Jay Lethal: The Champ Is (Finally) Here
Jay Lethal has been a mainstay on pro wrestling’s indie circuit for more than 12 years, since making his Ring of Honor debut in 2003. Some discovered him then, or soon after, when he portrayed Samoa Joe’s protégé and became ROH Pure Champion. Others discovered him when he moved to TNA, and became one of the cornerstones of the X Division. While in TNA, he made waves for becoming Black Machismo, his over-the-top homage to “Macho Man” Randy Savage. His portrayal of the character was so good that Savage himself gave his blessing to Lethal. After reverting back to his Jay Lethal character, he continued to be a standout in the X Division, winning the title six times before being released from the company in 2011. He returned to ROH, where he quickly won the TV title, but for four years he couldn’t break through to the top.
That all changed on Friday, June 19, at ROH’s Best in the World Pay-Per-View. After a 12-year journey, Jay Lethal finally won the big one, beating Jay Briscoe to become the Ring of Honor World Champion, and the only person to hold every singles title in the prestigious promotion’s history. In his first interview since making it to the top of the mountain Rolling Stone spoke to Lethal about “the greatest night” of his life, his long journey through the indie world and what the future holds for both him and Ring of Honor.
What was Best in the World like for you?
I’ve never been married. I don’t have any kids. So at this point in time, that was literally the greatest night of my life. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was so full of emotion. One of the coolest parts was that I had my parents there. It was just the greatest night of my life.
Did your parents know that you were about to win the title?
Nope. I hadn’t told them. They actually don’t like knowing what’s going to happen. They like the surprise, they like being fans. So all of that was legit emotion from them. I remember when I gave my speech afterward, I looked over at my dad and he was crying, which made me even more emotional. He’s been there since the very beginning of my journey. The first time I even stepped foot into a building that had a wrestling ring, he sat in the back and recorded practice. He recorded practice for about a year of me going. He’s actually getting those tapes transferred to DVD, which is pretty cool. I can go back and watch how I looked when I was training. I was like a totally different person.
Obviously the moment of holding up the belt was amazing. But what was the day like, coming to the venue knowing that you were going to walk out the champ?
All I could think of was being in the locker room and watching that moment happen for other people so many times. I had waited for this moment for so long. I remember thinking about how when everyone wins, they get a speech. Years ago I wondered what my speech would be about. We all picture ourselves winning the big one, and what we would do. If you can’t picture that, then you’re in the wrong business. I remember thinking about what my speech would be like. And let me tell you, it was nothing like that. I was nervous and I couldn’t believe what was about to happen. It wasn’t that I had butterflies in my stomach, because I was ready for the moment. I really felt that. I just couldn’t believe that it was about to really happen. Even now, as I talk to you, or when I talked to my best friend Sonjay [Dutt, a former TNA wrestler] earlier, I can’t believe that I am the undisputed champion of a company that is known around the world for its wrestling. I can’t believe that I’m the number one guy here, after watching so many guys give that speech. Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson – the list is so long. And now I get to be added to that list.
So if winning the ROH World Championship is the greatest moment in your life, what was the previous high-water mark in your career?
Before last Friday, the greatest night of my life was getting to wrestle Ric Flair [in TNA]. I’m such a big fan of his. You can see his influences in my work, especially lately being the bad guy. I remember sitting on my mom’s couch years ago, watching Rumbles and Pay-Per-Views with Ric Flair. I remember watching countless promos of his, I have them memorized. I can remember meeting Ric Flair and doing Ric Flair impressions for him. And then I got to wrestle him on a live Pay-Per-View. It was his idea to have me beat him with the Figure Four. I beat Ric Flair, this guy that I idolized. That was the greatest night of my life before Friday. The match with Flair was like the guy who built the White House. It was a great feat, but I don’t remember his name. My match against Jay Briscoe was actually getting to live in the White House, because those are the people that you remember. That’s how I like to compare it.
You mentioned Ric Flair’s influence on your character. Was this heel run something you were eager to do, and why do you think it’s come so naturally for you?
It was my idea. Not many people wanted me to do it, because I consider myself to be a pretty good babyface. It was my idea to turn to the dark side though. It was something that I wanted to do for a long time. In fact, when I did the Black Machismo thing with Sonjay over SoCal Val, I wanted to be the bad guy. I wanted to be the one that was mistreating Val, yelling at her and berating her, and Sonjay would be the one that saved her. But they wanted to do it the other way around, which was cool. At one particular point in Ring of Honor, I decided that I wanted to do something fresh, that I hadn’t done before.
I had fallen in love with Truth Martini’s work. It wasn’t until my second return to Ring of Honor that I learned who Truth Martini was. I would watch his stuff throughout the shows, and I was a huge fan of his work. Even standing behind the camera during some of his promos, I was such a big fan of what he was doing. I wanted to be a heel – of course I did; my idol was Ric Flair! – and seeing Truth do his work made me want to be a heel even more. I finally was able to convince Ring of Honor to let me do it. It wasn’t something that I was nervous about. I had been the babyface for so long, and I had been in the ring with so many different types of heels. I was able to collect data from all that, and figure out what to use when I became a heel. I was able to mesh all of that together, and I have to tell you, this is the most fun I’ve ever had in wrestling.
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