named Joe,
and of course, instead of calling the other guy Caucasian Joe, all the sudden I’m Samoa
Joe…I was pretty decent at this wrestling thing, and promoters started asking for Samoa
Joe, and I got so terrified of changing my name because I liked the work. I couldn’t
show up the next week and be Johnny Thundermountain.” Most wrestlers you see on television don’t
actually own the names you know them as. Instead, those names represent “characters” that are
owned by the company; WWE owns “Seth Rollins” and “Roman Reigns” the same way Disney owns
“Spider-Man.” That can make it difficult for a wrestler to maintain their momentum if they
leave the company to work elsewhere. Samoa Joe, however, has made that name a part of
his brand, and is on a short list of wrestlers alongside CM Punk and AJ Styles who have made
it to WWE without being given a new ring name. In the early phase of his career, Samoa Joe
spent some time in WWE’s developmental system and even wrestled a few matches against John
Cena back in the days before Cena became pro wrestling’s biggest star. That first brush
with WWE didn’t go too well, though; Joe was even told by Jim Ross, who was both an on-screen
personality and WWE’s executive in charge of talent relations, “We know what we’re looking for in terms of
talent, and you’re not it.” With that, Joe decided to make a name for
himself elsewhere, and the first place he did that was Ring of Honor, a Philadelphia-based
company that would eventually become the biggest indie wrestling promotion in the country.
It was the springboard for wrestlers who would eventually find themselves at the top of the
card in WWE, like Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and more. “Keep your eye on Joe!” Only five months after he joined the company,
Joe won the ROH World Championship, kicking off a title reign that would last for 645
days with 30 successful defenses. For most fans, there were three that stood out well
above the rest: a trilogy of matches against ROH’s other top star, CM Punk. The first two both finished as a 60-minute
time-limit draw. It was the second one, at a 2004 show appropriately titled Joe vs. Punk
II, that wrestling critic Dave Meltzer gave the five-star rating, an honor he hadn’t bestowed
on an American match since 1997. Oh, and that third one? It went 31 minutes before Joe choked
Punk out in the middle of the ring, cementing himself as one of the best wrestlers in the
world. While Ring of Honor was well-known to hardcore
wrestling fans, it still didn’t have the reach that other promotions did. Total Nonstop Action,
however, was a company with a weekly show on international television. While it had
its share of well-known and older stars at the top of its cards, it was also building
a big part of its reputation around a roster of exciting younger talent. It was a roster
that Joe fit into very well. At first, Joe was featured in the company’s
“X Division,” where wrestlers with a high-flying, high-risk style gave TNA its most thrilling
matches. Before Joe’s arrival, the X Division was thought of as a junior heavyweight division,
full of the smaller wrestlers and their flippy, acrobatic moves. Joe, however, is not a small
man. He’s 6’2″, and he’s billed at around 280 pounds, normally heavyweight numbers.
But Joe had incredible conditioning, the kind of thing you need when you’re wrestling 60-minute
main events, and was capable of explosive speed and power. He could keep up with the
smaller wrestlers while still throwing them around like he was Godzilla. “Set up the Muscle Buster out of the corner.
Bam!” Joe exemplified the X Division’s oft-repeated
tagline, “It’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits,” something that was proven
when he got a shot at the X Division championship in the main event match of TNA’s Unbreakable
in 2005. Along with his opponents, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, Joe earned yet another
of Meltzer’s five-star ratings for this match, the only match in the company’s history to
get that rating. Samoa Joe spent a full ten years with TNA,
later known as Impact Wrestling, where he was undefeated for a full 18 months after
he debuted, and won pretty much every title and accolade that it was possible for him
to win. Even so, his most notable moment in the company might not have happened in the
ring. In fact, it didn’t even happen with him onscreen. In 2008, Joe was booked in a match against
Scott Steiner and Kurt Angle at an event called Sacrifice. The match didn’t happen as planned,
Angle was injured and replaced with Frankie Kazarian, but nobody really remembers that.
The only thing they remember is the infamous “Steiner Math” promo that Scott Steiner cut
in the run-up to the feud, which went viral years later. The entire promo is incredible,
but the short version is that Steiner worked out that he had a “141 ⅔ percent chance
of winning.” “SENOR JOE! THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE, AND THEY
SPELL DISASTER FOR YOU AT SACRIFICE.” When asked about it on Sam Roberts’ podcast,
Joe said that he was watching it from off-camera cracking up the whole time, and that they
had to keep starting over because Steiner’s protege, Petey Williams, kept breaking out
into laughter while they were trying to film it. In 2015, 13 years after Jim Ross turned him
down, Samoa Joe signed with WWE and made his debut as part of their NXT brand. While NXT
was considered to be a developmental promotion, it also played host to international stars
who were acclimating to the distinct WWE style. That led to what many fans considered to be
an absolute dream match: Joe taking on Japanese superstar Shinsuke Nakamura. Like Joe, Nakamura
also had an MMA background that he’d combined with more traditional pro wrestling to become
the “King of Strong Style, a style pioneered in Japan by Antonio Inoki. When it looks like
the wrestlers are hitting each other really hard, it’s because they are. The big difference
was that while Joe had always been the straightforward badass, Nakamura combined his hard-hitting
style with charismatic flair inspired by Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson. The two wrestlers provided a great example
of Strong Style when they clashed over Joe’s NXT Championship at Takeover: Brooklyn II.
At the end of the match, Nakamura hit his finishing move, a running knee-strike to the
face. Joe suffered a legit dislocated jaw after the first knee strike. Yes: the first
one. The match went on for another two minutes, during which Nakamura hit two more knee strikes.
It’s not often that you can see a guy get pinned to lose a title belt and feel relief
for him, but if you want that experience, that match exists. With his years of experience performing at
a top level, worldwide fame from working the indies and Japanese promotions, and a string
of classic matches in NXT, Joe getting called to WWE’s main roster sooner rather than later
was inevitable. If there was even a shred of doubt, however, it was obliterated within
about a week of his debut in NXT. Joe later told the story of meeting with Triple
H, WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent, shortly after he was hired and getting a congratulatory
handshake. “He says ‘Hey, you’re #2 in merch last night.’
I went ‘Oh, #2 in merch for NXT? That’s pretty good.’ He’s like ‘No, for the company.’ I
was like ‘Who the hell was #1 then, man?!'” Clearly, that long road from the ’84 Olympics,
through Japan, the indies, Ring of Honor, and TNA had paid off. Check out one of our newest videos right here!
Plus, even more Grunge videos about your favorite wrestlers are coming soon. Subscribe to our
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29 thoughts on “The Untold Truth Of Samoa Joe

  1. WWE better give Joe a push as soon as he gets 100% better.

    This man is underused in every wrestling promotion he’s ever been in .

  2. Still one of the best! & with one of the most unorthodox fighting styles in the business today. & he also has one of the best movesets in the business bar none!! Joe is going to kill you!!!

  3. Mid-late 2000's we hit an ROH show in NY state. Some stupid drunk fan made the mistake of interfering in a match, pulling a wrestler down from a ladder against the gym wall. Along comes intermission and a crowd starts forming outside – Joe legit threw down with the fan. And it was not a work. He's a badass, but having met him a few times, the nicest and most humble guy.

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