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A Matter Of Character – Samoa Joe by Matthew J. Douglas

Greetings TJR Faithful! Happy Tuesday and happy return of A Matter Of Character! You asked for it, and I will gleefully deliver. Truth be told, I only discontinued it because I felt as though I’d gone through every name of note in the WWE at the time. In the time since, the WWE has added plenty of new names and characters to delve into (heck they added a whole new division of superstars) and with things slowing down at my job for a while, I’m excited to jump back into the world of WWE Character analysis, because if I don’t, who the heck will?

Now as I said, there was an extensive list of new talent to choose from when I was deciding whom the return of A Matter Of Character would focus in on. Maybe AJ Styles? Or The Club? Maybe somebody from NXT or from the Cruiserweight divisions? I don’t really know why I’m building suspense, the subject in question is in the title of the piece. I wanted to choose somebody that would be related to the Royal Rumble coming up this Sunday, and it’s at the annual event, this year emanating from San Antonio, that many people are expecting the main roster debut of Samoa Joe!

Samoa Joe joined the WWE (NXT to be exact) in 2015 and has spent nearly two years on the yellow developmental brand, either chasing or holding the NXT Championship. He won the inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic (alongside Finn Balor) and is the brand’s first two-time NXT Champion. He’s done all he can do for NXT, and people are dying to see him on Raw or Smackdown, doing what he does best, which is kick serious ass!

This week I will delve into the character of Samoa Joe, as it has been presented for nearly two years on NXT (and for nearly two decades before that). I’ll cover everything from his look to his personality to his personal motivations and conflicts. Finally, I’ll pitch what I would do with him on the main roster once he’s made his debut. Enough jibber-jabber, Let’s Do This!

PHYSICAL

Billed at 6’2 and 282 pounds, NXT’s first two-time NXT Champion is an imposing figure inside the ring. He possesses uncanny agility for a man his size, demonstrates pinpoint striking ability and nearly unrivaled power, a blend of attributes very few superstars in the history of the WWE can boast. While it’s unfortunate that the WWE didn’t bring him in sooner, when he was at his athletic peak, I would still say that he is a pretty incredible talent to have on the roster. He may be a step or two slower in his late 30s, but he has plenty of gas left in the tank, and will certainly wow those who haven’t had the privilege of seeing him perform before.

I would also say that he has a unique look, which will serve him well on the main roster. Nobody on the entire roster looks like Samoa Joe. From his ring gear to his physique, the guy stands out from the crowd, which goes a long way in getting over aesthetically with an audience. The desire is to be memorable, and I can’t say that anybody who comes across Samoa Joe at a show is going to forget what he looks like.

PERSONALITY

If tasked with describing Joe’s personality in a word, I think I would have to go with “intense”. The guy just radiates intensity in every aspect of his being. Whether the hero or the villain in his personal pursuits, he brings an eagerness and fervor to succeed that is palpable and quite frankly intimidating. He’s the kind of guy that sets a goal and always meets it. He’s the kind of guy that you never want to get on the bad side of. He holds grudges and is hard pressed to let any slight go unpunished. He is unrelenting, yet calculated, as demonstrated in NXT as he pursued the NXT Title, first hunting down and conquering Finn Balor, and then in his conquest to reclaim his championship from Shinsuke Nakamura.

Samoa Joe can work as both a hero and a villain, as this intensity can be both endearing and off-putting, depending on how it manifests itself within a narrative. With that said, I’ve enjoyed his heel work most throughout his career. His portrayal of the bitter, under-appreciated warrior hell bent on the destruction of those he feels have usurped his rightful spot and the accolades that come with it is often the highlight of the shows he appears on. He thinks highly of himself and is willing to accept nothing less than the best. Anybody occupying a spot he believes he deserves will not only be targeted but humiliated and broken, because of the rancorous attitude the man exudes.

