For Samoa Joe fans, Backlash was a tough night. Just a month after his triumphant return, Joe’s momentum had suddenly stalled. His PPV main event opposite Roman Reigns had failed to deliver and considering the range of factors, Joe’s spot at the top of the card seemed very much in question. Not far removed from injury struggles, Joe was now headed to a stacked SmackDown Live roster and all off the back of a clean loss no less. This once unexpected main roster run had been undeniably impressive but at that point in time, its peak had seemingly come and gone.
However, this wasn't the first time that Joe’s ceiling had been decided by others and frankly, his track record spoke for itself. In fact, the history of this runs far and wide, with countless examples throughout Joe’s almost 20 year-long career. That’s certainly not my story to tell but even in recent memory, its relevance is apparent. People doubted Joe when he left TNA, they doubted him when he arrived in NXT and they doubted his main roster prospects too. Honestly, Backlash was just the latest case of an apparently never-ending tale.
It’s rather cliché to celebrate the wrestling world’s tectonic shifts but sometimes, it’s genuinely worth pondering. I mean seriously, we are just days away from seeing Joe wrestle AJ Styles in front of 70,000 people…oh, and it’s for the WWE Title too. Couple that with their SummerSlam clash and this whole feat suddenly becomes even more surreal. Considering the journey, this programme is an achievement in itself but at core, it’s yet another reminder of what made both men special in the first place: simply elite talent.
For Joe specifically, his virtually unmatched range has come to the fore again. Often the destroyer, Joe’s most recent transformation has arguably been his most entertaining yet. Embracing the role of mean-spirited manipulator, Joe remains absolute dynamite on the microphone but now brings a new element to his conflicts too. In-ring, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles remain a perfect match. The size difference, their range of offense and a sublime ability to sell also, it’s all just magic in my view. However, as has been proven rather recently, the ‘dream match’ tag is rarely enough on its own.
In-ring excitement is an important chapter but with so much TV time to produce, the story can’t start and stay there. There has to an emotional hook, a conflict that gives fuel to the fire and elevates the physicality along the way. Joe and AJ are proof of that, with the intensity of their matches shining through at both SummerSlam and Hell in a Cell, a genuine gravity to their every move. This rivalry is more than just good TV though, it represents all the progression both men have made and moreover, their maturation in front of the wrestling world.
Just like Styles, Joe has evolved in front of our very eyes, standing the test of time and becoming one of the industry’s most well-rounded performers. On body of work alone, Joe’s legacy was quite admirable long ago but in just 18 months, the former independent trailblazer has catapulted himself to a whole new level. Exposed to a wider audience than ever before, Joe has thrived on the grandest stage. He’s had excellent matches, cut classic promos and at one point, even quite literally went head to head with Brock Lesnar.
That’s the beauty of Samoa Joe though, he’s just immovable in some ways. Throughout every character shift and promotional move, his aura is a constant. No matter how you adapt his presentation, Joe remains authentic: a cool, calm killer that’s immediately believable with just a scowl and a glare. That was clearer than ever in Joe’s recent Chronicles episode too, masterfully portraying his intentions without once testing your trust. This wasn't a pantomime character or a flamboyant personality but instead, the story of a fighter without morals. No matter how absurd Joe’s actions get, his purpose remains clear and most importantly, believable.
At this point in time, it’s unclear if the WWE Title is likely to be in Samoa Joe’s future. It’d unquestionably be a fitting feat but either way, this moment is worth appreciating in itself. Through creative highs and lows, Samoa Joe’s presence seldom wavered. At times, it’s been fair to question Joe’s future and once Super Show-Down comes to a close, that question may rear its head again. History suggests that it’s worth giving Joe the benefit of the doubt though, as if his career followed the consensus, he probably wouldn't have made it here to begin with.
This Saturday morning, a packed stadium will watch on as Samoa Joe challenges AJ Styles for the WWE Title. It’s impossible to watch anything with pure positivity but considering the context, it may be worth watching this feud’s final chapters with a smile. Behind all the fan validation though, it’s important to remember that these two men are only sharing this stage due to their immense talent. For Samoa Joe especially, this a very special moment and as fans, I suggest we embrace it. After all, its reality is a triumph in itself.