Wwe Legend Jim Ross Vince Mcmahon Is Right No One Has Worked Harder Than John Cena
After a 40-year career in the wrestling industry, Jim Ross admits he may be calling his last show.
The WWE legend is the voice of a generation, providing commentary for countless blockbuster matches – including many WrestleMania main events – featuring WWE’s biggest stars. You name them, he’s announced their matches – The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker, to name just a few.
Now, however, the 62-year-old is preparing to call a very different show. Just over a year after parting ways with WWE, he’ll be back in the saddle on January 4 to call the action for Global Force Wrestling’s English-language presentation of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 live from Tokyo.
GFW is the new enterprise from wrestling veteran and TNA Wrestling founder Jeff Jarrett, who personally reached out to good ol’ JR to call the show.
“Jeff made the inroads, he and my business manager worked out the deal, it was a win-win for both of us, so I said ‘I’m in’,” he explained over the phone from his native Oklahoma, USA. ”I’m excited about it. I’ve been in this business for 40 years, so when you get a chance to do something new after being around that long, it’s pretty motivating. I look at this as a new adventure, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
But for a man who’s called some of the greatest wrestling matches of our time, it’s sad to think we may hear Ross’ incomparable southern drawl for the last time; he plans to call the show “like it’s my last one”.
He says, “I don’t know if I’ll do any more, I don’t know that I want to do any more. If there’s anything after that it’ll be a bonus. But I’m going to do this show, I’m preparing to do this show, like it’s my last major pay-per-view lead play-by-play.”
Ross spent 21 years as WWE’s lead play-by-play announcer on hit show Raw and its monthly pay-per-view broadcasts, so calling a live show should come naturally. But acclimating to a new pool of talent, as well as the language barrier, is a challenge.
“I’m not going to phone anything in. I’m going to be prepared,” he assures. “It may not be as smooth as with the WWE guys, because a lot of those guys, in one period in time, I hired, so obviously I knew them well.
“These are guys I’ve never watched wrestle in person ever. I’m going to let my instincts take over. I think it has the chance to be a good broadcast. People say, ‘Do you know what’s going to happen in the matches?’ Well, yeah, generally, but the less I know the better my performance is.”
Ross’ departure from WWE after two decades in September 2013 came as a shock to fans. After all, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and had previously held a front office job with the company as its Head of Talent Relations.
His seemingly forced retirement came amid a cloud of controversy over how he handled a live Q&A session with several other WWE legends during the company’s annual SummerSlam fan convention in August 2013. Ross hosted the event at which Hall of Famer Ric Flair was allegedly inebriated.
For his part, the iconic announcer says he has no hard feelings: “I had 21 years there – it wasn’t like I had a brief little run and everything was over. I had a great run in WWE, I went into the Hall of Fame, there were a lot more good days than bad ones.
“Was it the ideal way to exit? Probably not. I assumed a level of responsibility in that SummerSlam symposium, I was driving the train and the train got off the tracks, so the decision was made that it wasn’t a good thing and I moved on.”
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon recently addressed Ross’ controversial departure in a rare tell-all interview on Steve Austin’s podcast, admitting he isn’t opposed to working with his long-time employee again in future.
Asked for his response, Ross says, “There’s an old expression in wrestling that says ‘never say never’, when you are in my stage of my life, where I’ve been so blessed with this career, I’m not going to tell you that I’d never go [back] but it’d strictly depend on my role and how much time away from home it would demand. I leave the door open.
“Would I say definitively no, I would never work for WWE again? Absolutely not. It would necessitate me to give it some thought and it would depend on what the job description was and what they wanted me to do. I’m 62, I’ll be 63 in January, I have to be conscious of jobs.”
Indeed, speaking to Ross it’s clear to see just how busy he has kept himself since leaving WWE – he’s got his own podcast, The Ross Report, regularly tours with a one-man show, sharing anecdotes from his career, and has a successful line of condiments including his famous barbecue sauce.
Wrestling, particularly WWE, has traditionally had a closed-door policy to the internet, frowning upon the abundance of backstage news and gossip that is ready available and threatens to spoil the product. So it’s interesting to see so many wrestling icons like JR, Steve Austin and Chris Jericho baring all themselves on their podcasts.
