When Samoa Joe debuted on the main roster earlier in 2017, the timing seemed unfortunate. Seth Rollins was injured in the very first segment Samoa Joe appeared on. A Coquina Clutch gone wrong put Rollins on the shelf with an injured knee, even jeopardizing The Architect's appearance at Wrestlemania. It was speculated at the time that Finn Balor might return to battle Joe at the show of shows, but it never happened. Rollins returned in time to have the much-anticipated showdown with Triple H. And, once that happened, Joe was left without a clear direction.
In NXT, Joe was a legitimate force from the moment he debuted, attacking NXT Champion Kevin Owens. It didn't take him long to reach the main event of WWE's developmental brand. He won the NXT Championship from Balor, and his lengthy feud with Shinsuke Nakamura was one of the hottest programs of 2016. In other words, he's been a pretty big deal from the jump.
On Raw, he's had strong pay-per-view contests opposite Sami Zayn and Rollins. He looked like a million bucks in the Fatal 5-Way at Extreme Rules. But, overall, he didn't really click until recently.
When you look back at the men who hold victories over Brock Lesnar since his return, it's John Cena, Triple H, Undertaker, and Goldberg. That's a pantheon of wrestling legends. But, those men have also lost at the hands of Lesnar, too. There's no denying that Lesnar is an outright draw for WWE. If he's on WWE programming, people are tuning in, and despite his reputation, has put on some good matches. But, I still don't believe his shine has been used to truly create a new star.
An argument can be made that Joe fits the bill given his status before their epic encounter at Great Balls of Fire, and his status after it.
Going into the Universal Championship encounter, it looked like Joe was going to be little more than fodder for Lesnar. The Beast was advertised to defend his title, which he hadn't done since winning it at Wrestlemania 33, and he needed a contender. Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman were off the table, as both men have been rumored opponents of Lesnar for Summerslam and Wrestlemania 34. Balor wasn't ready. We've seen Rollins wrestle Lesnar several times in the past, and interest in Bray Wyatt seems to be waning. So, Joe was the choice.
But, the program seemed to be little more than filler to get Lesnar to Summerslam with the Universal Title. That is, of course, until Lesnar and Joe had a wild pull-apart brawl on Raw that became one of the company's most-watched videos on YouTube. From there, Joe put Paul Heyman in the Coquina Clutch, and the rivalry heated up to the point that Great Balls of Fire felt like a big fight.
It all went over incredibly well. And, now coming out of that match, Joe is still very much alive in the Universal Championship picture. He's cemented himself as one of the top heels on Monday Night Raw. For months, all of the talk has centered around Lesnar-Strowman at Summerslam. Lately, Reigns surfaced a rumored opponent of Lesnar given the decline in ratings. But now, due in large part of the success of the Lesnar-Joe program, Joe looks like he may have inserted himself in the Universal Championship match at Summerslam. The rumor now is that we could see some sort of Fatal 4-way including all of the aforementioned superstars.
At this point, win, lose, or draw, Lesnar's mystique has elevated Joe. The Samoan Submission Machine has been able to penetrate Lesnar's presumed invulnerability. Behind the scenes, Joe reportedly impressed Lesnar in their match at Great Balls of Fire. That could go a long way in lengthening the Joe-Lesnar feud...at the very least, he could've worked himself into a Summerslam main event.
Regardless, Joe is an unsung legend of the business. It's gratifying to see him finally take his spot atop WWE's Raw roster.