In life, more so now than ever, there are times, a lot more than not, that I refuse to look back at memories of times from the past. In my head, the second I start thinking about the “glory days”, I know my life has peaked. It’s a scary concept to even consider living in those times, knowing that there is so much life to live, and memories of yesteryear always seem to come up. So, instead of looking back, I try to keep my mind towards the present and the future, as I have goals and millions of things to accomplish.
However, this coming Saturday night, there is one wrestling show transpiring inside the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden. Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling present the G1 Supercard, and it is the first wrestling show to run MSG non-WWE related since November 14, 1960. The closest that has ever happened in the modern era was when World Championship Wrestling ran the Paramount Theater (now the Hulu Theater) on April 14, 1993. The Paramount was attached to MSG, so WCW ran in the vacinity, but not the Garden itself.
Let’s just say it’s a HUGE night. A monumental night, at that.
Looking up and down the card, there is a plethora on tap that night. The best of ROH and New Japan take part in 12 matches overall, including 8 championship contests and an Honor Rumble! Plus, in only a piece of useless information I would know, ½ of the ROH World Tag Team Champions PCO returns to a place where, more than 25 years previous, he won his second WWF Tag Team championship as a member of the Quebecers. It’s a huge night for everyone involved!
However, for me, there are two men in particular that I am especially happy and proud to see taking in this moment on this night. Two people, that I met on different stages of my life, are competing in front of a packed house in the House That Ewing built. Two men, on two completely different journeys, that completely helped mold me to this point in my life, wrestling on this show. It honestly is an emotional investment, and there is no bigger or better time to write this out to these two uniquely talented athletes.
Those two men are Ring of Honor World Champion Jay Lethal, and ½ of Coast 2 Coast, Leon St. Giovanni.
To understand this story, from my perspective, it’s not just about the individual accomplishments they’ve achieved in the industry. It’s about the quality type of dudes these two men are. It’s how much they’ve achieved as people, from acquaintances to now friends. And it allows me to reminisce to seeing their development as performers.
Obviously, the story has to start with Jay. Back in 2007, myself, the legendary Pito, Ed and Tom Scanlon, and Dan Murdoch hopped into a car and drove to Union City, NJ to the ACE Arena on 725 Sip Street. This was the second installment of the venue and, thanks to Mike Morgan, we were able to scout the school and ask questions about going there to train. Halfway through the discussion, Mike let us know that the head trainer would be coming up any minute.
In walks Jay, with a backwards hat, tanktop, shorts, and flip-flops. All five of us were instantly in mark-out mode.
You have to understand that not even two years earlier, we were going to Ring of Honor shows at the RexPlex in Elizabeth, Morristown, and the infamous Inman Sports Club in Edison. After his full-time stint ended in 2006, he had started on television for TNA and by 2007, Jay was heavy into “Black Machismo”. So when he walked into the room, we instantly were starstruck.
After shaking hands, we started talking to him and he was so easy to converse with. Forgetting Jay was only 21 years old, we realized we were all the same age and it was just natural from there on in. Jay was an awesome dude.
While Ed, Tom, and Murdoch began to train under the tutelage of Jay, I began attempting to learn the behind the scenes of ACE under Morgan. However, whenever I would come up and chill right near the ring, Jay never shunned me away or pushed me aside. He made me feel like one of the boys. And that instantly helped build my comfortability around the ACE Arena.
Over time, there were countless hangout sessions, including post-training dinner at the Five Star Diner around the corner, Mega Movies watching Resident Evil (Jay making fun of Pito sleeping during the flick was a classic), and the infamous Dan Murdoch Halloween Party. This was definitely the time period of where I truly got to know Jay the person.
As time passed, Jay moved to Florida and became THE man in ROH. The times we would all see him was few and far between, but every time we did, Jay was always the same good dude that he was on that first day we met him. Always a quality guy..
You can see Jay’s influence up into Project: Diverge, where three of his students (Tom O’Malley, 2Hot Steve Scott, and “the Magnificent” Giovanni Marranca) made a very important contribution to its success. We always gave shouts back to the days of the ACE Wrestling Academy and, just as important, Jay.
If you look up “wrestling prodigy” in the imaginary wrestling dictionary, Jay’s face would be right next to it. He’s a natural in between the ropes and one of the most pure performers of our generation. No one deserves to be in the main event AS WORLD CHAMPION inside of Madison Square Garden more than Jay does. He has not just deserved it; he EARNED it.
Coincidentally, if not for the ACE Arena in Union City, there would also never have been the meeting between myself and Mr. LSG. And it’s all because of Tough Tim Hughes.
In August 2010, “the Last Survivor of the ACE Dungeon” made his pro wrestling debut against William Wyeth. After taking one Hell of a beating (and a boot right upside his head), Hughes went down in defeat. However, the night was a win for all, as Tim’s friends came up to see him wrestle and I, on commentary, got to call the BS Express win their first ACE Tag Team championship. Afterwards, the old students (Marranca, Thomas “the Gate” Rodriguez, BS Express, Steve Scott) went out to iHOP. Being close with Tim, we invited Tim and his friends out with us. The one had to go home. The other stayed and hung with us.
The other was Leon St. Giovanni.
Watching his best friend, who he went to those ROH shows in Edison with, live his dream inspired him to become a professional wrestler as well. First learning under Corvis Fear, LSG quickly worked his way to Beyond Wrestling, a place only in its infancy at that point. From there, he went to the Monster Factory to further his training and to really polish himself off as a performer under the tutelage of Danny Cage. Following up that, he paid his dues in the ROH Dojo, training consistently and making sacrifices to get into phenomenal shape.
On top of which, he has a legit full-time job and also finds time for his family, friends, and Mets games. I believe it is completely understated on how incredible Gio’s work ethic is. There are not as many guys like him out in the game today that “has their shit together”. He is one of them. That work ethic of his has inspired me to be BETTER.
I’m blessed to have been on that ground level with him, seeing the grind start. The consistent brainstorm sessions, hanging out with him, developing a legit friendship with him. From the silly days of building #Professionalism to where he is now, LSG has truly did it on his own. And, he’s going into Madison Square Garden as a part of a company he saw grow practically in his backyard.
Of course we’ve had our arguments and moments, but I’m proud to call him a friend. I’m proud of everything he’s accomplished and everything he has overcome. Nobody has EARNED more to be on a stage that big than Leon St. Giovanni has. And I’m just proud of him. Hard work pays off.
It’s funny. Two different guys who have had two different impacts on me, from a development standpoint and friendship, on one of the biggest cards in non-WWE wrestling history. Jay Lethal and Leon St. Giovanni are on two different spectrums of Ring of Honor. But in a weird way, both are making history.
I’m happy to know them. And that’s OK reliving the “glory days” for. Good luck this weekend, guys. You earned it.