Jay Lethal is one of the most charismatic performers to step inside the squared circle. He has won titles in both TNA and ROH with a combined 11 championship reigns and has wrestled legends such as Kurt Angle and Ric Flair.
The 32-year-old from Elizabeth, New Jersey last year became the main man in ROH becoming the only person to simultaneously hold both the Television Title and World Championship, which in turn saw him ranked fifth in last year’s PWI 500.
We caught up with Jay ahead of ROH’s upcoming UK Tour to talk about his impersonations of Macho Man Randy Savage and Ric Flair, his reaction to being ranked fifth-best wrestler in the world, his dream opponent and much more.
How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?
For me I got very lucky, I actually won a contest for a company called Jersey All Pro Wrestling and because I won a contest I got trained to be a professional wrestler for free. After six months the competition that I won the school closed down and then I went and trained with Mikey Whipwreck. That is how I got my start; I got really lucky, to be honest.
Who were some of the wrestlers that you enjoyed watching whilst growing up?
I was a huge fan and I don’t think it’s any secret that the Macho Man Randy Savage and Ric Flair were two of my all-time favourites. I did have a few others, I was a big fan of Bret Hart, which is funny because a lot of people of my generation you were either a fan of Bret Hart or a fan of Shawn Michaels, you couldn’t be a fan of both and I was a Bret fan.
I enjoyed watching Roddy Pipper as well and going onto the newer stuff, The Undertaker has always been a favourite of mine. I then fell in love with technical wrestling and guys like Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit became my favourites but right at the top of the list would be Ric Flair and Macho Man Randy Savage.
You had your first spell in ROH at the same time with the likes of Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, what was that experience like?
At that time and it still is, Ring of Honor was a big accomplishment for me, they are known all around the world, they didn’t have the television that other companies had but they had talent like Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Austin Aries, Christopher Daniels…that is probably the greatest wrestling roster in the history of wrestling rosters.
What was it like working with Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk at that stage of your career?
Calling my matches with Samoa Joe and CM Punk a learning experience would be an understatement. It was me going to a full year of school within one match, those guys were at the top of their game then and now. They have never really slowed down other than Punk stopping wrestling and Daniel forced to stop.
Joe taught me more than anybody could ever imagine and more than anybody would know.
You joined TNA in 2005 and spent six years with the company, what were some of your highlights from your time there?
I had an amazing time in TNA and I made lots of really great friends during my time with the company. They gave me the greatest night of my life when I got to wrestle Ric Flair, my idol growing up live on PPV, which was such a cool moment.
The Machismo character that I did for a very long time in TNA is actually what I feel is put Jay Lethal on the wrestling map, it is really what opened people’s eyes to me. I loved my time there.
What did Ric and Randy Savage say about your impersonations of them?
I did get feedback from Macho Man’s brother Lanny Poffo and I also got feedback from Macho Man himself, I got to talk to him during the time I was doing the Machismo character and that was awesome. I became really good friends with Lanny Poffo as well.
The Ric Flair impersonation I was doing, Ric loved that more than anybody could have ever imagined. He loved it so much; it was really the catalyst for us even wrestling with each other because he loved it so much. I actually got to wrestle him two or three times, I don’t think many people realize that, it wasn’t just the PPV match, we also had a hardcore match and a street fight all based on the premise he was a fan of my impression of him.
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You also work with Xavier Woods in TNA and became tag team champions, what was it like working with Xavier and what have you made of his run in WWE?
It was awesome working with Xavier, I loved the tag team but neither one of us could figure out why exactly they paired us two together but luckily they did because we got to do a lot of cool things. It was definitely a learning experience for the both of us, we were both relatively new in the wrestling business at that time, and we were both still trying to figure out who we were in the wrestling business and to win the tag team titles with Xavier was amazing.
As far as his run in WWE I am nothing but happy for him and all of his success that he is having right now with The New Day.
You helped to train former WWE Divas Champion AJ Lee, what was it like working with AJ and what did you make of her success in WWE?
That was interesting, when she trained she was pretty much the only girl in her class and the smallest, everybody else towered over her so I’m sure that didn’t make the classes any easier.
As she went on to become the longest-reigning women’s champion in WWE to say I had any help or aid in doing that is cool but I think once she got pulled into the WWE system they show you how to do things their way which I’m sure is the total opposite of the way I did it.
You’ve mentioned the roster from your first spell in ROH, you are back with ROH and what a roster you’ve got now, what is it like being part of that locker room?
The current roster at ROH is amazing! One of the coolest things is that there is a great feeling in the locker room and that is due to one thing and that is I don’t feel that anybody on the current ROH roster thinks that they are above or know more than anybody else in the locker-room. We all feel as though we are on the same playing field, we’re all in this together, we’re all trying to make ROH as best as it possibly can be. That is what I think makes this locker-room amazing, I’ll go on record and say it is the best locker-room that I have been part of.
