Darby Allin vs. Samoa Joe: Making Every Moment Count


Some wrestlers are just made to dance together. Whether it’s chemistry, star power, stylistic fit or all of the above, wrestling history is littered with iconic rivalries of that ilk. At times, those pairings are the obvious endgame but just as often, they can come in rather surprising shapes and forms. In my view, Darby Allin and Samoa Joe fall somewhere in the middle. Over the last two months, that matchup has reinvigorated AEW’s TNT Title, an epic trilogy that emerged almost overnight. 

As Joe’s ‘King of Television’ stint got underway, the initial focus remained on Wardlow. That feud was and is ongoing, with Joe seemingly making standard stops on the road to their inevitable singles bout. That begun opposite AR Fox, providing Joe’s TNT reign with a solid start to build upon. Things would escalate quickly from there though, transforming those presumed “standard” defences into something far more enduring. 

After defeating Cole Karter on Rampage, Allin gave a renewed mission statement: setting his sights on regaining the TNT Title. In 2021, Allin cemented himself as a major player with that reign, defending the belt in weekly main events and emerging as a genuine star in the process. With that, our first meeting was set for the following Wednesday night, pitting the ‘King of Television’ against a man who had defined his crown’s prior purpose. Together, they’d return it to above and beyond those heights.

The mere match graphic certainly earned some excitement, with a natural dynamic jumping off the page. Anyone that had followed either man’s career sensed the potential, with both seemingly finding the ultimate version of their ideal foe. Allin had not only a powerhouse to fling him around but one with true presence, a veteran armed with the charisma to fill any gap. For Joe, he had a human punching bag, the willing clay for him to mould with whatever violence seemed necessary.

In that sense, the matchup appeared remarkably natural, the kind of clash that you didn’t know the need for until it was just days away. Instinctively, I think that the mind goes to more traditional shootouts for Joe, especially at this later stage of his career. Fellow legends, especially the kind that’s famed for a thunderous strike or two. That’s logical and certainly produces its own hits but in Allin, you have the actual answer, an opponent simply built for this role.

There’s almost fifteen years between these two and honestly, that still doesn’t feel like enough. In my mind at least, they couldn’t be more separate in terms of their wrestling eras and generations. Allin’s career took place as Joe made his way up the WWE ladder, with his later emergence in AEW occurring as injuries and politics side-lined his counterpart. They just seemed worlds apart, too distant to ever even be paired as some kind of “dream match.” Yet here we were, TNT Title in the balance. 

In the days leading up to that first match, fans drew a natural conclusion, awaiting Darby’s take on Joe’s famed walk away evasion. Within seconds, they delivered, giving you an especially violent variant as Allin went flying into the barricade, his back crunching against the concrete. There’s a glee to Joe in that first match, visibly enthralled by the room to experiment, joyfully testing Allin’s limits. He’s also noticeably dismissive, almost playing with his food as he makes the most of his size advantage. 

For the bulk of that first match, Joe isn’t even trying to win, operating with sheer disdain but getting progressively frustrated at the challenger’s retorts. Joe’s arrogance is especially pronounced against Allin, evoking an almost Vader-esque swagger as he flexes in centre ring. It’s not an exact replica by any means but with Allin’s connection to Sting, that comparison feels particularly apt. Either way, Allin soon rallies, making an electric comeback to leave the champion reeling.

Joe isn’t just the powerhouse in this matchup though, he’s also the veteran, finding a timely counter to close the show just before things could get too out of hand. Joe’s attack continued after the bell and suddenly, a wrestling window had been opened. It was instantly apparent to anyone watching: this wasn’t a standard stop along any other journey, this was the start of its very own story. There was magic between these two men, combining their every contrast for a perfect wrestling marriage. 

That window wouldn’t close either, as Joe then retained the title against Wardlow, being attacked by a vengeful Allin afterwards. The rematch was set for the following Wednesday, with Allin sporting the home field advantage as AEW kicked off 2023 in Seattle, Washington. Even still, this wasn’t the sequel to some back and forth affair, it was the revisit of a decimation. Joe had destroyed Allin just weeks prior and hometown or not, that underdog status was undeniable. For all his disadvantages however, Allin still had Sting, his greatest asset of all.

Together, Darby Allin and Sting had become one of AEW’s biggest hits, connecting generations as genuine equals. Though an icon, Sting was not the shadow for Allin to escape but instead, the spotlight to reveal his greatness. With Joe again awaiting him though, Allin even questioned Sting, wondering aloud if the legend believed in him. What followed was perhaps my favourite moment of Sting’s AEW stint thus far, which is saying something considering the glorious chaos that his in-ring outings have produced.

“You’re going to have to dig deep. Deep down inside to a place maybe you’ve never been before inside of yourself,” Sting told Allin, passion pouring from his every word. “It doesn’t matter what I think, what your dad thinks, what the fans think, what Seattle thinks. It only matters what Darby thinks, now get out there and go win your title back. Shut your mouth, and just do it.”

There was something so strikingly human about that exchange. It felt so bare, Sting’s delivery wearing a palpable familiarity. That message was universal, the kind to get one through a troubling glance in the mirror, a memory that seemed present in Sting’s intense, agitated outburst. He’d made this walk before, quite literally so in fact, famously battling Joe well over a decade before. This rivalry was about the matches but that segment warrants remembering, as Sting’s inspired effort provided the rematch with an almost cinematic backdrop, only increasing the stakes.

