Portrait Of A Samoan
September 25, 2005 by Iain Dooley
It has been said that the sport of wrestling is little more than a violent and bloody dance. How ironic then that the founders of America's most prominent Polynesian dance troop would bear one of the sports finest 'dancers'. Although it must be said, it's hardly a surprise that such a gifted martial artist and high school football player would choose the path of the squared circle. Little wonder still that as a boy of only five he appeared on stage during the 1984 Olympic opening ceremonies and before the age of thirteen had already traversed the length and breadth of the globe. And then as if this was not enough before the advent of Indy superstardom he found time to co-host comedy talk show 'Wrestling 101', with Gary Brussels and the fantastically named 'Big Schwag'. It's such a shame then that the man known as Joe Seannoa couldn't have been a little more creative when it came to ring names.
"Is there anything this stuff is not good on"" Samoa Joe on balsamic vinegar.
It took just three months of training to prepare Samoa Joe for professional wrestling, making his debut in September of '99 against veteran masked wrestler 'Uncle Jess Hansen'. In the early days Joe spent much of his time wrestling former trainer 'Cincinnati Red', who, along with Johnny Hemp, ran the UIWA west coast dojo where Joe was first trained.
The pace at which Joe's career now follows is almost staggering to behold, he captured the UPW* Heavyweight Title from Christopher Daniels a mere two years into his professional tenure. Joe proceeded to hold the belt for a record breaking reign of eight and a half months, the longest ever in UPW*. Before almost immediately moving to top Independent promotion, Ring of Honor.
It was to be in ROH that Joe would find his greatest Success to date. Amongst the many accolades the Samoan Machine was to acclaim included an unheard of thirty one successful title defenses, over a period of six hundred and forty three days (that's one year, eight months, and thirty four firkin days!). Joe would eventually loose the title to young upstart, Austin Aries, constituting only the fourth of Joe's rare single losses (this total as since risen to eight) on the Independent circuit since joining ROH.
To me this record is simply staggering, a fact so obvious I feel compelled to dedicate a whole paragraph (or two, possibly even three) to those eight losses alone. A fitting tribute in my opinion.
The first of Joe's professional losses in ROH was to occur, unsurprisingly a cynic might say, on the night of his debut. That night Joe lost to ROH mainstay, 'Low Ki', in the mid card of the October 5th 2002 show entitled 'Glory by Honor'. He was representing ROH heel group 'The Prophecy', lead by Indy legend Christopher Daniels, in their ongoing feud with the Honorable Low Ki (hence the shows title) however Joe would turn on the group after his loss in accepting Ki's offer of a handshake (a 'rule' of ROH). Joe was not set to loose again for a further four months, before eventually succumbing to the skill of 'American Dragon' Bryan Danielson in the defining match of their brief feud. Despite the loss Joe would be later named the number one contender to the ROH title after defeating Homicide, Bj Whitmer, and EZ Money in a four way elimination match. Barely a week later Joe was champion having defeated despised heel wrestler 'Xavier' on the March 22nd show, 'Night of Champions'. And so began Joe Seannoa's extraordinary title reign, a subject we will come back to later for now we are commentating on his losses, a mix not none to produce logical thought.
Oddly enough a quarter of Joe's losses were set to occur during his title reign, loosing once to Homicide in a non-title match (Joe was to defeat him many times in title defenses) and to MLW's own personal power house, Mike 'Judas' Awesome. It should be noted that during the latter loss Joe was in the gimmick of 'Joe Seanoa', although I doubt it fooled too many people. The dreaded fourth loss would occur (as previously noted) to Generation Next leader, Austin Aries. With this loss would spell the end of Samoa Joe's first (and to this day) only ROH world title reign, this however was not to stop the man once known simply as 'King Joe'. Joe's next loss was to be in the rematch for the title held a fortnight later. Aries victory would cement his place in the main event of Ring of Honor for years to come, a fact made evident now that it appears the title is heading back to the goateed submissions expert.
Neither the sixth or seventh losses were to take place in Ring of Honor, instead Joe would fall prey to the Styles clash during a PWG (Pro Wrestling Guerrilla) number one contenders match, and in his most recent loss outside of ROH Joe was victim to Raven after a Mick Foley run in*. Since then Joe has spent almost all his time working for the 'soon to be at war' TNA promotion, although he has found time to drop the ROH pure title belt to heel wrestler Nigel McGuiness. Sadly this could herald the end of the Samoan Machines tenure in Ring of Honor; however it could also signify an upcoming X-Title victory for Joe. A situation that if fulfilled would call for some rather embarrassing moments of marking out, possibly even some mild pant wetting. The guy's just that good.