“Social media has become a member of the family, whether you want them to move in or not, they’re there,” says Ross. “With WWE or any wrestling organisation, you didn’t want to reveal the outcomes of things … it’s like people that review a movie, they’ll do a review with a thumbs up or thumbs down, but I’ve never read a movie review that revealed the end of the movie.
“In the wrestling world, the spoilers are a big deal, people love to get the news ahead of time, they rush to their computer to get the scoop, and then they give away the ending of the movie. I don’t find that to be the least bit entertaining or necessary information for me. I’d rather not know the ending of the movie until I see it.”
Ross’ podcast has produced nearly 50 episodes since launching in February and has attracted the affable wrestling icon’s closest friends as guests – ranging from Austin himself to GFW’s Jeff Jarrett. He’ll interview TNA President Dixie Carter in January, so naturally one must wonder, how much interaction have they had in the past? Has TNA tried to hire him since his WWE ‘retirement’?
“No,” he replies emphatically. “They know I don’t have any desire to get back in the weekly grind of that. Dixie and no-one else has asked about me coming back full-time and that’s why this opportunity [with GFW] was so fit really – it was a one-time deal, a one-off. I like knowing I don’t have any pressure on me beyond that, I can focus on this one big event, really try to nail it without any pressure that I’ve got to do something tomorrow, or next week, or next month.”
While he may no longer be employed by a major wrestling company, Ross freely admits he’s still a massive fan and enjoys talking about the industry with fans and former colleagues alike.
His passion for wrestling paired with his own 21-year experience working for WWE, as an announcer and as Head of Talent Relations, gives him a unique perspective on the industry.
So when talk turns to McMahon’s recent comments about his current roster of “millennials”, wrestlers that seem to be less ambitious than the crop that came before them, Ross surprisingly defends his former boss.
He echoes McMahon’s sentiments that no WWE Superstar has grabbed the proverbial brass ring since the company’s current top star, John Cena. “Since we signed John Cena, no-one has outworked John Cena. John Cena’s work ethic is beyond reproach. It’s been phenomenal to see what he does and he’s made himself a brand,” says Ross, the very man who hired the multi-time WWE Champion.
“John was willing to do things that had not been done, he was willing to take a chance – his wrestling attire was non-traditional, he was a Caucasian rapper and that was unique for wrestling, that was bold. Vince made a good point, Cena did all he could to become the guy.
“Has anyone else since John Cena worked in every phase of their game to get really good? I think the argument could be made that some have worked as hard as Cena in some areas, but not across the board as he has.
“Sometimes if you look at your talent as athletes, not entertainers, they need to be challenged occasionally – we need you to play better, I need you to lose 20 pounds, I need you to work on your tan, as silly as that sounds. From an athletic point of view, every coach has those heart-to-hearts with their team at some point in time. If you’re going to go down the athletic road, every now and then they need a pep talk, and every now and then they need to ask themselves, ‘What have I done to make myself better than I was last week? What am I doing to make myself a more valuable player?’ “
He added: “I think Vince is sending a subtle message there, or not-so-subtle, that Cena was the last guy that went the complete distance to grab the brass ring. And then when he grabbed the brass ring he didn’t quit growing, he kept trying to get better. He’s their guy right now, lord knows what they would be without John Cena.”
For talents hoping to break through and grab the brass ring, Ross advises that it’ll take total commitment to WWE – something not all talents may be willing to do.
He said, “I can never agree with people that say ‘Cena’s overexposed’ … you think that’s the way WWE likes it? You don’t think they’d like to have John Cena as number one, and have a 1A, a 1B, and a 1C? People think you can wave a magic wand and create a star, that couldn’t be further from the truth. People think that a promoter has all the cards and the talents are merely pawns and they have very little do with the bigger success, when they have most of their success because of what they do.
“I think the guys need to be more aggressive in pushing the envelope, they’ve got to do more things to get better. There’s never been a more challenging time to become a wrestling star than there is right now. However, there’s never been a more opportune time to break through and become big and make massive money quickly. There’s so few legitimate main event level stars. If you can break through that ceiling, you can print money.
