THE NXT REPORT
I’m not sure about Samoa Joe.
It pains me to write that, but such was my takeaway from this latest episode of NXT.
I have no intention of raining on anybody’s parade.
Be happy that Joe is in NXT.
I simply can’t lie and write that I was enthralled by the conclusion of the latest NXT episode or even that excited by the ending of NXT Take Over: Unstoppable.
I'm not writing that anything has been bad about this. Only that I am uncertain.
My uncertainty is not related to Joe’s talent.
I’m happy that he’s finally in the WWE and I eagerly await his first match - I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed his work in the past.
But, as an NXT viewer, I’m simply unsure of the Samoa Joe character's motivations.
I don’t know who he is or why he’s done anything that he’s done.
I don’t know why this big, tough, mean guy keeps interrupting Kevin Owens and keeps getting in Owens’ face, only to then stand silently in the middle of the ring while Owens slinks away. To have seen Joe stand in the middle of the ring asking for a fight from a retreating Owens two weeks in a row, without having heard him say a word, I find it difficult to participate in the action, difficult to get emotionally invested.
There’s a barrier between myself as an NXT fan and Joe’s character.
The company is relying entirely upon my foreknowledge of Samoa Joe’s career in indy-wrestling and in other promotions. And that’s perfectly fine for one night - for the big debut where Joe suddenly appears to save the day.
But following that, I begin to look for a recognizable emotional anchor created by the show I’m familiar with - I want to watch something with discernible characterizations and discernible motivations, not a series of events that are important simply because I’m told they’re important, and simply because the smarks seem happy.
Kevin Owens’ debut on the NXT roster had the benefit of being promoted well in advance, so that by the time Owens first walked out onto the stage, I understood who he was, what he wanted, and I understood his relationship with Sami Zayn.
I’ve never been confused about Kevin Owens. I’ve always known exactly why he was doing what he was doing within the fiction and I’ve always delighted in his performance.
Bear in mind, I never actually saw any of Kevin Owens’ work as Kevin Steen prior to his NXT debut. I knew about him. I saw pictures. Through pro-wrestling-fan-osmosis I got the vibe that he was a cool guy worthy of adoration.
Conversely, I’ve seen some of Joe’s work in ROH and TNA and, as a result, I was even more predisposed to like him when he made his NXT debut.
But this debut has revealed to me, perhaps better than ever, the importance of infusing a story with a recognizable, emotional hook.
As of now, Joe’s arrival in NXT only has significance to the pro-wrestling insider, the fan who has enjoyed watching indy-guys and indy-gals finally get their shot at the big time.
Joe’s arrival in NXT represents a great coup for the WWE, a seminal moment for the industry.
But the reason for Samoa Joe’s presence shouldn’t stop there.
Pro-wrestling is often guilty of putting forth surprises simply for the sake of surprises or debuts simply for the sake of debuts without a narrative foundation for that stunt.
As of now, it’s simply unclear why Samoa Joe, in the NXT fiction, wants to attack Kevin Owens.
He cut a promo after his debut that’s on WWE.com explaining that he came to NXT because he’d heard it’s where the best performers in the world were.
Given that this wasn’t shown during the actual pay-per-view and given how it doesn’t go into much more detail, it can’t really be considered a motivation or a part of his character.
His arrival presumes you’ll just be happy and entertained by the mere fact of it.
And it would seem that’s enough for a lot of people.
But how much longer will that be enough? And does that actually do Joe and NXT justice?
Unless you’re a diehard Joe-fan who’s satiated by a ‘happening’, at some point you’re going to want to connect with a story, a conflict founded on the histories of these performers. There are hints of a conflict.
Kevin Owens saying, “You should go back to oblivion” is a good start.
But more is needed.
It would seem there’s a great deal of pro-wrestling history NXT could pull from when crafting a Joe/Kevin feud, and it’s my hope that the bookers won’t move ahead assuming everyone already knows it.
I suspect we’ll get a vignette or a Joe-promo next week or the week after that explicitly spells out why Joe has arrived and what he intends to do and why we’re to root for him beyond his mere existence.
This is an important time in pro-wrestling history and an important get for the WWE, I just hope it takes definitive shape within the NXT continuity sooner rather than later.
And I’m confident it will, and that we’ll see great things from these great talents.
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