Heading into 2019, Jay Lethal is the heavyweight champion and one of the most recognizable faces of Ring of Honor—a company that reached new heights in 2018, including by selling out Madison Square Garden.
And, yet, Lethal acknowledges that the year is ending "on a somber note."
That's because much of the news surrounding ROH as of late has focused on the potential departures of some of the company's most popular stars—names like "Hangman" Adam Page and "The Young Bucks" Nick and Matt Jackson.
"It's up in the air if people are going to be staying or leaving. And that's always sad," Lethal, 33, said. "Any time someone is leaving, I'm always concerned, because each wrestler in our locker put their heart and soul into everything they do in our company in hopes of growing the company, to make it bigger than it was yesterday. Therefore, everybody in the locker room becomes a vital puzzle piece."
Among those "puzzle pieces" whose future is in question is Cody Rhodes, Lethal's opponent this Friday at ROH Final Battle. The event, which takes place Friday at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom, will also air on pay per view television and will be streamed on ROH's web site.
Rhodes, who walked out on WWE in 2016, is also riding high at the end of 2018, a year in which he became one of wrestler's biggest newsmakers for promoting and bankrolling the most successful independent wrestling show in modern history, September's "All In."
"To willingly leave [WWE] and say, 'I'm not being used to my fullest potential. I'm going to show the world that I have more to offer'--and then you actually go and you prove it—it's a dream position for any professional wrestler," Lethal said of Rhodes. "I feel like he hit a home run. It was a genius move. It could have totally failed."
For his part, Lethal says he's "not going anywhere" and would be happy to end his career in ROH, where he's a two-time heavyweight champion. The Elizabeth, N.J., native said he's proud to carry the company's mantle, and is confident it will survive an exodus of talent, as it has before.
"If you had to your own wrestling promotion, can you imagine losing CM Punk or AJ Styles? It happened to Ring of Honor. Can you imagine losing Samoa Joe? It happened to Ring of Honor. Yet, somehow they were always able to somehow move on--not because they found a replacement, because some of the guys that leave are irreplaceable. They just find a new piece to add on," Lethal said. "The cool part of Ring of Honor is that it always finds a way to pick up and continue."