Samoa Joe is scheduled to make his long-awaited return to the ring this Sunday at NXT Takeover 36 when he challenges Karrion Kross for the NXT Title. This will mark Joe’s first match since February 2020, as the former NXT Champion has focused his on-screen time as a commentator and authority figure while he recovered from various injuries.

Upon his return to NXT, Joe began working as NXT General Manager William Regal’s enforcer. Even though Joe was given this new role, the Samoan Submission Machine revealed it was always planned as a gateway for his in-ring return.

“Honestly, by the time I got to NXT, the pathway for me getting back into the ring had already been set,” Joe told talkSPORT. “We were comfortable in that. It wasn’t like we were going into it like, ‘Well, we’re going to keep teasing stuff and hopefully it works out!’ Conscientiously, we wouldn’t tease a thing unless we knew we were going in that direction.”

Joe says he’s not completely sure when he was officially cleared, as he notes dealing with concussions is far from a black and white issue.

“It was always a process. It’s hard to give a real official timestamp on it because you got to understand with concussions, it’s not like, ‘Hey it’s mended, you’re good,'” Joe said. “And people keep applying this kind of black and white, cleared/uncleared status to it. But really, even when you’re cleared, it’s still monitoring you. There’s still check-ups, there’s still tests and so if there’s any differential, even after recovery is deemed, then it’s, ‘No, no, no. We’re going to slow you up, bring you back in.’

“And that’s what it was for me, I was taking that time. I was taking every single chance to have a healthy recovery and come back at 100 percent. Not 60, no 70, not workable, but come back healthy enough where I felt comfortable coming back and going 100 percent. There was a date I was cleared, but then with observation, they were like, ‘OK, let’s take a bit of time. You’re still cleared, but we still want to make sure you’re OK.’

“So it’s not this black and white process that everyone thinks it is, and it shouldn’t be. It should not be. That was the frustrating thing for me when people were talking about the injury like it’s a yes or a no. When it comes to brain injuries, it should never be that.”

Joe was part of one of the numerous WWE talent cut days earlier this year. After working commentary at WrestleMania 37, Joe was released from his WWE contract, but was re-signed to NXT by Triple H shortly after.

The initial release has been described as the easiest way to migrate Joe from the main roster to NXT. Joe emphasized that the pink slip was not due to his inability to get cleared, as he noted he was close to getting the green light to compete again anyways.

“No, it wasn’t a case of that [not being able to get cleared]. Obviously I was still trying. There was a little bit more recovery time involved there, so there was a timetable for the recovery, it’s not like it was very far off – obviously [laughs],” Joe detailed.

Joe then went on to reveal that his current NXT role had been discussed for years, and this past spring was the first time the former United States Champion had an opening to make the transition.

“I just think a decision was made on one-end, but this tenure and position in NXT I currently have now was kind of talked about two or three years ago,” Joe revealed. “It was a matter of when we were going to get the opportunity to make the transition and there really wasn’t an opportunity because I was so busy with RAW and SmackDown. So it’s not like they were going to pull me from there and move me to NXT at the time.”

Speculation ran wild of where Samoa Joe would end up after being cut by WWE, but Joe revealed he was actually only a free agent for “a few hours.”

“When the release came, it was only a few hours later Hunter [Triple H] came and with the new offer ready for me so it was a pretty easy transition,” Joe mentioned. “I can’t really sit here and feign that I got released and, ‘Oh, it was a sombre day.’ I wasn’t down anyway, but then Hunter called and we were good from there so it’s tough for me to begin to address the release because when you read it in a tweet it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ But the way the actual events transpired for me, it was very mundane and alright, sign here and sign there, we’re good [laughs]. There wasn’t a mourning process in this whole deal.”

Joe will wrestle for the first time in over 18 months this Sunday, and he’s getting in the ring with someone who has never lost a match in NXT.

“I think the best way to describe Karrion Kross is he is a wolf amongst not the same pack of wolves that I was when I was around in NXT,” Joe said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, dominating. He has walked through everybody they’ve put in front of him, beat them down. That being said, that can give you a lot of false confidence. I think a lot of what you see with him right now is false confidence. Hopefully, I’ll instill the appropriate level of confidence come Takeover.”