646 And Counting: Jay Lethal Passes Samoa Joe for Most Days as Ring of Honor World Champion

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Photo: ROH

On Monday, February 4, 2019, Ring of Honor announced that Jay Lethal had hit 646 days combined as ROH World Champion, passing the mark set by Samoa Joe in 2003-04.

Nicknamed “The Franchise of ROH” and self-dubbed the “Greatest First Generation Professional Wrestler,” Jay Lethal first wrestled for ROH in its first year in 2002, just two years into his professional wrestling career. He joined the company fulltime a year later, under the ring name Hydro and as a member of the Special K faction which featured some 20-plus members over its three-year run. Lethal, who emerged as one of the most successful products of Special K, was only with the faction for a little over a year before he returned to using the Jay Lethal ring name he had during his days with Jersey All Pro Wrestling.

Storyline wise, Lethal’s name and attitude change came at the advice of Joe himself who encouraged the young upstart to become a more serious wrestler. At this point, Joe was in the midst of his still record standing 645-day championship reign. Lethal became Joe’s protege but he had a rough go of it at first, losing a series of matches which ultimately resulted in him having to put his career on the line against Matt Stryker. Lethal won and shortly after found himself in a feud with Low Ki, who had been trying to capture the world title from Lethal’s mentor, Samoa Joe. Lethal and Joe went on to team together, even defeating CM Punk and Spanky (WWE’s Brian Kendrick) to earn their spot in the match for the vacant tag team titles that were eventually won by BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs.

In 2005, at ROH Trios Tournament, Lethal won his first title, the ROH Pure Championship, defeating John Walters (RJ Brewer). He defended the title for 63 days before losing it to Joe at Manhatten Mayhem. Lethal continued to work closely with Joe, noting recently that Joe taught him “more than anybody could ever imagine and more than anybody would know.” The two teamed together on several more occasions and engaged in a brief feud before Lethal left ROH in 2006. Ironically enough, Lethal went on to make his Total Nonstop Action debut a few months prior to his ROH departure against Joe, who had also begun working for the promotion in 2005. Both contracted with TNA, Joe and Lethal primarily feuded over the X-Division title during their time with the promotion, a belt they combined to win 11 times (Lethal’s six reigns are tied with AJ Styles and Austin Aries for second most of all-time behind Chris Sabin‘s record-eight reigns).

Joe remained with TNA/IMPACT until 2015, but Lethal left the company four years prior, returning to ROH at a time when many of his old roster mates had left or were leaving. With the absence of guys like Joe, Styles, Bryan Danielson (WWE’s Daniel Bryan), Claudio Castagnoli (WWE’s Cesaro), Christopher Daniels, BJ Whitmer, and CM Punk, the main event scene was ripe and open for the taking. And after having established himself as a main event player during his time in IMPACT, Lethal came back to ROH prepared to be the face of the company. It didn’t take long for him to begin that journey as in just his second match back with ROH, Lethal defeated El Generico to win the World Television Championship, a title he retained and successfully defended for 231 days.

In the midst of his first reign with the TV title, Lethal won the Honor Rumble and with it a match against world champion Davey Richards. Lethal was unsuccessful in his first attempt to capture ROH’s top prize and a few months later, lost the television championship as well. Lethal received another opportunity at the world title after winning Survival of the Fittest in 2012, this time failing to capture the belt in his match against Kevin Steen, which ended in a no contest. Lethal received another chance against Steen but again was unable to defeat the champion.

Lethal would go on to fly under the radar for several months but in 2014 at Supercard of Honor VIII, his trajectory with the company would begin to rapidly rise. Turning heel for the first time in nearly a decade, Lethal defeated former rival Tommaso Ciampa to become the first-ever two-time World Television Champion, a distinction he now shares with Roderick Strong, Kenny King, and Silas Young. But what Lethal doesn’t share is the number 567, which is the number of days he held the TV title in his second reign, a record that still stands and that is almost 300 days longer than Matt Taven‘s second-place mark of 287 days. With over 30 successful title defenses (36 to be exact), Lethal also holds that record, more than doubling Taven’s previous mark of 13.

