No struggle for this wrestler to maintain family ties

Family was always of vital importance to the Shipmans of Elizabeth, N.J.

Ronald and Shirley and their five children used to do everything together: family game nights, birthdays at the ice cream shop and DVDs on Friday nights.

The middle child, Jamar, and his two brothers and two sisters took it further than that, watching professional wrestling on television and practicing moves on each other in the living room.

While his siblings became star high school athletes, Jamar took his love for pro wrestling to the next level.

Today, Jamar goes by "Jay Lethal."

He is one of the rising stars in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), which appears tonight at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center.

Planning on being in the audience will be Lethal's oldest brother, Hasaan, and several aunts, uncles and cousins, all of whom live in Goldsboro, about a 31/2-hour drive east of Concord.

Impressions are popular

Lethal has been a TNA competitor for about five years and has won a couple of TNA's lower-level championship belts. His blossoming popularity among fans over the years has come from his dead-on impressions of some of wrestling's legends: Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Charlotte's Ric Flair, who came out of retirement to join TNA in January.

A natural athlete in his early high school years, Lethal said he broke the hearts of several high school coaches who couldn't persuade him to go out for their teams.

Instead, he entered and won a contest held by Jersey All Pro Wrestling, a small-time independent promotion, winning free wrestling lessons.

He had just turned 16. Lethal said he would take the daily two-hour train ride to New York City, then to Long Island, for practices. His parents approved, as long as he kept his grades up. So Lethal completed his homework on the train.

Six months later, Lethal wrestled in his first match.

His own action figure

From 2001 to 2005, Lethal climbed the ranks of JAPW, eventually winning its heavyweight championship belt. TNA's Jeremy Borash discovered Lethal at a JAPW match in 2005 and offered him a spot in the upstart promotion by the end of the night.

"I'm afraid to set goals because they may not come true," Lethal said. "Until now I've never set a goal. I never had a goal to wrestle in TNA, but it happened."

His hook in TNA quickly became his admired impression of Randy "Macho Man" Savage. With Savage's voice, mannerisms and stylish clothing down pat, Lethal was known as the "Black Machismo."

That alter-ego had about a three-year run. A couple of other story lines followed, but his feud with Ric Flair has been a dream come true.

Lethal introduced his on-air Flair impersonation in May, much to Flair's chagrin. In a July 11 match, Lethal defeated his boyhood hero.

Speaking from his Tampa, Fla., home, a couple of days after returning from an appearance in India, Lethal reflected on his meteoric rise in the wrestling game.

"I'm living each day as it comes," he said. "I'm afraid to set any goals and jinx myself. I just stepped into the ring with Ric Flair. I don't know where else I can go. I still can't believe I beat him. I just do not think that it has hit me."

What's the craziest thing that's happened on the road? In his early TNA days, a fan brought Lethal his own handmade Jay Lethal action figure. The wrestler took the man's business card, called later and accepted a free action figure from him.

Lethal thinks he's stayed grounded even though his action figures now are licensed and available online. He said he misses visiting his family in New Jersey regularly and relishes the chance to see his brother and relatives in Concord this weekend.