Pro wrestling: Champion Jay Lethal, Ring of Honor making first stops in Maine

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Jay Lethal kicks Will Ospreay during a Ring of Honor match. Lethal, the Ring of Honor world champion, will be appearing at the promotion’s Global Wars tour event at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday. (Ring of Honor photo)

The popularity of professional wrestling has probably never been more varied and widespread than it has been the past few years.

“There’s what we call a boom period,” Ring of Honor wrestler Jay Lethal said in a phone call from Pittsburgh last week. “Wrestling is booming right now.”

The WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) is still the major promotion, by far, but space has been created in the marketplace for smaller promotions, both national and local, to flourish.

Near the forefront in the United States has been Ring of Honor, which is making its Maine debut Wednesday night at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee. The stop in Lewiston is the promotion’s first on this year’s Global Wars tour that also includes wrestlers from New Japan Pro Wrestling.

While WWE is still the juggernaut, Ring of Honor and New Japan are widely known as the cool kids of pro wrestling, or at least the pro wrestling that the cool kids like the most.

“Ring of Honor really focuses their product on the in-ring action,” Lethal said. “I feel that’s what really makes us stand out. Also, we’ve been able to pull some of the guys who love UFC because once you focus on just the in-ring product you get that feeling of real competition happening. The people don’t feel like they’re just watching a show.”

Several of the world’s biggest stars made huge names for themselves in Ring of Honor, namely CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles (the current WWE hampion), Seth Rollins (the current WWE intercontinental champion), Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens.

But Ring of Honor isn’t just a stepping stone. It and New Japan have been enough of a launching pad for wrestlers that they haven’t needed the WWE’s money, such as tag team the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega. And some wrestlers found greater success at least partially through these promotions than they did in WWE, such as Cody Rhodes (who goes by just Cody), the son of one of pro wrestling’s most legendary characters, Dusty Rhodes.

“If you look at most of the champions around the world, most of them came out of Ring of Honor,” Lethal said.

Also, WWE wrestlers who spent time in Ring of Honor tend to have more credibility with the smartest wrestling fans.

LETHAL INJECTION

Global Wars is bringing some of Ring of Honor’s biggest names to Lewiston. That includes the Young Bucks and Cody.

It also includes Jay Lethal, the reigning Ring of Honor champion.

Lethal hasn’t spent a day in the WWE, but his career has flourished primarily through Ring of Honor and TNA/Impact.

Lethal (real name: Jamar Shipman), 33, grew up in New Jersey. He started his wrestling career when he was 16, meaning he’s been at it for more than half of his life.

Inspired by his older brother and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Lethal entered a contest with Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW) for free wrestling training. He was too young to be one of the three winners, but JAPW added an extra spot because he showed so much potential.

“They explained that the only reason that they made an exception and added a fourth winner was that I was so young and they were worried — 16 was the youngest they ever trained,” Lethal said.

Lethal started his in-ring career in JAPW before spending two years with Ring of Honor. Then he jumped to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), a North American promotion now known as Impact Wrestling.

In 2011, he returned to Ring of Honor. Lethal said he is exclusively signed to the promotion, but will occasionally wrestle internationally with other brands.

He is currently on his second Ring of Honor title reign. Yes, the outcomes are predetermined, but being the champ means something to Lethal.

“It’s amazing. It’s like getting that promotion at the job you work at. It’s like getting that corner office. It’s so cool,” Lethal said. “It also means that the company has enough faith in you to let you represent them in and out of the ring. There’s no higher honor than that.”

Lethal has feuded with Ric Flair, who is one of Lethal’s two favorite wrestlers, along with Randy Savage. He’s had matches against CM Punk, and teamed with Daniel Bryan. But his favorite match was in 2015 when he beat Jay Briscoe to become the Ring of Honor world champion for the first time.

He made sure his parents where there to see him win the belt.

“I was smiling ear to ear,” Lethal said. “I couldn’t wait to tell my parents, but I didn’t tell them. I just told them, ‘You need to be there.’”

Lethal knew in advance that he was going to be champion. Fake isn’t the right word — there’s still risk involved, and injuries are common — but modern pro wrestling is long past hiding that the winners of its matches are predetermined.

“Wrestling is real, to an extent,” Lethal said. “The outcome is predetermined, but I think nowadays people are taking it for what it’s worth, and they understand, but they still want to be entertained.

“For a lot of people,” Lethal continued, “they want to feel that two people are in the ring and being as competitive as they possibly can for one person to win. I think that’s what we really focus our product on.”

In September, Lethal defended his title against Flip Gordon (who also will be at the Colisee on Wednesday) in Chicago at All In, an independent wrestling event put on by Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks that drew more than 11,000 fans — a number that only WWE draws in the United States.

Lethal credits the internet for wrestling’s recent surge. For instance, Ring of Honor airs on NESN and on Ch. 13 (Ring of Honor is a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group) in central Maine, but episodes also can be viewed on its website at rohwrestling.com.

“A lot of people weren’t able to see Ring of Honor are now getting to see it because of the internet,” Lethal said. “It’s not just Ring of Honor. A lot of people who weren’t able to see, maybe (Southern California promotion) PWG, can now see them via the internet.

“So every wrestling fan is getting access to every wrestling product out there, which is helping everybody.”

Another example is Maine wrestling promotion Limitless Wrestling, which has more than 186,000 YouTube subscribers.

Wednesday won’t be Cody Rhodes’ first match in Maine because he participated in a Limitless event in Jan. 2017. It will be Lethal’s first time in Maine, though. He’s hoping it isn’t too cold (he moved to Florida in 2010).

“Now, New Jersey was cold, so I can only imagine what Maine is like,” Lethal said. “I’m excited to go to Maine because I’ve never been there and I get to meet some of the great fans from there, but I’m not so excited about the weather.”

MORE INFO

Global Wars starts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

For more details, including the updated card, visit https://www.rohwrestling.com/news/can-cheeseburger-survive-cobb-lewiston.

For tickets, go to https://www.rohwrestling.com/live/events/11718-global-wars-lewiston-lewiston-me.

For meet and greet information, and more, visit ROHWrestling.com or open the ROH App.

Global Wars streams live and on-demand for all HonorClub members at ROHHonorClub.com or the ROH App on all Apple and Android devices, and Roku.

Jay Lethal, the Ring of Honor world champion, will be appearing at the promotion’s Global Wars tour event at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday. (Ring of Honor photo)

Jay Lethal fights Jay Briscoe in a Ring of Honor match. Lethal, the Ring of Honor world champion, and Briscoe will be appearing at the promotion’s Global Wars tour event at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday. (Ring of Honor photo)

Jay Lethal, the Ring of Honor world champion, will be appearing at the promotion’s Global Wars tour event at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday. (Ring of Honor photo)

Jay Lethal, the Ring of Honor world champion, will be appearing at the promotion’s Global Wars tour event at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday. (Ring of Honor photo)

Jay Lethal, the Ring of Honor world champion, will be appearing at the promotion’s Global Wars tour event at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday. (Ring of Honor photo)

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