WORDS AND ACTIONS

The intensity that he exhibits really makes Samoa Joe’s promos pop. His passion and vigor convey purpose in a way that many promos delivered by WWE Superstars simply do not. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He isn’t there to crack wise or humiliate anyone verbally. Every word he utters has a point and a direction. He always comes across as a straight shooter, and which is a quality that could be utilized more on WWE programming (specifically Monday Night Raw a.k.a. the longwinded gas-bag show with catchphrases). What is really appreciated is that he reacts to things appropriately for his character. When insulted, he gets angry (no need to try to be cool and respond with jokes) and when he loses, he doesn’t make excuses, he gets revenge.

As far as his actions are concerned, Samoa Joe is as savage as he is cunning. The intensity of his personality and the bluntness of his words are equaled by the ferocity with which he attacks anybody in his way. If you have something he wants, he destroys you and takes it, by any means necessary. If he feels like you’ve slighted him, he dismantles you and scorches the earth in his wake. Samoa Joe is vengeful and uninhibited by remorse. I can truly never remember a time where he looked shocked or taken aback by the lengths that he was willing to go to claim his prize. In fact, the pain you inflict on him only seems to fuel and thrill him (see his match with Finn Balor at NXT TakeOver: Dallas).

MOTIVATION

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so I feel the need to remind everyone that Motivation is the single most important aspect of any character. A character/performer can look cool and have as much personality and charisma as The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin, but without motivation, the driving force behind every character, the thing that makes every character tick, you have nothing but wasted potential. The main problem with most Superstars in the WWE is that their motivations haven’t been established, and thus they are listless gimmicks and two-dimensional shells. If you want people to invest in a character, motivation is the key.

Joe’s motivation is simple. Joe first appeared on NXT in May of 2015 at 36 years of age. He broke into the wrestling industry in 1999. It took him sixteen years to get into the WWE system, and on NXT TV it became obvious that he wasn’t going to wait for opportunities to come to him, but that he was going to take everything he thought he deserved. He doesn’t have time to waste and quickly grows impatient in his environment.

As far as he’s concerned, he should have been at the pinnacle of the Wrestling Industry years ago, and he resents the fact that it took as long as it has to get here. He wasted no time on NXT, and I can only imagine that having to wait two years to get to the main roster will have only exacerbated his impatience. His motivation is the time it took him to get to this point, and the countless guys he believes to be beneath him that accomplished his goals before he did.

CONFLICT

Conflict is the key to creating drama. Any character’s motivation/driving force should lead directly into conflict, which in turn, will create drama. There’s a reason why three dimensional, complex and fully developed characters are easiest to write for. Their motivation makes manufacturing drama easy.

For Samoa Joe, the fact that his motivation is beating all those that he believes have usurped the throne he should have rightfully been on years ago leads directly to conflict with others. The fact is, he doesn’t see anybody on his level, so anybody who achieves any modicum of success on his watch better watch out. If you’re succeeding, he feels like he’s failing and must wage war to conquer you. He’s an active character in this sense that interpersonal conflict will come easily to.

As far as his intrapersonal conflict (struggles that occur within the individual) I’d say Joe is a pretty simple case to crack. His inner conflict is the time he’s wasted getting to the pinnacle of his industry. He made it to the WWE at 36, after wrestling a hard-hitting style for 16 years. He’s already a diminished version of the Joe that we saw in TNA and ROH, at least athletically. He knows that he’s a step slower than he was in the past. He knows that his prime has passed him by. His inner conflict will always be whether or not he can rise to the heights he desires before the years he spent making it to this point catch up with him. As he battles his opponents in the ring, psychologically he wrestles with his mortality as a competitor, having made it to the big stage late in his career.

GOING FORWARD

So having outlined Samoa Joe’s character point by point, and assuming that his call to the main roster is imminent, the question is where do you go from here. Knowing who he is as a character within the narrative is one thing, using that character most effectively in the story is another. Many think that his arrival is coming at the Royal Rumble this Sunday from San Antonio. It seems to be a reasonable assumption, but anything from that point on is purely speculation.

Some argue that Raw needs a serious character to shift the tone on that program, while others believe he’d fit in on Smackdown more seamlessly (plus he’d get to wrestle AJ Styles!). Me personally, I’d milk the confusion for a while. Let him be the sought after free agent to build his mystique and cache. Let him play the field for a week or two before ultimately choosing to sign with the Raw Brand.

