As WWE gets set to usher in a new era of NXT on Tuesday night, a familiar face will be noticeably absent.
Samoa Joe will be off television indefinitely after suffering an undisclosed injury recently, forcing the NXT champion to relinquish his title on Sunday. Joe won his record-setting third NXT title less than one month ago.
The injury and subsequent abdication of the championship is another unfortunate twist in the saga of Joe within pro wrestling over the last two-plus years. When Joe won the championship on Aug. 22, 2021 at NXT TakeOver 36, it was his first wrestling match since an episode of Monday Night Raw on Feb. 10, 2020. Following that Raw, Joe suffered a concussion while shooting a commercial for WWE, forcing the now 42-year-old to the sidelines. Joe would join the announce table as a colour commentator for Raw, manning that post until being released by WWE on April 15, 2021.
Following his release there was rampant speculation amongst fans that Joe would follow several of his other former colleagues to All Elite Wrestling. However, as Joe told Sportsnet, there was never much thought given to a move elsewhere.
“Shortly after (the release), I pretty much was already re-signed to come back in an expanded capacity with WWE,” said Joe. “There was a little bit of interest, but for the most part, I kind of built a rapport and a business relationship, especially with Triple H and NXT and WWE, and we had spoke about this transition for years.”
According to the three-time NXT champ, a plan was in place upon his arrival in NXT in 2015 to come back after a run on one or both of Raw and SmackDown.
“This was actually from my first week in NXT. (Triple H) was like, ‘at some point there could be an opportunity (to come back to NXT).’ And then as my time in WWE grew that became more of like, ‘hey we’re making an opportunity for you here, regardless, at some point, whether you’re a performer or not to continue to be on (and) be a part of the company.’ And here we are today.”
Before his return, though, Joe was dealing with the physical and mental effects of his concussion. The effects were severe enough that retirement became an option.
“If there were some lingering issues that I felt were serious (and) the doctors felt were serious … then I wasn’t going to get back in the ring,” Joe told Sportsnet.
But rather than lean towards retirement or set a firm timeline on when he would decide, the two-time United States champion took a step back to evaluate his career and life.
“I was going to take the time, all the time that I needed, and I was going to come back feeling stronger, and 100-percent. I wasn’t really concerning myself with career moves (like), ‘oh is it over, is it this or is it that?’”
Now, though, another injury has cut short Joe’s ability to compete in the ring. While the severity and diagnosis of the injury is unknown, Joe has now become well versed in how to deal with long-term ailments. Joe noted that when it came to his previous injury, “the focus was on getting healthy and then worrying about getting back in the ring, I think that was my biggest focus at the time.” Joe continued; “I realized at this point in my career I was going to drive myself crazy being hungry to get back in the ring.”
There were plenty of fans clamouring for a return when Joe was out with his concussions. Those same voices will be no less quiet this time around, either. However the Tampa native will be in no rush to set a timeline to get back in the ring.
“That’s the worst thing, especially when you’re dealing with a concussion, is to put yourself under a lot of mental stress and strife because it does not help the recovery whatsoever,” said Joe, referring to the questions he got regularly surrounding when he might get back to wrestling. “It was a struggle, and it was tough, and it was tremendously hard. For some people they think it’s an impossible delineation to make. It’s not. I made it. I knew this was what is important. My brain health, my personal health, this is what I need to focus on. Nothing else.”
Again, Joe’s current injury is unknown. When the former champion spoke to Sportsnet, it was under the pretence that he would be helping usher in the new era of NXT, live on Sportsnet 360 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT. Just a few days later, he had posted a video on Twitter announcing he was dropping the title.
In addition to the questions surrounding Joe and his health, many fans have also been vocal with their queries in what the new iteration of NXT may look like. While there are no answers as it pertains to a health update, Joe does have answers for those wondering what NXT will look like moving forward, noting that it won’t be as different as some may assume.
“It’ll just be a continuation of what NXT has always been,” said Joe. “It’s always been a place of change, it’s always been a place of flux. I’m a little shocked that everybody is as surprised about the change because it’s never been the same from one year to the next. … Anybody can really pick out eras in the world of NXT and this will just be yet another one. With change always comes a little bit of uncertainty, but I’m looking forward to it.”
WWE’s NXT airs every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 360.