Jay Lethal defends his ROH title at Sam’s Town on Aug. 19.

One on One With Ring of Honor Champ Jay Lethal

The superstar wrestler on winning the ROH world title, getting revenge and Ric Flair

I’m gonna start by asking you about something that might not be that pleasant to talk about, but I saw Ring of Honor TV this week, and you got your head shaved by Adam Cole and the Young Bucks.

Yeah. (Sighs) Oh, well, I will say that it’s been a little weird around the house, just because for twelve years I’ve had those braids, and every time I walk past the mirror, I’m reminded of Adam Cole. Also, I’m reminded of the revenge that I need to get on Adam Cole, which is why I’m so happy that this match his happening on pay-per-view, so I can get revenge [and] the world can see it. 

Read about Lethal’s upcoming Death Before Dishonor match here.

One of my earliest wrestling memories was seeing André the Giant getting his hair cut by Big John Studd. You’re in good company.

That’s the way I like to look at it. If I didn’t look it at it like that, I’d go crazy.

So, why else should people check out Death Before Dishonor?

Oh, very simple. First of all, let’s forget for a second that it’s Death Before Dishonor, and it’s live on pay-per-view. Ring of Honor is the greatest wrestling company in the world. I think we have the greatest locker room out there today, and that’s apparent because other wrestling companies constantly pluck wrestlers from the Ring of Honor roster. They have for years, because Ring of Honor constantly is changing and evolving to make sure it has the greatest roster out there … With a great roster comes a great, entertaining product.

And it’s not a secret to wrestling fans and wrestlers alike that on pay-per-view you naturally just step up your game. … And I think everyone on the Ring of Honor roster can remember when they were younger, ordering wrestling pay-per-views, and now they’re living their dream. … What you can expect is quite simply the best professional wrestling on the planet. Ring of Honor always delivers.

Which is harder—the physical or talking aspect of wrestling?

(Laughs) Oh, man. For me, the in-ring wrestling aspect is harder because, growing up, I was such a huge fan of Ric Flair … I studied him, I wanted to be him, and if you watch anything that I do—especially the talking parts—you can, clear as day, see influences of Ric Flair. But for me, that part comes almost easy, and naturally, because I was such a huge fan of [his]. I idolized him, [so] it just made [talking] easier.

It wasn’t always the easiest part. It takes some courage to get up in front of a bunch of people, especially people you don’t know, and do your thing. But I got over that quickly. So I would say that the in-ring aspect, the wrestling, that would probably be the hardest part for me. Although, I think I’m doing a pretty good job at it.

You definitely are. Which of them is hardest to teach?

Oh, it’s definitely the promos. A long time ago, I had a tag match with my dad, and it was quite simply just a few days of showing him a few things … If you have enough time, you can master that, but some people never master the art of timing and when to say a certain thing, and how to say it, and even the volume of [their] voice, and you can’t fake being comfortable for promos. … If you have a shy person, then you gotta get them, first, to break out of their shy shell, and that can be very difficult, sometimes impossible.

You’ve filmed some great commercials for the Health Alert Hotline. Even though I don’t suffer from knee or back pain, I almost want to get a pain-saving brace.

I am so proud of what I’ve done with those commercials. And I don’t know if you know this, but my influence during [the] filming of those knee brace commercials was Hulk Hogan.

I remember commercials with Hulk Hogan that would last in my head for a very long time. So I was always like, “Something that he’s doing in these commercials make it stand out to me for a while.” So when they approached me with the idea to the do the commercial … I struggled with, “Well, how do I do this?” And I just, man, if I was Hulk Hogan, this is how I would I do it.

ROH's July 2016 Aftershock event in Philadelphia saw Jay Lethal facing Colt Cabana .George Tahinos

ROH’s July 2016 Aftershock event in Philadelphia saw Jay Lethal facing Colt Cabana .

Tell me what it felt like to hold in one hand the world television title, in the other hand the world title, while being covered with streamers as the audience chanted, “You deserve it.

That was the greatest moment of my life. I used to think the greatest moment of my life was when I got to wrestle my idol, Ric Flair, live on pay-per-view when I worked for another wrestling company. But that moment was surpassed by my matchup at Best in the World with Jay Briscoe, when I won the Ring of Honor World Championship, because, growing up, every young wrestling fan dreams of being the world champion. … But once you get older and you get into the wrestling business, you see that it’s a lot more than that.

You are now also the face of the company, which means that company has so much faith in you that they believe that you can represent them, both in and out of the ring, and there’s no higher honor than that. That is the promotion at that job that you’ve been working at for so long. That is getting the raise when you feel like you’ve been doing your very best, and you’re not being compensated properly for it. There is no higher honor for a wrestler [than] to be given the world championship, and that is what made it the greatest moment of my life.

Also, what made it great, for me, was my parents were there. And my parents, I would say, have been my biggest supporters. My dad has been there since the very first day of training. So, to have my parents there, to see them see me, the progression—I remember my dad taking me to shows back when I wasn’t even getting paid to do shows ‘cause I wasn’t even good enough. … Those two things make that moment the greatest moment of my life.

That really came through. When they showed your dad, and he had tears in his eyes, I got emotional, just knowing how hard you fought for that. When did you realize that you’d made it in the business?

