In a little over two years Samoa Joe has not only risen to the top of the wrestling scene in Southern California, but has become known world wide. He was SoCal’s 2000 Rookie of the Year and has gone on to become the longest reigning champion in UPW history and become a regular in Japan’s Zero One promotion. I had the opportunity to ask Samoa Joe about his start in wrestling, the handling of the UPW title, using Misawa’s finisher in his house, internet rumors, and more.
Steve: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, lets get started shall we?
Samoa Joe: Fire away
Steve: What first made you want to get into pro-wrestling?
Samoa Joe: I had been a very casual fan of Pro Wrestling growing up. One day I was looking for a MMA school to join and try to in get in shape. I found the West Coast Dojo listed and I called and attended a class. After the class a Pro Wrestling class was starting up and the then time trainer John Del La O told me to stick around and try it out. After that I was hooked.
Steve: At the UIWA West Coast Dojo you were trained by Johnny Hemp and Cincinnati Red, what was that like?
Samoa Joe: At first it was very difficult I was right around 340lbs mark so as you can imagine most bumps where a little more bone jarring. Red came about a month after I started training really helped me from a Technique standpoint. The training sessions where long and I usually served as a bump dummy but I feel in the end it paid off. When I started working I already had been kicked, punched, and dropped on my head every which way possible.
Steve: You had your first match 3 months after you started training. What was it like going into your first match, after such rapid progress through training?
Samoa Joe: A bit Nerve Racking. Fortunately they sent me out the ring with a really great veteran who at that time was a masked Uncle Jess Hansen. He really carried the whole affair and pulled a very decent 1st showing out of me.
Steve: You were first Hemp’s bodyguard and student, pretty much just portrayed as his lackey. It wasn’t till you started working some matches with Cincinnati Red that you started to come into your own.
Samoa Joe: Yeah I began working against Red ALOT. It seemed wherever Red was booked they always asked him to bring an opponent and he usually brought me because A) He was very familiar with what I could do and B) He knew I could take a hell of a beating and would not complain.
Steve: It was the matches with Red that got you noticed by UPW, how did that all go down?
Samoa Joe: Me and Red were booked in a Carnival show down in El Centro California. Brett Wagner (BIG SCHWAG) was also booked on the show commentating. Me and Red did the usual hardcore match and Brett asked if I would like to work at UPW who had just began running shows in Orange County. I said sure and he told me they might need me in a few months. 3 days later
I get a call from Schwag saying Aaron baker was a no show for there upcoming Roxy show and they needed a replacement. I wrestle UPW’s top rookie at the time Dirty Dave Sanchez. Post match Bassman was impressed and said I was booked on all future UPW cards.
Steve: In UPW you quickly made your way to the top of the card, winning the No Holds Barred title with less than 6 months in the business. Why is it you think UPW gave you such a big push right away?
Samoa Joe: I think it came from necessity if anything. UPW of course like every other indy fed in the world at the time, was going to cash in on the Hardcore craze going on. My reputation was as a Hardcore style worker since that primarily what I did with Red coming in to UPW. So when they asked for volunteers to trust Josh Dempsey to punch them in the face with a chain wrapped around his hand I think my hand was vicariously raised by default.
Steve: I’ll ask you a question that I asked B-Boy when I interviewed him, what is it like wrestling in front of WWF scouts at UPW when they used to come by? Does it feel any different going out there and knowing guys like Jim Ross will be watching and evaluating you?
Samoa Joe: For me it was not really AS nerve racking because I had no misconceptions about my chances with WWF at the time. I knew I was not ready physically or mentally ready for the WWF and still feel I don’t have much to offer them yet. I think because of this honesty with myself I did enjoy a
good raport with most of the WWF scouts and staff that I still see on occasion. Hopefully those relationships will pay off later on down the line when I feel I am ready.
Steve: Yes, and you received the opportunity to work some WWF matches, including a match on Jakked against Essa Rios. How was it being in the WWF locker room and how were you treated?
