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Samoa Joe had COVID-19 when he vacated NXT title, WWE wanted to go in different direction

Joe relinquished the title three days before the first episode of NXT 2.0.
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While appearing as a guest co-host on Busted Open Radio today, Samoa Joe revealed why he had to vacate the NXT Championship last year.

In what ended up being his final match for WWE, Joe won the NXT Championship from Karrion Kross at TakeOver 36 last August. It was then announced in September that Joe was relinquishing the title due to undisclosed injuries. Joe said that he would be out of action for a "brief but undetermined amount of time."

When asked about the situation on Busted Open, Joe revealed that he was sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19.

I popped for COVID. At the time, it was over the weekend -- my wife was making stew and I couldn't smell it. And she said, 'Wow, doesn't that smell great?' And I went, 'No.' And then I tested positive, I think, on Saturday. By then Vince [McMahon] had really wanted to go in a different direction with NXT and he really wanted to have the new opening of NXT 2.0 kind of be with a bang. And I agreed with him. I said, 'Listen, if that's the case, this is probably what's best for what your vision is for what you want for this product.

Joe vacated the title three days before the debut episode of the revamped NXT 2.0. He then started to focus more on training some of WWE's new prospects.

I kind of went behind the scenes and I just started working with talent on a real one-to-one basis, pulling guys individually in open gyms, working with them, and just focusing on a lot of these really new tremendous prospects that we brought in and people that were really, really hungry to learn [and] really, really excited about this newfound opportunity.

It was really invigorating for me. Whenever you're working with younger talent that are hungry and really, really want to succeed at a very high level, it kind of amps up your own spirit a little bit. So, I was really delving into that heavily and working with Matt Bloom on really revising things and training techniques and kind of evaluating what we were doing already and seeing if we could do it better. That was pretty much the end of my tenure at WWE.

This January, Joe was released from his position with WWE. It marked the second time he had been released by the company within a nine-month period.

Joe said on Busted Open that he's ready to wrestle and is exploring different options but is taking a little time to focus on other work and spending time with his family at the moment.

"Since my departure from WWE, I've really been kind of consumed with outside work, outside of the wrestling industry, a lot of cool voiceover stuff, some other things, been busy with that," Joe said.

"We're training, we're ready. I'm not on paper with anybody anywhere, we haven't signed anything. We're just kind of exploring our options. I'm taking a little time personally just to be with the family and shore up some things home-side. We'll see what the coming months hold."

Along with The Briscoes, Bryan Danielson, and CM Punk, Joe was inducted into the Ring of Honor Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class. Joe told Busted Open that he completely agrees with The Briscoes, Danielson, and Punk being inducted, but there's one person who he thought also belonged in the class.

I think the only snub that I'm concerned with -- it's not overly critical, you can only put in so many people -- is Homicide. Really when you talk about the early days of Ring of Honor, guys who held that locker room together, guys who were consistently put upon to main event if I wasn't as champion or were put upon to spice things up and be a workhorse, Homicide was one of those guys.

Other than that, I thought it was a great first class and I look forward to seeing Homicide in a second class forthcoming.