Ring Rust Radio had WWE Hall of Famer Announcer JIM ROSS on the show this week, and it was a great episode with plenty of exclusive content.
They talked about his biggest signings while working in WWE’s talent relations department, his relationship with Vince McMahon, part-time stars like The Rock and Brock Lesnar, working as an MMA commentator and so much more.
Donald Wood: While most fans know you as a legendary wrestling announcer, you have been quite busy since your WWE career came to an end. Between The Ross Report on PodcastOne and your success with JR’s BarBQ, you are still very much a part of the wrestling lexicon. How has your perspective of the business changed now that you’re more on the outside looking in and do you miss being on the front lines of the industry?
Jim Ross: Well, I don’t watch as much or religiously as I used to. I’m more dependent now on my DVR rather than watching live. I try to watch as much as I feel I need to so I can maintain my accuracy and have a valid opinion for my podcast. I feel obligated to watch as much product as I can so that the Ross Report is accurate and I can give valid opinions on things I have seen. If I told you I watch just as much as I always did and was just as excited as I was when I was working in it, I would be less then truthful. I miss game day and a lot of my friends, the adrenaline rush with a live crowd. I certainly do not miss the travel in a non-seasonal business. It’s a mixed bag. I’m still a fan. I’m not bitter or angry; just busy. I just don’t have the time to make sure I’m watching a show live like I probably would when I was working in WWE.
Mike Chiari: In addition to your announcing you played a key role on the talent relations side with WWE and were responsible for bringing in several legendary Superstars. Of all the signings you made in WWE, which sticks out to you as the biggest coup and the one you’re most proud of today?
Jim Ross: Well, it’s a difficult question. You’re essentially asking someone to select their favorite child. I think the biggest steal that we got was signing Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince didn’t really have any familiarity with him, but I did when we worked together at WCW. When he was available and healthy after a short run in ECW, I thought that was a big get and a steal. The biggest overachiever I hired was Mick Foley. He was another guy WWE did not want. I finally through dog named salesmanship, convinced Vince to give him a try. We were running out of heels for Undertaker to work with at the time. It’s very challenging when you have a seven foot babyface to selectively match him up with heels to work with. Mick and Undertaker knew each other from previous promotions. Undertaker thought it was a good idea to bring Mick in.
The guy that’s gone on to obviously become the biggest star of the group as it relates to his movie work and notoriety around the world is Dwayne Johnson. We had a good run there with him. Several classes were good. I saw Heyman talk about the class of 2002 on Raw Monday and that was one of our better groups with Batista, Cena, Orton and Brock. I pride myself in the fact that we were diligent in finding people, recruiting and coaching up people. We had a great staff with great instructors and great scouts. It was a total team effort. I felt very honored that I got to facilitate and open the door for some of those guys to live their dreams. It was a lot of fun.
Brandon Galvin: You’ve always been credited with having a fantastic eye for talent and your track record in that role speaks for itself. I’m sure you can understand how confusing it is for fans to hear people in a company talking about wrestlers like Steve Austin, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro and other fan-favorites not being seen as top-tier talents. Is it possible for you to give us some insight into the decision-making of a company and why a wrestler fans deem as a top-tier talent may not be viewed in the same light?
Jim Ross: Well, it’s real difficult for me to relate to management now since I’m long gone from the WWE. I don’t know how they manage their day-to-day or how their meetings are. I had a very unique relationship with Vince back when I was hiring talent. I was talking to J.J. Dillon, who is coming up on my podcast, he would get tapes and recommendations from talent, but he always had to go through Vince. When I took over for J.J., Vince wanted me to retool and redesign the talent relations department. One of the things I had to have to make it better, in my opinion, was his trust. That my judgment and seeing talents was viable. I hired talents that Vince had never seen and he trusted me. They were my responsibility and they were on my watch. I can’t really tell you what’s going on there now. You gotta believe that WWE listens. They don’t do my ideas so they don’t listen. Well, we don’t know what they are planning next month, week, Monday, Sunday, well I don’t anyways.
