First Time for Everything: Johnny Impact and Jay Lethal Agree to Huge Interbrand Championship Showcase

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Johnny Impact vs Jay Lethal
Credit: Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor Wrestling

Leading up to Chris Jericho’s Rock’N’Wrestling Rager, which by all fan accounts so far, was an absolute smashing success, the recurring theme was that certain matches such as Alpha Club (Chris Jericho and the Young BucksMatt and Nick Jackson) vs Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll and Cody) or IMPACT Wrestling vs Ring of Honor wouldn’t be able to happen to just anywhere, in fact they couldn’t happen on land at all. No, the only place these matches could happen was at sea, somewhere in international waters.

Well, as it turns out, the sea isn’t the only place one particular dream match can happen. It was just the only place that said match could have been agreed upon.

According to Wrestling Observer Newsletter, aboard the cruise, IMPACT World Champion Johnny Impact agreed to fight Ring of Honor World Champion Jay Lethal sometime in the future. As was said on the Observer, this is something that ROH and IMPACT Wrestling have been discussing for some time, this idea of a showcase match between their two champions where neither title would be on the line.

The Observer was also quick to note that there are no current plans in place for IMPACT and ROH to work together going forward, however “so much about the business could change in January and anything could happen after that.”

“So Much About the Business Could Change in January”

That line should be of particular interest to fans. Who knows what the business will look like come January 1? While members of the Elite (Cody, Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll, Hangman Page and the Young Bucks) have teased and joked about going to WWE on Being the Elite, Cody seemed to squash that while on the cruise as well. In addition to letting people know that their group is no longer associated with Bullet Club, Cody emphasized his plans for All In 2 while also telling fans that he has no plans of going back to WWE.

So let’s say Cody is telling the truth, something you have to take with a grain of salt regarding these professional wrestlers. Let’s say he has no plans to go back to WWE and that the promise/pact he made with the rest of the Elite stays intact meaning none of them go to WWE. Let’s say that they all don’t re-sign with ROH or New Japan Pro Wrestling either. These guys have the potential to completely alter the way professional wrestling is viewed, something they have already begun to do with All In. But come January 1, they could take things one step further and with new visionaries and leadership throughout the industry, others might be along for the ride.

Others like Billy Corgan and Dave Lagana‘s NWA which has already been enjoying a fantastic partnership with ROH and its talent. Others like perhaps IMPACT VPs Scott D’Amore and Don Callis, the latter of whom is the color commentator for NJPW. With all of these guys having been in the business for so long and in various roles, everyone knows everyone and now is the time for everyone to start working together.

Just a few years ago, even just a few months ago really, IMPACT and ROH working together would have seemed impossible. But then IMPACT World Champion Austin Aries showed up at an ROH iPPV and challenged for an ROH title. And after that, IMPACT asked and was granted permission to use ROH wrestler Chris Sabin at the IMPACT/Border City Wrestling 25th Anniversary show. And then, Chris Jericho, a man who’s never worked for either promotion but has connections to both, was able to get multiple IMPACT vs ROH matches for his cruise. And as for ROH’s longstanding partner NJPW, they allowed Taiji Ishimori to continue to work for IMPACT after he joined their promotion as Bullet Club’s Bone Soldier.

The web of wrestling partnerships that have been formed over the past several years are so interwoven that it’s hard to believe an IMPACT and ROH relationship isn’t counted among them. But, as the Observer says, “so much about the business could change in January.” Especially given these two sides have already slowly begun to foster the groundwork for working together in the future.

Johnny Impact vs Jay Lethal: A First Time for Everything

Not that long ago, there were two wrestling companies: WWE and WCW. Sure, others existed but if you were anybody who was anybody in the eyes of the television-watching fans, you worked for one of the two. But years after the demise of WCW, other promotions began to pop up and receive television deals meaning more exposure for the wrestlers and more money too. That meant that guys could make a living outside of the WWE, and make a name for themselves too. And there wasn’t just one way to do so as more and more avenues began to emerge as more and more promotions began to find success as part of the first indie wave.

One of those guys was Jay Lethal.