Now in my scenario, Roman Reigns has won the Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble and is set to defend against Kevin Owens who has invoked his rematch clause (the single worst rule in all of WWE’s storytelling), for their March 5th PPV, Fastlane. In the weeks leading up to this match, while Seth Rollins has found himself embroiled in a rivalry with Triple H, Roman has been left to deal with Owens and Jericho by himself, or so it seemed. In the two weeks leading up to Fastlane, Samoa Joe has been aiding Reigns, evening the odds. At Fastlane, Joe thwarts Jericho’s attempt to interfere on behalf of Owens and allows Reigns to defeat the former Universal Champion, and retain his Championship. Immediately after the match, Roman is attacked by his perceived ally Samoa Joe, who savagely brutalizes him.

The following night, when asked why he turned on Reigns, Joe nonchalantly remarks “Turn on Reigns? That’s hard to do when I was never on his side”. When pressed about helping Roman even the odds against Owens and Jericho, Joe explains “all I was doing was protecting an investment. I wanted Roman to remain WWE Universal Champion. Those two chumps threatened that desire and needed to be dealt with. Now that he’s retained, I can take the title from him.” When asked what difference does it make if it was Roman or Owens who was Champion, Joe simply replies “It had to be Roman” before Roman attacks and the two brawl with Joe taking advantage of the injuries Roman sustained the night before to gain the upper hand and stand tall.

The following week they attempt to have a face to face between Joe and Reigns to clear the air, which ends with very few words exchanged before Joe attacks and the locker room clears to separate the two brawling men. The next week, they have the face to face again, only this time Samoa Joe is live via satellite from the WWE Performance Center to avoid another brawl breaking out. After some jawing back and forth everything boils down to Roman asking Joe “what is your deal with me?”

“I hate you Roman.” Joe responds. “and not like these fans pretend to hate you because it’s cool. And not like The Authority pretends to hate you to drum up interest in your matches. I truly and legitimately hate you and your entire family. I hate that when people think about Samoan Heritage in this business they think about the Anoaʻi family. I started wrestling nearly two decades ago and I busted my ass around the world to get here. And it pisses me off that guys like you, your cousins The Usos and The Rock, your slob brother Rosey and the countless other talentless punk Anoa’i family members that get to waltz into the WWE because of your family’s legacy. I’m sick of your family being anointed royalty in this business. I’m sick of your family being the sole representation of Samoan heritage in the WWE. I’m sick of having to work 10 times as hard to get to the opportunities that you and you family are handed like candy. I want to fight you. I want to take your title and I want to discontinue the Anoa’i Family legacy forever. I want to embarrass your family and give the Samoa people a Champion they can actually be proud of.”

Reigns would respond to the disrespect of his family name and accept Joe’s challenge for the title in order to defend the honor of his family (possibly an act that will endear him to some people). Joe smiles and says he couldn’t wait until Wrestlemania to destroy the Anoa’i family. He stands up from the set and towards the rings in the Performance Center where he has a beaten Rosey (Matthew Anoa’i, Roman’s brother). He beats on Rosey some more as Roman is forced to watch on, helpless.

Essentially, the entire feud between Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns would be built upon Joe being the one Samoan in the WWE not related to the Anoa’i family, and he resents their “royal” treatment. It has the right mix of fiction with “real life” personal drama that will take it to the next level in this era of the blurred line. It would obviously culminate at Wrestlemania in Orlando in a Championship match between the two, and can very easily be extended beyond that show, as Joe isn’t the kind of man to drop vendettas or grudges. It would be a hot angle for Joe and Roman, and the hard hitting match they could have would be something to behold.

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There you have it, but as always I want to know what you think! What is your favorite Samoa Joe trait? Do you think he’s debuting in the Rumble? Is that the right call? What show do you want to see him on and who would you have him feud with in an ideal world? Would you be into Roman Reigns defending the honor of the Anoa’i Family against a bitter and volatile Samoa Joe?

Until next time folks (which may be sooner than you think) I’m Matthew J. Douglas saying go check out Split. M. Night’s making a comeback! Have a great Royal Rumble go-home week everybody!