The first defection from Ring of Honor was revealed on Saturday night at AEW Full Gear. Former ROH World Champion Jay Lethal declared himself “All Elite” in an interview with Tony Schiavone, and he challenged Sammy Guevara to a TNT Title match tonight on Dynamite.
Last month, ROH announced they’re going on hiatus after Final Battle on December 11. The promotion informed talent that the company wouldn’t have their contracts renewed and can immediately work wherever they want.
Lethal talked about singing with AEW at the Full Gear media scrum, stating, “It all happened so quickly, a few days ago.” Lethal also stated he had about a month left on his ROH deal and would not be at Final Battle pay-per-view.
Despite ROH’s hiatus announcement, many feel the promotion is closing for good. Sadly, it’s a safe assumption to make based on history. Many promotions, small and big alike, have had to cease operations with the hope of coming back, only to be never seen again.
It’s a tale as old as time in the wrestling business.
Jay Lethal is a pilar of ROH, and it’s surreal that he won’t be wrestling at what will likely be the promotion’s curtain call. While Lethal would have been one of the most in-demand names in a bloated free agency market, his options were limited.
At 36 years old and 5 ft 10 in tall, Jay Lethal doesn’t meet WWE’s new talent requirements of entailing youth and sizeable physical stature. Impact Wrestling is not the TNA of old from an exposure and financial perspective.
Who knows if Japan or Mexico was an option?
Even if they were, who knows if Lethal fancied continuing his career overseas. The expedited completion of Lethal’s AEW deal suggests Tony Kahn was eager to sign him, which is music to the ears of an “aging” performer with less contracted options.
Kahn stated Lethal never mentioned working Final Battle to him but would have been open to the idea. While it seems that Lethal could have double-dipped in the pay department for the next month, he opted not to do so.
Either the money from the AEW deal put Lethal in a position where he didn’t have to worry about getting two paychecks, or he’s ready to move on with the next stage of his career. Maybe it’s a bit of column A and column B.
Jay Lethal accomplished everything there is to accomplish in ROH. He was also a standout performer in TNA during their peak years. Particularly with his Macho Man-inspired character, Black Machismo, and a legendary “Woo-Off” promo with Ric Flair, that is worth going out of your way to watch if you’ve never seen it.
Even though Lethal’s new destination was due to ROH’s financial strains, he’s needed a change of scenery for quite some time. His presence on ROH shows and television was stale over the last couple of years, which is what happens when you’ve done everything there is to do multiple times.
The final years of Lethal’s ROH tenure were akin to the conclusion of Shane Douglas’ time in ECW.
Douglas provided many of ECW’s seminal moments. However, after losing the world title to Taz, a babyface turn for the staunch heel couldn’t give “The Franchise” the fresh coat of paint he needed. Only a change of local would freshen things up, which occurred in July 1999 when Douglas signed with WCW.
ROH’s Final Battle pay-per-view won’t seem like an ROH show without Jay Lethal at or near the top of the card. While the event may serve as the promotion’s swan song, Lethal found good fortune with the opportunity gods via AEW.
I’d be remiss for not mentioning the allegations of sexual misconduct brought against Jay Lethal in July of 2020 amid the #SpeakingOut movement. Lethal denied the allegation and came out relatively unscathed, unlike others.
While none of the media members at the post-event scrum brought up the allegations, AEW didn’t address them either. Don’t ask and don’t tell is the response of doing business in any genre. However, AEW has touted itself as the morally righteous wrestling promotion.
If Lethal is guilty of the misdeeds lobbied against him, he deserves whatever punishment fits the acts committed. AEW’s socially conscious reputation would take a massive hit. There is no evidence against Lethal, and who’s to say AEW didn’t do their due diligence before signing him.
He could also be the answer to AEW’s perceived diversity problem when it comes to Black talent. While things have improved lately with the presence of Lio Rush, the ascension of Dante Martin, and Scorpio Sky as one-half of The Men of the Year, the optics are bad when it comes to AEW’s main event scene.
Jay Lethal has the tools to solve that problem in a manner that leaves little doubt as to the reality of any diversity problem, one way or another.
Jay Lethal is a standout performer who’s shined with the biggest and the best the industry has to offer. He is already off to a great start with a high-profile match in his first at-bat this evening. Lethal is also an untapped veteran resource. He’s not 90 days removed from WWE television like most of AEW’s recent signings and hasn’t been on the mainstream wrestling scene since 2011.
The majority of wrestling fans never saw Lethal’s s work in ROH. To the masses, he’s a newer face that comes with polish, poise, and high-level experience. Most knew what to expect from the likes of Adam Cole or Bryan Danielson upon their arrival.
Jay Lethal is a ready-made mystery of possibilities that can hit the ground running, which provides Lethal and AEW an advantage when booking him in the short-term, and perhaps, the long term, too.