Nobody knows the ups and downs of being a WWE Superstar in 2021 more than Samoa Joe. Despite a well-received stint commentating on Raw, the popular performer was among the names released from the company in April. The news’ coming days after WrestleMania was a real shocker as fans had been anxiously anticipating his return to the ring.
Joe’s free agency didn’t last long. Triple H—Legend, exec, and the man behind WWE’s NXT—reached out to the veteran about coming back. Fast-forward to June, and the Superstar made a return to not only WWE but the brand that gave him some of his biggest successes.
Joe spent the first few months in an enforcer role for general manager William Regal. He would quickly land in the crosshairs of NXT champion Karrion Kross. Now, with hostilities bubbling over, Joe finds himself going for Kross’ title at NXT TakeOver 36. TV Insider caught up with the challenger days before the collision—his first match since February 2020.
When Triple H contacted you about NXT, was there any trepidation signing back up with WWE?
Samoa Joe: There was no second-guessing. The relationship between me and him has always been awesome. We had spoken about my role in depth the previous year, even before that, about me returning to NXT in an expanded capacity. There wasn’t a lot to think about.
There are many great minds at NXT, like Triple H and Shawn Michaels. How has it been collaborating with them?
Hunter, Shawn, Road Dogg—you get to see really different perspectives on how to pull something off [in] a segment. That’s the biggest thing. With these creative minds, you’ll see a little different take.
There is a lot of talk about classifying NXT. How would you describe the brand’s place under the WWE umbrella?
NXT is the third brand. It is also one where Superstars debut and do develop. For me personally, I think it’s time we try not to categorize it one way or another. NXT has always been in a state of flux. We’ve done tremendous experiments, including bringing in myself and guys like Finn Bálor, Nakamura—guys who have worked all around the world. There is always something different in NXT. For me personally, I hope that never changes. I hope nobody says, “It’s the old NXT.” I hope that innovation continues for the brand.
Your first opponent as a returning wrestler is Karrion Kross. How much of yourself do you see in him?
He has taken a similar path. [We’re both] guys who have gone out there and been around the world on [our] way to WWE. At the same time, he is his own man. He is dedicated to his craft. I think we share some of those qualities, but I wouldn’t say I see a lot of myself in him. I think I see a lot of Karrion Kross in Karrion Kross. He is a very dedicated individual and takes his career very seriously. I’ll commend him for that.
Tell me how you’ve been preparing for your return match.
Aside from training in the gym, it’s about getting in the ring and getting in that environment—taking the bumps, taking the punishment, and getting the body reacquainted with the shock of what we do. These are the things we have been concentrating on. Aside from the training done at the PC [the WWE Performance Center], I work out with Josh Rafferty in Tampa, individuals here and there—mostly doctors who are part of our recovery regimen. It has been a long process, to say the least.
Who are you most excited to face after Karrion Kross in NXT?
Guys like Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Roderick Strong, Walter, Pete Dunne. There are so many matches in NXT. I welcome any and all challengers. A lot of people talked a lot when I was out. Now that I’m back, we’ll see who the first ones to step up are.
Gable Steveson is getting some buzz. What are your thoughts on him pursuing a career in WWE?
The guy is an amazing athlete. An Olympic gold medalist. I think he is definitely a hot prospect. I would love to see him in WWE.
What kind of advice do you give younger talent about getting through these uncertain times?
I’d say take a look at your finances and get yourself budgeted outright for the road and work. My second big thing is to start opening up. A lot of these young wrestlers disqualify themselves mentally before they ever get a chance to prove themselves. Always take time to take care of your head and take a little bit of time to relax. Roll with the circumstances given to you, not the circumstances you want.
What is your mindset going into this next run on NXT?
Largely it is to always put out the best show I can for NXT. Go out there and give the fans a reason to tune in every week. My focus is helping NXT in this next transformation and hopefully elevate it to the next level.
Is there anything you want to see emphasized more on the show?
I think there is always room for how we introduce people to the world. I would love to see more experimental filming techniques and video features on some of our athletes outside of the ring and what they do beyond the arenas. I think we can deliver our shows to the audience in very unique ways.
In coming back, you’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with William Regal. Do you see him having one more match?
I would never speak for Regal, but I’ll put it this way: If you get a man angry enough, he’ll always shave one more in him.
Is there one NXT TakeOver match you’re looking forward to seeing from the outside looking in ?
The culmination of Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole is on the minds of people in NXT. I’m looking forward to Dakota Kai and Raquel González. As I’ve learned in my career, the best of friends make the best of enemies too.
With this TakeOver being on a Sunday after SummerSlam, do you feel it changes the atmosphere?
It’s good WWE recognizes they want to end the weekend the right way. And most likely it will end with me leaving triumphantly with gold. I can’t think of a better way to end the summer. It doesn’t seem so unusual when you think about it that way.
WWE NXT TakeOver 36, Sunday, Aug. 22, 8/7c, Peacock