Note from Chinlock.com: In another article from the archives, Jan Murphy had the opportunity to speak with one of the most important people in the history of professional wrestling, Good ol’ JR, Jim Ross. Ross’ influence is still felt on the business today, and this interview gives an in-depth look how important he was, and continues to be to the history of professional wrestling.
This article was originally published in The Kingston Whig Standard on 06/28/2003.
He’s Vince McMahon’s right-hand man. He makes a lot of the calls when it comes to talent in World Wrestling Entertainment. He’s there to be supportive, provide his insight and be constantly on the lookout for new WWE performers. He can also be the bearer of bad news when things aren’t working out.
To wrestling fans, he’s known as the man in the black hat. Good ol’ J.R.
Whatever the moniker, Jim Ross, senior vice-president of talent relations for the WWE, is one of the most insightful and honest, not to mention powerful, men in the business.
Just ask Stone Cold Steve Austin, who abruptly left the WWE last summer because of unhappiness over his character and personal problems with his wife, former WWE star Debra.
J.R. has long been open about his close relationship with Austin, which didn’t make Austin’s departure easy to deal with.
“My personal relationship with Stone Cold, and I’d be the first to admit it, has probably been a conflict of interest,” Ross said in an interview with No Holds Barred.
“I should not have those personal feelings about any talent in my role as head of talent, but it just happened that we’re buddies and we’ve developed a friendship.
“I didn’t lose my respect for Steve when he walked away from us last June, but I was very frustrated, even to the point of being angry that he allowed his personal issues, his health and his marriage to get the better of him and pin him, so to speak, to the point where he wanted to walk off the job in frustration,” Ross said.
“We didn’t talk for several months, and then one day I was thinking about him and I wrote him a little card that said, ‘Dear Steve, if you need me, I’m here – J.R.’
“He called me and we had about a two-hour conversation and we talked over old times, how our families were. In any event, that broke the ice. He called me and I orchestrated a meeting between Steve and Vince McMahon down in Houston, and of course they were able to mend their relationship and vent and express themselves in a purely one-on-one basis.
Ross described the arrangement. “There would be only two people in the meeting, Vince and Steve. I didn’t want to be in it – I didn’t want to be a third wheel. That was their deal.
“So that helped get [Austin] back going and it’s a blessing for us. He’s a big part of our success.”
No Holds Barred suggested to Ross that Raw has improved 50-fold since the Texas Rattlesnake returned in his new role as co-general manager on Monday nights. Was it a coincidence?
“Stone Cold doesn’t have anything to do with the creative process, but I will certainly say that Stone Cold’s presence on Raw on Monday nights on TSN is a very welcome sight,” Ross said.
“Stone Cold has sold more tickets and pay-per-views and merchandise [than anyone] in our company’s history. And even though Mother Nature’s kind of tapped him on his shoulder and said, ‘You know, because of your health issues you’re not going to be able to wrestling full time anymore,’ he still is a huge contributor to our product.”
Speaking of contributors, it’s hard not to notice that a good number of them hail from north of the border.
J.R. has nothing but praise for the WWE’s Canadian content.
“When I got this job in 1993, I went about the task of working with Vince McMahon to rebuild and get younger as it relates to our talent roster and we started searching high and low for talent,” Ross said. “We were very fortunate that along the way we were introduced by Carl DeMarco to Adam Copeland, who’s Edge, and of course Christian and Test. Trish Stratus joined us. All from the Ontario area.”
“Those kids,” he said, “which would include Chris Benoit from Edmonton and Chris Jericho from Winnipeg among others,” have a common denominator.
“They have a great work ethic, and it’s a very profound salute to the Canadian folks that their countrymen are representing them in a very proud way. I have never had, in my recollection, any personnel issues, any disciplinary issues. They’re reliable, they’re hard-working, most of them grew up as big fans, which is wonderful for us.”
On the subject of hard-working, reliable performers, J.R. looked to put fans at ease when it comes to The Rock, who many worry will permanently hang up his wrestling tights for the glitz and glam of Tinseltown.
“The fans should not worry about The Rock returning and wrestling,” Ross said. “The Rock’s going to return and wrestle every opportunity he gets.
“I hope all his movies are blockbuster hits, but if he’s like every other movie star, they won’t be. There may be a time when he’s going to be between movies longer than he had projected, and I can assure you that if he’s between films, he’ll be right back on Raw, right back on pay-per-view.”
How can Ross be so sure?
“There’s nothing that can replicate the feeling that he gets, or any other athlete gets, at a WWE event. It’s in his blood. Our fans should not worry about The Rock coming back to wrestle for the WWE. It’s absolutely inevitable.”
In fact, the longtime Raw commentator doesn’t blame The Rock for seizing the Hollywood moment.
“He’s a 30-year-old kid that has an opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t think that there’s anybody, including myself if I was his age, that we wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to make movies and major-budget motion pictures and work with talented and successful directors.”
Ross, who signed, sealed and delivered The Rock, speaks with pride when he discusses the self-proclaimed Great One.
He’s not so proud, however, when asked about another superstar he brought to the WWE – and subsequently fired. Jeff Hardy, one of the founders of today’s high-flying WWE, was released by the company over personal problems a short while ago.
“I handled that issue with Jeff Hardy,” Ross lamented. “Jeff had made some personal decisions that were wrong. We discussed it on many occasions. I took every step necessary to protect him and to help him. At the end of the day, when the decision was that we needed to get Jeff some help, he refused it.
“I was not going to compromise my beliefs or the company’s legacy or reputation for the sake of turning my head. I was unwavering on that matter and there was no compromise available.”
That’s not to say the door is closed on a Hardy comeback.
“I’d love for us to be able to work with him again and I’d love for us be able to see him continue to live his dream, because I get close to these kids,” Ross said.
“He and his brother Matt worked all their lives to get to the WWE and they made it and I was happy that I was able to help facilitate that. I negotiated their contracts and I managed their careers and I felt so sad that this was the eventuality of this matter. I hope that someday we’re able to do business again.”
You can now follow Jim Ross on Twitter at: @JRsBBQ