By Mike Mooneyham
July 30, 2006
Total Nonstop Action will make its first foray into South Carolina with a three-city sweep Aug. 10-12.
The loop includes a Thursday night show at The Plex in North Charleston. Featured on the lineup will be AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Jeff Jarrett, Abyss, The James Gang, Jay Lethal, Chris Sabin, Petey Williams and others.
UWF Entertainment, which is licensed to run TNA house shows, is presenting the event along with TNA’s unique six-sided ring.
Among those making their local debut will be Samoa Joe.
The 27-year-old Joe, widely regarded as the future of the company as well as one of the most talented stars in the wrestling business today, is a performer not to be missed.
Standing 6-2 and weighing 290 pounds, Joe fits the “monster” category in the ring, with one major difference. The “Samoan Submission Machine” moves with the speed and agility of a cruiserweight, yet he works a brutal, realistic style with a mixed martial arts influence.It’s a far cry from his previous profession as a southern California mortgage broker who worked out in his spare time at a judo and jujitsu studio.
“I just wanted to do something physical in the afternoon,” says Joe, whose real name is Joe Seanoa and whose family founded a Polynesian dance troupe in the United States, enabling him to make his own stage debut at the 1984 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies at the age of 5.
Joe’s judo instructor convinced him that if was “looking for a sweat,” he might consider giving wrestling a try. A casual wrestling fan as a youth, Joe had watched the spectacle on TV and had always enjoyed it, but had never really considered it as a possible career.
As fate would have it, though, next thing he knew he was in a wrestling ring embarking on a new career.
A force in the business
Since debuting in December of 1999, Joe has made a name everywhere he’s worked, including a stint with WWE developmental affiliate UPW, where he feuded with real-life friend and future WWE champ John Cena and captured the UPW heavyweight title. Joe went on to star for the Zero-One promotion in Japan, the southern California-based Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and the acclaimed indy Ring of Honor, where he won that promotion’s heavyweight title. Joe held the ROH crown for nearly two years and put the company on the map by defending the title worldwide.
But since debuting in TNA in June 2005, the wrestling bulldozer has emerged as a focal point of that company, providing the promotion with some of its greatest matches with the likes of “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles and “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels. And although WWE made a stab at signing Joe, TNA was able to seal the deal and retain his services for at least two more years.
Happy with the decision he made to re-sign with TNA, Joe still has reservations about how he might have been used – or misused – in WWE.
“I’m pretty familiar with how the WWE talent system works and what they do with their wrestlers,” says Joe. “And I know I probably would not have been used well – if at all. I think it’s more of a situation that they wanted me to sit down and not go to TNA.”
But “bidness is bidness,” and that doesn’t necessarily rule out a possible move down the road.
“That’s just part of the wrestling business,” he says. “It’s a business first and foremost.”
Cultivating the TNA brand
If you’re a regular follower of TNA, you know that performers like Joe, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels are going to provide amazing matches week in and week out. The company’s X division is something to behold, yet few of its competitors are what one might consider household names.
And that’s a problem Joe would like to see corrected. With only a one-hour weekly TV show on Spike along with a monthly pay-per-view, there’s not an abundance of time for character development. Without it, though, he fears that some very talented workers might get lost in the shuffle.
“It’s difficult. You can only get over so many people. Some of the fans feel cheated because they know what a lot of these guys are capable of. What they don’t understand is the time constraints.”
As for bringing in more “big-name” stars, Joe says emphatically, “Absolutely not.”
“We need that extra hour, but we absolutely do not need any more names. I honestly don’t feel there are any more names out there who are going to bump that rating higher than what you can do in-house with your own talent. It’s time to start building TNA stars – not former WWE stars. Now is the time to build internal TNA stars. It’s a touch-and-go process, and I know it’s tough to do because a lot of them haven’t had to do it in years, but it’s something that needs to be done. It’s not just one guy, but several guys, who are characters people want to tune in and watch. It’s part of the development process.
“I’d love to see more development of the – and I hate to use the phrase – ‘younger’ guys, but the guys who haven’t had major exposure. They need to start developing those characters more and get them TNA-branded.”
