Rock Star Reflects…on good ol’ JR!

Despite the rumors floating around concerning Jim Ross’
recent retirement, I would like to congratulate good ol’ JR on a fantastic
career in the professional wrestling/sports entertainment industry.

While Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and Shawn Michaels
were throwing around the ICON label back in 1997 a true icon was working two
different jobs within the World Wrestling Federation. Jim Ross was both the
Executive Vice-President of Talent Relations as well as the host of Monday
Night RAW. While one of those positions would be quite difficult to handle,
Ross held and excelled in both of them.
Let’s take a look back on the career of good ol’
JR.
I was initially introduced to Jim Ross through his
play-by-play of Mid-South Wrestling back in the mid-80s. Unfortunately I do not
have many memories of his run in MSW/UWF because it was not nationally
televised. Once the UWF buyout by Jim Crockett Promotions transpired Jim Ross
became a weekly staple on my television when he co-hosted World Championship
Wrestling with Tony Schiavone and David Crockett. To this day I am still quite
fond of the former Saturday night 6:05pm wrestling show.
Unbeknownst to me at the time Ross was not only a
play-by-play announcer for the NWA but also a member of the booking committee. His
commentary alongside Bob Caudle during the Flair-Steamboat trilogy in 1989
enhanced the competitive battles taking what was already great and making it
legendary.
While having an extensive knowledge of pro wrestling and
exercising it within his commentary Ross also provided unique background
information on the ring participants. As you already know Ross is a devout
supporter of the University of Oklahoma Sooners. When it came time for Ross to
have an entrance theme he chose the Sooner fight song. The integration of his
college football acumen with wrestlers such as “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, Ron
Simmons, along with Rick and Scott Steiner made his announcing appropriate and
realistic.
Without a doubt Ross also had an amazing plethora of
catchphrases. Prior to listening to Ross’ announcing I had never heard the term
“slobberknocker.” His phrase “business is about to pick up” signaled the
audience to pay closer attention as the heat for the match got hotter. “Scalded
dog” and “government mule” were metaphors Ross was known to extol when
someone’s ass was getting whipped. In addition his exclamation during the Hell
in a Cell match in June 1998 between the Undertaker and Mankind stands as one
of his best and most notable: “As God as my witness he is broken in half!”
Ross’ career in WCW lasted until Eric Bischoff became
Executive Vice President of WCW in 1993. Despite having a guaranteed contract
with time remaining on it Ross knew that his TV time was precious and sought
greener (yet less financially green) pastures in the WWF. In fact, according to
cagesideseats.com writer Keith Harris, “On March 28, 1993 Jim Ross stuck the
middle finger to his former employer WCW, just one month after having resigned
from the company due to Eric Bischoff removing him as the lead TV announcer, by
having Vince McMahon on his WCW sponsored radio show to announce his signing
with the WWF, technically before he had even received his official WCW contract
release.”
On April 4, 1993 Ross began his WWF career at WrestleMania
IX in Las Vegas, NV as the play-by-play announcer alongside “Macho Man” Randy
Savage and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. How can anyone forget seeing Jim Ross in a
toga?
Unfortunately for Ross he suffered partial facial paralysis
due to Bell’s palsy and was fired on February 11, 1994. Subsequently he worked
for Smoky Mountain Wrestling and the Atlanta Falcons. However, during the
infamous WWF steroid trials Vince McMahon was unable to perform his announcing
duties on Monday Night RAW and rehired Ross to fill the play-by-play role. Upon
conclusion of said trials Ross found himself out of a job with the WWF again.
In December 1994 Ross was rehired and worked on the
syndicated shows instead of RAW. But in 1996 Ross rejoined the RAW broadcast
team alongside Jerry “The King” Lawler and Vince McMahon. In a poor attempt for
ratings Ross turned heel lambasting the WWF in promos and promising the return
of “Razor Ramon” and “Diesel.” This move sent shockwaves to wrestling fans
during the Monday Night War, and it inadvertently caused Kevin Nash and Scott
Hall to receive raises in their contracts due to WCW’s naivety.
Sadly Nash and Hall were not rejoining the WWF. Instead Rick
Bogner and Glen Jacobs (last seen on RAW as Isaac Yankem, DDS) filled the roles
of “Razor Ramon” and “Diesel.” The audience quickly dismissed the duo as fake
and Ross’ heel turn was quickly scratched. On the bright side Ross’ commentary
during IYH: Buried Alive in October 1996 is truly time worth spent if you have
never heard Ross’ heel character.
