Samoa Joe Comes Home to NXT After Brief Time Away From WWE

“A younger me would have handled this much, much differently,” he says of his WWE release that came as a shock to many observers.
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Samoa Joe is back in NXT.

​Two months after being released by WWE, Joe (42-year-old Nuufolau Seanoa) re-signed with the company. No longer associated with Raw, where he had been a color commentator before the release, Joe is back in an on-screen role as the enforcer for NXT general manager William Regal.

​Eventually, Joe believes he will be back in the ring. Already NXT’s first two-time champion, it would be magic to see Joe become the first three-time champion.

“Guys on the roster, they’ve told me they want this matchup, too,” Joe says. “I couldn’t really pay heed to that when I was on Raw. Those matchups weren’t going to happen then. But now I’m here. Let’s see if they’re still as loud.”

​Joe is not cleared to wrestle, the result of a concussion sustained during a WWE commercial shoot in early 2020. Joe’s role of enforcer allows him to add value and a unique type of tense excitement to the weekly NXT broadcast while still progressing toward full health. The new opportunity came together quickly after Joe received a phone call from John Laurinaitis, WWE’s head of talent relations, in April notifying him that he was among those being let go.

“A younger me would have handled this much, much differently,” Joe says. “I know when I got the call, and it’s hard to explain, but I really was nonplussed about the whole thing. Johnny called me and gave me the token speech, and it’s hard for Johnny because he has to make a lot of calls. At the same time, there were already discussions between myself and Hunter from a while ago. This is something Hunter had wanted. So essentially, when I got released, I understood their logic and reasoning. For me, I didn’t miss a beat. I was ready to take on whatever came next, and that’s what I was ready to do.”

​Rather than a surprise appearance in New Japan Pro-Wrestling or AEW, the next step was a return to NXT, reuniting him with Paul “Triple H” Levesque.

“I was sending a number of farewell texts, expressing my thanks and gratitude,” Joe says. “Hunter texted me right back, asking if I had a few minutes. We had a brief phone call, and he asked for a few weeks to put something together. Throughout all my dealings with Paul during my tenure with WWE, they’ve been nothing but positive, and they’ve also been nothing but honest.

“So when he asked me to give him a few weeks to get something together, it went without saying I would. And it’s even more than that. I like a lot of what he’s done at NXT, the talent he’s given a platform and a voice, and being able to help continue that tradition is a big reason why I came back.”

​A 22-year wrestling veteran, Joe has witnessed and experienced the highs and lows of the profession. He’ll never forget the way he was treated and presented in NXT from 2015 to ’17. Those familiar with Joe’s work in Ring of Honor and TNA already knew he was a sensational talent, the type who could elicit a rare type of emotion from those watching through his sharp, biting promos and intensely physical style. But until that run, he had never enjoyed the reach of the WWE platform. While in NXT, he was presented as a genuine star.

“I thought a lot of what we did was tremendous,” Joe says. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”

​The thought of stepping through the ropes as an in-ring competitor continues to cross Joe’s mind. This might seem shortsighted, as Joe is 42 years old and already established as a great wrestler, both in and out of WWE. Yet the fire to compete still burns, and no ancillary role will replace one final run in the ring.

“It means the world to me that people honor my legacy and have good memories about matches I’ve been in,” Joe says. “That really means a lot. But I’ve always been focused on what I can do next. I don’t want to dwell on accolades. I didn’t build my career off fond memories. I do what I do and give the fans something to look forward to.”

​One benefit for Joe in his new enforcer role will be highlighting the roster. Putting over an opponent is an integral part of a livelihood as a pro wrestler, which Joe also did in a very believable manner during his time on commentary. Especially with the caliber of talent that calls NXT home, he is grateful to work with this collection of women and men.

“A lot of why I’m back is the people I’m working with in NXT,” Joe says. “It starts with the passion of Hunter and Shawn Michaels, who is an incredible mind. And I’m amazed at the women on the roster. They’re beyond incredible. Some are very young in their careers, and they’re exceptional—look at how Raquel [González], she’s been fantastic. Then look at Ember Moon, Dakota Kai, Io Shirai. It’s a murderer’s row of top-tier, internationally certified talent. NXT, they’re putting out an incredible wrestling program.”

​A centerpiece for upcoming NXT programming is the Kyle O’Reilly–Adam Cole match on July 6 at the Great American Bash–themed show. That is a rivalry with roots that extend far beyond WWE. Cole and O’Reilly have headlined Ring of Honor’s signature Final Battle pay-per-view at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, shared the ring against one another at the Tokyo Dome for New Japan’s vaunted Wrestle Kingdom show, and built an unforgettable story while paired together as part of The Undisputed Era. Asked if the rivalry reminds him of any of his own iconic battles, including the trilogy of matches he had in 2004 with CM Punk, Joe also references his long-standing feud with AJ Styles.

“Me and Punk is a great analogy, but me and AJ have also been those eternal enemies,” Joe says. “It’s kind of like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, a real contentious relationship and a transcendent rivalry. It’s gone past the bounds of just NXT. This dates back years and years, and they’re both at the top of their game.

“Kyle O’Reilly is one of the more innovative individuals I’ve seen. He’s been able to adapt a lot of his training in martial arts and bring it to pro wrestling in really smart, brilliant ways. Adam Cole just delivers. You can’t ask much more than that. I’m looking forward to this matchup. It’s gone down a few times, and every time it has, it’s been fantastic. This one will be no different.”

​Joe brought a different ingredient to NXT during his first run there. Even with a roster that featured Finn Bálor and Shinsuke Nakamura, he added an element of realism that would not have been the same without him. Joe personifies what it means to be a pro wrestler, owning an ability to capture viewers’ attention and imagination, and he can now apply the elements of his craft back in NXT.

“I have to admit, I’ve spent a bit of time in the confines of NXT, and it does feel like home,” Joe says. “Unfortunately, I do have a horrible habit of wrecking the house.”

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.