During Lethal’s reign, he began to declare himself as the company’s top champion, saying that his title mattered more than the world championship, which was then held by Jay Briscoe. Lethal even went as so far to debut a new belt without the word television and that simply read “ROH Champion.” This led to a champion vs champion match with Briscoe at Best in the World in 2015, which Lethal won, making him the first and so far only person in ROH history to hold the two titles, world, and television, at once.

Lethal lost the television title a few months later but managed to hold onto the world title for 427 days, which is the fourth longest reign in company history behind Danielson (462), Nigel McGuinness (545) and of course Joe (645). During this time, Lethal, ROH’s first African American to hold the world title, successfully defended the belt on 27 different occasions, against some of the top names in indie wrestling over the past decade including Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, Doug Williams, Styles, Michael Elgin, Mark Haskins, Matt Sydal, Lance Storm, Lio Rush, Hirooki Goto, Adam Cole, Tomoaki Honma, Mark Andrews, Joe Coffey, Colt Cabana and Satoshi Kojima, before losing the belt to Cole at Death Before Dishonor XIV.

After working his way back into contention in 2018, and again, with the main event picture devoid of many old faces from Lethal’s last title run, the 33-year-old won his second world title, defeating Cody Rhodes, Dalton Castle and Taven on an episode of ROH TV. Just the fourth person to have multiple world championship reigns, Lethal has held the title for 219 days (and counting), successfully defending against Haskins, Flip Gordon, Kenny King, Will Ospreay, Silas Young, Scorpio Sky, Jonathan Gresham, Sabin, Cody, Gabriel Kidd, Castle and most recently, at the Road to G1 Supercard in Houston, Texas, against Vinny Marseglia.

In announcing Lethal’s record for most combined days as world champion, ROH released some “By the Numbers” stats on his reigns including:

38 – Number of total world title defenses which ties him with McGuinness and Danielson for most all-time.

31 – Different competitors Lethal has defended the world title against.

1,507 – Combined days as a singles champion in ROH which the company said was “by far the most.” This includes 798 days as world television champion, 646 days as world champion and 63 days as pure champion.

“Congratulations to Jay Lethal, a champion in every sense of the word. I have so much respect for Jay. Jay is a fantastic athlete at the top of his game and a consummate professional.  He represents himself and Ring of Honor so well as the champion.”

ROH COO Joe Koff, ROHWrestling.com

While not necessarily considered an ROH Founding Father, Lethal has been with the company for just as long if not longer than most of the men credited for helping build ROH into the promotion it is today. He made his debut at the first-ever Final Battle and has wrestled matches in all but four of the years ROH has been an active promotion. In all, he’s wrestled 378 matches for Ring of Honor, which is more than one/third of his career total of 1,052. It’s also more than Low Ki (44), Punk (73), Styles (83), Joe (138), Chris Hero (176), Danielson (201), the Young Bucks (203), Castagnoli (217), Steen (228), Cole (236), Jimmy Jacobs (236), Whitmer (245), Aries (246), Richards (257), and even Daniels (305). Seemingly the only person to have wrestled more matches for the company and more years there are Jay (544 over 17 of 18 years in ROH) and his brother Mark Briscoe (498 over 17 of 18 years in ROH). Last year, the brothers reached their own ROH pinnacle, recording over 1,000 days as tag team champions where they are currently 53 days into their 10th reign.

Even including the Briscoes however, Lethal is the most synonymous face still with ROH following Daniels’ departure earlier this year. If there was ever someone who deserved to hold the record for most combined days as champion, it would certainly be him.

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Wrestling like writing, is an art form. Both involve great storytelling, memorable characters and the ability to invoke some kind of emotion in a captive audience. But only one of them involves getting body-slammed, thrown through tables and 60-minute tests of endurance. That's why I leave the wrestling to the wrestlers and just write about them as well as the wonderful industry of pro wrestling, from WWE to the smallest of indies and everything in between... "If Shakespeare was alive today he would be writing wrestling shows" - Chris Jericho

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