In professional wrestling circles, Samoa Joe is a not an unfamiliar name. But for the more casual WWE consumer, he has only just begun to make his mark.
The 38-year-old performer will get his first shot at a major title in WWE at the Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view on July 9 at American Airlines Center in a matchup against Brock Lesnar for the WWE universal title, but it's not his first time in the spotlight as he has worked with the company's top stars since his debut on Monday Night Raw in January.
"It's something that I was more than prepared for and I think they knew that," Joe said. "It comes as no surprise, but it's also a very valued kind of endorsement."
I recently spoke to Samoa Joe about his upcoming matchup with Lesnar, as well as other big events in his career that have taken place in Dallas:
On his upcoming match with Lesnar at Great Balls of Fire...
Joe: Obviously, becoming universal champion is definitely a goal as far as my career and my legacy goes, but to win it from an athlete like Brock Lesnar who, in all honesty, is probably one of the greatest, most unparalleled athletes of this generation. That's a very big accomplishment in and of itself, let alone for the universal championship. So, it's a two-fold win for me. You have this champion who many would argue is probably the most dominant champion in WWE history. And if I could go out there and take that championship from him? Well, that's a hell of a way to do it.
One of your more memorable WWE matches came against Finn Balor at NXT: TakeOver Dallas. You got cut open pretty early on, what do you remember about that match?
Joe: I definitely remember the atmosphere. I think after the cut happened the stakes kind of went up tenfold. The audience was very much with it. It was kind of an interesting, chaotic situation, and the Dallas crowd definitely was reason why that was so chaotic. There's all these rules in place when it comes to blood. The WWE is looking out for the welfare of their athletes, but at the same time, I want to go out there and get things done. It was an interesting night. Didn't quite go my way.
If you had your way, would you have wanted to let the match continue rather than have officials tending to you every few minutes?
Joe: Personally? Let it go. Let me do my thing. Bloody or not. I mean, of course I would have rather had the ability to just go out there and do what I do. But protocol is protocol, and it just didn't work out in my favor.
Did you get a chance to see the sights around Dallas during the week here surrounding WrestleMania 32?
Joe: Yeah, I did quite a bit. I was there all week doing media, promoting, just kind of exploring the city on my own. And it's funny, Dallas is a huge city and to see WrestleMania take over the town was an impressive feat. It seems like everywhere we went, no matter how far away from the venue or the event or the city's center, people were there for WrestleMania. So, it was a really cool experience.
Do you have any other favorite matches since your switch over to WWE?
Joe: The match with Shinsuke Nakamura [in] Toronto in particular kind of sticks out in my head. You know, I think of my matches -- I've only kind of scratched the surface as far as potential dream matches. That one definitely is one that sticks out.
Any other 'bucket list' matchups in WWE while you're here? Maybe reconnect with somebody like A.J. Styles?
Joe: Absolutely. I think A.J. is certainly on that list. John Cena is another guy from my past I'd love to get in the ring with and throw down. You know, Brock was the top of my list and here we are now. Randy Orton, I think his career has been pretty fantastic, and I think it'd be a shame if both of us go through our careers without ever facing each other. Guys like Sheamus, Cesaro -- maybe on a bigger stage. There's just a lot of guys when you look at the WWE roster. There's a lot of guys that I really haven't touched or been in the ring with one on one, and especially on this stage.
Did you play any other sports growing up as a kid?
Joe: A lot of martial arts as a kid. Football. Rugby. Our family was very much about the contact sports so my transition to wrestling really wasn't that big a surprise.
Being from California, did you grow up a Raiders fan? A Rams fan?
Joe: Growing up before the Raiders split, my family was a big united front when it came to being a Rams fan, but when they left it was a very bitter split. So, I think the only team that we agree on that we like in Southern California is the Lakers -- that's about it.