What makes the story of Samoa Joe so sad is that it started so well. Let me take you back a decade ago to June 2005. TNA, who at the time were between TV deals (coming off of Fox Sports Net and four months before they debuted on Spike), held their inaugural Slammiversary show. Hidden in the middle of the card was the debut of Samoa Joe. His debut couldn’t have been better executed if they tried. Mike Tenay went into hyper drive running down Joe’s accolades elsewhere and talking about how badly he wanted to see him in TNA. And Joe held up his end of the bargain, running through Sonjay Dutt like a total monster. Exuding an aura from day one that he was a force to be reckoned with. On June 19, 2005 Samoa Joe had arrived.

And then followed eighteen months of bliss.  Joe destroyed the X-Division one wrestler at a time delivering standout performances in quality matches vs. Dutt, Sabin, Daniels, Styles, Sabu and of course the much vaunted Styles/Daniels/Joe three-way, considered by many to still be the best match in company history. When Joe was done with the X-Division he was seamlessly transitioned into the heavyweight division when Sting chose him to be his partner in a tag match vs. Jeff Jarrett and Scott Steiner. That match was designed to showcase Joe and it did exactly that. Joe looked like he belonged — he defeated Scott Steiner in June 2006 and then NWA Champion Jeff Jarrett in September of that year. It looked as if Joe was ready to take TNA on his back and carry the company into the future.

Sadly, it was all downhill from there. It wasn’t Joe who beat Jarrett for the title, it was Sting. Then Kurt Angle arrived in TNA and immediately TNA wanted to deliver a dream match: Angle vs. Joe. It wasn’t so much that Joe was beaten that was the problem, it was that after eighteen months suddenly Samoa Joe was beatable. No longer did TNA feel the need to protect him. No longer was Joe presented as an unstoppable monster. Systematically, the aura he spent eighteen months cultivating was worn away. Joe became just another guy on the roster, still popular, but steadily waning.

It wasn’t until April 2008 that Joe toppled Kurt Angle and captured the TNA World Heavyweight title in a unique, heated, commercially successful match. The build was straightforward. Two athletes badly wanted the title, Joe so much so that he was willing to put his career on the line. A serious, sports like approach resulted in one of the most bought PPV’s in TNA history. Naturally they never did anything like that again.

The booking of Joe’s title reign was borderline comical. He spent most of the time in an underwhelming feud with Booker T before dropping the title to Sting six months after he won it. Not one of his title defences were memorable. Instead of using Joe’s title win as a soft reboot for the character, starting from scratch with him as an unbeatable champion setting up somebody finally beating him, it simply stuttered along and ended on a whimper. It would never really be the same for Samoa Joe in TNA after that.

Joe spent the next seven years aimlessly wandering the midcard. Very occasionally he’d be thrown in a World title match, but rarely one on one. He painted his face and threatened to cut people with a knife. He turned heel and joined the Main Event Mafia after months of trying to beat them. He got thrown in the back of a van and kidnapped only to show up a few months later with no explanation. He played Green Hornet and Kato with one of the best wrestlers on the planet (Kazuchika Okada). He was randomly thrown back into the X-Division a couple of times because they had no idea what else to do with him. The only real highlights were a brief return to the old Styles/Daniels/Joe feud in 2009, a great match vs. Austin Aries in June 2012, and a tag team with Magnus that had a world of potential but was broken up long before they could fulfil any of it. It came as little surprise yesterday when Joe, after years of being repeatedly booked into the ground, finally left TNA.

Samoa Joe should have been TNA’s first bonafide star. His work was world class, his promos believable and passionate, and his presence and timing unteachable. He should have carried TNA for years to come, but TNA’s narrow-mindedness and reliance on names from the 1990’s resulted in Joe never really having a chance. When somebody writes the book on the history of TNA, it will be Samoa Joe that was the biggest wasted opportunity. Which is a shame when you think about how different things could have been had they seized it.