Over the past decade, Samoa Joe has been on of the most revered wrestlers outside the WWE. The 38-year-old finally made his main roster debut in January, and less than seven months later, he is gearing up to headline one of the organization's biggest events of the year. Joe, along with Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, will challenge WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar for the title in an anticipated fatal four-way at SummerSlam, which goes down at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday, and streams live on the WWE Network.
It's a dream opportunity for an athlete who has worked tirelessly to reach the pinnacle of his industry. Joe says he doesn't plan on wasting his chance.
"Six months in, I'm in the main event of SummerSlam, and my prospects beyond that look pretty good," Joe tells Rolling Stone. "I absolutely did not know that I would not be in this spot right now, but I did know I would have the opportunity to make my spot in this match. When the opportunity was presented to me, I took full advantage of it and I find myself here now. ... Sometimes you've just got to knock on the door and keep knocking until they can't deny you and they let you in. Here I am."
Although there was some moments where it seemed Joe's shot at WWE glory would never arrive, it eventually did, and he's maximized nearly every moment. His recent feud with Lesnar has captured the praise of fans and proved to any remaining doubters that he's more than capable of holding his own when the lights shine brightest.
Joe got a chance to challenge Lesnar one-on-one for the title at WWE Great Balls of Fire in July, but after a highly physical encounter, he succumbed to "The Beast" and his trademark F-5 finisher. He will have two other men standing in his way when he takes his second crack at the belt, but regardless of the outcome, Joe hopes to battle with the former UFC Heavyweight champion Lesnar many more times in the future.
"The program with Brock, I'd love to explore it more and have many more encounters with Brock across the pay-per-view scale," Joe says. "I think in general the build and everything going into this has been something that's peaked the interest of the general audience. Ratings are up, we are definitely drawing interest for the show."
Joe feels he meshes well with Lesnar in the ring, and that's partially due to the fact both have hard-hitting styles that stem from martial arts backgrounds.
"People understand the simplicity of violence and martial arts has always been about the more efficient way to deliver said violence upon an adversary," Joe says. "I've kept that philosophy as the focal point of what I do. ... Martial arts in general definitely influenced my style. I was a judo player as a kid and I think a lot of the concepts in judo as a kid played over. It influenced my style and has been a center point of what I do."
Joe believes that his nearly 18 years in the industry has prepared him to deliver some of his best work at SummerSlam. It won't be an easy challenge to produce a match that meets the standards of everyone watching, but he holds strong faith in his ability to hold up his end of the bargain.
"As long as you're confident in your skill set and what you can do, you're usually good to go," Joe says. "What I am capable of has got me very far thus far, so there's no real change to the game plan. I'll be able to go in there, and I know what I do. I know what I do well and I know what I can do with other people. It's all those factors in maintaining self-confidence and knowing that expectations are high and you've got to go in there and exceed those at the show."
Over a long and prestigious career, Joe's seen and done almost everything in the sport. Winning a major championship under the WWE banner has eluded him, but SummerSlam presents a realistic chance to fill the missing gap on his resume.
Whether Joe will be able to dethrone Lesnar, while also overcoming two of the most physically imposing members of the WWE roster in Reigns and Strowman, remains to be seen. Joe, however, feels he's ready to take on the responsibility that comes with carrying the Universal Championship.
"Going into SummerSlam, I go against some of the most accomplished performers in the world today and some of the hottest," Joe says. "When you got guys in there like Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman – these are competitors which have the tendency to push their opponents to greater heights and great accolades. I hope the intensity will carry over and we'll deliver something spectacular.
"It's one of the biggest opportunities of my career without a doubt. Six months and this is my second shot at the Universal Championship. To add that to my resume and check that box amongst the accolades, it means a very great deal to me."