Samoa Joe announced his decision to relinquish the NXT Championship while revealing an injury during a video shared on his verified Twitter account Sunday (September 13) night.
Joe, NXT's only three-time champion, recently returned to the brand, initially in an enforcer role for general manager William Regal, before defeating former champion Karrion Kross at NXT TakeOver 36 last month.
"Upon my recent return my goals were very simple," Joe said in the video. "I sought to ensure the respect and integrity due to both NXT and its championship. I sought to ensure that everybody understood that the needs of one individual will never outstrip the sum of the brand. Today I find myself having to stand on those principles.
"Recently, WWE medical has informed me that due to certain injuries they would like to have me step away from the ring for a brief, yet still indeterminate amount of time."
Joe's announcement comes as NXT is reported to be undergoing a brand shift, with numerous outlets claiming WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is shifting the company's focus on signing younger and bigger athletes, rather than the popular independent wrestlers that have been NXT's focus throughout recent years.
"I realize that this week we are on the cusp of a new NXT," Joe added. "We are on the brink of a new era in our history and I realize that that era deserves a fighting champion. And that's why it makes this very difficult decision very easy to make.
"Effective immediately I relinquish the NXT Championship. Best of luck to those who will vie for it...and my sincerest condolences to whoever wins, because I will be along shortly to recollect what's mine."
Joe returned to NXT programing in June one day after PWInsider.com reported the now three-time former NXT Champion had accepted a role to work exclusively with the WWE NXT brand then-overseen by WWE legend and current executive Paul 'Triple H' Levesque, who was reportedly "not happy" about his release and "snatched him back" as soon as possible.
Joe, a former World Champion in Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling, was among several notable superstars included in the first round of releases on April 15.
The company issued the following statement on its official website at the time of the releases:
"WWE has come to terms on the release of Samoa Joe, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, Mickie James, Chelsea Green, Tucker, Kalisto, Bo Dallas and Wesley Blake as of today April 15, 2021.
"We wish them the best in all of their future endeavors."
Fightful.com's Sean Ross Sapp reports John Laurinaitis, WWE's head of talent relations, "has been making the calls to talent and citing budget cuts as the reason for the WWE releases," according to sources.
The news came days after Joe was inexplicably taken off the RAW broadcast team, having contributed as a color commentator since 2019 while recovering from an in-ring injury.
WWE would later announce two additional rounds of releases beginning with NXT competitors Alexander Wolfe, Jessamyn Duke, Vanessa Borne, Kavita Devi, Skyler Story and Ezra Judge, as well referees Drake Wuertz and Jake Clemons, on May 19; and a second round of main roster talent including Braun Strowman, Aleister Black, Lana, Murphy, Ruby Riott and Santana Garrett on June 2.
Black, now known as Malakai Black, and Riott, now known as Ruby Soho, have since debuted in prominent roles for rising competitor All Elite Wrestling, as well as Andrade El Idolo, who was granted his requested release from WWE in March.
NXT's TakeOver: In Your House pay-per-view teased the departure of general manager Regal amid "so much bedlam" on June 13, which sparked speculation that Joe would be his replacement amid reports of his return to the company.
Joe had previously served as the foil to Regal during his initial run with the NXT brand, which was acknowledged in his return promo and new alliance with the legendary English wrestler.
Joe signed with WWE in 2015 and immediately emerged as a top competitor on the then-developmental NXT brand, becoming the first person to win the NXT Championship twice in 2016, before debuting on RAW in 2017.