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Samoa Joe on the Verge of Long-Awaited Return to the Ring at ‘NXT TakeOver 36’

After a 16-month layoff caused by a concussion, the veteran returns to NXT for a title match against Karrion Kross.

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Samoa Joe: “I’m back in NXT, and I’m going to take over”

A central piece of NXT’s past will return Sunday, as Samoa Joe reenters the ring in the main event of NXT TakeOver 36 for a title match against reigning champ Karrion Kross.

This will be Joe’s NXT homecoming, marking his first match there since January 2017. It is also his first match altogether since he worked an eight-man tag on the Feb. 10, 2020, edition of Raw. Shortly after that, he was concussed during a WWE commercial shoot, which occurred just after another concussion. Sunday’s bout is his long-awaited opportunity to step through the ropes again as an active performer.

“My goal has always been to get healthy and get back in the ring,” Joe says. “[Getting cleared], it was a feeling of reassurance and relief. It was very reaffirming. Everything we did, all the therapy, all that work was worth it.”

No stranger to injuries, the 42-year-old Nuufolau Joel Seanoa has a deep understanding of the mental and physical toll of the rehabilitation process. Providing commentary on Raw during his time away from the ring served as an outlet, allowing him to focus on a new purpose that came with its unique share of challenges.

“Sometimes during injury time, you can be your own worst enemy, second-guessing yourself and making yourself sick worrying over things you have no control over,” Joe says. “I have experience dealing with that in the past, which has helped me understand that the mental game of recovery is still as important as the physical game.

“[For me], there was no real process to being taken away from the ring. One day you wake up in the hospital and you’re not in the ring anymore. Coming back, I knew it was going to be a mental battle as well as a physical battle. Commentary gave me something to focus on and put my energy into while I was recovering. I enjoyed my time in the commentary booth. I threw myself so deeply into that because it kept me from driving myself crazy. Only time and healing were going to solve anything, so doing commentary helped me alleviate a little bit of that stress I put on myself.”

A former two-time NXT champ, Joe seeks to become the first to win the title a third time. The story arc pitting himself against Kross was laid out brilliantly, with Joe finally getting his hands on the undefeated champ at TakeOver. Of course, that was derailed when Kross was pulled to Raw earlier this summer, losing his debut in a quick match against Jeff Hardy.

But in the realm of NXT, this is a highly anticipated meeting between two professionals who each bring a ferocious, physical skill set to the craft.

“I’m looking at him, and this match as a blank slate,” Joe says. “Kross is very different from the many people that I’ve faced. He presents a very unique challenge. He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever seen in NXT. It’s going to be something new.”

Separating fact from fiction is often a difficult task in pro wrestling. This is an industry based on the premise of working its audience, so it should come as little surprise that it is filled with misconceptions. The idea that wrestling is still fake somehow remains prevalent, even though this is a profession that takes an immense toll on a person’s body and well-being. Watching Joe’s work, his passion and grit leave no doubt that he fully believes in what he is doing, showcasing a body of work more real than reality.

“This is very real to me,” Joe says. “The hours of training to come back, those are very real. It’s been very real to me for a long time. I can’t wait to get back in the ring and mix it up.”

With increasing rumors that Vince McMahon wants to alter the NXT product, the timing of Joe’s return could not be better. He is a reason to watch every week, with intensely gripping promos and a must-see style in the ring. And he is eager to discuss the ongoing changes in NXT, giving a seasoned veteran’s take on the direction of the product.

“I hope NXT is never the same as it used to be,” Joe says. “I hope NXT is always changing and evolving and experimenting and trying new things. So much has been done in NXT, so many barriers have been crossed and so many new, amazing superstars have been introduced. It’s always been a place for experimentation, it’s always been a place for something new. I hope it continues to be that. I hope it’s never the same old NXT.”

After Joe was released by WWE in April, he could have chosen to work for any wrestling promotion in the world. Yet he chose to return to NXT, trusting the vision of Paul “Triple H” Levesque to oversee the final chapter of his career.

“I’ve established some really good business relationships, and that holds a lot of weight in my book,” Joe says. “Especially in an age where so many indie wrestlers coming up are dealing with crazy, shady promoters here and there, I’m dealing with someone who is consistent in their promises.”

