Good ol’ JR, as he’s know the world over, has literally done everything in the business en route to becoming one of the most respected and universally loved people on this planet.
The southern boy from a small town of hundreds came by his love of sports entertainment honestly, and through hard work.
“I was a huge fan,” Ross, 62, said in a telephone interview while promoting his coming one-man show in Toronto, when asked about how far back his affinity for wrestling stretches. “I was probably 10, 12 years old,” he said.
An only child on a sprawling 160-acre farm in eastern Oklahoma, young Ross’s parents had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“We had our farm, but they had jobs outside the farm so that made me a latchkey kid before the term was really fashionable,” Ross said.
The result of his parents working away from the farm was that the young Ross had to pitch in to ensure work was completed. The young boy’s work would not go unrewarded. Unbeknownst to Ross then, there were more than tomato seeds being planted in those days. The seeds of a legendary career were also being planted.
“Part of my deal with my dad was I would have a list of chores to do, like in the summertime or after school, and if I fulfilled all of my commitments that he had laid out, then I got to watch my wrestling program on Saturday,” Ross said.
On the surface, such an exchange might seem like the youngster was getting the raw end of the deal: farm labour in exchange for being allowed to watch an hour of wrestling? But given his father’s stance on wrestling, this deal was a big deal, according to Ross.
“Dad didn’t like wrestling,” Ross added. “He thought it was too (full of) showmanship (and that) it was unrealistic sometimes — and he was right, but I was at the age where it easy to suspend my disbelief.”
Ross wasn’t about to complain.
“If I fulfilled all of my obligations and I did what I was supposed to do — homework, mowing the lawn, you know all of the normal things — then … that one hour of TV was all mine.”
The elder Ross always made good on his word, even when wrestling pushed the boundaries of his young son’s bed time.
“(It) was on Saturdays and it varied in times,” Ross said of his favourite show. “That played into the equation because when it aired at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, no worries, but then it started airing right after the late local news, which for us was 10:30 p.m. I was always in bed (on) weekends (by) 9 o’clock as a young kid and school nights 8 o’clock, so for me to be able to get that free pass to be able to stay up from 10:30 to 11:30 to watch wrestling, I had to fulfill all of my obligations. I was a fan then.”
Ross has vivid memories of the first match that grabbed his attention. In recounting it, Ross displays his trademark knowledge of the business that eventually became his calling. Fans in Toronto will see this on full display on Friday night when Ross hits the Danforth Music Hall.
“The one match that still vividly stands out in my mind was a tag-team match between the Assassins, a masked team — they took that name after President (John F.) Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, as crass as it sounds, but it’s true — and they were a heel team, who wrestled the Kentuckians,” Ross said, blending in a history lesson while revisiting his youth. “Of course the Kentuckians were big, bearded guys — Grizzly Smith, Jake Roberts’ dad, and another fella by the name of Luke Brown, who I think grew up in the Pacific Northwest.”
Not only were the participants in that match unforgettable, the match itself was one for the ages, Ross said.
“That was the most memorable one because Joe Hamilton, one of the Assassins, punched Grizzly above the eye … the old, hard way, and the TV announcer was a TV station employee so he wasn’t totally smart to the business,” Ross said. “He saw all the blood and they were getting ready to go off the air so they did a ringside interview, so I think he was dubious — at least that’s what he told me in his eighties — that it was real. So he reached up to inspect it and it was just a huge gash. He had called the cameraman to come in close and I don’t exactly know his reasoning, but nonetheless, the cameraman came in close — this was in the ’60s, and it was very graphic.”
So graphic, in fact, it became the stuff of legend, Ross said.
“I remember when I went to work for that territory in 1974, they were telling that story and they said they almost lost their TV clearance with that station because of the graphic nature of the cut. That made the papers, it made the news, it just became like this huge angle that went crazy because the play-by-play guy wanted to not be duped and made a fool (of) so he inspected the cut and it was one of those major gashes and it had to have a lot of stitches. It was the old school, old tough guy, hard-way scenario. It wasn’t done conveniently. It was done very violently. That was my first big memory of (wrestling). It kind of got me hooked, curious.
