By mid-afternoon Saturday, Jay Lethal was beaming ear to ear. His smile was a bright as the sun shining in the cloudless blue sky above Fairfax, Virginia. It was less than 24 hours earlier that he scored a major victory at Ring of Honor’s Best In The World pay-per-view. He nailed his patented Lethal Injection, and the ref counted 1, 2, 3 before raising his arm to cement a victory over KUSHIDA, who is one of the biggest attractions currently on the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster. It was a fine feather in the cap for the 33-year-old wrestling veteran, but it was nothing compared to what was to come.
Behind the scenes, Ring of Honor officials had been working on getting a contingency plan in place in the event that their hobbled champion was unable to continue. The company had already given Dalton Castle a respite from the ring, in hopes that the time off would allow him to heal. But upon his return, it was clear that the flamboyant champion was still ailing. Talk of a title change continued, and “plan B” was largely figured out on paper. It was a matter of when not if the decision would be made to pull the trigger.
By the time Castle put his title on the line at the pay-per-view, the news of his injury was well known. However, news of extent of it hadn’t traveled nearly as well. So, when he successfully defended the world title in a Triple Threat Match against Cody Rhodes and Marty Scurll in the main event, most assumed that Castle would continue on as champion for at least a while longer.
In reality, it was time for the wheels to be put in motion. Lethal believes the promotion had been in constant communication with Castle regarding his injury and that his title reign had become a day-to-day situation. Company officials had already approached Lethal and laid out the blueprint for him to become a two-time Ring of Honor World Champion. And during an interview on Press Slam podcast, he stated that the decision to execute the plan was officially made following the pay-per-view. It would come to fruition at the following day’s television tapings in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC.
As cameras began to roll at the arena, Lethal came to the ring and staked his claim to Castle’s title. Shortly thereafter Matt Taven and Cody Rhodes would join him. The two men hurled insults in Lethal’s direction and did a little verbal sparring of their own as they each also inserted their names in the title picture. It didn’t matter that Rhodes was unsuccessful in his title shot at the pay-per-view. He wanted another chance.
Enter Dalton Castle. The hobbled champion agreed to put the title on the line in a Fatal 4-Way match that night. He was a fighting champion and this night would be no different. And with that, his fate was sealed.
The four men in the ring knew what was coming, but none of the fans in the arena had any clue. They were in for the shock of their life.
About 20 minutes into the match, Taven set up a table in the ring, signaling something big was about to happen. He was attempting to Superplex Cody through it when Castle sent them both crashing through the wood. The champion was left alone in the ring, allowing Lethal to capitalize on the moment. For the second time in as many nights, a Lethal Injection would catapult him to victory. Only this time he would be clutching gold when his arm was raised.
Lethal’s first title reign lasted 427 days, and he’s hoping to eclipse that mark the second time around.
I had the opportunity to follow up with Lethal exclusively about Castle’s injury and how he worked to protect the former champion in the ring. We also touched on his feelings regarding WWE’s attempt to block Ring of Honor from holding a show at Madison Square Garden.
It was well known that Dalton Castle has been battling injuries for some time now. Talk to me about the process of going into the ring knowing that your opponent is banged up and that you have to take care of them. What do you do, and what do you talk about beforehand to make sure that everybody can walk out under their own power?
Most of that falls on the shoulders of whoever is injured. I’ve seen this countless times, unfortunately, because wrestlers get banged up. I’ve seen situations where wrestler A wasn’t at 100% and needed to be protected while he’s wrestling Wrestler B. I’ve seen situations where wrestler B, the unhurt wrestler, will say things like, “maybe we shouldn’t do this.” Or, “maybe we don’t have to do that because you’re hurt.” And then wrestler A, who is hurt, would always say, “No, no. It’s fine. I can do that.”
It’s so weird to see in the wrestling business, and hopefully this gives you a little insight into how crazy wrestlers are. Whenever two wrestlers get together and one of them is hurt, it’s never the one who’s hurt who says, “No, maybe we shouldn’t, or I can’t.” It’s always the other one. And the injured wrestler is always the one trying to go above and beyond and really push his body to the limit. Because, as wrestlers, we’re selfish, we never want to go out there and disappoint anyone. And we actually risk, sometimes, and not every time, but sometimes we risk further injury because of that selfish need to please everybody and not disappoint someone.
That’s literally how it goes every time, which is kind of sick and stupid when you think about it. Yeah, we do some silly things, because we just never want someone to leave thinking, “Oh man, maybe this guy wasn’t at his best today.” And we try to hide our injuries sometimes, because we just want to deliver something, deliver a product, deliver a match, deliver a moment that people are gonna remember for the rest of their lives, or at least enough to make them come back to the next event.