I realized that I made it in the business after having a conversation with my dad years ago. This was before my Ric Flair match, actually. It was when an action figure of mine came out. And my dad, he said, “You know, you’re getting to live your dream, you’re getting paid to do it, you’re healthy, you’re happy where you are. If you stopped wrestling today, I mean, wouldn’t you feel accomplished?” … And he was absolutely right.

I know lot of people whose dream is to work for the WWE, and rightfully so, because it’s the number-one wrestling company that stands right now. But for some people, they’ll never quote, unquote, “make it” in the wrestling business until they work there. But I feel like I have made it already. I feel like there’s people all around the world who know who I am. I’m getting paid to live out my dream that I had as a little kid. I’ve got action figures, I mean, you can Google my name—it’s unreal. It’s unreal to me, the fact that some people just don’t consider that to be making it. But I definitely feel like if I had to suddenly step away from the wrestling business, as soon as we ended this interview, I would be extremely happy and extremely proud of everything that I’ve gotten to do. I wouldn’t have any regrets.

The funny thing is, I’ve never set a goal for myself. Through all my years of wrestling, I’ve never set a goal to wrestle Ric Flair; that just happened. I never set a goal to work with Hulk Hogan. I never set a goal to become the longest reigning television champion. I never set a goal to say, “Hey, you know what, I’m gonna be the face of Ring of Honor. I’m gonna be the face of a company known around the world for its wrestling.” So I’m afraid if I do ever set a goal, I might be jinxing myself, so I’m just playing each day as it comes, and it’s been one hell of a ride.

With all that success, what do you think the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome is?

Everybody’s got a different answer for this one. I think it would be moving away from my family, ‘cause they’re all in New Jersey, pretty much, and I moved to Tampa, Florida … I was working for TNA Wrestling, [which] filmed every other week, sometimes weekly, in Orlando, Florida, and I got tired of having to catch the flight every time. … That was pretty tough. I missed birthdays because I [wasn’t] home, and I missed special events and occasions.

You talked about being champion and the face of the company. What added pressure does that bring?

Oh, my goodness. Like I said, Ring of Honor has some of the greatest wrestlers in the world, right? … It is a tradition that the world champion is the main event, which is pretty cool to say, “Yeah, I’m the main event, I’m the last match.” You know, they save the best for last. But it’s very difficult because I have to follow so many great wrestlers and performers and athletes that it really, really, sometimes, makes my job a little tough. But the key is never showing that; never showing [that] having to follow such great performers affects you at all. You just gotta stick to your game.

You call yourself “the greatest first-generation wrestler.” Who is the second greatest first-generation wrestler?

I think he’s very underrated; I think it’s Chris Sabin. I’ve had possibly the greatest match I’ve ever had in my life, but it didn’t get recorded, against Chris Sabin. I have wrestled [him] more times than I can remember, and not one time did I leave the ring thinking, “Man, that was just okay.” He [gave] me some of the greatest matches I’ve ever had in my life, when we were both working for TNA Wrestling. Unfortunately, not many of them were recorded. Some of these house shows, man, we went all out, as if it was live on pay-per-view, because Sabin and I only have one gearshift, and it’s either all or it’s nothing.

Which wrestlers in other promotions would you want to wrestle?

Hands down: Chris Jericho. I have been a big fan of [his]. Now, I wasn’t a big WCW fan. … In my house, the WWF always won. But my brother, he was a big WCW fan, so that kind of made me take a glimpse at some of the WCW stuff, and in doing so I fell in love with Chris Jericho. I thought he was such a great in-ring wrestler, and he had so much charisma. And then I got to see a lot of his stuff from Japan and I would study [his] wrestling. I watched a bunch of his matches with Chris Benoit in Japan, and then he made his WWF debut against The Rock, who was one of the greatest talkers and promo guys. And [Jericho] really, really held his own, so I would definitely put [him] on the top of that list.

Who is a young wrestler who you think we should watch more?

Besides Chris Sabin … because I’m so immersed in Ring of Honor, especially being the world champion, there [aren’t] too many of the younger guys that [I’ve] had the pleasure of watching, really. Some stand out from my travels all around the world. I would say a homegrown Ring of Honor guy to watch would be Will Ferrara. He’s one of the products of the Ring of Honor wrestling school. He’s still got quite a bit to learn, but any advice you give him, he definitely takes into consideration, and he applies it the next time you see him … I would definitely keep an eye out for him.

When you consider all the training, and all the sacrifices, was it all worth it to get where you are now?

One hundred percent. Even if I’d only accomplished half of what I accomplished, it would definitely, definitely be worth it. To me, there’s no price that I wouldn’t pay for a chance to get to live my dream. … Because the chance of someone having a dream, a vision, at such a young age, the chance of them getting to live that dream are very slim to none, because sometimes the sacrifices just can’t be made, and I just fell into a perfect storm—the sacrifices that I needed to make could be made, and it helped me live out my dream.

Death Before Dishonor XIV

August 19, 6 p.m., $30-$90. ROH DBD XIV TV taping: August 20, 6 p.m., $20-$90. ROHwrestling.com.