13th Oct2020

Wrestling Retrospectives: The Good Ole Career of Jim Ross

by Chris Cummings

To condense the career of Jim Ross into a single article isn’t easy. The man has been the voice of pro-wrestling for so many of us for such a long time, it’s hard to truly highlight how much he means on an emotional level, but also… he’s done so much in the business too, as an announcer at ringside, but also behind the scenes, working with talent and even assembling one of the most stacked and incredible pro-wrestling rosters in history. Still, I’m a glutton for punishment, so I’ll at least try to talk about his career, highlighting some of the, well… highlights, whilst also urging you to check out Jim Ross’s books, Slobberknocker and Under the Black Hat, for an in-depth and entertaining glimpse into the life and career of the man himself.

Jim Ross started his life in Fort Bragg, California, but is deeply and truly the Oklahoma boy we know him as. He grew up a fan of wrestling, watching the matches and becoming entranced by what he was seeing on the screen. His first dip-of-the-toe into working in wrestling was with NWA Tri-State in 1974, a foot in the door for a man who would become so indelibly etched on the fabric of the business we all love today. By 1982 Bill Watts had Purchased Tri-State and rebranded it Mid-South Wrestling. Though he began life as a referee, it wasn’t too long before he was a lead play-by-play, calling the action from ringside. He also became the Vice President of marketing, and thus the juggler was born. Juggler? Well, Jim Ross quickly learned how to handle more than one thing at a time in pro-wrestling. Announcing, working in the office, talking over issues with talent, refereeing, driving old-timers around in a car. He did most things and it would serve him well as he continued to step further into the crazy world of spandex and squared circles.

Moving on from Mid-South, Jim Ross began calling matches for Jim Crockett Promotions and was the head announcer, it was soon rebranded into WCW once Ted Turner decided to try his hand at professional wrestling at the end of the 1980s. Ross worked as the lead play-by-play on WCW television as the 1990s began. I recall hearing Ross calling most of the WCW shows I saw back when I was becoming a fan of pro-wrestling. He was, alongside Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, the first storyteller I heard upon my birth as a wrestling fan. Hearing Jim Ross call matches between the likes of Ric Flair and Sting, Big Van Vader and Ron Simmons and other big names and matches in the company was a joy. It was my introduction to JR. Jim didn’t always have the best of relationships with WCW towards the end of his tenure, with some of those who worked in the company, and by 1993 he was meeting with the World Wrestling Federation and striking a deal to come on board.

Jim Ross debuted in the WWF at WrestleMania IX, which is a huge way to debut. Sadly his debut was at one of the lesser beloved WrestleMania shows, and JR was wearing a toga. Still, his talent was abundant, and his immediate chemistry with Bobby Heenan and Randy Savage at ringside told the whole story. This was where Jim Ross was meant to be at this point in his career. He made the action in the ring sound bigger and more important, he made the heels seem meaner and more cruel, he made the babyfaces seem more heroic and ballsy. He was the perfect voice for a new era of the World Wrestling Federation. It was strange, then, that Jim Ross wasn’t really a permanent fixture on play-by-play for a number of years. Ross was fired by WWF in early 1994 but quickly rehired by the end of the year. It took a couple of years before Jim Ross would lend his voice to PPV and television as one of the lead voices, but it did eventually come, in late 1996. The initial three-man team of Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and Vince McMahon was a little bit too busy, so it was a relief in 1997 when McMahon left the ringside position and Ross and Lawler became the new two-man team. This was the best time for ringside announcing in the WWE. Ross and Lawler had such a wonderful chemistry together that it felt smooth and easy when they spoke. There were no awkward silences, nobody trying to out-do the other, but two friends working well together, setting each other up and letting the other nail it out of the park.

Jim Ross wasn’t just working at the commentators desk, though. He was also, among other things, the head of talent relations. It was Jim Ross who would hire new talent, release talent that Vince McMahon no longer wanted on board, and worked closely with everyone he brought in, making sure they were happy, ironing out any issues, and dealing with payroll. The names that Jim Ross hired during his time in that role are huge. The list is phenomenal. From Edge, Christian, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and The Rock all the way to Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Batista and John Cena. This is obviously just a small portion of the men and women Jim Ross signed to WWE contracts. We, as fans, owe him an awful lot in that regard too. He wasn’t just the storyteller for fans watching, he was also a coach, a boss, and a confidant for the talent backstage. He was, for many many years, an integral part of the WWE machine.