“It was provocative.”
Another of Ross’s passions in his formative years was sports, more specifically sports broadcasting.
“I was a sports fanatic,” Ross remembered. “There was a radio station in St. Louis called KMOX, and they carried the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games and they had a broadcast team of Jack Buck and Harry Caray and they were just phenomenal wordsmiths. Radio is a theatre of the mind and they were able to tell you exactly how blue the sky was that day in St. Louis and what the other team’s uniform looked like and all of those things.”
Ross’s love for pro wrestling and appreciation for the art of broadcasting, while unbeknownst to him, were steering him down a path of destiny.
“I knew early on that for some reason (I was drawn to) the broadcasting, the storytelling, the sharing of information that those radio guys did. I was a big Oklahoma football fan (before) I was even a wrestling fan and all of their games were on radio. The greatest broadcasters and the greatest storytellers, at least in my opinion, either are or started out as radio guys.”
In those days, Ross was under no illusions about a foray into the business he knew only from watching it for an hour on Saturdays.
“I didn’t know how I would accomplish getting involved in what then was a very closed fraternity of pro wrestling,” Ross said when asked if he had any aspirations of getting into pro wrestling. “That would be like saying ‘I wonder how I would get in the mafia?’ The pro wrestling business at the time, there were so many territories, but they were all so tight-knit, it was like the mafia but without the violence. I loved the product and I enjoyed watching it.”
For Ross then, the closest he could get to the wrestling industry was via television or on special occasions when the family would make trips for appointments.
“On the occasion that we would go to a little town up in Arkansas for things that we didn’t have — I lived in a town of 900 people or less (and there) were things that they didn’t have … a dentist’s office, a doctor’s office. So we would go up to the nearest place for those, that was in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and they had one of those old-time newsstands. They had a zillion different magazines and a fountain counter. Lo and behold, once a month they’d get the wrestling magazine and that was a big thing. That was my link to the outside world of wrestling. I had stacks and stacks of them.”
Looking back, Ross admits to being intrigued by pro wrestling, “but I didn’t know how to facilitate getting there. So I focused on getting to another direction that I felt like I had a better handle on.”
That direction was college.
“I knew that guys would go to college, which inspired me to get off the farm and go to college,” he said, adding that his mother had a Grade 11 education and his father a high school diploma. “They wanted me to go college.”
As he did with his chores, Ross took his schooling very seriously.
“I knew that if I went to college and I got involved in broadcasting or broadcast journalism, something along those lines, that I had a chance to go to work and work for a small radio station perhaps and work my way up. I had read books and biographies about how the big broadcasters — the Mel Allens and the Lindsey Nelsons and the Chris Schenkels and Curt Gowdy and all those guys — how they started small and they did good work and they worked their way up and finally got their big gig. I knew how to do that … “
With only his aspirations and an incredible work ethic, a teenaged Ross set out on his path to greatness. It was while attending college that fate would ultimately intervene.
“Our fraternity had some image and grade point issues and we were asked to rehabilitate our image and do more charity work,” Ross said. “And one of the things that we did was what they called back in the day a spot show and I was the promoter, the head of the committee of our fraternity. We did a pro wrestling event in our college gymnasium. “
In those days, known simply as the territory days, a couple of gentlemen by the name of Leroy McGuirk and Bill Watts oversaw that particular territory. Both would be instrumental in Ross’s life and eventual career.
“This was somewhere around ’72,” Ross said, adding that he was able to impress Watts with the spot show.
“He wanted a marketing plan and I gave him a marketing plan of what we were going to do and he was very impressed with it.,” Ross said. “So we did that and it helped with our standing with the university and it made a lot of money for charity and the next year we did another one. I was the chairman of that again and I did the marketing plan, added a few things, I did some things that weren’t being done even the major promotions because I was using electronic media, I was using radio. We were a non-profit group so we got spots for free and I wrote the spots, voiced them over and (Watts) was very impressed with that. “
So impressed, in fact, was the promoter, that he recruited the young pupil.
