Jim Ross is undoubtedly one of the greatest wrestling announcers of all time and ‘The Voice’ of the WWE.
The 61-year-old, who resides in Norman, Oklahoma began his career in the territories working for Bill Watts and Jim Crockett Promotions, which later became WCW.
However, Ross joined the WWE in 1993 and that is where he really made a name for himself as a commentator using phrases such as ‘Slobberknocker’. He is also a former company executive of WWE as well as a talent relations consultant. JR was inducted into the 2007 WWE Hall of Fame.
We caught up with ‘Good Ol’ JR’ to talk about his upcoming tour of the UK, working through the territories, his relationship with Eric Bischoff, making his WWE debut at WrestleMania, BBQ sauce and much more.
You’re coming over to the UK in August to host four shows in Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester and London, what can fans expect from these shows?
I think it’s going to be a unique experience for wrestling fans because they are going to be hearing from a wrestling fan that got lucky enough 39-years-ago to begin a journey in the business and live his dream. This is a first for me, I’ve done everything else in wrestling but this is a new adventure and a new experience and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to share my life, time and experiences with the fans, without sounding cliché without the fans we don’t have jobs.
I think the difference with my story and some of the wrestlers is that often times the wrestlers are ingrained with talking about their career, and I’m going to talk about my career no doubt about it. My career started as a fan, and I’m still a fan today without question, so I will be able to identify with the audience.
I think that my journey also embraces many of the great stars that I’ve had the privilege of working within the seventies, eighties, nineties and the 2000s. I think it will be very unique, very different; it’s going to be very personable, very one-on-one, very intimate. There will be some poignant stories, some very fun stories, overall I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
It’s going to be different to any spoken word tour they’ve ever heard because to my knowledge no one has ever replicated my journey from starting out as a fan to getting in the business indirectly and accidentally back in the territory days to eventually becoming the executive vice president of the largest sports entertainment company in the world, WWE.
What made now the right time for you to decide to do these shows?
The fact that I’m not on weekly TV anymore or doing the PPV’s, I’m not as physical as I was for so many decades. This opportunity for these spoken word tours is the next step for me and I’m going to approach it with as much diligence, preparation, and passion as I did doing a Monday Night Raw or a WrestleMania.
This is the next phase of my life, I enjoy communicating with wrestling fans, that’s what I’ve done forever, I communicated with wrestling fans and I did it on television. This just gives me the opportunity to communicate with wrestling fans in an intimate environment, they can ask the questions they have always wanted to know and we can look back in time or ahead to the future.
Could we expect more shows of this nature from yourself in the future, as you’ve had such a long and legendary career?
I think these shows will last for a couple of hours, I think anything beyond that starts pushing the envelope a little bit, I’m not one to leave unfinished business, I’ll do it as long as it’s still entertaining and people are having fun.
I think that the future of these shows is sort of dependent on how we do this time; I’ve got a lot of feedback from fans asking why I’m not coming to their city or town. However, if these shows are as successful as we hope they are going to be the goal is to do more in other cities.
Who were some of the wrestlers that enjoyed watching whilst growing up?
I started watching wrestling in the sixties and then wrestling was not on national television, there were lots of little promotions known as territories and we had a territory in our area, which was based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Some of the stars of that era were guys like Danny Hodge, whose probably one of the more off the radar guys even though he’s a two-time Olympian and a national Golden Glove boxing champion, he was also a three-time national collegiate wrestler, and just one of the all-time greats.
Jack Brisco was one of the guys just getting started in his career when I started watching on TV. There was a tag team known as The Assassins, who ironically took their name from the Kennedy assassination and they were probably as good a villain tag team as I ever saw.
Who were commentators you really enjoyed listening to and took inspiration from?
I kind of got into the broadcast side of things accidentally but I made the most of my opportunity because I saw that was my chance, that was my niche. If I was going to hang around and make a living provide for my family and do what I loved to do being in the wrestling business then as I said I had to find my niche and broadcasting became that.