At the end of the day, the cream will rise to the top. The fans will steer the course and support their favorites. The business in general, is in a near crisis situation when it comes to have an adequate amount of skilled main event talent depth. There is skilled main event talent no question, but the depth issue is startling. I think fans right now are ready for something new. Some of the guys you mentioned, I believe, have significant potential to be main event stars. They have to be given the ball and they gotta be built. There is a process you have to go through, commitments gotta be made by the company, long-term planning in effect and they have to have confidence in the talent. There are other issues you and I are not aware of. There could be issues internally that within the company that for whatever reason they don’t have confidence in the talent. Maybe those reason are kept private for confidentiality reasons or legal reasons or whatever. The issue is that I’d rather look at the glass half full. Life is too challenging to go through wondering and bitching and moaning about this that and the other.
If the guy steers the course, and they prove themselves as good locker room leaders and good members of the team, improve their skill set, and add things to their game, then they have a chance to move up the ladder to the main event level and make more money. For some guys it comes late, some guys it comes easy, it will come if it’s meant to be. There’s no magic formula or secret clandestine meetings. For God’s sake, the WWE is not so aloof that they are going to say, “Well we’re going to do this because we like it and we don’t care what our customer’s like”. That thought is just so immature and so stupid for anyone to think that. There are some fans that reach out to me on Twitter that do think that. They think that the WWE is so omnipotent that they can do whatever they want whether you like it or not. Where would be the advantage to doing that? There is none. So I can’t answer your question but at least I can give you a little background on it.
Donald Wood: As one of the top play-by-play announcers in wrestling history, you have worked next to several of the most entertaining color commentators the business has ever seen. If you could commentate one final wrestling match with any color commentator of your choice, who would it be and why?
Jim Ross: Oh gosh, you know I don’t know. That’s another tough one. No matter what I say, that’s the thing about these interviews; whatever I say is gonna be dissected. I wrote a blog today about these rumors about me and New Japan. But no matter what I say, some people are going to read into it what they choose. My longest tenured run was with Jerry Lawler. We could go back to work tomorrow, probably call any sport or entity, and be entertaining. The partner that agitated me and knew the buttons to push and was a combustible delivery and presentation was Paul Heyman. The partner that goes off the radar and was absolutely outstanding was Jim Cornette. Much like JBL and myself working together, we would be considered by the mainstream TV world as being too southern, so that will never happen. Cornette would be awesome. JBL would be very good. Taz would get such a contrast in sound. I love working with Terry Funk is the most underrated guy I worked with. Bob Caudle by far the most underrated announcer in the history of the business. I love working with Bobby Heenan. Gorilla Monsoon was like an uncle.
What I’m saying about all these guys is I have a relationship with these people, friendships with all these people. So it’s harder for me to say. The question “you got one more match and you can work with anyone you want, who would it be?” Well then the next question is “what would that match be?” Well hell, I don’t know, beats me. “Where would that match be?” Well WrestleMania of course. “What arena would it be?” So that’s where you are, there is no right answer. I love all those guys, they all made me better, and I was blessed to work with some very, very talented people. I loved working with, though it was limited and at the end of his run while he was dealing with issues, I really enjoyed my experience working with Gordon Solie. I never did get to work with Lance Russell, which I would have loved to have done. Quite frankly, the one I had the most chemistry with and fun with from day one is Chael Sonnen. We only worked once and it was a natural fit. So I don’t know if I can answer that question for you because of those reasons. These guys are like family members to me. You boys are young and you’re going to learn this maybe the hard way some day. When you get older, you’ll be able to count all your great friends on one hand. Trust me. There’s a lot of guys I named on that commentator list and I hope at the end of the day I can still call them my friends till the day they put us all away. They all made me better and I hope I contributed to making them better too.
Mike Chiari: You and your voice are synonymous with a lot of the greatest and most memorable moments in wrestling history. But what is the one match or moment that you didn’t call from the announce table that you’d like to if you could go back in time and make it happen?
Jim Ross: Well I think probably the one I would have liked to call was the main event of WrestleMania 3. It was such a ground breaking event. If you’re going to be a part of a ground breaking event, you want to be a part of the main event. I would say Hogan and Andre at WrestleMania 3. It was such a simplistic match to call, it would have been very easy to call it from a stand point of what they did, but the drama one could add to the moment and to what the match meant. Some broadcasters show up, do their gig, and leave. They are just there to collect a payday. I always looked at it more than that and the big picture. The big picture for the Hulk and Andre match was that it was really going to create a buzz in the business. It was going to make the business better for everybody and create a great awareness of pro-wrestling. So I would say Hogan and Andre WrestleMania 3 would have been a real fun match to have called.