“He just basically said ‘when you get out of college, if you’re interested in coming to work in pro wrestling, I may have a job for you in the office,’ ” Ross said.
So that’s precisely what the future hall of famer did. Under the tutelage of Watts and McGuirk, Ross would gain many of the skills that would serve him well throughout his career.
It wasn’t always easy, Ross said.
“(McGuirk) was totally blind,” Ross said. “He was a former wrestler — he was blinded in one eye as a kid, nine or 10 years old — (who) had a phenomenal wrestling career as a national champion in the United States, was a very honoured amateur, then he was a big-time pro and then he had a car accident and lost sight in his other eye, so he became the promoter in Tulsa, and in that territory. Watts eventually bought in as his partner.”
Working for the partners was certainly unique, however.
“Bill had his eye on me to be his eyes and ears when he was out on the road working. He loved when I did my marketing plans, they were written by hand because I didn’t have a typewriter and we didn’t have a word processor,” Ross said. “Believe it or not, my penmanship and my ability to spell boded well for me. When we were sitting in these booking meetings, and I didn’t even know what some of the terms meant, I would take notes like a stenographer.
“And then when Watts was gone, Leroy McGuirk would want to review the notes and what we talked about because he was a little bit older and he was drinking a lot so he would forget. I had my notes. And then also I became his driver, kind of a Man Friday. That’s what Bill wanted. Bill wanted a babysitter. He wanted me to be kind of a valet. It wasn’t a real cool job and it paid $150 a week, all in. I was an independent contractor so it was $150 for everything. You can’t get a plumber to come to your house now for $150 on a service call.”
In many ways, it was a relationship made in heaven.
“The business just kept getting in my blood because I was sitting in these strategy meetings, called booking meetings, sworn to secrecy that I would not tell what I heard,” Ross recalled. “They said all the boys are going to try to get you to give up what you’ve got, and that’s true, they all wanted to know what was going on in the booking meetings.”
He was afforded one key piece of advice.
“One of the old referees there said ‘Leroy and Bill may try to set you up.’ If they get somebody … really convincing … to get you tell them what you’re hearing, they’re going to go use it against you and take it right back to them and then you’ll be fired,” Ross remembered of that information.
So he took the “better safe than sorry” approach.
“I was paranoid all the time about these conversations. I never gave up any information so I never had any issues in that respect.”
Working alongside Watts and McGuirk, Ross learned nearly every aspect of the business.
“I did refereeing, I promoted events, I wrote publicity stories, I took those big window cards to small towns we were running in and put them in the store windows, retail windows, I put the ring up, on ring crew,” Ross said, adding that working inside the ring was among the most valuable things he learned in those days. “The refereeing was great because I was in the ring with these experienced pros and I learned psychology from watching them. I’m in the ring with them, I’m the third man in the ring, so I was part of the process. I was playing a role and I learned a tremendous amount about the psychology and the nuances by being a referee.”
And then came the opportunity that would eventually prove to be Jim Ross’s calling.
“Most of the promotions worked with a local TV station to do their production, and they’d use local announcers,” Ross said. “They’d use guys that just worked for the TV station, the booth announcer or whatever. They forgot that one of their announcers was going to be on vacation and they got to TV to do their every other week television taping and they didn’t have an announcer. So Bill looks at me, and I’d been doing everything else, and he said ‘You think you’re ready to handle this?’ and I said sure.”
First, Ross needed a wardrobe change.
“I didn’t have a sport coat or shirt and tie with me, because I was just doing grunt work, I was dressed business casual, shall we say. So he gave me some money, because I didn’t have any money, and sent me to a little department store and I bought a blue blazer and a light blue shirt and a red tie. I looked like a weather man.”
With only his lifelong love for commentating to guide him, Ross ventured into uncharted territory. The feedback, Ross recalled, was very positive.
“I’d never had any television training and I’d never wore headsets in that respect,” he said. “They counted me in and counted me out and off we went. (Watts) was very pleased with my first outing. He said ‘Well, you can’t say this about a heel, you can’t say that about a babyface,’ all these things. He was very, very meticulous, but it was great for me.”