Once I realised that was going to become my calling or my opportunity then I really started paying attention to the broadcasters of the day and the most influential one for me was Gordon Solie.
Gordon was the voice of Florida Championship Wrestling before getting on TBS, which was national cable television and he became my role model. He seemed to be natural, he picked his spots to be passionate, he wasn’t over the top but if something was serious or if something was dramatic he could put the message across using his voice and tone.
I never tried to emulate him, I just wanted to have the same credibility that he had because from early on I knew to be myself and by being yourself your either going to succeed or fail. I can honestly say I never went to work and played the role of a wrestling broadcaster, I always went to work being me, I didn’t want to be the next Gordon Solie, I wanted to be the first Jim Ross.
What was it like working during the territories with Bill Watts and Jim Crockett?
It was challenging because you were always on the go, when I first started working in territories I was a referee so I travelled the same schedule as the talent. That meant your car would do 1500-2000 miles a week, I was making between $25 – $40 a day, and I was responsible for all my expenses for fuel, hotel, and food, then you had to keep some money to send home to the family to pay the bills and rent, so it wasn’t a life of luxury.
It was challenging in the early days and then I advanced to where I was working more in the office as Bill’s right-hand man doing a variety of things from promotion to buying advertising to broadcasting. I was in the office and only had to travel to television shows once a week, so there was less travel than when I was a referee. Working in a booking office at a territory is challenging because the guys would come and go. The only thing that bound them there was their handshake, there weren’t contracts. There were some challenging times but sitting in those booking meetings was a great learning experience for me.
It gave me an education that no other announcer in today’s world would ever have the opportunity to experience. I think that gave me a little bit of an advantage when I first hit the national cable scene, I got noticed by a bigger audience than just my territory. The fact I had worked in a territory and I was given the opportunity to learn the crowd psychology and the fundamental skills.
Jim Ross interviews Terry Taylor and Eddie Gilbert
How would you describe your time in WCW and working with Eric Bischoff?
My time in Atlanta was great, I went to Atlanta first for Jim Crockett and I was only doing television so my schedule was very light. Crockett then got into financial problems and that’s when Ted Turner brought the brand and they wanted me to move to Atlanta, which I did, I lived in Atlanta from the late eighties to 1993 so for about five years and Atlanta was one of my favourite place to live and I was doing stuff with the Atlanta Falcon’s Football team.
Eric was already there doing some announcing and I never really had any issues with him. He had some problems with Bill Watts I think, I know Bill wanted to fire Eric and Bill told me he wanted me to fire Bischoff to which I asked why and he said he didn’t like him. Eric always worked hard and I told Bill I didn’t agree with the decision, and didn’t fire him because I didn’t think personal issues should come into play.
When Eric got the job as the head of the department he believed that I was too southern sounding and that I could never be the voice of a global brand. They reassigned me and breached their own contract because my contract clearly stated what my job description was and I had two and a half years left making really nice money, I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t want to be out of the game for two and a half years.
That was in 1993, so I was only 41-years-old, so I was still young and I didn’t want to become a faded memory, I wanted to stay involved in the business so I contacted WWE. Vince McMahon called me back and he told me WWE was doing a television taping in Augusta, Georgia, so I drove from Atlanta to Augusta and met Vince. We came to an agreement that I would start to work for the WWE when all my legal issues with Turner were done and I got them off the hook for two and a half years of pay that they were going to pay me for doing nothing, so I got my release pretty easy and went to work for Vince.
The preconception was that Eric and I had a very negative relationship and it really wasn’t. He made a business decision based on where he thought the brand should go, he wanted to change the sound of the show. I’m enough of a professional to know that goes with the territory, so there wasn’t as much tension as people think between Eric and I.