“Everybody will tell you they want to headline WrestleMania, but they’d spit the bit. It’s a horseman term, the horse wouldn’t like the bit in his mouth so he’d spit it out. Some guys talk a big game about wanting to headline WrestleMania – and I don’t mean CM Punk whatsoever – but then you need to do that. That should be your goal every day, it should be your last thought when you lay your head on your pillow, ‘I want to headline WrestleMania’.”
Headlining WrestleMania, of course, was an ultimate goal for CM Punk, the firebrand star who sensationally walked out on WWE in January and recently admitted he was both unhappy with how he was being utilised and how the company handled his medical issues.
JR’s pal Steve Austin compared Punk’s situation to his own in 2002 when, at the height of his fame, he walked out on the WWE and sat at home for nearly eight months after being dissatisfied with creative ideas for his character.
It was Ross, then in his Talent Relations role, that played mediator between Austin and WWE boss McMahon. So what would he have done, hypothetically, to fix the situation with Punk?
It’s all a matter of communication, he says. “I’d say the issues there, the culprit can largely be pointed out as a lack of communication or a communication breakdown. Both parties at some point, seemingly, stopped communicating to a significant degree – just enough to get by and that’s it. That’s how it seems.
“The key thing is that every talent is different and everybody’s personality is different, you’ve got to be very aware of your surroundings and how these talents are reacting, their body language – are they loners? Have they migrated to another group of disgruntled guys? There’s a lot of scenarios. The overall thing I would have tried to have done was stay observant and keep my ear to the ground so I could hear troubling and I would have tried to maintain more reciprocal communication.”
Reflecting on the situation with Austin and McMahon, which culminated in a hotel room showdown between the pair, Ross said: “I knew that Austin was miserable at home, he worked his whole career to become a star, he finally became a star, then through a lack of timely communication and the fact he was burned out, he went home. After he’d been gone for eight months, I knew him well enough that he was ready to get out of the house and re-engage but to do that he needed to communicate openly, honestly and privately with the chairman.
“I arranged for them to have a meeting in Houston and they both wanted me to come to the meeting. I told Vince, ‘I’m not doing it. You can order me there and I’ll be sick, I’ll have a sick day. We’re not going to accomplish what we need to accomplish as a company if I’m there. This needs to be completely the two of you and let the cards fall where they may. You can both be brutally honest, you can be upfront, and it stays right there in that room.’ I don’t know how the conversation went, I don’t know what they both said, I don’t know how close it came to be being not a positive meeting, all I know is that the result we wanted occurred.”
Could a similar meeting have stopped Punk’s WWE tenure from ending so acrimoniously? “With Punk, he’s headstrong – there’s nothing wrong with that – he’s accomplished a great deal, he’s paid his dues like Austin did, he was probably suffering from burnout, probably should have been given some time off at some point, but for whatever reason those things didn’t occur,” Ross explains.
“Sometimes people say, ‘Well, that’s the company’s fault.’ Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the talent doesn’t express what they need because they’re leery of showing weakness.”
Nonetheless, the dust has settled on Punk’s WWE career and he now looks to step into the mixed martial arts world by signing a deal with UFC. He isn’t expected to make his debut inside the Octagon until late 2015, but Ross says it doesn’t even matter how he performs in his first bout.
He said, “I think the UFC’s a brilliant move, they’ll make a lot of money with Punk the first time he’s on pay-per-view. The wrestling fans will tune in out of curiosity to see him hopefully win and the UFC diehards are going to tune in to hopefully see him lose.
“For me, the journey of getting there, getting trained by great people, doing all the media, becoming a big media personality – those are all wins. By the time he steps foot into the Octagon, Punk has already won.”
Global Force Wrestling presents NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 takes place live from Tokyo, Japan, on January 4 at 7am UK GMT (4pm local time). The event will air on pay-per-view in the US and stream live across the world via the Flipps app.
Follow Jim Ross on Twitter at @JRsBBQ and visit www.jrsbarbq.com.