If being thrust into a commentating role last minute, with no experience, weren’t enough, add to that the fact that his colour analyst was the blind co-promoter, McGuirk.
“I had to be very definitive, I had to paint a real good picture verbally so that it could create that mental image for the blind colour analyst to respond and to add to the broadcast,” Ross remembered.
That evening, that experience, Ross said, was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
“That started that deal,” he said. “I realized at that point, you know, I’d always wanted to be a broadcaster, I’d never thought about being a broadcaster in wrestling and all of a sudden, I found myself in that position and I liked it.”
To this day, Ross credits his time working under Watts and McGuirk as invaluable to his success.
“I’m a firm believer the fact that I learned the intricacies of the business — how to do discretionary payroll, how to book a card, how to help write a television show, how to book a live event, how to listen to how they handled talent — that helped me stick around then, (along with) my note-taking, my penmanship and my spelling, but then the announcing, well that was something that was meant to be. Then later on, when I got into the corporate world of wrestling, all of those other skills that I learned first, the administrative skills, caught up with the announcing and I just added that to my plate.”
Watts, in particular, made a big impression on the young Ross.
“He was brilliant,” Ross said. “He was a college educated, two-sport, major college athlete. He was not just a pugilistic tough guy. He was a tough guy but he was very, very bright, very intelligent, very organized and he saw something in me at that time that others didn’t. He was that I had an aptitude and an intellect for the business. I loved it and I couldn’t get enough information and you couldn’t work me hard enough.”
Hard work as a young boy translated to hard work in college, which translated into hard work early in his career and later, that translated to hard work that carried Ross to top of the mountain, a senior executive position with World Wrestling Entertainment, where he would also become the voice of Monday Night Raw.
Ross’s career, and all that it entails, is the premise behind Ringside: An Evening With Jim Ross. There, audience members and fans will be treated to the life and times of Ross, as he recounts his life and legendary career.
“I basically take the audience on a little ride — I’m their GPS — of my career and we start on the farm there in Oklahoma and how I became a fan then it evolves right through my last days at WWE when I last the company last September,” Ross said. “I kind of give you the lay of the land and use stories to illustrate certain points of commitment and learning.”
Ross is a wrestling rarity nowadays, someone from the territory days who has literally not only seen it all, he’s contributed to it all along the way.
“I came along when cable TV was just launching. I was on the ground floor of cable television, then I was on the ground floor of satellite television, then I was on the ground floor of pay-per-view and then the corporate ownership of wrestling, which had been unheard of because they were all locally owned. I could give a fan a fairly good snapshot of the business from how it was to how it is.”
The highlight of the show, for the audience at least, is the Q&A, in which audience members get to pick the brain of good ol’ JR.
“Really, the Q&As belong to the audience,” Ross said. “They can ask any question that they choose about any topic that they choose. That, to me, is the entree of the Evening With Jim Ross show. Fans get to ask what they want to ask. We can interact and enjoy interacting with them. I don’t blow them off, I don’t half ass it, I don’t lie to them. If I don’t know the answer, I’m not too egocentric to tell them I don’t know.”
Ross says nothing if off limits when it comes to what he can be asked.
“There’s no topic (off limits) — I know that I’ll get Chris Benoit questions in Canada,” he said. “I know I’m going to get somebody who’s going to ask me because they ask me in the U.K., or New York City or New Orleans: ‘What did you feel when Owen Hart died?’ You’re going to get that. Or ‘Did you know that Bret Hart was going to get screwed in Montreal?’ You know that you’re going to get those, especially in Canada. And I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve got honest, logical answers for all of those things that just happen to be the truth.”
Benoit’s is a tale of triumph and tragedy. After finally becoming a headliner in WWE, he, his wife and his young son were found dead in the family home, victims of a murder-suicide at the hands of the Canadian-born wrestler, a man Ross hired in WWE.