"Kicking people in the back of the head is both anti-social and generally frowned upon by society. If you choose to participate in such activity... you will generally be viewed as an asshole." Samoa Joe on the serious repercussions of an Enzuguri.
Over the past few months the wrestling world has been introduced to the wonderment that is Samoa Joe. Upon his much anticipated debut with TNA the Samoan Monster destroyed the high flying Indian jobber 'Sonjay Dutt' in a fantastic match on the 'Slammiversary' PPV. Since than Joe has put on excellent matches with a whole slew of X-Division wrestlers; including four/five star matches with both AJ Styles and 'Mr Underrated' Chris Sabin. He is of now yet to actually utter a word in TNA (strange seeing as the guy cuts a better promo than most X-Wrestlers); however despite these vocal problems he is already one of the more over wrestlers in the Impact Zone.
Joe's next high profile match was set to take place at TNA's latest PPV, Unbreakable. There he faced X-Division champion Christopher Daniels, and former champ AJ Styles (who he actually recently defeated to win the super X cup) in a three way match for the X-Division. To say this match had five stars written all over it clearly missing the point, this match could quite easily achieve a status unknown in the wrestling ring since the infamous Chi Town Rumble. For anyone lucky enough to have seen the spectacular International three-way dance between Little Guido, Super Crazy, and Tajiri (the first one) you will know how much potential there lies in a match up of this type. Now take three men of already legendary status on the Indy circuit; one who is arguably the greatest all round performer in the world today, another who can execute moves with a fluidity and impact only dreamed of, and THE hardest man on the planet... this can only be compared to pitting Zeus, Ares, and Poseidon together in a steel cage, only then can we have even half an idea as to how amazing this may be.
That, however, is all in the future, and given the ideals of the Renaissance (whose very same ideals I base my Portrait series on) the future is not the place to be. So instead let us step back into the defining age of Samoa Joe's career. A time when a man of barely twenty first made his mark on the wrestling scene, and cemented his place there for years to come.
"Drastic Times. Drastic Measures" Samoa Joe
I promised you earlier that we would return to the record breaking ROH world title reign of Samoa Joe, and so here we are. As previously mentioned Joe won the right to a title shot by defeating Homicide, BJ Whitmer, and EZ Money in a four way elimination match. Seven days later Joe made sure to not waste his shot eventually forcing current champ Xavier to submit to the Muscle Buster. From there Joe entered into a feud with fan favourite Homicide, and heel group the Prophecy, defeating the 187 in a title match on May 31st 2003. Joe's brief feud with the Prophecy resulted in successful defenses against group leader Christopher Daniels, and member Dan Maff. Daniels only success against the Samoan would be in six man tag action when the Prophecy defeated Joe's aptly named 'Group'. Not long after his own loss Daniels would head to TNA full time forcing Gabe Sapolsky (ROH head booker) to create an angle where Daniels, frustrated as it his inability to defeat Joe, left ROH with the intention of never returning. In reality TNA had forced Daniels to leave the promotion after signing him to a full time contract (the same happened to AJ), either way Gabe had now lost his big money feud and Joe was without a partner.
At this point in the tale I can't help but wonder, what if" At the time the booking in ROH was clearly geared towards a big feud between Champion Joe and perennial challenger Daniels. Both had their own stables to use (although the Prophecy was always more important than the Group), and more importantly they already had plenty of history stemming from Joe defeating Daniels for the UPW heavyweight title. However with the Curry Man now gone from the company focus had to be shifted quickly onto another contender. There in lied the immediate problem that, having already lost the like of AJ Styles and Paul London, ROH was left with few serious contender too the title. It is in my opinion that had Daniels stayed with the company in a full time roll Joe would never have gone on to record a staggering thirty one successful title defenses. Over the next few months Joe feuded with the Briscoe Brothers who were at the time tag team champions, and therefore unlikely contenders to hold the top belt as well. Intersected with this were a number of defenses in three and four way matches, and a few to part time stars like Styles, Low Ki, and Homicide.
Joe was not yet to face a serious contender to his world title (well, depends what you think of Matt Stryker really) until the ascension of CM Punk. It had been obvious for some time by this point that Punk was being groomed as the next main event star in ROH, having recently emerged victorious from an excellent feud with Raven. However before Punk was ready Joe was still in desperate need of a main event feud, yet despite Homicides fan favourite status the man has never appeared to be a serious option for the world title. Thus for the next few months Joe entered into what appeared to be a fairly meaningless feud with The Rotweillers. Initially the angle looked to be going nowhere as Joe continued his series of pointless world title matches, which although built the belt and the character were never seen as legitimate opportunities for the challengers. And yet somehow the feud with Homicide began to pick up steam and suddenly Joe's title reign looked to be heading somewhere.