What goes around comes around and Eric became a talent in WWE and I was in charge of the talent, obviously, I had the opportunity to make his life miserable but that never happened. He was the ideal employee, always turned up to work on time, did what he was asked to do, he did well, his persona on television was very easy to dislike, which is a great trait for a villain. That’s why Paul Heyman is so good, naturally, he is very easy to dislike and that’s a compliment.
I never had any issues with Eric, we don’t talk regularly but I consider him as a friend, and that is one of the biggest fallacies in wrestling folk law that we had this hate for each other.
Bill Watts and Eric Bischoff
What was it like when you made your on-screen debut for the WWE at WrestleMania IX?
I was content in WCW, but I always, from day one had my eye on WWE because that for me was always the final stop. When I look back at the tape from that WrestleMania my performance was much better than I perceived it on the day because I was very confident that I could go on air and do well. I didn’t know until midweek of that WrestleMania week that I was going to be the play-by-play, because it was up to seeing how Gorilla Monsoon felt because he was feeling pretty ill.
On that show, Gorilla only did the opening to WrestleMania and then he introduced me and I worked for the first time ever with Bobby Heenan and Macho Man Randy Savage. We hadn’t had any rehearsals or commentated on any matches together beforehand we just went out and did it. I look back on it and sometimes get cold chills, I feel I should have been more nervous, I don’t know if it was my ego or my confidence or my ignorance is bliss, but I wasn’t nervous at all that day. I felt like I was well prepared, Vince had worked with me a lot during the early part of the day, we rehearsed my opening remarks and that was it.
What a lot of people don’t know is that Vince was very accommodating to me, I signed a good contract and he took care of me financially. In the production meeting the day before WrestleMania he introduced me to all of the people there that I hadn’t already met and told them I would be doing the play-by-play for WrestleMania. There were a lot of them who were thinking, ‘what the hell,’ this guy has just come in from WCW and his first assignments WrestleMania. I don’t think some of them knew Gorilla was feeling under the weather, some of them were a little standoffish like I had taken Gorilla’s spot, which I really hadn’t, I was just a new guy and Vince threw me into the fire to see what I was going to do.
The big difference was wearing a toga that was unique, it was a themed event but other than that I would say ignorance is bliss because I should have been more nervous than I was. I can tell you subsequent WrestleMania’s, almost all of them I did after that I was much more nervous than I was on the first one for whatever crazy reason.
It wasn’t like I was a rookie, I’d been in the business for 19-years before I got that opportunity, I felt like I had paid my dues and I was ready.
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What have been some of your most memorable matches to commentate on down the years?
I know in WCW the matches that involved (Ric) Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, Sting and even some Vader and Mick Foley matches, The Four Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes, it was just a great array of talent that was old school and some great wrestling matches.
The UWF before that, some of the matches involving Dr. Death, One Man Gang, Ted DiBiase, Junkyard Dog back in the day, who was not a great in-ring performer but he was so charismatic and had the audience in the palm of his hand.
In the WWE one of the more underrated events that we did was the King of the Ring in 1993, there were some really good matches during that tournament, I think Bret Hart and Mr. Perfect had a match, and there were some really good matches there. Almost any match in a big event with Shawn Michaels in it was great, Shawn was hurt when he passed the torch to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania or that match would have been even more historic. The Michaels v The Undertaker Hell in a Cell match I think was underrated, whenever you think of Hell in a cell it’s always Foley and Undertaker. When Shawn came back from injury his matches against Triple H were amazing. The three WrestleMania main events that The Rock and Austin had were pretty spectacular. Austin v Bret at WrestleMania 13 was extraordinary and that wasn’t even the main event that night, that match put a brand on Austin’s name as a defiant, tough, Texas Rattlesnake, he became our biggest box office star ever and it was just a phenomenal match which told an amazing story.
Then you had guys like John Cena, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar coming in and they had the hunger to get to the same level as those guys. I remember signing Kurt Angle and we didn’t know what to expect because sometimes amateurs don’t translate well into the pros, but he made a seamless transition.
What was it like when you were entered into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007?
