A legendary wrestler once said, "To be the man, you've got to beat the man."
When it came to Ring of Honor, Jay Lethal was indeed the man in 2015.
He began the year as the ROH World Television champion. On June 19, Lethal (born Jamar Shipman) became the first man to ever hold the promotion's Television and World Heavyweight titles simultaneously after he defeated Jay Briscoe Best in the World.
He held that distinction all the way until Oct. 23, when he lost the ROH World Television title to Roderick Strong, ending his 567-day run with the title.
Despite the setback, Lethal, 30, still holds the most precious prize in Ring of Honor, thus still earning him the moniker of being the man in 2015.
Although 2015 is almost over, his stellar year will end with perhaps his toughest challenge yet, as he will defend his ROH World Heavyweight championship against AJ Styles at Ring of Honor's marquee event, Final Battle, Friday night at the 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia. (For more info, click HERE)
Being in the main event on a major show is nothing new for Lethal, but being in a main event with a former IWGP Heavyweight champion ups the ante quite a bit.
"AJ Styles is literally considered by so many to be the greatest wrestler in the world," Lethal said during an interview with philly.com. "He's phenomenal. Any chance I get to wrestle against someone who the fans really hold high I almost get to see where I measure up. I love those moments."
Despite all of Styles' accolades, he cannot lay claim to being the man in Ring of Honor until he defeats the current one in Lethal.
However, Lethal wouldn't be in the position of being the top man if he hadn't crossed paths with the man who coined the phrase to begin with. That man, of course, is Ric Flair.
Back in 2010, Lethal was still trying to find himself as a wrestler as a member of TNA Wrestling. He had the look, he had the ability, but what he lacked was the confidence self-confidence that he could be a main-event star.
At the same time, however, Flair began working for the promotion, not long after entering the WWE Hall of Fame. Once entrenched in the company, Flair was asked whom on the TNA roster he would like to work with. Flair chose Lethal.
Lethal, who was young enough to be one of Flair's children, was now granted the opportunity to be in the presence of a living legend, and no one knew that he was a living legend more than Flair himself. Because of this, Flair oozed confidence, and after having a couple of memorable talking segments and matches, it began rubbed off on Lethal.
In his mind, if Flair wanted to do something with him, he must have been doing something right.
"It's Ric freaking Flair," Lethal said. "He doesn't do anything that he doesn't want to. If he comes to your company, you ask Ric Flair what he wants to do and when asked, he said he wanted to work with me and what an honor. Man, what an honor."
Lethal's interactions with Flair inspired him back then and they still inspire him in 2015, as he channels the 16-time world champion now as the man to beat in Ring of Honor. From the way he speaks, to the way dresses, Lethal admits that he's taken a page or two from the proverbial Ric Flair playbook.
"To say that he has influenced every aspect of my wrestling is an understatement," Lethal said. "Him and the 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, you can see them in everything that I do."
Lethal's banner year of 2015 is winding down, but Lethal doesn't expect this to be the peak of his career just yet. He has even more to accomplish in 2016.
One of those accolades will happen Jan. 4, when Lethal is scheduled to defend the Ring of Honor World title against Michael Elgin during New Japan Pro Wrestling's showcase event, Wrestle Kingdom 10, in Tokyo, Japan.
Lethal will face not one but two challenges in this event. He will not only be challenged by Elgin, who is a former ROH World champion, but he will face the challenge of wrestling in front of potentially 50,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome.
By Lethal's estimation, he's never wrestled in front of a crowd larger than 10,000. Just talking about it made him slightly nervous.
"It's their Madison Square Garden," he said. "So many people are going to be there. It makes me a little nervous thinking about. Just a little bit."
But there's no time to be nervous when you are the man. When you're the man, no matter the circumstances, you have to rise to the occasion.
That's what Lethal did throughout 2015, and he's looking to do the more of the same in 2016 to remain the man.
"There are a lot of people out there saying that this is just the beginning. This is just the start and I'd love to think that," Lethal said. "I'd love to think that this is just the start and we got a whole 2016 ahead of us. Who knows what's next for Jay Lethal? If 2015 is any indication of what is to come, I would say 2016 is going to be amazing."
Toys for Tots
Ring of Honor is hosting a Toys for Tots collection at the 2300 Arena before Final Battle Friday night and before the television tapings Saturday night.