Samoa Joe: Well anytime you walk into the WWF locker room it’s a very intimidating experience, but overall it has always been an enjoyable one. Kevin Kelley, and Bruce Pritchard where always very accommodating and helpful. If anything you do you best to walk the line of outgoing and friendly mixed with being reserve and respectful of the boys already their personal space. I will say that I was saddened to hear of the release of Eddie Guererro as he is one of the nicest and most professional people you will find in any locker room. Like all Guererro’s I’ve met he always makes a point of going around and introducing himself to everyone even the lowly “advancement Talent”. Though I thought
he would be surprisingly unapproachable Chris Benoit was very much the same way and sat down with me, Prototype, and Hardkore Kidd and had quite a long conversation about the wrestling industry worldwide. Definitely one of the cooler things that I can say has happened to me.
Samoa Joe: The Match with Essa Rios was a lot of Fun and well received by a lot of the staff and wrestlers in the back. I got a lot of good feedback from the Pritchards, Bearer and even Michael Hayes who caught me stealing Chocolate chip cookies from catering (Even though I was stealing them for Hardkore Kidd and Prototype).
Steve: OK, with a little over a year wrestling, UPW puts you in a feud with arguably one of the best indy wrestler in the country, Christopher Daniels and then puts the UPW Heavyweight Title on you.
Samoa Joe: Well the Feud was concocted by Chris Daniels and Kevin Quinn, at the time UPW has no real established Heels outside of the Ballard brothers and Kevin commented that I wrestled like a heel so why not make me one. Chris and myself at this point had become pretty good friends and I was the main culprit in all Chris Daniels related ribs on the West Coast so the feud seemed rather natural. As you can tell by the end result Chris was headed to WCW at the time he lost the belt so we tried to build it as Loser leaves town. And so began the Samoa Joe UPW championship run.
Steve: You had the longest UPW title reign in the promotion’s history, but a lot of people feel that the title was devalued by the lack of build to your matches with it. What are your thoughts on that?
Samoa Joe: Well I would tend to agree in the sense that we where trying to build something but due to business commitments the program was rather quickly scrapped. Playing the heel champ my main concern was trying to showcase my opponents and build new faces for the company but for whatever reason I don’t feel we every really achieved that. Hopefully the title will be handled a bit better in more capable hands. I guess there always a process of Trial and Error with new promotions.
Steve: You have worked for almost every promotion in Southern California, how does UPW compare to the others?
Samoa Joe: UPW definitely will get you the most exposure to the “right” people in order to make advancements in you career. For most of the past year my role in UPW was not so much wrestler as it was administrative, I have too say I enjoyed “wrestling” in promotions outside of UPW, Where as I enjoyed working and learning about the business in UPW a lot more. I feel there are many great WRESTLING promotions in Southern California, but there aren’t many great Wrestling “Companies”. I will be the first to tell you UPW is not a mega-power money magnet company but it definitely does have the best infrastructure to take off if giving the proper financial capital.
Steve: UPW also started working with Zero One in Japan, how did you get chosen to be on one of their pay per views this past summer?
Samoa Joe: I will be honest and say it was 50/50 skill and luck. Hashimoto had come to the US to scout talent and UPW was recommended to him by Inoki office. He was not looking for wrestlers as much as he was looking for Big Gaijin’s to feed to his up and comers. He brought Naohiro Hoshikawa with him to work with some of the boys and the tryout was basically catch as catch can wrestling. Hoshi was quite the hmm how can I put this “WHIRLWIND of DESTRUCTION” that day so I remember Tom Howard asking me to pop in there and calm things down a bit. Me and Hoshi went a good 30 minutes on the mat and I got some good press from the media corps Hashimoto brought along with him. Regardless Hashi needed his monsters so he originally booked Nathan Jones and John Heindenreich for the show to face Takaiwa, and Alexander Otsuka. Due to WWF contracts they where unable to work the show so they sent in the “B team” me and Keiji Sakoda. Anyway we got to Japan and the match was changed to me and Keiji vs. Yuki Ishikawa and Katsumi Usuda of BattleArts, after the match the ZERO ONE Promoter Yoshiyuki Nakamura asked if I would be interested in working more dates with ZERO ONE, naturally I said yes.