A professional wrestler for 17 years, Lethal, who calls himself “The Greatest First Generation Wrestler,” certainly has a legitimate claim to the name. He also has a claim to another name as one of the most successful and well-known wrestlers to never step foot in a WWE ring. A kid from Elizabethtown, NJ, Lethal’s career began in Jersey All Pro Wrestling before he found himself a part of the first-ever Final Battle. His match was a dark match but he impressed enough to get on ROH’s radar and become a regular with the promotion the following year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdqbNzz-B4Q

Jay Lethal has had his biggest and some of the promotion’s biggest successes during his time in ROH. He’s spent parts of 13 of his 18 years as a pro wrestler with the company and in that time has made a name for himself as one of the greatest world champions in ROH history. Lethal, who is in the midst of his second reign with the title, sits just shy of Samoa Joe for most days holding the ROH World Championship. In addition, Lethal is a one-time winner of the ROH Pure Championship and two-time winner of the ROH World Television Championship (the first to hold the belt twice). He’s a Triple Crown champion, just the third all-time, and by far the most successful singles competitor in the company in terms of days with gold around his waist: 1,400+ and counting.

From ROH, Jay Lethal went on to have success in IMPACT Wrestling where he is a six-time X-Division Champion and was one of the staples of that division during his five-plus years there.

One thing Lethal never did however, was win the IMPACT World Championship, the title that is currently around Johnny Impact’s waist. And while the two can now say they both have spent time in IMPACT Wrestling, prior to this year, not only had Lethal and Impact never shared a ring, but they never even had occasion to…until now.

The 39-year-old Impact was one of those guys who did things in what was back then, the “WWE way.” Impact, real name John Hennigan, was chosen as a contestant on Tough Enough III in 2002, the same year that at 16, Lethal got his first chance, ironically enough through JAPW’s version of Tough Enough, which was a much smaller scale version of WWE’s competition. Like Lethal, Hennigan was a co-winner of his tournament and received a developmental contract as a result. Hennigan’s career began in Ohio Valley Wrestling where he floated back and forth between there and the main roster. He made his last OVW appearance in 2008, but it was really 2006 that saw his main roster career begin.

While Lethal found much of his early success as a singles wrestler, Hennigan, going by the names John Morrison/Nitro/Blaze, etc finished his WWE career as a five-time tag team champion. He was also a two-time Intercontinental Champion and one-time ECW Heavyweight Champion. Hennigan left WWE in 2011, choosing to not renew his deal and instead opting for more control and creativity over his character. At the time, Hennigan was probably one of the first big-name wrestlers of the 2010s to choose the indies over WWE, a trend which led to him not being the last.

Finding the creative space he was looking for, Hennigan worked just sparingly from 2012-14. In 2014 however, he returned to television screens as Johnny Mundo, a member of the brand new Lucha Underground. LU became his primary home for the next two years, during which time Mundo won all of the promotion’s titles: trios, gift of the gods and LU champion. While in LU, Mundo also began working for the promotion’s sister company, Lucha Libre AAA, in which he is a triple crown champion, having held the Latin America, World Cruiserweight and World Heavyweight titles all at the same time.

When it was announced that IMPACT vs partnering with AAA, fans wondered how long until Mundo would debut with the company. That happened in 2017, under yet another new moniker, Johnny Impact.

IMPACT vs ROH: More Than Just the Cruise?

While the Lethal vs Impact match is the headline news, what is perhaps being overlooked is the potential for where else this might lead. There is some, very initial speculation (perhaps moreso wishful thinking) among fans that IMPACT and ROH could run an entire joint iPPV of interbrand matches. Or even still, that IMPACT could join the already booked, ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard set for WrestleMania weekend this year.

There is so much potential for these two former enemies to work together as they have with Austin Aries and Kenny King and now Johnny Impact and Jay Lethal. It all goes back to something D’Amore recently said on The Wrestling Perspective podcast:

“Good communication is important, even as competitors. You look at it, you look at the All In broadcast, you look at Chris Sabin being here and the Chris Jericho Cruise, which has Ring of Honor vs. Impact Wrestling, which is super cool. It is a nice way to do it. It is not being broadcast, it is just for people on the ship, and it’s a cool event for Chris Jericho. Our talent and the Ring of Honor crew are both really excited because there are some fresh matchups there.

Where will it go? I don’t know, but I think it is great that we are at a point where if we reach out to Joe Koff, or [ROH Producer] Hunter Johnston, or anybody else where they are going to be responsive. They may not want to do something that we are wanting to do, but at least there is communication which I think is a great start for any relationship and re-establishing respect from the parties, which I think is a huge step.”

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