A RECENT ANALYSIS of our weekly ratings at pwi-online.com revealed some interesting statistics, including which wrestlers had been ranked for the most consecutive weeks since 2005. Roderick Strong holds the current record of 239 weeks, and Adam Pearce and Jeff Jarrett are tied for second place with 233 weeks each.
While those streaks have ended, Jay Lethal’s run was very much alive at 218 weeks as of this writing. If Lethal remains healthy and active, he will surpass Strong’s record on February 5, 2016. That would cap an incredible year that saw Lethal hold the Ring of Honor heavyweight and TV titles concurrently—an unprecedented achievement.
“I feel like I’ve won the lottery,” said Lethal, momentarily shedding the smug demeanor that has characterized his persona over the past year. “Not only am I world champion of a wrestling company, but with the TV belt still around my waist, I became the undisputed champion of a company renowned around the globe for its wrestling. There’s no higher honor than that.”
He is well aware of the historic significance of this achievement. “Until I came along, no one has held the number-one and number-two championships in a company and defended them both on the same show,” said Lethal. “Rob Van Dam had the TV and tag titles in ECW, but he didn’t routinely have two singles matches on one card. Chris Jericho was undisputed champion, but he defended the WWF and WCW World titles together as a unit. Shawn Michaels was World champion and European champion, but I dare say the European title wasn’t even a secondary championship.”
Lethal omits the fact that Seth Rollins (a former ROH champ in his own right) briefly held the WWE World and U.S. titles late this summer. Yet Rollins failed to successfully defend both belts at the same show, dropping the U.S. title to John Cena before retaining the World title against Sting at Night of Champions. Meanwhile, Lethal has successfully defended both the ROH and TV titles on the same card, most notably against Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, respectively, at All-Star Extravaganza VII in September.
But Lethal’s drive to the top has come with a price. Longtime fans were disappointed when Lethal accepted help from hated manager Truth Martini to beat Tommaso Ciampa for the TV title back on April 4, 2014. But as the centerpiece of the rebuilt House of Truth, Lethal made more successful TV title defenses than anyone in history—more than twice the number of defenses by former record-holder Matt Taven. One year into his reign, Lethal had established himself as the greatest ROH TV champion of all-time.
Lethal became Truth Martini’s client because he realized quiet modesty would get him only so far in the wrestling business. He had to project confidence and market himself, even if it meant losing some fan support. Perhaps his most controversial move was to declare the TV title as ROH’s “only world championship” and altering the belt’s nameplate accordingly. His strategy to unashamedly push himself to the forefront worked. Matchmaker Nigel McGuinness booked Lethal against ROH champion Jay Briscoe—with both belts on the line—on June 19 at Best in the World 2015.
His new attitude had taken him this far. But Lethal’s in-ring ability took him the rest of the way in the 27-minute epic. In the end, he used the ROH champ’s own finisher against him, dropping Briscoe with a double-underhook piledriver followed by his own Lethal Injection handspring cutter to score the pinfall.
Lethal had reached the pinnacle.
“Before that, the greatest moment of my life was wrestling Ric Flair,” said Lethal. “But what really made winning the Ring of Honor championship the greatest moment of my life was having my dad and my mom at ringside watching it. I thought back to when I had to win a contest just to get trained in wrestling, and my dad drove me to practice every day, sat in the back, and recorded my workouts in the ring.
“In fact, my dad’s prediction for our title match, because he swears he’s so smart to wrestling, is it would be a double-DQ, with me keeping my belt and Jay keeping his belt. So my victory was surprise for him. I saw him crying because he was so happy for his son. That’s what made it the greatest moment of my life.”
And that is the secret to Lethal’s durability. That’s why Lethal has been in the www.pwi-online.com ratings for 218 weeks and counting. It’s because he has mastered the mental game—not forgetting his roots and keeping his professional reputation above board.
It’s not because he trains like a beast in the gym.
“Staying injury-free is part of it, but I don’t really do anything special or have a set routine in the gym,” explained Lethal. “I think too much weightlifting takes a heavy toll on the body. I stretch before my matches, and, when I do go to the gym, I focus on cardio. And because I have a wrestling school here in Florida, I’m teaching my students on Monday through Thursday, and I’m usually wrestling on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, so I’m very active in a wrestling ring nearly every day.”
Lethal takes pride in keeping a cool head in the ring and not taking unnecessary chances. He thinks the flawless execution of basic maneuvers is more important than engineering a whole new move-set. “I was talking to Truth Martini about this the other day,” noted Lethal. “If you watch my matches, nothing I do is extreme or that dangerous—most other wrestlers can do the same moves. It’s not about high risk.”
The ROH champion recalls that he’s suffered only one serious injury. And that happened when he did something on a whim. “We get hurt on the silly things,” he said. “When I was in TNA, I teamed with Consequences Creed (Xavier Woods). At the end of our matches, we would call a fan into the ring to dance with us. Our dance routine was Creed would do the spin-around split like James Brown, and I would tease that I was going to do it, but go into a Macho Man kind of move. One day, I decided to surprise Creed by doing the split. So I did the split, pulled a hamstring, and was out for two weeks.
“I learned not to go beyond what I was trained to do. Stay in shape, wrestle smart, and execute better than anyone else.”
Yet it goes deeper than that. Lethal respects his family, respects the business, and respects the fans, even the ones that boo him. This moral code keeps him grounded and reliable, important traits for any champion.