In Seattle, Allin struck first, nailing his incomparable dive and rocking Joe before the bell even rung. That momentum was quickly halted once the match itself begun though, with Joe brutalising Allin against the steel steps. That returns the pairing to their prior form, but Joe’s control isn’t quite as measured on this occasion. Instead, there’s an uncertainty to Joe, left impatient as he wears the wounds that Allin inflicted in that pre-match anarchy. Allin uses those openings too, never allowing Joe to settle, fighting desperately as the crowd wills him on. 

With that hometown support and an exposed turnbuckle to boot, Allin achieved his happy ending, reclaiming the TNT Title and sharing an emotional moment with Sting. For now, the ‘King of Television’ had been dethroned, allowing Allin to create a direct sequel to his prior TNT reign. Allin made his first defence just two days later, wrestling weekly and even taking the title to Japan for Great Muta’s Final “Bye Bye.” Allin left each challenger with less of himself intact, a cloud of unfinished business hanging over his head.

That sleeping giant awoke after just three weeks, with Joe returning to set up a rubber match. For all the violence, there was a striking simplicity to this series, bringing a classic formula to the Dynamite stage. Both matches had maximised their raw ingredients in such a refreshing way, making further entries enticing, rather than erasing any mystery with unnecessary excess. Now, in a No Holds Barred match, that restraint would be gone, it was time to finish this story.

Truly exploring the horror that was threatened in both the before and after of their first two matches, Allin and Joe exploded into action, with the champion drawing blood almost instantly. In mere seconds, this had become the shootout that those prior meetings concluded as, spilling into the crowd as a twisted grin accompanied the blood on Joe’s face. This felt truly out of control, uncharted territory for even these two, a living, breathing crime scene.

Joe entered angry but the blood had brought a different, strikingly spiteful flavour to his work. There’s something gloriously mercurial about Joe, the sense that on any given night, he can be transform. On experience and skill alone, there’s a consistency to Joe in these spots but on a special night where he’s feeling just right, the living legend can be a force of nature. On his best nights, Joe can still offer something truly singular, a visceral experience that stands alone.

Allin is again perfect, of course, selling with the commitment that’s so consistently made monsters of lesser men. The stunt bumps steal the headlines but Allin’s equally capable of making the smallest moments matter. Whether it’s physically shattering in response to a strike or throwing defiant kicks to Joe’s knees in transition, Allin feels alive at every step, never simply waiting for the next highlight. That allows even this series’ quietest moments to roar, bringing a substance to that raw brutality.

As the match unfolds, hardware becomes increasingly relevant, but its never the centrepiece. This entry, just like its predecessors, isn’t about any single exchange or sequence but instead, the chemistry that accompanies them. They have such a simple formula, but it’s so enthralling, a somehow unique dynamic in the most familiar form. Even with the wear and tear of his recent output, Allin maintained the pace and passion that had toppled Joe previously, Sting’s powerful message still present.

Just as he had in the second match, Allin again struck first here, competing admirably in an environment that only revealed the most vile intentions of both men. In many ways though, the trilogy ended as it began, with Joe sidestepping his ferocious foe in the nick of time. Somehow, it wasn’t the power or size that sealed Allin’s fate but Joe’s experience, using one last cunning trick to set up the conclusive blow. Samoa Joe isn’t some untamed brute and though in the background, that ingredient never left this series.

I adore the first two pieces of this picture but the third felt like their masterpiece. This was their version of today’s epic encounter, but they never lost the series’ core identity. Instead, they simply walked further down the road that they’d already taken us to, revealing the extraordinary extremes that emerged in flashes beforehand. This was the extended cut, one with nothing left to save, a rubber match that brought butchery and slaughter to the organic spectacle that this pairing allows.

Even in defeat, Allin leaves the trilogy in fine fashion, feeling as though he’s just reached a new peak. Allin is a pillar of AEW and a partner of Sting, but he has more than earned his own identity. The textbook TNT Champion, Allin is arguably the promotion’s most reliable in-ring performer, bringing such quality to his television tilts. There is a carnage to Allin that can conceal the calibre of his performance, a truly remarkable pro wrestler.

If this trilogy brought Allin back to the dance, it introduced Joe to the fountain of youth. There were encouraging signs beforehand but it was this series that took Joe back in time, ultimately producing a modernised version which maximises everything that’s left. Joe has the knowledge and poise to make his every move count, embracing the perfect opponent with a passion that’s defined this latest chapter of his career. After all these years, Samoa Joe is still here, and he’s not content just existing.

That’d be impressive enough but instead, Joe is thriving, seemingly finding a form that exceeds even the highs of his last decade. Allin is a big part of that, so eagerly destroying himself at every turn but Joe’s performance has a vibrancy. There’s an exuberance that’s returned to Joe’s step, a particular pleasure to those fabulous facial expressions. Joe feels truly present in a way that’s so rare for a veteran of his kind, making the most of every minute.

Though their careers have previously existed in separate wrestling worlds, Darby Allin and Samoa Joe are simply made for each other. The obvious chemistry is part of that, as is the natural stylistic fit. Beyond anything else though, these two make magic because even with their differing legacies, they share mirroring mindsets in 2023. It’s not about yesterday or even tomorrow, it’s about giving everything for today. It’s about making the most of that night, regardless of opponent or environment.

Terrifying as it often is, Allin has always wrestled that way but after flirting with an unceremonious farewell, Joe now does too. Together, they shared the finest hour of their respective chapters, a wrestling recipe that’ll live long in the memory.

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