In other words. says Joe, TNA needs to come up with a little of its own down-home cooking that separates it from WWE or any other organization.
“We’ve got these guys doing these amazing things. The X division, in a way, has become sort of a generic branding. I’d love to see more time dedicated to the Jay Lethals and the Alex Shelleys. Shelley actually is getting a lot of camera time, and his character is coming along great. He’s working with Nash, which I think is great, and he and Kevin complement one another fantastically. But let’s hear more about Alex Shelley. Let’s hear more about Sonjay Dutt. Why is he the ‘Playa from the Himalaya?’ Hopefully if Spike TV gives us more time, we will get that character development.”
With all the talk of developing new stars, Joe says he still considers the top two impact players on the TNA roster to be a pair of veterans, Christian Cage (Jay Reso) and Jeff Jarrett. He’s also heard the criticism of Jarrett hogging the spotlight.
“I think for all the talk of Jeff being the focal point, it overshadows the fact that he is a good wrestler and he does get the job done. But then again, as far as criticism, I’m definitely the type of person who’s looking for a viable option to work with Jeff and make something work within the confines of what TNA is.”
He’s also enjoyed working with another 20-year veteran, Scott Steiner, whose reputation in recent years has usually preceded him.
“He’s been great. I’ve enjoyed working with Scott a ton. I think the fans have enjoyed what we’ve done. I hope it’s been good by him. I know it’s been good by me. He knows he can get in there and rumble around, and I’m not going to complain and (whine) about it. I’m going to give it right back to him and get physical and feel like we’ve had a good day at the office.”
Future in TNA
Joe is happy with the way he’s been used at NWA, and the only disputes with the company have been technical ones, not how’s he being booked and featured.
“I’m booked near the top of the card and the pay-per-views, so I really have no place to complain. They have faith in me, and we’ll see where it goes.”
What sets Joe apart from most performers is an intense ring demeanor that has been likened to that of a rabid pit bull. Smashing his opponents with lightning-fast chops and knees that he perfected through many grueling sessions at the dojo, Joe is a ground-and-pound submission machine.
“I try to keep my style real basic,” he says. “I’m not real flowery with what I do. I’m a firm believer in getting directly to the point, and I kind of accentuate that with what I do. You do a back flip, and I’ll punch you in the face. It’s a real simplistic type of brutal style that I try to bring across in my work. Most people like the highlight stuff, but you can get the same effect with really simple things done devastatingly. Sometimes less is more. It’s a philosophy that I embrace wholeheartedly.”
Despite being tabbed a can’t-miss prospect by wrestling insiders and despite his perennial match-of-the-year candidates, Joe feels maybe it’s a little too early to pull the trigger on his character. He feels like he’s still got something more to show before he’s catapulted to the top.
“Maybe now is a bit premature. There’s a lot more mileage they need to get out of me before we get to that point.”
That’s not to say he lacks confidence. Quite the contrary.
“I’ve always had a ready-to-conquer-the-world attitude. But it’s not only about being the right guy, but being there at the right time, that’s very important. Maybe the timing is not right. Maybe it (the push) could be built a little more. If I stay within the good graces of the fans and the company, hopefully we’ll be able to do just that, run with it and make a lot of money.”
The Goldberg factor
Joe’s choice for a “dream match” is a curious one. It’s not Sting, Hulk Hogan or any of the usual suspects.
Joe’s dream meeting would be with Japanese legend Genichiro Tenryu. The choice speaks to his respect for Japanese wrestling. He got his chance to wrestle in another dream match against Japanese great Kenta Kobashi last year in a bout hailed by the Wrestling Observer as the Match of the Year.
It’s obvious that he has been greatly influenced by his trips to Japan.
“It made me a better wrestler as far as technique and skill,” says Joe. “It was an invaluable experience because I got to train under some of the greatest wrestlers in the world there. It changed my perception of how wrestling is viewed. Over here it’s perceived as a big extravaganza with a lot of pomp and circumstance. In Japan they kind of strip down wrestling to its barest essential: two guys who don’t like each other and who want to win. What they do in the ring works to that type of mantra. It’s about the victory in the ring. Putting that importance and focus on what happens in the ring is something that’s been missing in wrestling in this country for the past 10 years or so. I definitely want to implement that type of influence back into wrestling and make it something where people care about the outcome.”