After the Montreal “screwjob” at Survivor Series 1997
McMahon gave up his announcing duties. Ross then became the lead announcer on
RAW until Bell’s palsy struck him again in late 1998. He did not return to WWF
programming until March 1, 1999. With insistence from the Rock and “Stone Cold”
Steve Austin Ross replaced Cole during the main event of WrestleMania XV and
didn’t miss a step.
One of the toughest things an announcer has to do is to
relay bad news to the audience. With the utmost respect Ross carried out his
responsibility on May 23, 1999 by informing the pay-per-view audience that Owen
Hart had died. It reminded me of the incident during the 1972 Olympics when Jim
McKay had to relay the bad news that occurred in Munich. But I digress…
While Ross was the play-by-play announcer on RAW Ed
Ferrara—a TV writer who worked for the WWF but subsequently joined WCW in
1999—parodied Ross on WCW Monday Nitro as the character “Oklahoma.”  In my eyes this parody was incredibly
distasteful and mean-spirited. It was neither funny nor cute, and Ed Ferrara
should be ashamed of himself for doing it.
As I mentioned earlier Ross was not only the play-by-play
announcer but also the Executive Vice-President of Talent Relations for the
WWF. Notable hiring that pertains to Ross’ tenure in said position includes:
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “The Rock”, Cactus Jack, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, and
many others. Along with the change in programming that the WWF undertook in the
late ‘90s I firmly believe the talent that Ross hired to fulfill the change
made the difference in the Monday Night War.
On August 26, 1999 Ross performed his announcing duties
alongside Jerry Lawler on the network premiere of WWF Smackdown. However,
Michael Cole would assume that role following that episode. On an infrequent
basis Ross would make appearances on Smackdown (e.g. the 9/11 tribute show that
aired live on 9/13/2001).
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the constant
humiliation thrust upon Ross during his WWF/WWE tenure. In 2001 Ross became
only the second member of Vince McMahon’s “Kiss My Ass” club behind William
Regal. In 2005 health issues would require a leave of absence for Ross. To
explain the absence WWE humiliated Ross with a “head up his ass” colonoscopy skit
featuring Vince McMahon. Further humiliations include getting burned by Kane,
receiving the mandible claw by Mankind, and kissing Michael Cole’s foot. It was
no surprise that anytime WWE hosted a live RAW in Oklahoma Ross would become
the butt of the joke.  In spite of all
the humiliation Ross exemplified a company man performing his job with class
and dignity.
In order to place a better focus on his health, family, and
eventually JR’s BBQ sauce Ross stepped down as Executive VP in 2005 but
continued his weekly announcing duties on RAW. John Laurinaitis served as Ross’
replacement.
In a moment that could be considered by many as overdue Ross
was elected to the WWE Hall of Fame on March 31, 2007. His longtime friend
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin inducted him.
In June 2008 Ross was switched from RAW to Smackdown as part
of the annual WWE draft. Twelve years of duty on Monday nights came to an end
due to an angle that Ross was not made aware beforehand. Although he
contemplated resignation he persevered until October 2009.
Unfortunately that was when Ross suffered his third bout
with Bells’ palsy.  He would not resume full-time
announcing duties until July 25, 2011 when COO Triple H “rehired” him to join
Lawler and Cole. That would last until October 10 when Laurinaitis “fired” him
publicly in front of his wife on RAW in Oklahoma City.
Thereafter Ross made special appearances that include
calling the last four matches of WrestleMania XXVII and participating in the
Michael Cole-Jerry Lawler feud. Additionally he announced the Hell in a Cell
match between the Undertaker and Triple H at WrestleMania XVIII, appeared at both
the 1000th episode of RAW on July 23, 2012 as well as the 20th
anniversary on January 14, 2013, was honored on October 1, 2012 on JR
Appreciation Night, and co-hosted the pre- and post-show for WrestleMania 29
with Dusty Rhodes, Kofi Kingston, and Scott Stanford.
When Triple H took over Talent Relations he hired Ross as an
advisor and scout. Ross also mentored new announcers at the WWE Performance
Center. Ross would hold this position until September 11, 2013 when he
announced his retirement.
As a fan of professional wrestling over most of the last 2
decades I also attest to being a fan of good ol’ JR. Whether he was proclaiming
“This is the NWA where we wrestle!” or apologizing for some of the adult
content during the Attitude Era Ross sold the product better than anyone. Tony
Schiavone, Mike Tenay, and Michael Cole among others greatly pale in comparison
to Ross’ work in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s. Whether or not we have seen the last
of Jim Ross on WWE TV remains to be seen. But, to be fair, I tip my cap to the
man in the black hat. Thanks, JR!