As Ring of Honor’s first and only man to hold both the Ring of Honor World and TV titles simultaneously, Jay Lethal had entire shows dedicated around his belts. But this Friday at ROH Final Battle, the now belt-less Lethal will be facing a new challenge in Cody Rhodes.

When Cody Rhodes left WWE to pursue the indy scene, SLAM! Wrestling interviewed him about the big year-end ROH finale, a return to New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom. At the time, Rhodes didn’t know that Lethal would be his opponent, but even before that news broke, Rhodes was looking forward to showing his work versatility with Ring of Honor.

Jay Lethal is about to leap. Photo by George Tahinos

“You talk about styles, there is a Ring of Honor style, and if I’m able to adapt, and I’m able to bring my game into their world, and if it will translate,” Rhodes said. “That’s a big night for me.”

Lethal disagrees with Rhodes (who is technically just “Cody” on the indy circuit) that there’s a “style” of wrestling that can be defined as ROH wrestling. However, Lethal agrees that ROH shows have a style that’s unique from other wrestling organizations.

“Ring of Honor gears its product more towards in-ring competition,” Lethal said. “There aren’t many storylines. Yes, there is some ‘This is a good guy, this guy’s a bad guy’ but not as much as the other companies because we try to bring the real spirit of competition. I feel like some of the other stuff companies do,”

He’s pretty sure Rhodes will be up for the challenge: “Cody will be fine. If you look at my in-ring work from my first time or my second time in Ring of Honor, minus the Black Machismo character, and I challenge anybody to find the difference in the way I wrestle. There’s really no difference in my mind.”

The fact that there is no title or storyline other than “Cody Rhodes will face Jay Lethal in Rhodes’ first Ring of Honor match” goes a long way towards proving that Lethal has truly arrived as a wrestler because his name alone is good enough to warrant a big-name PPV match regardless of if a title is on the line.

“It’s a really cool moment. Some of the best matches I can think of like Savage/Flair at WrestleMania VIII or Savage/Steamboat at WrestleMania III were so memorable because they had these great stories built in,” Lethal said. “We don’t have a backstory for this match. It’s literally ‘This guy’s a good wrestler, that guy’s a good wrestler. Let’s put them together and see what happens.’ We’ve gotten great feedback from people on this match so I’m looking forward to it.”

This will be one of the rare times in several years that Lethal has not wrestled on a PPV either as a champion or challenging for a championship. For Lethal, this gives him a chance to go back to his wrestling roots of simply facing another great wrestler to prove why he deserves to stay among the main event level. And regardless of where Lethal/Rhodes ends up on the card, Lethal feels honored to face Rhodes and hopes to steal the show.

“It is a pat on my back that when someone like Cody Rhodes comes into the company they pick me as his first opponent,” Lethal said. “That tells me I’m definitely doing something right. It’s a really cool honor and I can’t wait to step into the ring with him. One of the cool thing about Ring of Honor is our locker room. We always try to outdo each other. We make it a point to make the follow match have to step up what the previous match did, especially on pay-per-views and especially at Final Battle, which is our WrestleMania. I don’t know where we’ll be placed on the card but we’re going to make whoever follows us really step up their game.”

While Lethal enjoyed his time as the No. 1, and No. 2 wrestler by proxy, with Ring of Honor during his double-title reign, he admits there was the pressure he put on himself to always outdo his previous matches that he said he’s glad he’ll have a little respite from doing.

“That was crazy,” Jay said. “That made it harder for me especially when I had to defend both belts (at the All Star Extravaganza VII) in the same show. WWE later did that with Seth Rollins which I thought was pretty cool. The coolest part about this was since I had the No. 1 and No. 2 belt meant some of the shows we taped had to revolve around me. As wrestlers we love the spotlight but you’ve really got your work cut out for you. For your company to have that much faith in you to do something like that is cool. It’s like being both the president and vice president at the same time. I felt a lot of pressure to do something cool and innovative while keep the story going and keeping it relevant.”

“It was fun but tough for me to be the world champion,” Lethal said. “We’re a group of guys who love wrestling and will do whatever we can to make Ring of Honor as big as it can be. That means you go out there and try stuff you normally wouldn’t dream of doing in the hopes of making Ring of Honor bigger. I’m sure that mentality exists in other companies but I do think we have one of the greatest rosters in the wrestling business today which makes it easier for our in-ring product.”

Some of the newer talent like England’s Will Ospreay and Marty Scrull will be two of the four participants in the four-way match for the ROH Television Championship. Lethal knows both men are capable of always giving the fans a memorable match.

“This is great for the product,” Lethal said of the new blood like Ospreay and Scrull. “We’re bringing in these guys who do things that wrestlers from the past would never plan on doing or even witnessing. Ring of Honor has always had some of the best rosters in the world. If you don’t believe me just look at the ROH rosters constantly being plucked at to help other peoples’ rosters. Ring of Honor never complains. It’s next man up. Both Ospreay and Scrull are lighting the wresting world on fire. I can’t wait to see the New York crowd see Will Ospreay and Marty Scrull perform in front of that crowd. It’s going to be awesome.”