By Mike Mooneyham

July 19, 2007

“Oooooh yeeeah!” Can you dig it? asks the raspy voice on the other line.

Close your eyes for a few moments, and you’d swear you were listening to “Macho Man” Randy Savage deliver some of his trademark phrases.

But it’s not Savage. Instead, it’s the next best thing, especially if you’re a pro wrestling fan these days.

TNA (Total Nonstop Action) performer Jay Lethal, now known simply as “Black Machismo,” is – hands-down – one of the most entertaining characters on the wrestling circuit today. His hilarious, spot-on spoof of Savage, one of the profession’s biggest stars of the ’80s and ’90s, is something that shouldn’t be missed.

Local fans will get a chance to see Lethal up close and personal at a United Wrestling Federation show this evening at Rick Hendrick Jeep Chrysler, 8333 Rivers Ave., in North Charleston. Lethal will meet “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles and “Canadian Destroyer” Petey Williams in a three-way match that promises to steal the show.

Only 22 years old with four years of mat experience under his belt, Lethal is one of the sport’s young lions who has earned strong reviews for not only his gimmick, but also for his high-flying ring style.

The gimmick, he says, started out as a joke.

Jay Lethal

Jay Lethal

“I would just do the Macho Man voice. I used to do it all the time at home. Then I started doing it all the time in the locker room, and everybody got a big, big kick out of it.”

One night, he says, the crew was imitating American Idol during a TNA skit, and Kevin Nash and Jeff Jarrett suggested that Lethal do the Macho Man impersonation.

“Aw, I don’t know, I heard the Macho Man was crazy,” the youngster sheepishly told his veterans colleagues.

“I sure didn’t want to do it on TV and have the Macho Man all mad and come after me and kill me,” jokes Lethal.

But Nash and Jarrett, convinced that they were on to something, persisted.

As part of the storyline, Lethal was taken under the wing of Nash, who gave his protege an “extreme makeover.” The transformation saw Lethal morph from a nondescript mid-card performer to a loud and flashy Macho Man clone. On the April 12 edition of TNA’s Impact show, Lethal was led to the ring by a remixed version of “Pomp and Circumstance,” Savage’s familiar entrance music, and dressed in full “Macho Man” attire. Billed as “Black Machismo,” Lethal defeated Chris Sabin with, naturally, Savage’s signature flying elbow drop.

The gimmick has caught on like wildfire and made Lethal one of TNA’s most popular performers.

“He’s got the gimmick to go with it now, but I’ve always been a big fan of his in-ring work,” says UWF promoter Hermie Sadler. “He just needed something gimmick-wise to separate himself from the other guys in the X division … He takes that character and does everything in the ring that you expect him to do, but at the same time he’s got a little flavor to it and a character that you laugh at, and he takes it to another level.”

“I did it that one time, and I haven’t been able to stop doing it,” Lethal laughs.

Lethal says Savage, whom he “idolized as a kid growing up,” recently called him and told him he loved the character.

“I actually was able to get in touch with him for about a five-minute conversation. He was all for it. He says he was flattered and thought it was cool that I idolized him. I got the big thumbs-up from him. It’s a good thing, too, because I sure didn’t want to (tick) him off.”

Lethal, whose real name is Jamar Shipman, says the gimmick has become second nature to him. “It’s gotten to the point where I’ll start doing it a home, and I don’t even realizing I’m doing it,” muses the Elizabeth, N.J., native. “I’m afraid my voice is going to get stuck like that.”

Lethal says he’ll stick with the gimmick as long as he can.

“This is nothing but fun for me – to be able to emulate my idol.”

Lethal, who got his first big break in the business with the acclaimed Ring of Honor promotion, says he loves working for TNA and has no interest in ever moving to WWE.

“No way, I’m all TNA, all the way,” he says. “I’ve loved it here. They’ve treated me as one of their own since I first got here. I wrestled Samoa Joe for the X division title my first match here. To me that says a lot by bringing me in and putting me in a main spotlight like that right away. They’ve been nothing but the best.”

“The locker room is real cool, too,” he adds. “Everybody knows each other, and we all hang out after the shows. It’s not like I come into a locker room and I don’t know anybody. I don’t have to worry if this guy likes me or not. We all talk, hang out and call each other. It’s awesome.”

– The Steiner Brothers and The Rock ‘N Roll Express will face off tonight in the first round of UWF’s inaugural Rock ‘N Roll Express Tag-Team Championship. Other first-round bouts include: The Extreme Horsemen vs. The Old School Empire (winners face Too Cool); The Naturals vs. Christian York and Joey Matthews (winners face Team Macktion); and LAX (managed by Konnan) vs. Diamonds In The Rough. Amy Dumas (formerly Lita) and Daffney also will appear on the show. Tickets start at $10.

The meet-and-greet Ultimate Experience event begins at 6 p.m. NASCAR analyst Jeff Hammond, a lifelong wrestling fan, will participate in the pre-show Ultimate Experience along with the stars of the UWF. Doors open at 7 p.m. for the general public. Bell time is 8 p.m. Admission to the after-party at The Plex featuring Amy Dumas and The Luchagors is free with a ticket to the UWF event. Admission without a ticket is $10.