When Samoa Joe choked out Finn Balor at Extreme Rules, wrestling fans got very excited. That win meant that Joe was now the number one contender and more importantly, he would be facing Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title. For the hardcore fan, this matchup was a long time coming and some would even say that the ‘dream match’ was too big for an event called ‘Great Balls of Fire’. On paper it was hard to disagree, here was a clash of two believable and brilliant brutes that ideally seemed better suited for a Summerslam or WrestleMania than it did a supposed ‘B-PPV’. However, whether we liked it or not, that wasn't really the reality of this situation.
After four months on the main roster, Samoa Joe was meandering. After an injury to Seth Rollins delayed his feud with Joe, that eventual program felt flat and so did the matches that came along with it. There just wasn't much meat or gravity to the story and Joe was simply a henchman fighting for Triple H’s lost honor. The whole thing was rather uninspired and that translated to much of the content within it. It would be hyperbole to say Joe ‘flopped’ as his own performances were at least good but there was a spark missing at times and the main roster audience seemed unable to really connect to ‘The Destroyer’.
For that very reason, I had my concerns about this Lesnar match. I feared that it wouldn’t be quite the titanic tilt we’d envisaged but instead just a filler feud for Brock before Summerslam. Those fears quickly vanished the night after Extreme Rules though. After an in-ring promo in which Joe made his position clear, Paul Heyman interrupted and explained why for him, Joe is the ‘worst case scenario’. Heyman’s promo was tremendous and really elevated Joe as a contender, getting across his dangerous penchant for violence as a real threat. With a handshake, the seeds were planted for our Great Balls of Fire main event. Then everything changed.
Joe cornered Heyman and explained to him calmly explained what was about to happen, “something very bad is going to happen to you right now. Listen, listen, I’m going to wrap my arm around your throat and you’re going to feel it tighten. Understand? And then your vision is going to get hazy until it gets dark and you’re unconscious on the ground. And then, I want you to take this message to Brock Lesnar that this was for him. And I want for you to describe this to him in excruciating detail, like only you can Paul E, what Brock Lesnar’s future holds.” Joe did exactly that and choked Heyman out. The people reacted passionately, “WE WANT BROCK,” Joe’s response: “And so do I!”
It was suddenly clear that this wasn’t going to be some throwaway, filler feud but instead something that genuinely captured people. Something a little different. Something memorable. Joe’s performance suggested that the month or event this match was taking place on didn’t matter as his own effort would make it important regardless. Joe had stated publicly for quite some time that Lesnar was his dream match and it showed right here, his motivation was obvious and thankfully, Heyman seemed equally invested. The following week Brock would indeed appear and after Heyman questioned Joe’s courage, ‘The Samoan Submission Machine’ walked straight to the ring and a brawl quickly ensued.
““What stands here in front of you is a man that does not fear Brock Lesnar…I’m incapable of fearing him because I’m far, far too envious of Brock Lesnar…I want everything Brock Lesnar has and I want to take it from him”.
Intensity was high and the online response to the brawl suggested that public interest was too. After beating Roman Reigns the next week, Joe and Brock would meet again seven days later with Joe attacking Lesnar from behind and almost choking him out before being pulled off his fading body. It’s hard to capture with words how special Joe has been in these confrontations because much of it has just been in his approach to the whole thing. Joe has always had an aura of danger around him but that’s been at a new level against Lesnar. It’s all had a purpose, every move he’s made and every word he’s spoken.
This week though things were elevated to a whole new level. In a split-screen interview face-off with Lesnar and Heyman, Joe once again stepped up his performance on the mic. Angry but eloquent, wild but wise, Joe showed in a few minutes why he may be one of the best talkers in the whole industry right now. He then left the set and went after Brock, chasing a physical altercation. I can’t think of anyone else in wrestling that can act as completely unhinged as Joe often does but still maintain his natural believability. He’s so authentic and no matter what he’s doing, it comes across as real and genuine.
I don’t know what will happen this Sunday but honestly, I’m not going to worry about it too much. If they decide it’s a quick win for Brock then that’s their prerogative but I’ll sleep happy knowing that when Joe was handed the ball, he sprinted with it and made the most of every moment and minute he was given. To me, this last month has solidified Joe’s spot in history to the wider audience, or at least to an extent. Joe was an innovator, someone that influenced a generation. A throwback in presence but a trendsetter in style. He was well-rounded, too, and organically evolved into a dynamic personality and a legitimately great talker. For eighteen years Joe has plied his trade across the globe and this Sunday on the biggest stage he gets his own hand-picked dream match. If you ask me, that’s a beautiful thing, regardless of the result.