By now of course CM Punk was ready, and so resultantly the Rotweillers were pushed momentarily into the background. Punk had already challenged Joe for the title once before, however this was long before he was to become Ring Of Honor's golden boy. This time the build up was substantially more intense as for once it really looked like their might be a title change. The much anticipated match took place on June 12th 2004 at 'World Title Classic', as was indeed just that. The match itself ended after sixty minutes in a draw, yet there was not a single sigh if disappointment in the building. The match was without a doubt an instant classic, an immediate MOTY candidate, and a clear sign as to the success that CM Punk would one day lay claim to. Just not for now.
Once again we have reached another point of analysis. Earlier I discussed how it was in my opinion Samoa Joe's record breaking reign could be attributed to the loss of Christopher Daniels (amongst others). I also pointed out that CM Punk was clearly being groomed to take his place; therefore it would seem obvious that Punk would be the one to take the title from Joe. However I believe that after their 'World Title Classic' match the original plan was suddenly changed. Before going into the why side of things I figured I'd first present to you my evidence for such thoughts. After the match wrestling legend Les Thatcher presented Joe with a new ROH world title belt saying, "[Joe] took a regional title fifteen months ago and turned it into a world title"*, already then Joe is being placed far above Punk in storyline terms. At this moment Homicide burst onto the stage, took down Joe, and stole the new belt; an act solidifying him as Joe's major opponent, not CM Punk. Afterwards Punk offered his hand to Joe thus turning him from a heel into a tweener who the crowd could, with respect to the storylines, now cheer. This had always been an important thing to remember in regards to Punk's time in ROH, that despite his role as upper card heel the guy was insanely over with the crowd. So much so that despite the grooming process management (and Gabe Sapolsky in particular) felt Punk didn't need the title to stay over, and so instead Punk began a series of high profile feuds with the likes of Ricky Steamboat. Finally Punk handed the old title to Joe, an act as strong as any symbolism your ever likely too see. To the fans in attendance Punk was clearly not the man to take Joe's title, and instead Homicide was finally receiving the strong support he needed to take the gold. However the question now remains, why"
Homicide had never been booked on his own in ROH; I can't say I know why- perhaps they felt he needed company" - but whether it be Julius Smokes or Dan Maff Homicide has always had friends. The Rotweillers, as Homicides friends were known, were for the better part of a year the top stable in ROH. Special K was now a joke, The Prophecy was M.I.A, and Generation Next had yet to cause a major stir. Therefore it only made sense that the leader of the Rotweillers would want the world title; however there was a slight problem.
That problem had a name, that name being Ricky Reyes. Reyes had once been one half of the hugely successful Rotweillers tag team (before the whole stable thing really took off), however his presence in the team started to decline rather sharply until the point where Homicide literally took over his position full time. Now obviously you can't have a dominating stable with only two people, and with Reyes so disliked by those on both sides of the curtain he was an unlikely choice to strengthen the side. Thus the Rotweillers floundered for some time, and so as a result booking never really got behind the idea of a Homicide title run. This was until Gabe Sapolsky finally ran into a little luck.
Much had been made of the past year in ROH where many of its top stars had departed the company for greener pastures. Almost all of these departing stars had left ROH for good, leaving the company to do the best it had with the few big names left. This trend continued, and was only ever going to get worse, until out of the blue the number two promotion in North America had a change of heart. TNA had effectively severed all ties with ROH after they prevented many of the company's former stars from performing for the federation that had given them that chance at stardom. Of these former ROH mainstays one in particular missed the atmosphere of his former home, and had up till then had very little to do in TNA. Thus he asked Management whether or not he could be allowed to work ROH shows whilst TNA didn't need him. To the shock of everyone involved, they agreed.
In the month following the Joe/Punk classic the feud between Joe and Homicide intensified, leading to a six man war pitting the Rotweillers against Samoa Joe and former foes the Briscoe Brothers. The match in question took place on the July 17th 'Reborn' show, after 'Do or Die 3' fact fans. During the match Homicide was seen to briefly speak to someone on a cell phone, before knocking out Jay Briscoe with a fireball. At this point the odds were stacked against the ROH world champion, as an opportunity for Homicide to injure Joe was suddenly presented. This lead to the shocking return of Low Ki (almost know one saw this coming) who, in a reprisal of his old gimmick, appeared ready to defend the ROH Champion. Appearances are for sissies though, evident when Low Ki turned on Joe and instigated a vicious beat down on the Samoan War Machine. Homicide, ever the advocate of good timing, introduced the newest member of the Rotweillers to ROH. Finally it would appear Joe had an angle.