Steve: Yeah, you back for their Burning Heart tournament. In that tournament you got to wrestle former ECW and WEW World Champion Masato Tanaka. What was it like when you found out?
Samoa Joe: Well I knew I was facing Masato before I left to Japan. I was eagerly anticipating locking up with him as I was told by several people what an awesome in ring worker he was. I can tell you Masato Tanaka lives up to that reputation and then some. It turned out to be one hell of a match and a lot of fun.
Steve: You actually tied for the most points in the tournament, but didn’t advance to the finals due to your bracketing, correct?
Samoa Joe: Yes
Steve: Zero One incorporates a lot of worked shoot style matches, did you have any shoot experience going in?
Samoa Joe: Well I have a ton of informal training before and during my time pro wrestling. I was moderately involved in Judo during Jr. High and won a few state tournaments. I used to spar with Justin McCully and pick up techniques here and there which I try to incorporate into my pro wrestling. I still to this day tried to head down and train grappling a few times a week. I definitely have no desire to shoot but I feel a basic understanding of grappling concepts can really help your Pro Wrestling.
Steve: While on the tour you did your finishing move, the Island Driver, which is also Misawa’s finishing move. You actually even did it in his own building. There was some criticism on the internet for that. Did you get any heat for over there? How did that come about?
Samoa Joe: (laughs) No actually another case of necessity, in fact the realization of what had happened didn’t hit me till I saw a smirking Daisuke Ikeda in the hall as I was walking back to my dressing room. The finish came when I countered a Diamond Dust, Well the Island Drive is about a natural of a counter for a Diamond Dust as there are in the world so why not? The NOAH offices are located above Differ Ariake so as I strolled by there was no heat if anything a lot of the boys where amused. In a way it was Brash, rude, and bordering on blasphemy but then again that’s how Japan love their Gaijins. The Crowd was half in shock when I did it and me upsetting Tanaka and “shocking the crowd” was what we where looking for, I guess Mission Accomplished.
Steve: Also in Japan you got to realize a dream and meet Ayako Hamada, even having dinner with her. What was that like?
Samoa Joe: Well I guess this whole story is not half as good unless I tell the whole build up to this.
Samoa Joe: Anyway one day while relaxing backstage before a show I was looking at some of Chris Daniels picture in a Japanese Magazine and I see a picture of Ayako. I inquire about her commenting that she is quite “Fly” . At which point the Fallen Angel begins telling me how he is the man and she in Curryman’s #1 fan, Blah Blah Blah. So the bet was made who would meet provide photographical proof of being over with Ayako (note I say Over as in friends). Anyway Chris had first crack doing a 5-week stint with MPRO but failed miserably. I’m doing a 3-week with zero one and mention casually to the Zero One ring announcer I had to meet Ayako. Needless to say one cell phone call later dinner was arranged for that weekend. Unbeknownst to me ZERO ONES ring announcer was formerly ARSION’s ring announcer and very good friends with Ayako. Great dinner a lot of fun, Ayako invited me tot he Arsion Show at Kurokuen the next day and we had dinner again, we are still good friends and keep in touch every few weeks, and Chris Daniels knows to never doubt the my mystical powers.
Steve: So it wasn’t to spite Scrub? (laughs)
Samoa Joe: No but if he feels spited I apologize (laughs)
Steve: You just lost the UPW title to Mikey Henderson, what are your thoughts on him as the UPW champion?
Samoa Joe: I think Mikey will make a great champion, he has a great look and is a tremendous wrestler. his charisma has come along by leaps and bounds. It’s hard to believe he has been in wrestling so long yet still younger then me. I guess if I had to lose the strap to anyone Mikey is one of the most deserving.
Samoa Joe: I just wish the program I had with Mikey could have been given a bit longer.
Steve: What is your future with UPW?
Samoa Joe: Tough to say at this point. My relationship with the company has changed quite a bit in the past few months. I still have a very good rapport with the company and work there shows but I am now in a more limited role with UPW as I am definitely more concentrated on my work for Zero One (which
is branching beyond wrestling). UPW has helped me achieve some great things and I by no means have moved on but I am trying to explore and expand opportunities.