That was like the crowning moment and it kind of took me back to my fan days. It was amazing to be there with all of the other guys that were inducted in that class, it was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream.
After being in the WWE from 1993 to 2007, 14-years, I never really thought about the Hall of Fame. I thought it was essentially going to be for wrestlers and I understood the difference for the honorary celebrity wing. Until I got the phone call it wasn’t something that I was expecting or something that I thought was owed to me, I was very surprised and honoured and to open that ceremony in Detroit and have Stone Cold as my presenter was really magical.
Do you miss not being on television on a weekly basis?
I would like to think I put a brick or two in the foundation of the WWE over the years, back in the Attitude Era and hiring certain guys, developing talents plus my work on the air and behind the scenes. My goal, because I’m not on the air is to focus on other areas that I can contribute.
Do I miss being on Monday Night Raw? Absolutely, I had some of the greatest times of my life on Monday Night Raw, I loved every week, every moment, but at this stage of my game where I’ve had some health issues and not getting any younger, I would be less than honest if I said I embrace the travel of 51 weeks a year.
I don’t miss the travel, or being away from my wife and family, I do miss the camaraderie on the day of a show at an arena, and I miss when the red light goes on and it’s time to get after it.
What has Vince McMahon been like as a boss?
He never asks you to work any harder than he’s willing to work, he never asks you to put in more hours than he’s willing to put in, he is relentless and detail orientated. There is no question about who the boss is when it comes to crunch time and decision-making time. That’s very refreshing because when I was in WCW more often than not there wasn’t a clear understanding who the decision-maker was. When you get that many strong personalities together and that many big egos and bigger than life personalities you have to have a strong leader.
Have I always agreed with every decision that Vince has made? No, I haven’t, but I respect the decisions because I respect him. Vince can be tough, we know that, he’s been through some tough situations and he’s had to make major decisions. I think he’s passionate about the business, he and I used to work every Saturday, when all the other office people had gone home and they would work Monday to Friday, Vince and I would work every Saturday at his house. It wasn’t something I had any control over, I would have rather had Saturday off to watch football games or to be with my wife, but we worked Saturday and we did it for years.
Which wrestler would you most like to see do a spoken word tour?
There are a lot of guys, I would like to see Stone Cold do one, I think that would be good. He worked during the territory days, he knows what it was like to make little or nothing and work every day to find his way to the promised land. Austin would be very good if he were to do one,
I’ve done a couple of similar things with (Jerry ‘The King’) Lawler, his journey began as a fan that actually got into the wrestling side of things and he would have some wonderful stories.
If Bobby Heenan were healthy and could speak clearly he might be at the top of the list. He went through the territory days and he did everything basically there was to do in the business and was great at all of them, and his stories will be pretty timeless. Plus he’s got a natural sense of humour and wonderful comedic timing.
The thing about my story and the guys I’ve mentioned is that anytime you have the wrestling territory experience you have something that many guys going forward will never be able to share because they just didn’t do it. Some guys that are out there now that do have the territory experience aren’t comfortable speaking in front of a group.
I can’t let you go without asking about your BBQ Sauce?
We’ve associated ourselves with a company based in Manchester, American Soda. They have some of our products in their retail stores but also ship it online at americansoda.co.uk. They sell our BBQ sauces, our Main Event Mustard and Chipotle Ketchup, they have become a huge hit, it gives people a new range with some different flavours. It’s not just wrestling fans that are buying it and we’re really proud of it because we’ve spent a lot of time developing the recipe, it’s not a gimmick, the product is high quality. I’m a foodie at heart and I enjoy cooking and grilling and this is just an extension of that, and I’ve got a little entrepreneurial spirit.
We’re trying to make sure we have plenty of products at the shows so folks can buy stuff without having to pay the shipping costs. Maybe some people will buy them and I’ll be more than happy to sign them.
For more information on Jim Ross, you can follow him on Twitter @JRsBBQ