Ross fields Benoit questions a lot, he admits. “(I get asked) ‘Do you think that based on Chris Benoit’s wrestling abilities, and his career, and his being an overachiever because of his size, etcetera, etcetera, that he should be in the WWE Hall of Fame?’ ”
Well, the reporter asks? Should he?
“My answer is no,” Ross said. “My answer is unless somebody’s in this audience that really knew Chris better than me — I felt like I knew him really well (because) I hired him, I spent a lot of time with him, I orchestrated his year away from the business to get his neck fix; he never missed a payday and I was very loyal to him and he to me; we had a very good friendship — he would not want to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and it become a distraction.
“Unfortunately, in our society, he’s not going to be remembered by the masses as this phenomenal wrestler who copied himself after the Dynamite Kid. He’s going to be known as the guy who murdered his wife, his son and committed suicide. That’s the bottom line. And knowing him, and the trooper that he was in the ring, and his passion for the business, he would not want to disrupt an event like the Hall of Fame to be honoured himself. It would become a travesty and he wouldn’t like that whatsoever.”
Besides Benoit, Ross famously recruited many of the now legendary names from the WWE’s so-called Attitude Era, names like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Adam (Edge) Copeland, The Hardy Boys, Triple H and Mick Foley, to name but a few.
Not one to turn down the opportunity to pick the brain of a legend, this reporter asks Ross who among Foley, Daniel Bryan and Benoit was the greatest “unlikely” success story.
Ross doesn’t hesitate.
“I would say Mick Foley by far and the reason is of the three guys you just named, he — and I love him — (is) the poorest athlete of the group; the most unathletic of the three. He also took his opportunity when he got it at WWE, and not only did he become successful as a villain, he became successful as a fan favourite, as a babyface, and he became ultimately successful as an author. Then he’s taken all of those skills and melded them into his travelling show, where he’s doing his standup act. And the other thing is, he didn’t have multiple marriages. Now, Daniel Bryan just got married. Chris had two marriages and his second marriage was very volatile. Mick has been married to the same woman the entire time. What’s the big deal about that? Well it’s the wrestling business. And when you’re on the road in a business that doesn’t have an off-season, marriages and relationships are hard to maintain.
Ross recalled how hard he had to work to get Foley hired by WWE.
“When I wanted to hire Mick, I was trying to find a big heel to work with The Undertaker because he’d gone through just about everybody we had,” he said. “The roster needed to be really rebuilt and I was in the early stages of rebuilding the roster and trying to really change the culture in the locker room. Mick Foley was a guy that was on my list because I knew he was, I thought, an exceptionally smart worker. He knew what he could do and what he couldn’t do. And he also knew how to interact with an opponent to make sure that he made the opponent look better than they maybe were. So Mick had those great traits you have to have in wrestling — either as a worker, a booker or a broadcaster. You embellish the strengths and you hide or restrict the weaknesses.”
WWE chairman Vince McMahon didn’t see in Foley what Ross did.
“Vince didn’t want to hire Mick because of his look,” Ross said. “He finally relented. I was badgering him that I thought this was going to work. I said You know, you’ve got to let me hire some guys if this is going to be my job. I can’t come to you with every hire. I can’t come to you and get your blessing on every guy. You have too much to do and I’m not doing my job.’ It was basically a matter of ‘If you don’t the confidence in me to do this job, I understand and it’s no hard feelings, but maybe you should get somebody (in whom) you do have confidence — maybe an ex-wrestler, maybe because I haven’t wrestled …’
“He said ‘I’ll let you hire Mick and you’ll find out what it’s like to get your heart broken,’ ” Ross remembered. ‘When you hire somebody that you think is really going to come through for you and they don’t, you have an emotional investment in those guys, they can break your heart.’ ”
It didn’t take McMahon long to see the eye that Ross had for spotting talent.
“We hired Mick and Vince came and slipped in the night Mick and I were doing that launching interview with him where he put me in the Mandible Claw. Vince was just awestruck. There wasn’t a writing team that wrote our lines. It was us ad-libbing and we nailed it and got lucky. At that point, he saw what I had seen and gave me an atta boy on that one and then off and running, Mick Foley, Mankind and The Undertaker went with it and had a great run. Then he morphed into all kinds of things.
