Sharks have been swimming in the seas of planet earth for 450 million years. Despite being one of the most ancient species on Earth, sharks have evolved relatively little compared to other animals, which suggests that they have been optimally designed for millions of years. 

And much like the Great White Shark, Samoa Joe has not needed to evolve throughout his wrestling career, because he is perfect and has been perfect for a long time. Joe has been wrestling for 25 years now, and if you go back to even his earliest days as a wrestler, very little has changed about him. 

This is because, from a very early stage, Joe has mastered the fundamental aspects of pro wrestling. He exudes authenticity, both in his promos and in his wrestling style. As wrestling evolved throughout the 2000s and 2010s, adopting a more realistic style and presentation, Joe was already miles ahead of the game. Joe’s character, of an ultra-serious, uncompromising ass-kicked, has been one of the most durable wrestling characters in modern wrestling history. 

He can win matches, he can lose matches, he can be a babyface, he can be a heel, it doesn’t really matter because he’s Samoa Joe. His confidence is evident in everything he does in and out of a wrestling ring, the fans constantly have shown belief in him regardless of how he has been booked and been willing to buy into him as soon as any booker that has been fortunate enough to have him on their roster has managed to get their head out of the sand. 

Everything about Joe is crafted to perfection. His meat-and-potatoes wrestling style would get over in any era; as would his realistic promos. His look, complete with dual-color short tights and towel, perfectly symbolize who he is. Even his name, Samoa Joe, is perfect. It’s memorable and the Samoa part adds the flavor, drawing memories of skull-crushing tough guys from previous eras, while the Joe part impresses an ordinary, blue-collar attitude.

Joe’s wrestling persona seems basic–he is quite simply a dangerous brawler with some sort of ambiguous combat-sport background that takes his work very seriously. He is not a particularly complex character; yet Joe’s appeal has somehow remained elusive for some wrestling bookers over the years. Whether it was Vince McMahon or the various retreads that were given creative control in TNA during Joe’s decade there, the obvious appeal of Samoa Joe hasn’t been apparent to the key decision makers. 

The result is Joe has been largely mishandled for a huge bulk of his career. There is perhaps no bigger indictment of the creative process in major American wrestling during the last 20 years than the collective decision makers’ inability to book Samoa Joe correctly. Samoa Joe should be a booker’s dream; a dependable professional who fans have pretty much instantly accepted as a credible star that is extremely durable and flexible in what can be done with him. So why has so much of Samoa Joe’s career seemingly been focused on the one thing he doesn’t have? 

The elephant in the room is that Samoa Joe never had the physique of what Vince McMahon would view as a top wrestler. Despite Joe being the standout wrestler as a trainee in Ultimate Pro Wrestling, which at the time was a developmental affiliate of WWE, Joe wouldn’t be signed by WWE until 15 years into his career. The obvious reason was his body, with McMahon eager to hire anybody with a bodybuilder physique and dismissive of anybody who lacked it. 

Not only did that philosophy keep Joe out of WWE, it also severely impacted his progress in TNA. While he was pushed hard at times in TNA, he was also frequently looked over as various clueless executives sought to create a new, breakthrough star, who coincidentally typically looked like a wrestler Vince McMahon would want to push. This became excruciatingly obvious in the early 2010s, when Joe would be phased down the card in favor of talentless hacks like Crimson, Gunner and Rob Terry. 

Joe’s physique has only been a superficial issue in the minds of out-of-touch wrestling promoters. Despite this alleged huge issue that prevent Joe from ever getting over as a top star, the audiences that have been paying to watch Samoa Joe for 25 years have strangely never had a hard time buying into Samoa Joe. His physique has only held him back in terms of how stupid wrestling bookers think how fans will react, while ignoring all real evidence to the contrary.

There have been plenty of great, main event stars that have been fat. Mick Foley, Vader, Abdullah the Butcher, Dusty Rhodes; Joe is/was in better shape than all of them, but for some reason bookers figured he couldn’t be a top star because top stars need to have abs, or whatever. 

In his famous “Hard Times” promo, Dusty Rhodes talks about his appeal to the audience by saying “I admit that I don’t look like the athlete of the day is supposed to look. My belly is just a little big, but heiny is just a little big, but brother, I am bad and they know I’m bad.” 

Samoa Joe is BAD. People knew he was bad. And no matter how he was being booked in whatever company he was in, he has managed to get over. It’s absurd to think that his physique would disqualify him from being pushed as a top star for his entire career, and yet it mostly has. 

By the time WWE finally signed Joe in 2015, he hadn’t evolved at all. The Samoa Joe in 2015 was the same Samoa Joe WWE had passed on all those years earlier; his body didn’t improve, if anything it got worse. The difference was wrestling evolved, at least enough so that Joe could be taken more seriously by the top brass. 

His time in WWE would be strangely similar to his time in TNA, as he was shuffled up and down the card, but always was able to get over at the top level when needed. His feud with Brock Lesnar in 2017 saw RAW show significant ratings growth, albeit for a short period of time after which Joe was ushered back down the card. Still he proved to do some impossible things, including being able to say WWE’s ridiculous scripted verbiage and still come across realistic and believable. 

With Joe signing with AEW, for the first time since he was working for Gabe Sapolsky in Ring of Honor, he had a booker that grasped who Samoa Joe really was. When MJF needed to take time off and AEW was in search of a world champion, Joe emerged as an unlikely, but perfect person to carry the title into 2024. Joe’s realistic, authentic presentation served as a needed contrast and palate-cleanser to the exaggerated melodrama that came with MJF’s lengthy reign. Despite now being 45 years old and with a lot of tread on his tires, Joe has been a breath of fresh air in the main event picture for AEW. 

Joe is as good as he has ever been, and is finally, after 25 years, getting pushed at the highest level as a legit and credible world champion. The future of AEW is not Samoa Joe, his chance to be a true mega star on the level his talent deserved sailed a long time ago, but Joe is still going out each week and delivering an A+ performance, whether it is cutting a promo, having a match, or just needing to look like a top-tier badass. Samoa Joe has always been perfect, it just took some powerful people much too long to realize it.