The next half year in ROH was set to be dominated by a Joe/Homicide feud, however barring a few title defenses the feud never really took off due to the unpredictable nature of the Indy scene. Key participants in the feud were not always to be found, forcing the bookers to create a number of mini feuds for Joe to continue his title reign. At the same time Generation Next were making waves in ROH; thanks in no small part to Alex Shelly's awesome dickhead heel character, and Austin Ares even more awesome ability. It had by this time become clear to fans that Joe was never likely to find that big money feud, instead the title was now solely about him and his dominance over it.
From July of '04 to the December of the same year Joe competed in a variety of high profile matches to help strengthen the title. These included bouts with Japanese cruiserweight legend Jushin 'Thunder' Liger, and two more big match ups with CM Punk. Joe's penultimate title defense was to occur on December 4th, facing the apt choice of CM Punk in a no time limit match. It was therefore a bit of a shame that the match was to only last thirty one minutes. The final defense occurred twenty two days later (that's boxing day for those people with a brain, and the day after Christmas for those without) on the aptly named 'Final Battle' show. The irony of the title was evidently not lost on the fans as they spent much of the night (and especially during the final five minutes of the match) chanting, "Aries, Aries, Aries". And so ends the illustrious twenty two month reign of Samoa Joe. Wow.... What a guy.
"Hot, Spicy, & Tastes great bitches!" Samoa Joe on something.
With that I end the wrestling based section of this column, however don't fear as they don't intend to keep you much longer. But I could not in good conscience send you away without first sharing some facts and opinions about Joe Seannoa (and a little surprise for your commitment to the cause).
Now whilst I may not know the guy personally I can't help but get the feeling he's a real nice kind of guy. From reading only a few entries of his on My Journal it's clear the guy posses a sharp wit and a friendly nature, as well as a tendency to get quite drunk. In fact whilst were on the subject of alcohol I'm happy to inform you that Joe's favourite drinks include Vodka and Tequila shots, the former often consumed as if "flowing mead". Luckily for him he has some great friends to get drunk with, not least hardcore legend Tommy 'I nearly got eaten by wild coyotes' Dreamer and Alexis 'hot damn, Joe!' Laree.
Yet the coolness does not end here, from scanning around the place and chatting to the right people (read: official website) I have had the joy to discover perhaps the greatest Joe related fact of all... this guy loves Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. Dude! That's like the coolest show ever! And it can only mean Joe's a space ghost fan, which was even cooler!
However I digress so let's move on. Along with such childish and puerile activities as these Joe enjoys the finer delight that cinema has to offer, including (though not exclusive to); the Godfather series (Francis For Coppola's epic twosome, and shitty trilogy), Mel Brook's ever wonderful Blazing Saddles, and the near perfect Seven Samurai as directed by god like Akira Kurosawa.
Joe's good taste thankfully did not desert him when it came to music (I don't think I could live with myself if it had) as he lists Bob Marley's legends, the best of Frank Sinatra, and Sublimes musical malignant '40oz to freedom', as favourite albums. He also mentions the 'cough cough' Wu Tang Clan's 'Enter the 36 Chambers', which despite the stigma of being a rap album is (shock swerve!) actually pretty damn good. Crazy I know, but as I've said before (and as anyone who knows the album will understand) you've just got to love innovation.
Finally on a quick side note the famous 'physique' of Joe's is a result of a diet of sushi, and extra hot Taco's. just in case you were wondering.
So there you have it, the life and times of one Joe Seannoa. It's been a long journey but I feel that now having made this first vital step I can muster together both the strength and courage to complete the other six. Then maybe I'll be able to hitch a lift to the gallery...
Anyway as you've all been such patient and good mannered people I've decided to give you all a present for showing such commitment to the Portrait series. For anyone interested in receiving such a gift please feel free to get in touch (either through feedback or PM). Trust me, it's worth it.
*If you're wondering where you've heard that name before it could be from a time when UPW was a WWF developmental farm league. Graduates to have moved on to the WWE include both John Cena and Shelton Benjamin, however as of late the federation as quietened down somewhat.
*Joe has an ongoing feud with Mick Foley over the purpose of weapons
*This is true not least because the title was known the world over, but also because it had been defended on an international stage against international opponents.
by Iain Dooley ..
Art Griswold wrote:
I just wanted to say that I supremely enjoyed this article.
I only recently discovered the world of ROH and also Samoa Joe, and I'm an instant fan. I'm eating up anything to do with both as fast as I can, and I truly appreciate the time you took to put together this awesome look-see at the man who makes me love wrestling again!
I want to say as well that I saw the 3 way match at Unbreakable, and it was without a doubt in my all time top three matches I've seen personally
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