Joe says he’d also like to work with a healthy Kurt Angle or Chris Jericho “if he ever comes out of retirement.”
He’s surprisingly low-key, though, about what certainly would be a monumental showdown with Bill Goldberg. The footballer-turned-wrestler has been rumored to be talking with TNA, and that’s the one matchup that would surely draw big numbers on pay-per-view.
“Last I heard, he wants to break my neck. But unless he wants to throw his walker on me, that’s not going to happen,” says Joe, perhaps throwing down the gauntlet.
The Huntington Beach native realizes the possibilities of such a matchup. “That’s something fans definitely would want to see. For all the gabbing and stuff back and forth, Bill and I, with our similar styles and attitudes, would kind of complement one another. I think it would be a hell of a brawl.”
His four favorite opponents have been Styles, Daniels, Homicide and American Dragon.
“I know all I have to do is walk in and give those guys a look, and we’re going to have a blast in the ring.”
Regardless of who his opponent is, Joe is determined to deliver his “A” game.
“I definitely want to give the fans their money’s worth. I don’t want to be the type of guy who gets built up and starts dialing in. I want them to know that every time they tune in to me, whether I’m the first match on the card or the last match of the night, they’re going to see something.”
Samoa Joe is a big man, even by pro wrestling standards, but so far his body is holding up. He’s undergone intensive therapy sessions since damaging knee ligaments earlier this year.
“They’re coming back nicely,” he says of the knees. “I’m actually pretty healthy right now. Knock on wood.”
Joe says he has no idea how long he’ll remain in the wrestling business, but he’d like to stay in TNA as long as possible.
“The environment, the schedule and the people I work with are great. My schedule is pretty hectic, but it’s definitely not as strenuous as a WWE schedule. I love what I’m doing right now. Most, if not all, my friends work with TNA. It’s like a big family. It’s hard to say I’d go somewhere else in a heartbeat, because I wouldn’t. There’s not one person in the TNA locker room that I wouldn’t call a friend.”
Joe, who’s on the road four to five days a week, still loves working in places like Japan and England, and for strong independents such as ROH.
“Right now I work better with the TNA style because I’m handling such a high volume of bookings. Right now TNA is my focus. But I love going back to ROH and trying to blow the roof off the building. It’s a different wrestling crowd and a different wrestling fan. It’s a fun time. Wrestling an ROH style will pretty much wreck you. It’s definitely been a learning process.”
It’s in companies like ROH, he says, where some of the most underrated workers in the business toil. The most underrated, he says, are Colt Cabana and Nigel McGuiness. “Colt Cabana is the No. 1 guy who I can’t understand why WWE or TNA hasn’t signed him yet. He has great size and can work the daylights out of you. He’s funny, and his wrestling skill is on par with anyone in the world. He’s amazing. He went to England and works a really great British style that comes across fantastic. He knows how to work a crowd. He’s got great charisma. I really think he’s got so much of these great attributes that companies don’t know where to put him. He almost demands to be featured. There’s only so much time on the show to feature people. Cabana is definitely a guy who demands to be featured. That’s the only reason I can think of why nobody’s picked him up yet.”
It all goes back to the time factor.
“With TNA there’s so little time. I think TNA’s main concern is how to get the current roster featured. Who knows? If we get two hours, I’d love to be the first person to say let’s bring in Colt, because he could really spice things up and make things great.”
Joe says McGuinness also has the size and the look WWE and TNA like.
“He’s really come into his own the past five months. He’s wrestling on a level that’s out of this world. He understands the interaction with the crowd, and his wrestling is fantastic.”
– For ticket information, call The Plex box office at 225-PLEX (7539), or visit www.uwfusa.com or www.highspots.com. Ultimate Experience ($50) and Theater Seats ($25) are on sale.
Samoa Joe and Petey Williams will face AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels in the main event of the Aug. 10 show at The Plex. TNA shows also are scheduled Aug. 11 at the Jamil Shrine Temple in Columbia and Aug. 12 in Anderson in advance of the company’s Hard Justice pay-per-view Aug. 13 in Orlando, Fla.