Brandon Galvin: To piggyback off Mike’s question, is there a match or moment that you called that you wish you could re-do?
Jim Ross: Probably a lot of them if I go back and listen to them. I am my own worst critic. One of the advantages I have enjoyed of the WWE network that I subscribe to since day one and I certainly am renewing. I can go back and listen to some of my work on those old pay-per-views from WCW and WWE. Right now, I’m working on my auto-biography and were getting close to the part where I talk about the death of Owen Hart. I have to go back and watch that segment of pay-per-view from 1999, and I have never looked at it ever. I’m kind of dreading that to be honest with you. I purposefully never looked at it, I didn’t want to see it again, I already lived it and that was enough.
I think I could have done a better job calling the Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair retirement match. It just seemed that our timing at the table that night was off for me. I always look back at that match, it was Ric’s last match in WWE, Shawn was in the ring with him, and it was a big deal. I was the third guy in the booth that night with Lawler and Cole. I’m not a big three men in the booth type of guy. Not that it can’t work, it can, but it seems to not work more often than not to me. I would say the Flair-Michaels match from WrestleMania 24 I would of liked to of had another shot at it.
Donald Wood: It’s well documented that you’ve had a tumultuous relationship with Vince McMahon and the WWE over the years. How would you describe the relationship between yourself and Mr. McMahon now?
Jim Ross: It’s actually pretty good. We text from time to time and talk on the phone from time to time now. Not a lot, not regularly, but you know, its fine. Vince and I got along and had a tremendous relationship. People have to understand where our relationship started. From day one, what we have built and what we survived at the time when the company was almost bankrupt. We were laying off people left and right, pay cuts, lot of people were bailing. Those of us that stayed loyal were rewarded financially. I signed at one point in the mid 90’s a ten year contract. I don’t know anyone that had a ten year contract with Vince and kept it. I have this thing about keeping my commitments and keeping my word. I kept my word and fulfilled my ten years and he paid me very, very well.
I made more money with him than I did with anyone else combined. He told me if I stayed with him I would have nothing to worry about financially when I got older. Our issues were mainly philosophic. It was like two football coaches who wanted to run a 3-4 defense and the other wants to run a 4-3. I could plead my case why the 3-4 is better cause I got four great linebackers I can use and he could tell me why the 4-3 is better because he’s got four defense lineman that are outstanding. Our stuff was more philosophical more than anything else. At the end of the day, he won the argument more often than not because he owned the company. My dad taught me a long time ago, if you’re going to work for somebody and you’re going to take their money, you need to do what they tell you to do. So the day when you can’t look yourself in the mirror and do what they want you to do, you need to quit cashing their checks. I just cashed a WWE check the other day so I got no issues with them whatsoever. A lot of that stuff about McMahon and I has been blown out of proportion.
He knows I take myself too seriously. He knows I wear my feelings on my sleeve, and he likes to be able to get under my skin. He gets a kick out of it and I can understand that, I get it. No one should mistake what I am saying that we talk regularly because we do not. But we still communicate, like have a few laughs in a text message or special occasions come up. We accomplished a great deal together. That talent roster that he gave me the ability to hire, they are still using those guys. John Cena last time I looked, Randy Orton last time I looked, Batista and the Rock in and out. We did accomplish a lot of great things together and I never worked with anyone that worked harder. Now, I’m not kissing his ass or anything like I need a job, cause I don’t need a job, I got plenty to do.
I watched a lot of my peers go through their money with cocaine, marijuana, booze, wives, and more. I decided I was going to save my money. I was going to retire at 55, I’m 62 now, and having more fun than I ever have since the Attitude Era. Yea we butted heads, had our pissing contest, but there is still a lot of respect there. He knows that if there is a jam, I am a phone call away and vice versa. Was it tumultuous? Sure. Did we hate each other? Absolutely not. I had the balls at the time to say when I thought he was wrong in a polite way. He had a lot of people that he paid a lot of money that took the path of least resistance. They would bitch about it afterwards when the decision had been made instead of being polite, diplomatic, and conversing when given the opportunity. Some of those guys are still there now which I would assume they are. Some though should be ashamed of themselves. Vince paid them damn good money to be honest. It’s just the fact that some of them just don’t have good presentation skills and don’t know how to present themselves while making a point. That’s just the art of communicating.
