It’s something that is becoming more common across today’s professional wrestling landscape — age is just a number. 35 is the new 25. Many performers are just starting to reach the prime of their careers in their late 30s, or as late as their mid 40s. It’s all about how an individual wrestler feels and what their body can withstand.
It was not all that long ago that Ring of Honor World Television Champion Samoa Joe was contemplating whether his body was telling him it was time to walk away from the ring.
Now, at age 44, Joe continues his reign as the King of Television with renewed vigor and is ready for his next challenge this Friday night at ROH’s Death Before Dishonor PPV.
The latter years of the Samoan Submission Machine’s run in WWE were plagued by injuries — everything from a banged up knee to a torn plantar fascia in his foot. A broken thumb kept him out of the ring for several months and then concussions became a major concern.
Joe wrestled just one match for WWE after he suffered a bizarre head injury during a commercial shoot in early 2020, before he was ultimately released by the company (for the second time in less than a year) in January of 2022.
A few months later, Samoa Joe found himself in AEW, competing in the finals of the Owen Hart Foundation Tournament and beating Minoru Suzuki to capture his first ROH World Television Championship.
ONE YEAR OF DOMINANCE!— ROH - Ring of Honor Wrestling (@ringofhonor) June 22, 2023
The #ROH Chairman @TonyKhan & the #ROH Board of Directors present @SamoaJoe with a new #ROH World TV title.
Watch #ROH #HonorClub on https://t.co/c45XmmE6bl pic.twitter.com/kswK0EZqgZ
Cageside Seats had the chance to catch up with Samoa Joe this week, for the latest installment of our “Going Over” interview series, and it sure sounds like the big bruiser plans to continue doling out punishment for the foreseeable future.
“I feel good,” Joe said. “Honestly, a lot of it was just taking the time to recover from the injuries that I had incurred. And taking the necessary time, not just what was recommended. What I felt was right and when I started to feel I was ready to return to in-ring action. And I think that was the biggest thing for me, as far as my recovery from injuries, and really making the final call or whether or not retirement was something I was gonna consider.”
Plain and simple, Joe says he knew he shouldn’t have been wrestling during his time away from the ring. And he doesn’t regret the decision to stay away for as long as he did. Not for one second.
“I would recommend it for anybody else who is in a similar situation or feels the same way, because the extra time is worth the health and the peace of mind.”
And not only does Samoa Joe feel good, but he continues to perform at a high level. One of the most complete in-ring performers in the business today, and arguably the most physically demanding man in the entire industry.
When you have a career as long as Joe has had, when you’ve traveled the towns and trained with the legends that Samoa Joe has, you tend to pick up a few tricks and tools along the way.
Do yourself a favor and really watch Joe’s next match this Friday at ROH Death Before Dishonor. Try to soak in as much of his performance as you can. You’ll see he’s truly mastered the art of telling a story within the match itself and selling you that story with his wide-ranging emotions.
If you fancy yourself a renaissance wrestling fan, see if you can pick out the moments in Joe’s matches where he channels his different mentors from over the years.
“I always freely volunteer, first and foremost, William Regal. He has been a massive influence on my career. From a simple afternoon talk early in my career, which really opened my eyes, to things to focus on and things I should be looking for and things I should be doing. To just, you know, guidance throughout my career. So, you know, he’s definitely one of those men that have made a difference in my life.”
His influences extend far beyond the great William Regal. From Antonio Inoki to his contemporaries like AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels — it’s a list of people that Samoa Joe says is long and varied.
“Studying guys like Arn Anderson throughout my career. Who was, I mean, tremendously explosive in what he did. Probably one of the more underrated guys when you talk about explosiveness in the ring. Studying under guys like [Shinya] Hashimoto when I was in Japan, and then Yoshiaki Fujiwara, and seeing what they did and understanding what intensity was and how it’s best conveyed to an audience. You’d be hard pressed to find anybody more intense than Shinya Hashimoto when he is fired up.”
And it’s in that aspect of his game that Samoa Joe really thrives among today’s professional wrestlers.
Throw out any name you want. This author will put Joe right there with them as far as his intensity and physicality inside the squared circle.
“Yeah, I would too,” Joe agreed confidently. “I am an angry individual and I love to take out that frustration and physical manifestations of pain on other people. I admit it. Guilty.”
The latest man to feel the wrath of the Ring of Honor Hall of Famer was his old buddy CM Punk. The self-proclaimed Best in the World may have gotten out of this year’s Owen Hart Cup Semi-final with a victory, but he had to earn it.