I’ve mentioned the roster from my first run in ROH but this roster is just as good with guys like The Young Bucks and Silas Young, there are so many guys that are still trying to find their niche. ROH has always done an amazing job surprisingly of having great rosters despite the fact that other companies constantly pluck the talent from the ROH roster, which means ROH constantly has to find new talent and replacements which is a very hard task to do but they’ve never fallen short.
We have started to see former WWE talent coming over to ROH, such as Bully Ray and Cody, what have you made of those two since they joined ROH?
Guys like Cody and Bully Ray coming to ROH from WWE is firstly a tribute to the guys that I mentioned before, they are guys that go out there with no ego and everyone coming together to make the ROH product as good as it can be, we’ve done that and it has made ROH for a lot of people a destination where they want to come and perform.
Cody and Bully have both been tremendous since coming into ROH, they have fitted in straight away and want to do what is best for ROH and they want to help take ROH to the next level, it’s great to have both Cody and Bully on board.
There is a massive surge in British wrestling at the moment and there are two Brits on the ROH roster Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay, what have you made of those two?
I’ve been wrestling for about 16-years now and I’ve come over to the UK more times than I can remember and I just want to go on record and say the UK has always had a tremendous Indy scene it is now just a case of more people are focused on it because WWE had their UK Championship tournament there.
For years I’ve travelled over to the UK and the Indy scene has always been amazing. Some of the greatest wrestlers that I’ve ever seen have been from the UK and a few of those wrestlers we just happen to have in ROH like Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay.
Will Ospreay is kind of new to me, I hadn’t really seen much of his stuff until recently and let me tell you he can do things that I could only dream of doing. I’ve known Marty for a while and I’ve always thought very highly of him.
During this spell with ROH you’ve held both the ROH Television & World Championships, what was that like?
First of all, you’ve got to look at all of the people who have held those titles before me so that in itself was an accomplishment and an honour. When I was growing up I wanted to be world champion because that would mean I was the baddest guy around.
Once I got into the wrestling business that thought process started to change a little bit because you see there is a lot more to it. Sure the company believes you at that particular time are the best fit for that championship. As a world champion, you are also representing the company outside of the ring as well and they have faith in you to do so. Becoming a world champion is like receiving that promotion, becoming the manager of wherever you work.
For me becoming ROH World Champion, it was an amazing feeling not only to have you bosses but the company you work for to have so much faith in you. I was also the Television champion at the same time, I can’t tell you what an honour it is to have that amount of trust and faith from the company you work for, it’s amazing.
In 2016 you were the 5th best wrestler in PWI 500, what did that mean to you?
That was also an honour and a very cool thing to be able to say that I was ranked number five, especially with some of the people I finished above like John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura. I remember my dad calling me because he bought a few copies of the magazine, it was an incredible achievement.
Also sure I did my role but I also have to give thanks to Sinclair Broadcasting and ROH for even putting me in the position to be seen as a top 10 competitor in the world. I attribute most of that to me being World Champion and Television Champion and at a certain time ROH shows had to revolve around me. I had both the singles titles so that gave me a platform to be seen as a top guy.
Is there anyone that you are yet to get in the ring with that you would like to have a match with?
Up until now I’ve never set a goal for myself or said I want to wrestle this person or that person, I just live each day as it comes and I’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing at the right moment to have accomplished so much.
I’ve got to wrestle Kurt Angle, Ric Flair, and Cody Rhodes, I’ve got to do storyline angles with Kevin Nash, I’ve been drinking in a bar with Ric Flair.
I got to be world champion and be the face of a company known around the world for its wrestling, I’ve been wrestling for 16-years and got to travel the world, I’ve done all of this without ever setting a goal for myself.
Hopefully, when I tell you the person I would like to wrestle I’m not jinxing myself, but on the top of that list would have to be Chris Jericho. I’ve been a big fan of Chris Jericho for a very long time and you asked who I would have a dream match with if I could and it would be Chris Jericho.
Have WWE ever been in touch with you and would you one day like to wrestle for WWE?
No, I’ve never had any talks with WWE, as far as would I one day like to wrestle for WWE, my love for professional wrestling when I was a young kid was created and developed by my love for the WWF at the time now WWE.
I definitely think it would be cool at some point in my career to step foot inside a WWE ring, and I could say I wrestled for the company that helped shape my love for this business. If it happens it happens but it won’t be the end of the world if it doesn’t happen.
For more information on Jay Lethal, you can follow him on Twitter @TheLethalJay and visit his website TheLethalJay.com.
Ring of Honor is coming to the UK on the following dates and you can buy tickets at RoHWrestling.com/live/upcoming-events-list
- Friday 18th August, York Hall London
- Saturday 19th August, Liverpool Olympia
- Sunday 20th August, Edinburgh Corn Exchange