Before Samoa Joe made his way into WWE, the “Samoan Submission Machine” was one of the top independent talents in the world. Joe was a former ROH World Champion, TNA World Heavyweight Champion, and Natural Heavyweight Champion. The veteran has been competing in the sport since 1999, so he was already an experienced vet that didn’t particularly need the NXT system. At first, Joe was down at the developmental brand on a pre-paid basis, with the former WWE star stating that he was never promised a run on the main roster. However, Joe’s merchandise was flying off the shelves of NXT live events and the company made the decision to hire him full-time. Not surprisingly, Joe excelled during his NXT run: captivating the crowd with his strong mic work and it helped that he was an excellent wrestler.
He was soon introduced onto the main roster as Triple H’s heavy, but it didn’t take long for Joe to slide in the main event. The company gave him one opportunity, which was a WWE Universal Championship match at the first-and-last Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view. Joe’s persona meshed perfectly with Brock Lesnar’s and the build to their eventual match was so strong that fans who didn’t care about the “Samoan Submission Machine” wanted to see him beat Lesnar for the belt. The match came and though it was too short to be considered a classic, it was still one of the best matches of his WWE career. That Lesnar feud skyrocketed him into an upper-card talent whose career was definitely hindered because of the number of sustained injuries he suffered recently. However, there was one golden opportunity to give Samoa Joe the WWE Universal title and the company opted to not do so, which was his lengthy feud against AJ Styles. Joe didn’t suffer as many injuries at the time, and he proved himself in the eyes of fans and critics, so exactly what stopped Vince McMahon from giving Joe the title?
AJ Styles had the belt for over a year at this point, so he could’ve easily dropped it, and this time for some fresh blood in the main event scene. The only person that can answer the question is Vince McMahon. Joe always seemed on the cusp of the main event, but the company never seemed to have the full confidence to put the championship on him. It was understandable why he lost to Lesnar. WWE was still on the Roman Reigns as a top-babyface bandwagon, but the lengthy feud against Styles seemed to suggest that he’ll be rewarded with the belt. The feud was far from perfect, but that wasn’t due to Joe, who was consistently great when he opened his mouth. Joe brings a certain level of realness to the product that not many superstars can. The former WWE star was believable as the bully/fighter type, which is one the reasons his feud with Lesnar was darn good. Plus, he could easily transition from babyface to heel as Joe is tremendous at both roles. At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem that the company had the full confidence in him during that time period. It didn’t have to do with injuries, it just may be a case where Vince McMahon didn’t see him as a main event guy. That notion was re-enforced when Joe suffered constant back-to-back injuries that resulted in the company putting him into the commentator position for a lengthy period of time.
Again, Joe excelled in this area, but in the eyes of Vince McMahon and company, they saw him as a wrestler first and once Joe became injury prone, the writing was on the wall. This isn’t the first time the company has made the decision to stop pushing a guy because of too many injuries. Reportedly, guys like Dolph Ziggler, Bobby Lashley, Mr. Kennedy, and William Regal stopped receiving big pushes because of the number of sustained injuries. With several of those names, other factors played such as backstage politics, but it makes sense why a wrestler’s push would be stopped if he/she suffers too many injuries. Vince needs someone who’s reliable as the top face of his promotion. Say what you will about Reigns, but had he kept getting injured consistently then Vince would’ve likely soured on the guy. In Vince’s mind, Joe wasn’t a valuable asset anymore, which is why they kept him on the announcer’s table despite Joe never stating that he was retired. Even when he was rehired, Vince didn’t see the value and opted to strip him of the NXT Championship following his win over Karrion Kross.
Joe himself revealed that he got a positive test for COVID, and while he could’ve waited two weeks, Vince made the decision for him to relinquish the belt and put him in a backstage role. The title went to another veteran immediately, Tommaso Ciampa. Joe’s in-ring value was gone, and unfortunately, so was his days in WWE.