For 15 years, he was on every wrestling fan’s short list of best wrestlers to not wrestle in a WWE ring. That all changed in 2015 when World Wrestling Entertainment signed the six-foot-two, 282 pound “Samoan Badass,” Samoa Joe.
During his time with WWE, Joe has won the NXT Championship and has made a splash ever since moving up to the main roster. He plays a feature role on both RAW and Smackdown Live programs.
I had a chance to talk with him as he prepares for this WWE’s Elimination Chamber event this Sunday on WWE Network. He is part of the main event, which is a six-man elimination match on one of the most lethal structures ever created by WWE.
Andrew Hammond: WWE announcer Michael Cole said that this was your first-ever Royal Rumble. What was that moment like going down to the ring as you finally get to play a role in one of the most traditional WWE events?
Samoa Joe: “I was basically saying, ‘Hey it’s about time. We’ve avoided this for long enough, now let’s get to it.’ Obviously, it was a very fun experience, get to knock around a few heads but it didn’t turn out the way we wanted to. Regardless, it was a fun experience.”
AH: One spot in the Rumble involved you with NXT North American Champion, Johnny Gargano. He comes out there like a house on fire, and he has you stumbling a little bit and when he tries a move from the top rope you just move out of the way like, “Nah, I’m good.” That got a huge laugh from the audience. Have you had a chance to take a look back at that moment?
SJ: “I haven’t but that’s mainly because I don’t watch much because I lived it. It’s an odd thing, I know, but I know some guys go back and watch their matches and that’s fine. I just like to live in the moment and like to keep that memory fresh. I was there, I know what happened and I saw everybody laugh. I’ve always been a big proponent of when danger is coming, just take a step to the left.”
AH: Some news that came out shortly after the Rumble is that former WWE Champion Dean Ambrose has said he’s leaving he after his contract is up in April. What are your thoughts on Dean’s departure?
SJ: “Dean’s a fantastic performer and there’s no doubt about it. Me saying that is like saying the sky is blue. As far as his departure, I think Dean’s the type of cat that he wants to do things that he’s into and if he’s not into what he’s doing at a certain time then he’ll have no problem stepping away and pursuing other things.
“If that’s the case then cool, more power to him. I think there are so many people who are wrapped up in the needs and wants of wanting to become a WWE superstar that they forget sometimes there other goals they want to achieve. I think Dean is a goal-oriented person and when he gets a goal in mind he’s going to try and accomplish it, more power to him. He will be missed.”
AH: I’ve been impressed with your ability to cut some amazing promos. What’s the story behind your promos? Do you script it or is it all off the cuff?
SJ: “I’m not good with rehearsed lines; there’s a lot of things. I wish I could give you a short synopsis on what goes on with it, as far as my process goes, it’s a cadence, it’s timing, it’s feeling out the crowd. At the point when I start talking, do I need to wake them up a bit? Reading the situation and reading the crowd. That’s kind of overlooked, once you walk through that curtain and you’ve gotta read the vibe of the crowd.
“Sometimes you get out there and they smell blood in the water. They know you’re gonna go on attack mode and they’re waiting for you to say something messed up. I’m a big proponent for meaning what you say and it’s not always what you do or what you say but it’s how you do it or how you say it. I say things that get reactions out of people and if I can continue to keep getting those strong reactions then I’m gonna keep saying it.”
AH: Two people that you’ll be sharing a ring with this Sunday are AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. Now you’ve wrestled with these guys in high school gyms and in some of the most famous venues around the world. Do you find yourself looking back at the journey you’ve been on with those guys?
SJ: “We all do, it’s something that we all feel. I think for us, we get these questions all the time on did we ever think we’d make it into WWE and for all three of us we had been labeled as either too big or too small and they’d say, WWE would never hire you. We were told that from literally day one. I remember (Daniel Bryan) got signed early on and then he got released early on at they very, very start of his career.
“I know that every time I’m in the locker room and I’m working for some company in Malaysia or Germany and Japan I kept seeing the same guys from America in the locker room. I would be Daniel, it would by A.J. (Styles). I think Bryan broke the mold for a lot of us guys who had been told they don’t fit the WWE model and I think it opened up the doors for a lot of guys to be successful in this company.”
AH: Speaking of Daniel Bryan, he is the current WWE champion and he’s got a very interesting look to his belt. What are your thoughts on the “Plant-Based” WWE title?
SJ: “Daniel’s very, very passionate about the environment and I don’t knock the guy for it. We’ve got a beautiful planet and we should take care of it. That being said, it’s a bit ridiculous and it has more to do with his ego more than anything.”
AH: We’ve gotta talk about “The Man” Becky Lynch. She’s taken WWE by storm over the last few months; really since Summer Slam. Has she become that must-see talent backstage and have some of the boys made it a priority to see what she’s been doing in the ring and on the mic?
SJ: “Here’s the difference between Becky Lynch now and Becky Lynch from a few years ago: Becky Lynch finally decided she’s going to believe in herself. She did obviously to a certain extent before but for her, the belief in herself and the belief in her abilities. She goes out there and takes control and it goes back to her just simply believing in herself. She’s always been capable of incredible things and she’s riding this wave better than she could’ve hoped for. She’s tune-in television, the locker room is watching her and so is the world.”
Samoa Joe will be competing in the 2019 Elimination Chamber match this Sunday on WWE Network.