Steve: How is your work with Zero One expanding beyond wrestling, or is that something you can not elaborate on yet?
Samoa Joe: Merchandising. that really as much as I can elaborate on.
Steve: You were invited to participate in APW’s 2001 King of Indies tournament, which was a huge show with some of the best wrestlers from around the world. What was that like?
Samoa Joe: In a word AWESOME. I can’t honestly say I have ever been apart of two better night of wrestling in my life. Outside of the show the boys had a blast and it was really fun getting in the ring shooting around ideas and learning from each other. For as much ribbing I do to Chris and Frankie (Kazarian)
they are two of the most fun people to be on a show or on the road with. All the other participants where awesome to hang out with also defiantly a great tournament that will be hard to duplicate next year but I’m sure everyone will do there best.
Steve: Now lets move on to some more general questions.
Samoa Joe: Fire away I just downed a Jolt cola.
Steve: Who are your main inspirations in pro-wrestling?
Samoa Joe: Umm I was always a HUGE Arn Anderson fan, He epitomizes to me a guy who never played the starring role but made everyone around him better because he did what was right for the match or what was right for the show. Also Ric Flair the guy was and still is Charisma personified.
Steve: What has been your favorite match so far?
Samoa Joe: Probably Me and Masato Tanaka, I also enjoyed my match with Frankie at KOI. I’ve had a lot of Tag Matches against the Ballards in APW I’m very fond of also. The Ballards are awesome workers.
Steve: What other wrestlers are some of your favorites to work against?
Samoa Joe: The Cubans which I have worked against on very rare occasions, Red, Frankie Kazarian, Mike Modest, B-Boy. Mikey was pretty fun to work with sans all the smart-ass comments we are shooting at each other under our breath.
Steve: Are there any wrestlers in SoCal that you haven’t faced yet but would love to?
Samoa Joe: It’s tough to say there are not many in SoCal I have yet to wrestle. I pretty much keep a policy “if ya book it I’ll work it”..
Steve: What about a dream opponent from anywhere in the world?
Samoa Joe: Definitely Shinjiro Otani, which might not be too far off. In my time in Japan Otani was great in the Dojo and at Shows. I think Wrestling Him Hashimoto, or even NJPW Yuji Nagata would be dream matchups for me personally.
Steve: Are there any guys around SoCal right now you can see as the next big superstar in pro-wrestling?
Samoa Joe: Yeah I see tremendous potential for ALOT of guys. I think the closest to “next level” stardom is probably Frankie Kazarian and Keiji Sakoda. I think from a workrate standpoint the list goes on for days, you got your Cubanitos, your B-Boys, your Super Dragons, etc. I think much like myself
the next level exposure comes when you are the complete package and though you may excel in one area of you “game” you have to excel in all areas (Physically and Workrate) to make money and make a career in this business. A lesson I myself am still learning. Because you can appeal to the fan who appreciates your work all you want, but the money lies with the “mainstream” fan who puts as much importance on how you appear as well as how you work.
Steve: Where do you see yourself going in wrestling?
Samoa Joe: Well right now WWF is pretty locked up and the only company in the states. I’m very much concentrated on Japan and keeping myself in work over there. Hopefully if I am one of the lucky few who can call this my full time profession I will be very fortunate.
Steve: Ok, this is the part I ripped off of Lonnie Hill, who I’m sure ripped it off someone else. I will give you some names, please give me your thoughts.
Samoa Joe:(laughs) Shoot.
Steve: Johnny Hemp
Samoa Joe: Hemp is a cool guy, and honestly was always a good friend. Gave me my true start in wrestling and I now I just wonder what the hell happened to him?
Steve: Yeah, he kind of just disappeared.
Samoa Joe: Exactly!
Samoa Joe: I predict alien and Federal involvement.
Steve: (laughs) OK, keeping with your trainers, Cincinnati Red.
Samoa Joe: Great guy and a very good friend. He is my trainer and is responsible for getting me exposure with a lot of promoters early in my career. He will always have my respect.
Samoa Joe: I hate Beni with a passion. He is the adopted crazy Filipino brother I never wanted. Other then that my “down ass homey” from around the way.
