Looking for a reason to boo TNA bad-boy Samoa Joe? How about the fact that before he was swinging steel chairs into skulls inside the six-sided ring, he was a mortgage banker.
Forget legendary wrestler I.R.S., would any gimmick get as much heat in this economy as a guy who comes out and claims responsibility for foreclosing a different fan's home before every match?
And while the wrestling business is known for its share of shady shenanigans, according to Joe, the world of masked men and tights has nothing on the guys in suits.
"Mortgage bankers are way more cut throat," he says. "In wrestling, at least they let you get up. In mortgage banking, those guys go straight for your throat. I became ruthless as a mortgage banker."
And luckily for wrestling fans, the wrestler known for his hard-hitting style became frustrated sitting behind a desk eight hours a day, so he decided to take out his frustrations on opponents in the ring.
"I was always involved in various athletics. Whether it was football or judo, I was always involved in sports and physical activity. But after I got done with school and college, I had that job as a mortgage banker, working in a windowless office all day long. The money was pretty good, but I needed something more. So I went down to a judo studio and started working out again and while I was there they told me about this pro wrestling school and told me I should give it a shot. I didn't know if it was my thing, but I gave it a shot and it was pretty cool. That's when I started wrestling part time on the weekends, then next thing you know, I'm moving to Japan and working for a company out there. It all kind of snowballed from there."
Now the wrestler known as Samoa Joe has worked his way up to being one of the top draws for TNA Wrestling, even appearing as one of the cover athletes on the promotion's first video game, "TNA Impact" -- a game Joe not only starred in, but helped create through long days of motion capture and consultation with gameplay producers.
ESPN caught up with Joe to get his thoughts on his crash course in video game design, what we can expect in "TNA Impact 2," and his life inside the world of mat mayhem. Here's what he had to say.
ESPN: When you first started wrestling, what were the crowds like compared to what you see with TNA? Are we talking high school gyms?
Samoa Joe: Not even high school gyms. I'm talking about warehouse spaces in the back of industrial parks with 15-20 people at the most … on a good day. It was horrible, but I just kept at it. For me, it was just something to do on the weekends. It got me out of the house and it was pretty fun and wacky at the same time. Next thing you know, a scout came over from Japan and they had me tryout. I signed a contract, moved to Japan, then I was out there for about three years going back and forth between Japan and the States. At that point, I started making pretty good money, so I decided to call it a career.
ESPN: Wrestling leagues have scouts?
Samoa Joe: I wouldn't say they necessarily have scouts. Honestly, in the wrestling industry, there are really only three places you can work in the United States and there are several international organizations, but in Japan, they are always looking for new American talent. Wrestling over there, they still have this whole xenophobia thing where it's Japan versus the world, so they are always looking for good foreigners to bring over there to feed to their big stars. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time when one of these scouts came out from a company and signed me up. I basically went from working these high school gyms to places like the Budokan. It was a trip. It went from 15 people to 20,000 out of nowhere.
ESPN: Can bigger crowds make for better matches because of the adrenaline rush and the energy in the arena?
Samoa Joe: Absolutely. When you're wrestling somewhere like an armory and there's only a few fans, you can actually hear their conversations. That's the worst part. You're in the ring and you can hear two people talking, and they're not even talking loud, but you can hear them talking about where the nearest Denny's is. That's far different from 20,000 screaming fans going nuts and chanting your name.
ESPN: What's the strangest conversation you heard while in the ring?
Samoa Joe: One time there was an older lady and her daughter, and I think the daughter was pregnant, but she decided to tell her mom during the show. All I hear is her cussing out her daughter, telling her how she can't believe what she did. I'm in the middle of getting dropped on my head and I'm like, "Can you hold your conversation until after the match?" No one was even watching me by that point as everyone in the crowd had turned to watch them. It was pretty wild.
ESPN: How would you rate the athleticism of professional wrestlers compared to athletes in other sports like the NFL and NBA?
Samoa Joe: Honestly, it really depends on the wrestler. Just as there are all kinds of different athletes in the NFL, there are a lot of different types of wrestlers. But I will say this, the very best athletes in professional wrestling are on par with the very best athletes in the NBA and NFL and Major League Baseball. The top guys in the business in a lot of ways parallel or even surpasses some of these professional athletes. At the same time, you look at some wrestlers and you think how the guy couldn't run a quarter-mile without passing out. It's a mixed bag.
