WWE NXT was undergoing some major changes in late 2021. Vince McMahon had a new vision for the company’s developmental brand. The beloved black and gold, wrestling-first days were over. NXT 2.0 was primed to be the spark that set WWE on a course toward the future.
At the time the change was scheduled to take place, Samoa Joe was the reigning NXT Champion. Joe won the title in late August from Karrion Kross at NXT Takeover 36. A month later, he mysteriously relinquished the championship.
There was a ton of speculation at the time over what could have led to the decision. Many believed WWE wanted to simply move away from independent wrestlers. Samoa Joe explained on a recent appearance on Busted Open Radio that it was far simpler than that. Joe tested positive for COVID-19 and felt it was best to give up the belt if Vince McMahon hoped to make a splash with the debut of NXT 2.0.
“I popped for COVID. It was the weekend, my wife was making stew and I couldn’t smell it. She said, ‘Wow, doesn’t that smell great.’ I tested positive on Saturday. By then, Vince wanted to go in a different direction with NXT and he wanted to have the new opening with NXT 2.0 be with a bang and I agreed with him. I said, ‘If that’s the case, this is probably what’s best for what your vision is for this product.’ I went behind the scenes and started working with talent on a one to one basis, pulling guys individually in open gyms, working with them, and focusing on these new tremendous prospects were brought in and people that were hungry to learn and excited about this newfound opportunity.
It was invigorating for me. When you’re working with younger talent that are hungry and want to succeed on a high level, it amps up your own spirit. I was delving into that heavily. Working with Matt Bloom on revising things, training techniques, and evaluating what we were doing already and seeing if we could do it better. That was really the end of my tenure at WWE.”
Samoa Joe was released by WWE in early January. Since then, wrestling fans have wondered where we might see him next. We will have to see if and when Joe resurfaces on the professional wrestling scene.
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