Mike Chiari: One thing that many wrestling fans are critical of is WWE’s usage of and dependence on part-time Superstars such as Brock Lesnar or The Rock when he’s an active competitor. What is your overall opinion on the emergence of the part-time Superstar in wrestling today, and how well do you feel WWE utilizes them?
Jim Ross: Well, I think until you get some guys close to getting over, you gotta do all you can to get as many eyeballs watching your vehicle as you can. Whether it’s Monday Night Raw, pay-per-view, or subscribing to the network, whatever it may be. I think using some of these established stars in reoccurring roles has absolutely nothing wrong with it. I think if you plan long term, you can use them more effectively with the thought in mind that they are they to help someone get better whether as an ally or an enemy. Does that mean let your returning baby come back and lose? Not necessarily. If you think that is the only way then you’re not really a student of the game. You are pretending you understand the business. I called a lot of matches where the guy losing was a lot better off leaving the ring as a loser then entering the ring on their introduction. I think it’s the smart thing to do to draw eyeballs to your television set. They can be more strategic in how they use these individuals and help enhance the young guys around them in a multitude of ways.
Like recently when Rusev was in the ring with the Rock. I love the rub, but I didn’t like the bumps. An old school booker would have never allowed a part-time guy to come in and bump his budding heel around the ring. It was unnecessary. You got them together, looking at each other ready to go, and you had Lana. All you had to do was have her step in the middle of them and order the Russian to leave, or Bulgarian whatever the hell he is this week. He would have had heat because he took orders from a woman, he would have backed out of the ring with a glare in his eyes looking at the Rock in the ring who stood his ground and was ready to go. Rock would not have laid a hand on the female, maybe given her a verbal lashing, but never a physical one. Then the heel would have left backing out of the ring, backing up the ramp, and he would have retained some heat. Then the announcer could say, “He is picking his spots. Discretion on this day is a better part of valor. If you think Rusev is afraid of the Rock then you are mighty wrong. Rusev is only doing what he is told by this woman who obviously has a bigger hold over Rusev then we ever would have dreamed. That someday somewhere the situation can manifest itself and that’s when the talking will be over.”
So easy to tell those stories and that’s from a booking philosophy. I could go to Vince and tell him I think were screwing up by having Rock punch this kid and then he takes the big bump over the top rope and then stand eight feet away on the outside fuming with the Rock looking down at him. Why wouldn’t he fight him now? What is there an invisible force field to keep them apart? Its bad booking in my view and philopshically the wrong thing to do. But if the boss says that is what he wants to do, then I’m the first guy at the head of the line saying I am going to go commentate it and try to make it the best I possibly can.
The issue is at the end of the day is the announcers making sure they know who the guy getting taken care of is the heel. He’s the one that’s getting over. The other guy is already over if you haven’t noticed. Those are the ways to get the rub and how you do it and it’s very subjective. It’s like saying what your favorite color of blue is. Navy? Carolina? Pale? I don’t have an issue with them using established guys that way. You think people are gonna bitch and raise hell if Austin comes back at WrestleMania in a year or two? “Oh that’s a travesty it’s just horrible oh God. He’s taking someone’s spot that should be on the card. I’ve been a wrestling fan for 15 years, I’m 17 years old, I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was 2 years old and I know this is wrong”. Alright, take it easy there Tiger.
Brandon Galvin: Many fans today have noticed that there appears to be a lack of focus on the wrestlers, the match and even the storylines from the commentators. Is this something you pick up on as well and could you explain why commentators may stray from what many feel is their ultimate task in putting over the wrestlers or match?
Jim Ross: Well, I still have my hearing so I can hear what you are saying, I’m not that old. Is it what I prefer to hear? Nope. Is it what I prefer to broadcast? Nope. Why are they doing it then? Well it’s because it’s how it’s produced and that’s what the boss wants them to do. So the announcers are doing what they are instructed to do and that is what they should do. Once people get out and get a full time job and people that have full time jobs will know what I mean. Sometimes your boss tells you to do things that you don’t feel, but he is the boss and he is paying your checks so it’s smart to do what you’re told to do. I thought I told stories pretty well, but now people say, “JR is old school, play by play wrestling announcer, time has passed him by”. These guys today are modern day story tellers. I thought I told stories as well, but some think I didn’t.
