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Will Samoa Joe win the Universal title?

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Samoa Joe, the journeyman that made his name across the wrestling scene for nearly 15 years before he debuted in the WWE in 2015, won a five-way match at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view to become the number one contender for the Universal championship. Joe, who spent a decade in TNA, was considered too far outside of the typical “WWE mold” at one point, but the company’s expansion puts an emphasis on quality talent so he was originally signed to boost the NXT brand. After a successful run there, he debuted on the main roster, and the very unique athlete made an impactful presence on WWE TV.

In truth, Samoa Joe was never utilized to his full potential during his time in TNA and it’s disappointing that he spent the majority of the peak of his career there. The agility, persona, and presentation of the Samoan competitor was a combination that the organization could’ve used to establish their own brand, but a series of booking fumbles prevented that. Joe had a six month run as the heavyweight champion in 2008, but that was his only reign with the belt while aging veterans had multiple title runs around that time frame. In fact, the booking of Joe, including random character variations and the infamous ninja kidnapping hindered his progress in the organization. Quite simply, TNA never fully gave Samoa Joe the chance to run with the championship. Even his lengthy undefeated streak was ended when Kurt Angle joined the promotion, something that Angle didn’t need, and made one of TNA’s top prospects look secondary to a WWE star.

When Joe left Impact Wrestling as Dixie Carter’s regime was crumbling in early 2015, I thought he would return to Ring Of Honor, the group that was bought by Sinclair Broadcasting since his departure several years earlier. Considering ROH’s extensive working agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling and the surge in Japanese business using foreign talent, I expected him to work the New Japan scene for an extended period of time, similar to what AJ Styles did when he left Impact Wrestling. Joe made a brief comeback to the promotion that he helped put on the map, but his ROH return was only temporary as he appeared at NXT in May of 2015.

I have to say, I was extremely surprised that Samoa Joe signed a WWE deal, simply because he had such a notable track record previously and still hadn’t inked a contract. Again, the “WWE mold” just wasn’t Joe’s style, which seemed to stall a contract offer in the past. However, make no mistake, Joe was up to par from an in-ring aspect at least ten years ago, but the WWE climate was much different. Keep in mind, despite the tremendous ability that Umaga brought to the squared circle, he was saddled with a cartoonish gimmick at the time.

As mentioned, Samoa Joe has done well so far in his WWE run, and his physical style and monster persona make an intriguing scenario for a Brock Lesnar match. Brock, a former UFC heavyweight champion, won the title at Wrestlemania 33 and hasn’t appeared in a few months. In theory, this keeps the champion a “special event” for TV, but with the amount of weekly content produced, it’s difficult to build pay-per-view main events without the champion as one of the prominent figures on Raw. The champion was featured sporadically on television in the 80s in an effort to sell tickets to house shows, but the business moves much faster today. In fact, television rights fees and ad revenue based off of TV ratings are an exponentially more important aspect of the industry than house show ticket sales so the “it worked in the 80s” theory to explain Lesnar’s extended absence is somewhat of an apples to oranges comparison. If anything, Brock doesn’t need to wrestle on TV weekly, but with the recent ratings dip, it would seem to be beneficial if he appeared more often to promote more title defenses.

That being said, I’m still skeptical if this entire Brock Lesnar mega push will be worth it in terms of the long-term return or lack thereof that it brings for the company. Yes, there’s undoubtedly hype around Lesnar’s matches and he earns his money because he delivers solid performances in the ring. But, the trade-off is seemingly the opportunity to truly establish younger competitors as legitimate stars that can draw money. How long can WWE brass rely on part-timers to bring star power to WrestleMania? Furthermore, how many full-time stars have the star power to sell out a stadium right now? Sure, the WM brand sells a certain number of tickets, but if a lackluster main event is booked, there will be a difference in sales. Aside from Brock, the other major push is obviously Roman Reigns, who has yet to get to the level that management has pushed during the past few years.

So, will Samoa Joe actually win the Universal title?

The answer to that question depends on how the contest is booked and the plans for the title. Regardless of the results of Joe/Lesnar, there should be at least two matches in the feud. There’s simply too much hype because of the similar styles to use this match up for just the main event of a random pay-per-view.

Considering that the ratings could use the belt more often on Raw, it’s possible that Joe might win the title and then eventually drop it to Lesnar. A win against Brock for the championship would certainly solidify Samoa Joe as a main event level star. At 38, Samoa Joe seems to be toward the latter stages of his career and he worked a very physical style for several years so if he’s going to get a run as Universal champion, now would be the time to do it. As seen on Raw, Paul Heyman continues to cut the best promos in wrestling today and those segments will be “must see” on Raw leading to the PPV, which makes for good TV.

If I had to guess, I would say that Samoa Joe wins the title in an entertaining match at the pay-per-view. The main reason being, the three-hour format of Raw makes it difficult for the show to maintain an entire audience for the duration of the time slot and as a publicly traded company, WWE brass doesn’t want to have to explain a trend in declining ratings on the next conference call. At the very least, the Universal champion competing weekly in the main event gives fans a reason to watch the third hour of Raw, which is where there was a pattern of a decline of viewers. If Joe wins, it allows Brock to remain a part-timer and makes it easier to book Raw with a weekly champion. Either way, the Lesnar/Joe feud will provide some entertaining TV and a quality pay-per-view main event.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

@jimlamotta

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