“Good Ole” JR was the voice of Raw at the end of the 90s as WWF was riding the exciting wave of the Attitude Era. He called the biggest moments of the time, from “Stone Cold” winning his first World Title, to Mick Foley being thrown off the top of Hell in a Cell by The Undertaker. The calls he made are iconic to this day, etched in the minds of wrestling fans across the globe. He would be used, once in a while, and against his own reservations, as an on-air character too. Not just at ringside, but in the ring itself, working tag matches with Steve Austin, or being beaten senseless by Austin himself or Triple H. Jim Ross was a team player, hell… he still is. He has always seemed like the kind of man you’d want on your team. Loyal, real and incredibly knowledgeable, he has always been a man to offer advice to a younger generation and enjoy some changes in the industry, whilst simultaneously holding strong to the wonderful parts of its history. He’s traditional but also willing to break some boundaries and look outside of the norm. Sadly, and bewilderingly, as time ran on, Jim Ross began to suffer humiliations from his former employers. He was beloved and did an incredible job, yet it wasn’t unusual for WWE to book some sort of angle in which JR would be forced to kiss Vince’s actual buttocks on TV, or get beaten up in his hometown, or scalded and spoken down to by Michael Cole. It was, and still remains, confusing and stupid. Still, he was loyal, and worked his butt off at ringside.

JR would move from RAW to SmackDown, he would be taken off television and brought back, but whatever happened to him out of his control, he was a constant when he returned, a voice that the fans trusted, and someone people wanted to see at ringside, and hear call the action. By around 2009 Jim Ross was being used less as an announcer, appearing for special appearances but not doing what he should have been doing, and what he wanted to do. It was undeniably frustrating for a man who wanted to be out there doing what he was born to do. Still, he remained ready and able, willing to go out there and call matches at the drop of a black hat. During this time he still called some terrific matches as a “guest announcer” including leading the call for the Hell in a Cell bout between Triple H and The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVIII. You could hear there, in that moment alone, that Jim Ross still had all the passion, ability and timing to call the biggest shows in the world. It was, once again, flummoxing to see him step back into the shadows. For a couple of months in 2011 he returned as the RAW lead-announcer, but was publicly fired again, a scenario that was, according to JR, not with his prior knowledge. Another stupid decision to attempt to mess with him. He worked as a coach for NXT for a while from 2013, and did some announcing there, but things continued to slow down for Ross, and his prominence on television and within WWE continued to slow down.

During a panel for WWE 2K14, the video game, Ross was in the firing line from WWE management for the supposed way he dealt with the guest panel. This led to him leaving WWE in 2013 in September. He would go on to do some work with New Japan Pro Wrestling and even World of Sport in the UK, where he did commentary for the pilot episode in 2016. He would return to WWE in 2017, signing a two-year deal and calling a few matches and shows, including the Roman Reigns – Undertaker main event from WrestleMania 33. It was in 2017, on March 17th, that Jim Ross’s wife, Jan, was killed in a vehicle accident. It was a truly tragic situation and Ross lost his best friend and soulmate. Ross speaks fondly of his wife in his book, Under the Black Hat, which was released in early 2020. Still, even with this harrowing thing happening to him, JR didn’t give up, and he decided to not renew his deal with WWE in 2019, deciding to sign with fledgling promotion AEW. Signing a deal as a lead-announcer and senior advisor, Jim Ross was back at the top, working AEW Dynamite, the weekly show, and their special events. It is great to see JR, the voice of many generations, working in a high profile place again. He’s able to work closely with the young talent, to give advice and offer his decades of knowledge to them. His voice is once again a soundtrack to the modern age of wrestling, and it just feels right. Hearing Jim Ross calling the action once again on weekly television is a joy and something that draws me into AEW as a product.

At 68 years old, the Oklahoma loving, Black hat wearing Ross is still part of the business that he, and we, love. It’s quite incredible going back to the early 80s and hearing him call matches from that era. Going to the late 80s and listening to him call Ric Flair, Steamboat and Sting matches. Going into the 90s and hearing him offer his iconic sound to matches featuring legends like Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and others. Hearing him calling matches with Lesnar, Cena, Orton, Guerrero, Jericho and others in the 00s, and now, in our modern age, calling Omega, Young Bucks, Cody, Moxley and other AEW stars. It’s all pretty damn amazing, and it feels good. It makes you wonder just what the future holds for Good Ole JR. He’s already done it all and written two books about it. He’s in a prime spot in a major promotion and he has a massive amount to offer the future of pro-wrestling. Will he remain in AEW for the remainder of his career, or will he head back to WWE one day for a final bow? Time will tell, but I know that I, as a fan, will follow him on his journey like I have for many years. Boomer Sooner!


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