“I would say because of Mick overachieving athletically, having the ability to play three characters, becoming just as successful as a villain as he was a hero, and then becoming a New York Times best-selling author, I would say that Foley probably is the biggest success story of the three that you mentioned.”
Anyone who watched wrestling during the now legendary Attitude Era would be familiar with Ross, whose southern drawl, original catchphrases and unmistakable voice were as paramount to WWE wrestling as its matches.
Those who did would remember his legendary calls of Mick Foley versus The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell, or Stone Cold Steve Austin’s WWE championship win over Shawn Michaels and countless others.
Asked if a commentator could affect the career of a performer — either positively or negatively — Ross agreed they could.
“I think if you’re really good at what you do in that role — there have been a lot of really good play-by-play guys — you can make a good moment great, you can make an average moment good and you can salvage something that really stinks. And sometimes it isn’t what you say, it’s what you don’t say … like laying out in a certain moment, or pausing, just feeling the moment, using your timing.”
Ross even offered some tips to aspiring wrestling commentators.
“I think that the announcer has a major role in how a presentation is received,” he said. “Not being hyperbole all the time, being logical, don’t provide eye-rolling material on a regular basis, taking people out of the moment. It’s a really, really hard job.”
Again, Ross alludes to his youth.
“You go back to those Oklahoma days, that only child thing,” he said. “My whole goal all week was to do right and to be a good son so I didn’t screw myself out of that one hour of wrestling. That’s what it meant to me back in the early days. I just brought that whole feeling and that emotion forward with me.”
Ross, who left the WWE last year after more than 20 years with the company, isn’t sure what the future holds.
“I’ve never told anybody that ‘oh I’m done, I’m done.’ I’m likely done with WWE because I don’t have the look that they embrace,” he said. “A southern accent, chubby guy with three bouts of facial paralysis, a.k.a. Bell’s palsy, has a hard time making it the WWE world of HD television.”
A long battle with Bell’s palsy derailed the hall of famer’s career a few times in his life, but the tough Oklahoman always bounced back.
“My issues are when I get fatigued, I have one eye that droops and I slur a little bit,” Ross said. “I don’t let it define me. That’s not going to be what beats me at the end of the day.”
While Ross won’t rule out again calling wrestling matches, it’s not high on his list of priorities at the moment.
“I get opportunities to do stuff,” he said. “I got a call the other day to do some boxing. That might be something. It’d be new, it’d be challenging and it’s a combat sport. That might be something that would intrigue me. We’ll see how it goes. Between my podcast (http://podcastone.com/The-Ross-Report), my work with Fox and one-man shows, I’m having a blast. I’m being able to control my schedule, I’m being able to spend more time with my family, I’m being able to go to my ball games. I quit smoking in January. For years in that pressure cooker, I used that as a pacifier. I’m really happy.”
That happiness, Ross says, includes sitting with his fans at his one-man shows.
“I think when people come to those shows, they’re going to hear a story of a journey of just an average kid who wasn’t a great athlete as far as becoming a wrestler,” he said. “I wasn’t related to anybody in the business that gave me the opportunity to get my foot in. It was accidental. It came through hard work and effort and succeeding in a project. And there it goes back to what my dad taught me about keeping your commitments and doing your chores, doing everything right, and if you do everything right, then good things happen. And the most basic thing of good things happening for me as a kid was, the good thing, you got to watch wrestling this week.”
Coincidentally, it was his youth that Ross would draw from from time to time while calling wrestling matches, reaching back and coining phrases that would eventually become part of everyday wrestling lexicon.
“There are things I heard as a kid, or things that my grandpa might say,” Ross said, when asked about some of more well known catchphrases. “I actually had a pet coon,” he said, drawing a big laugh from the reporter. “I did. And my dad said ‘if you don’t turn that coon loose, you’re going to become as goofy as that pet coon.’ ”
Ross also credited his dad for another of now legendary sayings. “He said, ‘son, a wild animal, like a coon, is not a domesticated pet. They don’t make good pets.’ So then I was thinking one day about the Texas rattlesnake and I’m thinking ‘rattlesnakes don’t make good corporate pets.’ Simply from a life experience.”
