It was certainly a surreal sight this week to see Samoa Joe walk to the Monday Night Raw ring with that familiar swagger as his fitting theme played with authority. In an instant Joe was undeniably believable, a fitting destroyer here to conquer what had become an admittedly stagnant roster. It’s unarguable that to really enjoy pro wrestling, you have to suspend your disbelief. There’s nothing wrong with that either, it’s simply a necessary part of watching television, whether it be an episode of RAW or a critically acclaimed drama. The best professional wrestlers don’t force you to suspend your disbelief though, instead they simply do it for you. Samoa Joe is and has been one of those wrestlers for a very long time.
Immediately credible and convincing, it’s the combination of all of Joe’s tools as a performer that make him so compelling and diverse. Just like many of his now fellow WWE ‘superstars’, for the longest time ‘The Samoan Submission Machine’ has been one of the world’s most respected and revered performers. However, there’s a certain something that makes Joe stand out from that very impressive pack that became quickly clear when he was thrust right into the key moments of this week’s RAW. As bizarre as it may sound though, it isn’t Joe’s consistently strong in-ring performances that make him such an excellent add-on to the main roster, even if they can’t be ignored.
Joe’s ability as an in-ring performer has never been questioned but as the years have gone by, his style has certainly changed. Still capable of stunning fans with moments of surprising explosiveness, wear and tear seems to have forced Joe into becoming an even better-rounded performer. Whilst perhaps not quite as dynamic, Joe’s ability to slow it down may have made him an even better fit for the main roster style. Whether he's working rest holds until the audience reacts as intended or utilizing authentic and realistic grappling sequences, Joe’s experience means that he’s never in a rush to waste anything and with his look, nor should he be.
Speaking of such Joe’s look has always been a talking point, with some doubting his credentials as a headline act simply due to the fact that he isn’t built like a ‘traditional’ pro wrestling superstar. In reality though, variety is a good thing and Joe’s look not only separates him from the pack but also just adds to his believability as a legitimate fighter and tough guy. Not only does Joe stand out but he is quite simply built like a man that you would not want to fight and as simplistic as it sounds, that’s something that we don’t have enough of anymore. I understand that times have changed and that fans aren’t going to be as quick to run in fear from the wild heel but to some extent, they still need to believe, at least a little.
In truth though there’s more to being intimidating than just having the correct look. There are a lot of men bigger than Joe in professional wrestling but many fail to capture that innate intensity and believability. A recent case of someone lacking in those eras could be RAW’s resident female monster heel Nia Jax. In fairness, Jax is still incredibly new and will only continue to grow but right now there’s an uncertainty to her body language, just a slight lack of confidence and poise. That's not a major criticism at all but it’s those tiny minor details that take you out of the moment. On size alone Jax should be a feared destroyer but something doesn’t seem to be clicking and that’s a clear example of menace not being all about image. In fact, it’s often more a case of body language and Joe is a great example of that.
When Samoa Joe makes his way to the ring, whether it be in his trademark fight shorts or, as of this week, a sharp suit, he brings a cocky swagger behind the menacing glare. He isn’t stoic or lumbering, he has real personality, even if not flashy or flamboyant. His personality, whether as a heel or a babyface, is refreshingly simple, a believable badass. I appreciate that his promo this past Monday was brief but Joe’s delivery still captured my point. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that after years of performing Joe has proven himself as a great talker capable of a wide range of delivery, sometimes absolutely enraged, other times cool and calculated.
Now this is all well and good but some of you may be wondering how any of this really matters in the big picture. Well in my view all of these little aspects of Joe’s performance make him a rare commodity on the roster as he can bring an atmosphere genuinely quite unique and special. In recent years there has been a reliance on part timers and legends to bring a ‘big fight feel’ to the major events and that’s understandable. Everyone on the main roster is so overexposed that it’s hard to make their appearances feel important or impactful. Joe has a very different kind of aura though. One constant in Samoa Joe’s eighteen year career has been that in the biggest spot, he delivers.
It was true for all of Joe’s knockdown drag out ROH classics and when put in the correct position, absolutely the case in his often befuddling TNA run. Simply put, in the big match Samoa Joe brings something very rare in the current product, a real palpable intensity that gives everything an extra edge. I still maintain that one of my favorite images of 2016 was Joe, covered in blood, walking Finn Balor down with jabs at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. The crowd responded, as they often do, with impassioned chants of ‘Joe! Joe! Joe!’ It wasn’t because they were rooting against Balor either, it’s just that for that moment, the people got caught up in Joe’s aggression and ferocity. It was no longer just another title match, this was suddenly a fight.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Joe’s RAW main event with Roman Reigns ever really reached those heights but there was certainly evidence there that on a bigger stage, it certainly could be something very, very special. This is all just the very start of Joe’s main roster run of course but I guess my point here is that this isn’t just another great performer finally getting a well-deserved run on the biggest stage. Joe is and always has been different. Just like in that aforementioned TakeOver: Dallas moment and many others, Joe is capable of making you forget everything you think you know. Whilst you may not believe the combat is real, you certainly believe that Joe is and really, that’s all that matters.