My sense of it is the fellas are doing what they are instructed to do as it was done in the production meetings. From what they hear in their headsets, they are following the instructions of the boss and how he wants his product represented. I don’t remember the last time I talked to Lawler, Cole, or JBL. I don’t know if I have talked to them this year. Maybe I have and I forgot. I feel bad people throw them under the bus and verbally beat them up on Twitter and other social media sites.
Ask Foley or Taz how challenging it could be. Michael Cole has the most challenging job any of us have ever had sitting in that middle chair. With all the social media, the network, the things you have to promote, my style would not fit in today’s product. I’m very happy and lucky that its Michael is the one doing the lead story telling now instead of me. I would not enjoy going to work every day. Like a shopping mall, having to promote everything. JBL and Lawler do some of it, but Cole does the majority of it. I admire what Michael does considering the hand that he was dealt. He started out many years ago working with me when styles were different and he knows the styles. He knows what it’s like to run the wishbone, but now they are running the spread offense. He is in a tough situation and a lot of fans don’t like what they hear, but that’s what the announcers are told to do.
Donald Wood: Earlier this month you announced for Battlegrounds MMA alongside UFC legend ChaelSonnen. What were your thoughts on that experience and what were some of the differences between calling a wrestling match and a MMA fight?
Jim Ross: Well, part of it there was a lot of wrestling matches that I did not know the outcome. I didn’t want to know it. I stopped a lot of agents mid-sentence, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do tonight”, and I would ask if there was one small nuance I needed to know that was imperative to the story. If not, I’d rather call it as I see it. People think I knew everything that happened. Are you kidding me? You think I would remember every high spot, every false finish? And every zig zag in a wrestling match with the volume of product we had every week? I’d be in a rubber room somewhere. I’d rather call it like a sporting event. Put it on the monitor and I’ll call it as I see it. Chael and I will be doing more MMA together. We are actually getting inquires on MMA and boxing. We have agents and representatives that are having talks and I have the sense were going to be doing a lot of things together. We like working together and we have great chemistry together.
They brought me in first because this group was an Oklahoma group and grew up listening to me. So I recommended Chael, they like it, and they brought him in. I didn’t prepare a lot differently. I told Chael I would talk about the fighters like they are human beings: Who they are, what they are, where they are from, why I should care about them, why I should give a damn. You talk about the fighters as a fighter: What they’re good at, their strengths, weakness, what their game plan should be. Every fight isn’t the greatest ever. We didn’t crap on them, but we did have a little fun. We added some levity to it, I mean come in, its entertainment. It’s not like we were narrating our broadcast like a funeral treatment. It’s MMA, some of its fun, some of its serious and its challenging. Calling MMA is like calling old school pro wrestling in Mid-South or NWA era, but it’s a lot more challenging than boxing. Boxing is easier than MMA. Boxing you get hit with a right hand, or a left hand, maybe a head butt. With pro wrestling and MMA the attack can come from anywhere. It was definitely bucket list item and I’d love to do more.
Mike Chiari: Even though WWE and professional wrestling as a whole may not be in an ideal state currently, I think most would agree that there’s a ton of talent involved in the business today. With that said, if you were tasked with building a wrestling company from the ground up, who would you choose as your cornerstone guy and why?
Jim Ross: The cornerstone guy would be someone with a lot of money because I’m not gonna spend my money on doing it. I don’t think it’s very feasible. It would have to be an investment group with a lot of money. You just can’t go pluck a guy out of mid-air and say that’s gonna be my guy. People say, “I can’t believe you didn’t say CM Punk automatically. JR is disconnected, he’s not with it any more.” I’m not saying I wouldn’t want CM Punk or Steve Austin involved, that wouldn’t be very bright. There is two elements to making a wrestling territory successful and its talent and television. There is enough talent out there to get a roster jump started especially if you change the procedure. I want to have time limits, more finishes, and rules.