“The government mule thing was a story that my great grandfather told me about when the settlers came to Oklahoma and they got 160 acres of land in then known as Indian territory,” he explained “A lot of times if you were really lucky, you got 160 acres and if you were lucky, you got it near water and the government would give you a mule. People would mistreat the mules because they didn’t pay for them so if they ran on hard times and they were in a drought situation, they’d just pull up stakes and leave their land and leave their mule and go elsewhere.
“The mules were tough animals, they were mistreated, sometimes they weren’t fed regularly, so I thought tougher than a government mule was a great illustration of how tough a guy could be because no animal lived a rougher life in a quasi domesticated environment than a government mule.”
Perhaps no JR expression is more repeated, or beloved, than slobberknocker, which is still used from time to time today as an homage to Ross.
“Slobberknocker was,” explained Ross, “when I was in about the eighth grade. I would’ve been maybe 12, 13. That would’ve been in the mid-’60s. The football coach wanted us to be aggressive and hit hard and you’d want to hit somebody so hard you’d cause a slobberknocker. That just stuck with me. A slobberknocker was a very violent, or a very aggressive, very physical hit where you would hit somebody so hard that they would spit — they would slobber all over themselves. It fit one day, or I thought it did, and it stuck.”
Did it ever.
For his part, Ross says it’s flattering to know that so many people have embraced some of the expressions he coined at the announcers’ table. The recently launched WWE Network offers fans a chance to relive some of JR’s best work. That, too, gives Ross a good feeling.
“The WWE Network … the one thing that’s going to be kind of cool is I know that — I have two grandchildren, and hopefully they live long, happy, productive lives — but I know that if this network does what everybody hopes it does, it’ll be around. And if it’s around then they can sample grandpa’s work. And then if they have children, then they can sample great grandpa’s work. It reminds me of, to a whole lot lesser degree, but last week on TCM, Turner Classic Movies, they had John Wayne week. And I’m thinking to myself, how cool must it be for John Wayne’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren to watch the patriarch as a young guy, as an older guy, but all of his body of work. How neat was that? Then I got to thinking well you know on a little bit lesser scale, my kids are going to be able to see that, too.”
Ross again turns reflective.
“It’s been a fantastic journey for me,” he said, admitting that his one-man show allows him to continue to do what he does best. “I look forward to sharing (my stories). It also gives me that creative release, that opportunity to, I guess for lack of a better term, perform. It lets me go out and entertain and audience, interact with the audience, and be around the fans. I never took them for granted and I never will. I always looked at like ‘we’re just the same. We really are no different except I got lucky and kinda slipped in the back door of the wrestling business in 1974 and never left.’ ”
When you’ve been a major part of the most successful era in professional wrestling history, and you’ve called thousands upon thousands of matches, many of them legendary in nature, picking out one or two moments that stand above everything else can’t be an easy task.
Not so, Ross said. For him, two moments do stand out.
“I’ve been able to call so many memorable wrestling matches,” Ross said. “I mean from different eras, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, etcetera, it’s impossible to pick out one match. I don’t really have a favourite match. The most memorable match because the sound bytes have been put on everything from hockey to MMA to football, is the Hell in a Cell match from ’98 with Mankind, or Mick, and The Undertaker.
“But for me, as just as guy who started out as a fan making a buck fifty a week, there was a night (that stands out),” Ross said, the conversation turning very serious.
“WWE in 2007 had made some preliminary plans to replace me as the voice of Monday Night Raw,” he said.” I think that that was somewhat the catalyst of why I got inducted in 2007 into the hall of fame. ‘Well this’ll be a nice way. JR can just do administrative work, we’ll take him off the air and that would be a nice sendoff.’ And those were good sentiments, I get that.