ESPN: How about your style? For someone who has never watched you work, how would you describe how you go about business in the ring?
Samoa Joe: My style has pretty much been the same since I started. It's pretty basic, pretty simple, but while most people will try some fancy way to get out of a hold or will try a back flip, I believe in punches in the face. There's nothing more telling than socking a cat as hard as you can, as much as you can. That has always been my style. I'm nasty, real up front and forward, and I'll bulldoze you. I go through people, that's my thing.
ESPN: You recently switched things up a little with the face paint. Why the change?
Samoa Joe: You know what, it's really just an extension of the character. That's the great thing about pro wrestling as you can take a persona you have and really keep pushing and pushing it as there really are no boundaries, no lines. It's just a continuation of my character. Where people knew me as a really aggressive person, now I'm over-the-top aggressive. We'll see how far I can push it.
ESPN: What is the face paint symbol of?
Samoa Joe: It's actually the equivalent of the family crest. The Samoan culture in the designs all have different meanings, but if you look at The Rock's tattoo on his arm, if you get a breakdown of what is in there, there's a lot of family history. It's the same thing with mine. I worked on it with my pops and a few different people and they put it together for me.
ESPN: What's your favorite face paint in the history of wrestling?
Samoa Joe: Hakushi. He was this cat back in WWF who had all of these symbols that were supposed to be like Buddhist proverbs all over his face and chest. You saw him walk in and it was just crazy looking. That was my favorite all time.
ESPN: I hear you're a big prankster in the TNA locker room. What's the best prank you've pulled?
Samoa Joe: We have this guy Consequences Creed. He's a young guy who I consider one of the best athletes in the world. This cat, if someone would teach him to play ball, he'd be playing for a D-1 school right now. He's just amazingly athletic and gifted … but he's new, so that means we have to mess with him a little bit. On his first day, he was a little bit reckless where he put his stuff, so we ended up stealing all of his underwear out of his bag and sent him on a scavenger hunt across the studio in order to get it back. This included him singing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song to all of the hot girls in the company. We didn't even tell him which girl was the right one, so he had to sing it to all of them until he found the right girl who would give him his next clue. Then he had to go to catering and order the right things to get his next clue, then he had to run down and sing the Notre Dame fight song to one of our former agents who was the biggest Notre Dame fan. First he had to learn the song, then he had to sing it marching band style. It took him about four or five hours to get his pants back, so he was sweating it a little bit, but you have to get the rookies.
ESPN: You were one of the consultants on the "TNA Impact" video game. Was it cool to be able to introduce the Suicide character in the game then watch someone take over that gimmick in real life? I don't think that's ever been done before where a wrestling character debuted in a game before TV.
Samoa Joe: It was pretty trippy. I remember working on the game and they showed me the character they designed. I was looking at the outfit and thought it was pretty cool, that it could be cool for a wrestler to wear. Next thing you know, I'm walking in the studio one day and there was the costume and the wrestler was getting all made up and ready to go. I was like, wow, they actually made a real Suicide.
ESPN: The game obviously didn't turn out as you had hoped. What happened?
Samoa Joe: Honestly, it just didn't turn out the way we wanted. It was a good start, but basically you need to realize that game making is a financial process and the time for the game's development really got cut. Two or three months got cut out of the time frame just because Midway needed to get the game out. It had already been delayed a couple of times and they were working with brand new technology and it was the first next-gen wrestling game that they had ever done at Midway. I'm happy to report, though, that we just got done doing another motion-capture session and another brainstorming session and we saw a mockup of "TNA 2" and it really looks fantastic. They put a lot of the features that fans wanted to see in the game, and a lot of things that the first game was really missing. I think fans are going to be pleasantly surprised.
ESPN: The first game looked great, but it just didn't come through in terms of gameplay.
Samoa Joe: I think any time you have three months of development sliced away out of nowhere, it makes a really big impact on the game. I learned a lot, too, because this was my first time working side by side with a game developer on a semi-regular basis. We would come in when we were off the road and check out the video game, and seeing the whole process of how a game is actually made. And what I learned is that really, a game is made in the last three or four months of development. The game is setup before then, but really, the last three or four months is when everything comes together and you're able to polish the gameplay. And basically, that time period got cut down and that made a major impact on the gameplay.
ESPN: You still playing a lot of Xbox Live?