Fifteen minutes of absolute torture as the 310 pound Samoan wrecking machine just tore Punk apart with those big beefy mitts he has in lieu of hands.
It was a moment in time that Joe thoroughly enjoyed, despite the outcome. He put CM Punk at the top of his list, currently but subject to change, of his favorite people to chop. And a few times during their AEW Collision match-up, it looked like Punk’s soul was trying to escape his body.
“I just can’t wait to do it. If I saw him in the street, I’d go straight for the throat... It’s just a great thing, you know like, he’s a very choppable person. You know? Like, some people when you see them get chopped you’re like, ‘Hey... that was a little bit unnecessary.’ But he’s a guy that nine times outta ten, if you poll [the] average person on the street, they’d say blast away. And I mean, hey, what can I do? I’m just giving the people what they want.”
It was the first time that Samoa Joe and CM Punk had faced each other one-on-one since 2005. The last in a series of matches that are looked on fondly by those who saw them back then and those who have watched them in the years that have followed.
In particular, the critically acclaimed 60-minute time limit draw at the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago back in October of 2004. The first American match at that time to garner a 5-star rating by The Wrestling Observer since 1997.
“Obviously, I think for any wrestler, we all want our work to bring joy to people for many years to come. So, yeah, it’s an awesome thing and I’m glad that people are still enjoying it.”
Trying to recreate the magic of any classic is a daunting task. Ask a director who has had the opportunity to give new life to a long beloved and dormant film franchise. Many times it would have been better to leave the past in the past, instead of trying to live up to often unrealistic fan expectations with a revival.
Samoa Joe says he doesn’t get hung up on expectations. They do not exist when he heads down to the ring. Even for a bout as highly anticipated as one with Punk.
Having expectations only gums up Joe’s ability to adapt and make adjustments on the fly. Especially when dealing with a white hot crowd. Going into this latest match with his storied rival Punk, Joe just took comfort in what they were both capable of accomplishing in the ring together.
“It kind of felt oddly familiar. I mean, I would like to say it’s like riding a bike except, you know, that bike sucks.” Joe joked. “You’ll find that very common with a lot of great grapplers you’ll meet throughout your career... they’re very confident in what they’re doing, you’re very confident in what you’re doing and it usually makes for some good synergy.”
While the rematch two decades in the making didn’t receive as high of a rating (3.75 stars according to The Wrestling Observer), it was far from a flop. Delivering goosebumps inducing moments without having to rely on nostalgia to get over with the crowd.
Overly used cliché aside, whether the audience leaves the venue happy is what truly matters at the end of the day. In fact, that’s what keeps Samoa Joe coming to the office every week.
More than any Championship he could win or main event he could have, the major motivating factor that has Joe’s fire for pro wrestling still burning brightly, is fan enjoyment.
“Bringing in more fans that love professional wrestling and giving them a great night... and seeing them going crazy and then go on and want to come out in a few months and see it all over again,” Joe told Cageside Seats. “It’s the basis of what we do and why we do it. And I think sometimes, maybe even us as entertainers, we lose sight of that. And that’s just kind of been my focal point. And very much so now at this point in my career, as I have understood the business more in a macro sense. I understand what it takes to keep the lights on and the truck steaming on to the next town.”
While Championships may not matter as much to Samoa Joe in the grand scheme of things, he does have a title to defend this Friday night. His reign as ROH World Television Champion has now hit 462 days, just a week shy of the second longest run in that title’s history.
Fans won’t know who his opponent at Death Before Dishonor will be, unless they read the spoilers, until Thursday night’s ROH episode airs. Dalton Castle takes on Shane Taylor with a shot at Samoa Joe on the line.
It would be the first time that Joe has faced either man in his career. Castle is someone he’s spoken highly of in the past, calling him a tremendously charismatic and engaging performer and at the same time, an impressive in-ring competitor.
“It’s a rare combination. You get somebody who’s that flamboyant and enigmatic as he is and still be a tremendous grappler in [Their] own right. And a very dangerous individual when it comes to being on the mat.” Joe said before speaking about his other possible opponent. “Shane Taylor, he’s a tank. He goes in there, he’s full force ahead and once momentum like that gets going, very little is going to stop it. You know, he’s been running his mouth for a little bit. He’s been trying to set himself up, put himself in a position to get in there and swing with me. And we’ll see if that opportunity comes to fruition.”
Check out our full interview with Samoa Joe in the video at the top of the page as goes more in depth about his time in AEW, including his thoughts on working with Wardlow, Darby Allin, and Powerhouse Hobbs.