“Unbeknownst to me, plans were being made for me to be replaced,” Ross said. “So, in Chicago it was announced to the live audience (that I was the latest WWE) Hall of Fame inductee — every week they would announce one — the sustained standing ovation I got shocked a lot of WWE higher ups to the point that I was going to sit down and I was told to play it out because it was a moment, one of those moments you can feel at home. That experience was overwhelming and I guess in a way, it kind of gave me a little bit of a reprieve as far as my work was concerned, being on Monday Night Raw, because I stayed on Monday Night Raw until I was moved to SmackDown in 2008.”
Staying with the hall of fame theme, Ross’s second memorable moment came on induction night.
“The other moment that goes hand-in-hand with that Chicago Hall of Fame induction announcement was actually being introduced and inducted into the Hall of Fame in Detroit, at WrestleMania 23, by Steve Austin,” Ross said of his longtime friend. “Steve and I had had such an amazing journey together, professionally and personally in our lives. I hired him and he was kind of earmarked to be a middle-of-the-card guy. Somebody sent me a thing the other day — it might have been on the WWE Network — where I said in 1992 that if there was a draft in WCW, Steve Austin would be my No. 1 pick. This was back in 1992, obviously before he came to WWE. So I always thought he had ‘it.’ Unfortunately, politically, the powers that be in WCW didn’t share my sentiments.
“Those two moments — and people can look at it and say ‘well gosh, that’s an egocentric way of looking at things, that’s all about him’ — no, it really wasn’t all about me. It was all about the journey. When I looked out in Detroit in that theatre, and I see a whole bunch of talent sitting right in front of me, most of it which I hired and helped facilitate their opportunity to live their dreams, and then you look a little farther back and it’s just fans and they’re all standing. That’s really what got me.
“I didn’t have a whole hell of a lot in common with those athletes, those big, muscled up guys and those great athletes, but I had a lot in common with everybody else because we’re all wrestling fans and one of us made it. I even used that in speech; I’m the first wrestling fan to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. And I live my life that way.”
It’s not hard to see where the name Good Ol’ JR comes from after spending some time on the phone with the living legend.
“That night in Chicago touched my heart more than anything I’ve ever done because it (was) a huge crowd, a great crowd, and they were just wonderful.”
On the subject of great crowds, Ross quickly points out his love affair with the city of Toronto, and its fans.
“I came to a Raw when I was off with Bell’s palsy and my face was completely screwed up,” Ross said. “They introduced me at a Raw in Toronto and the crowd gave me a standing ovation and that was very special.”
Not only that, but Ross well remembers WrestleMania X8, at the now Rogers Centre, which featured The Rock versus Hulk Hogan.
“I’ve always had this relationship with Toronto because I’ve felt like some of my best work was at WrestleMania 18 because we called that audible on that Rock-Hulk match midstream, (Jerry) Lawler and I,” Ross said. “We weren’t produced that way, we didn’t have it yelled at through our headsets, we went with our insticts. We made sure we didn’t turn Rock heel, but we made sure we didn’t make Hogan a heel either. It was icon versus icon type thing and we tweaked that to where both guys were getting their just due. And we made sure that we made Hogan whole after he did the honours and Rock went over. We didn’t discredit Rock because he was our young guy and one of our great stars, and Hogan was just coming back and, like a lot of us, had a little age on him. We handled that, I thought, pretty good. Some of my best moments were there in Toronto.”
For those reasons, a reflective Ross once again turns excited as he relishes his looming return to Toronto on Friday, where he promises there will be tickets available on the day of the show. Good Ol’ JR promises fans they won’t be disappointed.
“Sometimes I tell stories and they cry. Sometimes I tell stories and they laugh. Sometimes I tell stories and they’re sitting there with their mouths agape. It depends on the audience. It depends on the story. I don’t have any script. I don’t use a teleprompter. It’s really me and them. It’s my life so I don’t need someone to write copy for me, cause I lived it.
You sure did, JR. And we’re all blessed to have been a part of it.
What: Ringside: An Evening with Jim Ross.
When: Friday, May 9, 9 p.m.
Where: Danforth Music Hall, Toronto.