Steve: Super Dragon
Samoa Joe: Umm I hate him also and conspire against him at ever step of the way…. Ok you can close your mouths now. I enjoy what he does, of course the big internet rumor undercurrent people tell me is that I spend my nights idling away and plotting cruel and unusual things to happen to him. If anything I don’t see it, as Super Dragon and I have always been cool in person. In fact I’m more then confident if we did hate each other so much he would come directly to me with the problem as he seems like a stand up guy.
Steve: I have actually heard the same rumors, that is why I brought him up.
Samoa Joe: I have heard them for weeks and the full reasoning behind them.
Steve: Rather than give any more weight to them I will just move on.
Steve: Frankie Kazarian
Samoa Joe: Ok but I will answer whatever you got. Frankie is an awesome worker and a lot of fun to hang out with. Roadtrips are made better 10 fold with Frankie Kazarian along for the ride. His ability to heel innocent people at random is priceless.
Steve: Rick Bassman
Samoa Joe: Honestly I’ve heard Rick Bassman heat since I started with UPW but in our business dealing, though not always smooth as silk he has yet to do all the horrible things people accuse him of. Rick has done a lot in the way of bringing attention to Southern California and to many indy wrestlers often
time people use him as a scapegoat for there own shortcomings. I’m not saying people do not have legitimate beefs with him but I would be a hypocrite and a liar if I said I anything other then in our business dealing whenever I deliver he delivers.
Steve: Chris Daniels
Samoa Joe: A guy I look up to to this day even though there is no one I give a harder time to. Chris is one of the few people who put me over to promoter everywhere unsolicited and I can’t thank him enough. One of the few boys I’m buddies with completely away from the ring and a guy I can tell all my problems too, as long as they are not juicy enough for him to use against me later on.
Steve: Kevin Quinn.
Samoa Joe: One of the best damn trainers I EVER had the pleasure of working with. Definitely brings the best out of his students and one of the few people who can truly help you in all aspects of your game. Also probably the most unexcitable and unenthusiastic people in the world with a sadistic streak
of messing with people I envy to this day.
Steve: Ok, and my standard last question, what do you think of the scene in SoCal in general? As compared to other parts of the country how would you rate it and where do you think it is going?
Samoa Joe: Hmm well from what I’ve seen the SoCal scene is in a bit of a slump, The fans have never been more mean-spirited and Promotions across the board and losing attendance. I believe there are still some people out there doing their best to keep the “fun” aspect of the scene alive and to those people
and fans I tip my hat. I’m definitely not a person to say “YOU CAN’T CRITICIZE THIS OR THAT”, I say criticize to your hearts content but I ASK, when its all said and done what have you truly accomplished? Have you helped make the local scene better, or have you further turned of fans to wrestling and helped kill the scene just a little bit more. I think criticism is a great thing and everyone’s entitled to do and say what they want, but I also say hold yourself personally responsible and know that if you turn off just one fan from going to a show, any show, you made it a little bit tougher for us all (wrestlers) to entertain people and keep the scene thriving.
Steve: I agree completely about criticism that is mean-spirited. I believe if you are going to say someone “sucks” you should say why and not just resort to baseless insults. However, don’t you think the overall slump in the wrestling industry, mainly the declining popularity of the WWF is more to blame for indy show attendance rather than internet criticism?
Samoa Joe: Ooh The WWF dying is a huge blow.
Samoa Joe: You see WWF made wrestling mainstream and cool to go see, now as the industry wanes all promotions suffer. The business seems to go in cycles so hopefully a lot of the young guys can weather the storm until the next upswing.
Steve: Is there any last thing you would like to say?
Samoa Joe: I guess just to anyone reading “Enjoy Wrestling”. I also just want to say thank you to all the people who have helped me this far along in my career. a little website pimpage http://samoajoe.cjb.net and a special thanks to MC for updating and HOSTING IT! Also shout outs to all the fellas. Domo Arigato Gozaimasu to the fans who support wrestling.
Steve: Thanks for your time.
Samoa Joe: No problem, thanks for yours.