One of the big stories the last couple of weeks has been Ring of Honor’s debut at Madison Square Garden, which was on, then it was off. And then we hear it was allegedly due to WWE interference. This is proof positive that WWE is keeping an eye on you guys. How does that make you feel, knowing that at this point Ring of Honor is perceived as a legitimate threat?
I believe in my heart that Ring of Honor, since it’s early days, has always been and looked like a threat. And the proof is looking at all their [WWE’s] past champions. Every one of them came from Ring of Honor. Look at some of the guys who are on the road, or some of their top guys are guys plucked from Ring of Honor. So if that isn’t proof right there, then I don’t know what is.
Also, to touch on the Madison Square Garden issue, I really don’t know much about it, other than what was said or rumored on the internet. And I try to stay away from stuff like that. I think that Joe Koff, [the COO] of Ring of Honor, if there was something that we needed to know, he would have told us or had a locker room meeting. Or, if it was important enough, he would have said, “Look guys, I tried to get Madison Square Garden, and they stopped me.” But no office person has made any mention of any of this to any of the workers, the wrestlers. So, as far as I know, it’s only the rumors that I’ve heard.
Now, if the rumors are true, like I said, I think that’s amazing, because it puts us on their radar. And like I said, the proof was already in the pudding, [from] the fact that all their champions or past champions and most of their top guys were plucked from Ring of Honor.
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DANIEL BRYAN’S RULES FOR WATCHING WRESTLING
I had the opportunity to catch up with former World Championship Wrestling ring announcer Gary Michael Cappetta ahead of his one-man “Beyond Bodyslams” show in Baltimore Friday night. Cappetta shares some of his favorite stories from his decades-long career that also included stops in the WWF (now WWE), NWA and AWA. He also served as a backstage interviewer for Ring of Honor for a time, which is where he met Daniel Bryan.
Cappetta told me that the future WWE Champion took his old-school wrestling seriously. Very seriously.
I worked with him in Ring of Honor when I was a backstage interviewer. For many of the wrestlers, it was their first time delivering interviews in an episodic series. At the time it was a DVD series. We’re talking 2006-ish. On that roster was Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, CM Punk, and the Briscoe Brothers who have always been with Ring of Honor. It was just incredible. Think about where those guys went from there. And Cesaro, he wasn’t called Cesaro back then. I would do the interviews with him backstage, and we would chat a little bit.
[Bryan] was at my house after one of the shows because, well, essentially he had no other place to go. John Walters was another wrestler who was there. I like to cook for everybody. Then we went to the living room, and he sat on the floor in front of a giant-screen TV, which was also on the floor. I gave him a bunch of NWA videos, and he was studying them. He was a student of wrestling. At one point, I asked him something, and he didn’t answer me. I was thinking, “Man this is weird.” So, when the match was over he turned to me and said, “You never interrupt an Arn Anderson match.”
Cappetta’s “Beyond Bodyslams” will be held at Baltimore’s An die Musik Live! theatre Friday night. The current tour also includes dates in Scranton, Atlantic City, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Winston-Salem. The show, includes stories and rare footage of Steve Austin, Ric Flair, The Undertaker, Sting, and Vince McMahon, among others.
NEWS & NOTES
Shinsuke Nakamura remains out of action after he was bitten by a police dog prior to a live event in California more than a week ago. His match against Jeff Hardy for the United States Championship at Extreme Rules is still being advertised.
Two other talents have fallen prey to the injury bug in WWE. Bray Wyatt was held off last weekend’s live events as well as Monday Night RAW after being involved in what the company described as a head-on collision in Tampa, Florida. According to TMZ, police have cited Wyatt for careless driving and say he is at fault for the crash. He is still scheduled to defend the RAW Tag Team Championship with Matt Hardy at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view on July 15.
Ruby Riott has also been sidelined after suffering what is believed to be a sprained MCL during a match against Dana Brooke at an untelevised event last Friday. She was scheduled to undergo an MRI earlier this week, according to WWE. No timeline has been given for her return.
WWE has applied to register a trademark for “Dr. Shelby.” The popular psychiatrist character recently resurfaced to mediate tensions between Bailey and Sasha Banks. So far, he has not been inserted into storylines for the newly reunited Kane and Daniel Bryan.
Ring of Honor has announced Jimmy Havoc will return to the promotion at the inaugural Ring of Honor International Cup in August. The event pits talent from the U.S. against talent from the U.K. in a battle for global bragging rights. The three-night tournament begins August 16 and also includes a stop in Doncaster, England on August 18. The finals are scheduled for August 19 in London.
Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.