Samoa Joe: Oh yeah, we had a big session of "Left 4 Dead" last night. I'm just pissed that "MLB The Show" isn't on 360 because all my friends only have the 360 but "MLB 2K" is sorry. "NBA 2K9," that's hot, though, and that's another game we play a lot of.
ESPN: You had an interesting match with Kurt Angle a while back that was more MMA style. Do you see that style being worked in more in the future?
Samoa Joe: I think more aspects of MMA are going to infiltrate pro wrestling, but at the end of the day, pro wrestling is pro wrestling. In my opinion, people tune in to see these over the top fight scenarios with these fantastic moves that you will never see in MMA unless some mixed martial artist is half-assed crazy. And while a lot of people see that match as MMA, I see it more as a throwback to what pro wrestling used to be. It used to be a real gritty, mat-based, beat 'em up type of sport and we wanted to bring that back.
ESPN: Where would you like to see TNA head in order to help differentiate itself more from WWE?
Samoa Joe: I just hope TNA keeps growing, and growing at its own pace. We're attracting more and more fans every year and we're getting more and more fans to watch the product, so my biggest hope for TNA is to be the best company TNA can be. As soon as we get to that point, then we can go after other people's demographic.
ESPN: So when TNA comes to you with a storyline or an angle, are you able to refuse or are you pretty much forced to go with the flow? Is the whole Nation of Violence thing your idea or do they come to you with that stuff?
Samoa Joe: Honestly, like any job in America, I'm paid to translate what is given to me and do it to the best of my ability. I think that is something that a lot of pro wrestling fans don't realize. They get so caught up thinking that these big pro wrestlers, we walk in and tell people what we want to do, but the best pro wrestlers in the world, they went in and were given something and they took it and made it their own. That's where my input comes in. Once I'm given something, it's my responsibility to take it and translate it and make it work in the ring. That's the mindset I've always taken with this business -- I'm paid very well to go out there and do the best I can do with what I'm given. Nation of Violence, that name was my idea. They had a couple of other ideas, and I can't even remember the names, but most of them I was just like, no. But at the same time, if that's really what they wanted, we would've just had to go with it. Fortunately enough, they came to me for ideas and I came up with Nation of Violence. People don't know what it means yet, but as the show goes on, the explanation of Nation of Violence will become very clear.
ESPN: Are you going to have a nation of other wrestlers who join to help you out?
Samoa Joe: That's why you have to tune in to find out. We can't give too much away. Everybody gets on the Internet because we tape TNA, but people who read the spoilers for a TV show, I just wonder why they do it. You would rather read about it than watch it? I tell people all the time, just let it happen. It will happen in its own time. But in pro wrestling, all bets are off. And what's funny is I have Twitter and MySpace and all that, and I'll get e-mails telling me about stuff that hasn't even happened on TV yet. It's like they watched it, but they haven't seen it yet. Take a look at it first to find out what happens.
ESPN: I hear you're a die-hard Eagles fan and that you had some sort of run-in with Terrell Owens. What happened?
Samoa Joe: I'm a die-hard Eagles fan, they're my football team. After the Rams moved from L.A. and ruined me and my family's season tickets, I'll never forgive them. And since I loved Reggie White and Randall Cunningham as a kid, I switched to the Eagles. I've been a fan ever since. So right around the time T.O. left the Eagles and there was that whole blow up, I was talking a gang of trash on T.O., calling him a punk and all that stuff. I talked all that stuff in front of my boys. But then I was invited to the ESPY's one year, and I went to the whole boutique deal before the show. I was cruising around with my best friend and a couple of my boys checking out stuff, because any time you go to something like that, you have to bring a little bit of an entourage with you, and I was at the Sean John booth getting fitted for sunglasses when T.O. walks in and sits in the chair next to me. My boys are all looking at me like, say something now. But this was a fun little thing where a few minutes earlier I was at the Mojito bar with some chicks and whatever, before I was married, and I was having a good time, so this wasn't the place. Next thing you know, T.O. points out some sunglasses for me to try on and tells me those are the hot ones. So I try them on and he was right, they were hot. I pointed out a different pair for him to try on and he did and they looked good. I remember we gave each other a little bit of a knuckle pound and went on our way. Then for the next eight months, I had my boys calling me a punk. They would call me a punk, sunglass-wearing punk, T.O.'s best friend punk. I heard it from them for a long, long time. But it was worth it because I got a nice pair of sunglasses.