24th May 2003
interviewed by Danny Bourne at Frontiers of Honor
Current Ring of Honour Heavyweight Champion Samoa Joe has had a meteoric rise since his wrestling debut in late 1999. Fortunately for us, Joe took three minutes – yes I did just say three minutes – out of his busy schedule to talk about his background, the wrestling business and… mortgages?
There’s been a long line of Samoan wrestlers in wrestling, do you see yourself as continuing that tradition?
You know, it’s coincidental in some aspects. A lot of the wrestlers in the WWE that are Samoan, they’re all part of the same family which stems from Afa and Seka The Wild Samoans, the first two. The funny thing about those guys, they seem to be family whenever one of them gets famous, but then other than that, they’re not. I’m not part of that family lineand my style’s a lot different from theirs. I see myself being predominantly in this industry as a Samoan wrestler, but not necessarily in the same vein as those guys are.
So wrestling isn’t a Samoan cultural tradition like, say, rugby?
We really, really just love the competition and we put our whole national pride on line when it comes to rugby games. So yeah, I do see that cultural coincidence, I guess. Culturally it’s just more a warrior thing. I mean when you’re Samoan and you grow up, it’s a real rough upbringing. They love you and stuff, but Samoan parents will beat the shit out of you when you’re a kid for doing stuff. There’s a big warrior culture in the Samoan culture. They really celebrate that, so I think that’s the appeal to a lot of Samoans to be pro-wrestlers is that it’s something we grow up with. It’s kind of in our blood and it’s just that real glorification of being a warrior and battle and fighting.
So it’s kind of a natural fit. Do you think your Samoan background’s an advantage?
We’re notoriously big people and, for the most part, just from the upbringing you get a little bit thick skinned and hard headed over things. Mentally a lot of Samoans get too into themselves and get too caught up in it but, luckily, I’ve been able to sort of keep a level head and make a decent career out of it.
What made you decide to become a wrestler rather than, say, a rugby player?
See I play rugby too and yeah, that’s a huge thing – especially between Tonga and Samoa. There’s still that bitter, bitter rivalry there. I had a budding career as an (American) football player. I was playing in college when, a couple of weeks into training camp, somebody blew through the back of my knee and totally destroyed it. My football career was over simply because my scholarship got dropped. So I stopped any athletics for a long time and I became a mortgage broker, of all things. I’d done judo all my life and was like a Junior State Champion two years in a row, so I decided well I’m going to go back and do some martial arts. At the jiu-jitsu domo where I was studying, they had a pro-wrestling school and an instructor said “You know, why don’t you stick around for the pro-wrestling match, you might enjoy it”. I’d been a mild pro-wrestling fan growing up. So I started with that, did my first class and I loved it. I was hooked from then on and, you know, here I am today.
How did you get into the Ring of Honor?
I’d been working in Pro-Wrestling Zero One in Japan. They’d seen my work from Japan, they’d seen my work on the west coast, and they’d seen my work from a couple of tournaments that I’d been in. I got a call from Gabe, their booker, who said “We saw King of Indies with you and Low-Ki, we’d like to have that same sort of match here, do you think you can do it”? I said, “Sure, man”. I was brought in, did that match and I’ve been with them ever since.
With the WWE being a wrestling monopoly, where do you see the future of pro-wrestling?
You know the future’s what you see when you look on these Indy tapes. I mean the Ring of Honors, the FWAs, your small, fledgling promotions that are showing this hybrid style of wrestling that’s bringing the wrestling back into the spotlight. Highlighting wrestling over storylines and angles. That’s what’s going to be the way of the future and inevitably it’s already starting to influence and change WWE, I’ll tell you that much.
So now is a good time for wrestling fans?
At the moment? No. Because there’s only one medium of exposure to the fans. I think within the coming years there’s going to be another up cycle. There are cycles in wrestling and I definitely think that we’ve hit the valley at this current time and so from here it’s all uphill. I know people who work for WWE and they’re being told get your wrestling together. They’re to retrain their guys and they’re retooling and they realised they made mistakes with putting way too much emphasis on storyline. People honestly stopped caring about who’s sleeping with who and who’s betraying who when there’s no wrestling to back it up. So the future of the wrestling business really lies in these smaller promotions who will inevitably influence the bigger ones.