Joe makes it quite clear that he is not back to refute doubters, but rather to return to his passion. A 22-year wrestling veteran, he has spent countless hours in the ring applying his signature submissions and perfecting his presence and delivery. He brings a precise, cerebral approach to his work, and finally getting the chance to step back into the ring for an actual match broadcast across the wrestling world feels to him like he is coming back home.

“I’m coming back for the fans that want to see Samoa Joe,” he says. “I get to do what I love, and that’s perform for the WWE Universe and for fans around the world.

“I have a committed relationship with this industry. I’m back around the energy. It always lifts me up when I’m around it. There are a lot of young, hungry individuals ready to show the world what they’re about, and that kind of enthusiasm is infectious.”

Inside and out of WWE, this weekend has the potential to be one of the most significant stretches in pro wrestling history. Joe is relishing the chance to fill the role of the weekend’s main event, as his match will take place in the twilight hour Sunday evening.

“If you’re going to cap off the greatest wrestling weekend of the summer, you want to do it with the very best at the very end,” Joe says. “You save the dessert until the end for that reason. I’m back in NXT, and I’m going to take over.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Will 2021—in AEW—be the next “Summer of Punk”? We will be watching Rampage closely this Friday to see. 
  • Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair were fantastic on SmackDown, but there has been no news out of WWE after the two stars were pulled from live events over the weekend. 
  • John Cena is still throwing his fastball, which he proved again on the microphone this past Friday.

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  • Dr. Britt Baker looked like a star (again) in her main-event win on Rampage against Red Velvet.
  • Christian Cage defeated Kenny Omega on Friday on the debut episode of Rampage to win the Impact title, which sets up a rematch at All Out in September with the AEW belt on the line. It is still wild to think that Cage was in WWE earlier this year, and it let him walk.
  • In addition to Cage winning the Impact belt, this was a big week for title changes …
    Shinsuke Nakamura won the Intercontinental title … 

… Hiroshi Tanahashi won the IWGP United States title … 

… and Deonna Purrazzo came away from Triplemanía with even more gold, defeating Faby Apache to win AAA’s Reina de Reinas championship. 

  • Speaking of Triplemanía, Kenny Omega, Andrade, Ric Flair and Konnan shared a memorable moment together in the ring, full of chops and the figure-four leglock. 
  • It is impossible to think of Flair without thinking about Sting. Having found new life in AEW, Sting wrestles in a tag-team match Wednesday night on TNT, his first match on the station since the final Nitro. 
  • The addition of Will Ospreay—along with his IWGP world heavyweight title belt—will add another element to NJPW Strong. 
  • In a weekend full of great wrestling, Beyond Wrestling also has a stacked card for Americanrana. 
  • It’s great to hear that Keith Lee is healthy. 

Jay White retains title at New Japan’s ‘Resurgence’ show, looks to add to his title collection in Impact Wrestling

Jay White again showcased his brilliance this weekend, defeating David Finlay in the co-main event of New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Resurgence show in Los Angeles.

The leader of Bullet Club, White is the reigning NEVER openweight champion and is hungry to prove more. Already considered one of the best in New Japan, White will not be satisfied until he is considered the best in the world. And his first step to conquering that goal is establishing himself to a wider audience in America.

“It’s basically the hub of pro wrestling,” White says. “On any given night, especially with the current situation between companies, you never really know who may show up or what could happen.”

Over the past month, White has emerged as a force in Impact Wrestling, where he recruited emerging star Chris Bey into the fold as Bullet Club’s newest member. This is an outstanding opportunity for Bey to shine, both in the United States, where Bullet Club has had less of a recent grip, as well as in Japan, which would open up a whole new world of possibility for his future in New Japan’s junior heavyweight division.

“Chris Bey has endless potential,” White says. “He’s young and hungry and not afraid to get his hands dirty.”

White also immediately challenged former New Japan foe Kenny Omega for the title. Omega dropped the belt Friday, to Christian Cage, and a match pitting Cage against White would be a clash of generations.

“It’s new ground,” White says. “It’s fresh, it’s a change, and a chance for me to take over even more.”

Tweet of the Week

In terms of a debut episode, last week’s Rampage was phenomenal—and the Fuego moment was extremely well done.

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