I’m not going to go back to the 1920’s, but how are you supposed to have an athletic contest with no rules? It’s ludacris. How are heels gonna be heels if there are no rules to break? It’s illogical. So the first guy you want to have is a conglomerate with a lot of money and patience to allow you to build your television audience. You want to use any name identity to get you over the hump while you are getting young stars over. The guys that would be getting the most time would be guys in their 20’s. They would be young, athletic, would have a little bit of that All Japan style back in the day so when someone deliver a body tackle or clothesline there was impact. We would be using great finishers for high spots.
Now I’m not saying slow everything down to where you lay in a headlock for 30 minutes. Just get back to the fundamentals instead of a spot fest and encourage guys to learn the art form of how to sell and take their time. One of my big pet peeves is when a wrestler mounts a second turnbuckle and hits his opponent ten times in the face. That’s just one of the great exposés of wrestling. Number one, the guy doesn’t fall until he is hit the tenth time, number two, there is no marks on his face where he got hit, number three, the guy throwing the punches isn’t even selling his untapped hand after ten punches. That all tells me a lot of those guys doing that haven’t ever been in a fight. You can’t hit a guy ten times in the face and not hurt your own hand, it’s essentially impossible.
We would be more modernized and basic fundamentals, but build young, athletic, and physical wrestlers; that would be my mantra. The most important element of building a company is your backers with deep, deep pockets and preferably with a television network. So you’re not preempted and you got a great television time. You certainly wouldn’t do a show over two hours. When you start, one hour should be your calling card. Maybe once a quarter do a two hour special or something. An hour doesn’t kill me and I can get everything in in one hour.
Brandon Galvin: You were the voice of the Attitude Era, which was spear-headed by Stone Cold Steve Austin playing a beloved anti-hero. The topic of a John Cena heel turn has been discussed for more than five years with fans yearning for more of an edge from Cena. Do you think the hatred towards Cena is fair with him trying to work as a babyface in the confines of a PG Era?
Jim Ross: Well if John Cena turns heel, would the people booing him now cheer him? I don’t know the logic or the answer. Let’s go Cena, Cena sucks. He still sells more merchandise than anyone on the roster. For whatever he is, I think part of that stuff is just trendy. I need a really good reason to turn Cena heel and it wouldn’t be because of crowd chants. Ticket sales, live event business, kids merchandise, things like that are a very good indicator. I’m not a major fan of turning him heel, but I’m not opposed to it. All those things have to be done for the right reasons. Right now we have a wrestling public that has very little patience. I heard someone the other day say they couldn’t believe that Sheamus and the Usos have been in three six-man tag matches and how much longer do they have to watch this. That’s like saying, “Why would you want to watch Rock and Austin at WrestleMania three times?” Once is enough don’t you think?
I read a story that out of 52 Wednesdays, Dory Funk Sr. wrestled Iron Mike DiBiase 37 times.They changed the match up, they are performers, and they changed up the presentation every time. I find it somewhat head scratching that people call themselves wrestling fans and students of the game automatically get turned off if someone wrestlers more than once. I have seen a lot of Orton and Cena, I signed both of those guys, and have no regrets. I am so excited and they have made a lot of money and secured their futures through the jobs that we secured for them. I’m very proud of both of those guys, but I’m also very tired of them wrestling each other. I’d like to see them wrestle other people and it would help invigorate them. Now that’s not saying anything bad about those guys. I’m not riding the fence, but if you’re tired of something after three matches, you could easily say it wasn’t very good, you didn’t like it and three times is enough for me. Quite frankly that’s not a good gauge of something in that regard but that’s where we are. That’s why we have to have more people on the roster trying to get over and get their shots.
That’s why when they bring in guys from NXT they gotta bring them in as main event level guys so if they go down a notch or two they are still in the hunt. They bring them in as just another guy it’s a long journey to go from just another guy to a main eventer. They gotta come in with a game plan. I’m concerned about the lack of main event depth, but until you get more of that you’re gonna see a lot of those rematches, tag matches, and things of that nature. I’d like to see less handicap matches. They are getting a little old but used to be special. When you saw a handicap match, it used to put the baby face in jeopardy and a lot of trouble. Now a days it’s just another match, and nothing should ever be just another match. It should always have a story or a reason. Things are always short term or quickly and there isn’t a reason behind it. It comes back to long term planning which is non-existent or incredibly sporadic.