It sounded like a bad (and late) April Fool’s joke. Jim Ross “retiring” from the WWE. At first glance, perhaps it was another chapter in the on-going Establishment angle dominating WWE booking. Who better to pick on than one of Vince McMahon’s biggest targets, Jim Ross? Very few have endured more verbal abuse over the years from Vince than good ‘ol JR.
Then reality set in. So did the timing. 9/11. In 2001, Stephanie McMahon went on television and mentioned 9/11 in the same breath as the steroid investigation the Feds launched against her father. The tone deafness was off the charts then and it’s still off the charts now at Titan.
There will be many who will (justifiably) say that you shouldn’t shed a tear for Jim Ross, given the 20-year career he had with WWE. He’ll still sell his BBQ sauce on WWE media platforms and he’ll still have his loose allegiance with the company. Just like the marriage between AJ Styles and TNA, the marriage between Jim Ross and WWE devolved from something special into the soulless spectacle that it is today. The wrestling business is often full of ghoulish souls and I can hear Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue TV show fame screaming, “Corporations don’t have souls, they’re profit centers!” WWE certainly is profitable. The machine will go on without Jim Ross. That doesn’t mean that the machine is better off without his presence, however.
Think back to when Ross started in the business. The excitable young announcer working in Mid-South alongside the colorful Boyd Pierce and master storyteller Bill Watts. Watts was Fire and Brimstone personified. JR soon reflected that Southern passion but managed to intertwine a sophistication and professionalism that you rarely see today in the business. After his departure from WCW, Ross went to WWE and started out in a toga at Wrestlemania 9. Talk about symbolism. To Vince McMahon, JR was a pro but he was also a symbol of that evil “Southern Rasslin” that he still loves to mock to do this day. As Ross cemented himself into the lead spot on television as the voice of the WWE, his tenure coincided with the start of RAW. Both Ross and RAW changed the business for good and created a generation of unforgettable moments. His call of Mankind being thrown off the Hell in the Cell cage will live forever on Youtube. His association with Steve Austin will always hold up through the test of time. Unfortunately, it was also that association that gave Vince an opening to make Ross a target. Bullies are always looking for targets and Ross was paid to put up with some of the most abrasive behavior demonstrated by Vince.
That bullying, of course, rubbed off onto others. Who could ever forget that magical moment Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara decided in their wisdom during their WCW tenure that, hey, let’s create this character named Oklahoma and make him WCW Cruiserweight champion. The mountain of BS Ross put up with in both WWE & WCW is enough to make a man cynical, sometimes cold-hearted and devoid of emotion off-camera. Who could ever forget Vince as “Dr. Hiney” in a 2005 RAW skit making fun of Jim Ross and his health issues by showing video of ‘colon surgery’ in which a bottle of BBQ sauce and a head was ‘removed’ to demonstrate that Jim Ross always had his head up his ass. Four years earlier, Vince made Jim Ross join the “Kiss my Ass” club in Oklahoma City. Vince’s fixation of embarrassing every WWE employee in their home city is legendary but he always managed to find a way to really twist the knife to JR. Over the years, Ross would get fired or kicked in the nuts or humiliated by others. The loud messages being sent by Vince and others backstage into JR’s ear during RAW telecasts is the kind of material that Dave Meltzer wrote thousands upon thousands of words about. And when Vince wasn’t sending a vindictive message loud and clear to JR’s ear, he was having Michael Cole spray BBQ sauce on JR. That angle sure drew a lot of money, didn’t it?
Between the abusive on-screen behavior from others and health problems, Jim Ross was lucky to be employed as long as he was with WWE. He is a survivor and a damn proud one at that. WWE paid Ross well. They helped out with medical insurance and bills. Transactionally-speaking, they held their end of the bargain. Creatively-speaking, he was often treated like dirt.
When I think about JR’s tenure with WWE, I don’t think about just the great memories he created. I also strongly think about how he, and the WWE fans, were robbed of opportunities for Ross to create even more historical moments on television. McMahon’s obsession with using other announcers, including pet project Michael Cole, proved to be second-rate in the end. Jim Ross could wake up from a nap and, on his worst day, blow away Cole on his best day. We got the occasional Ross magic over the last few years, like his call of Hunter vs. The Undertaker. What we didn’t get was consistent backing of Ross from WWE to do what JR did best and can still do best. What WWE did was the equivalent of taking a golden goose and strangle the goose before it could lay any more eggs.
WWE robbed Ross of quality television time. It was completely unnecessary and unfair. It was a demonstration of completely nonsensical behavior, driven by paranoia & schizophrenic corporate behavior. The attacks on Ross on television were raw and personal. They were meant to punish Ross and depress the fans. The actions had nothing to do with the bottom line or helping out business in any way. Ross, forever the company man, continued to help out WWE long after they disposed of him as a regular presence on television. Ross continued to help out WWE with NXT in terms of scouting and developing talent in the farm system. When WWE opened up their massive Performance Center in Orlando, Ross was there to help. WWE’s vision of building a multi-million dollar training center to help development wrestlers become the stars of tomorrow is a solid idea. It’s also an idea that, a generation ago, wasn’t necessary when guys like JR were busting ass to work six days a week for $30 pay days in small towns while they were honing their craft and finding out what it really took to work a crowd and become real leaders.
And now Ross is gone from WWE. His presence is gone and so is his expertise. The machine may roll on but the valuable human intelligence from individuals like Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, and Bill Watts remains on the sidelines. In wrestling, there is no substitute for experience and having veteran hands who can tell the unvarnished truth is an invaluable asset to have. Keep that in mind as WWE continues to build their developmental machine. Keep that in mind as those who could be the most valuable to WWE in developing the stars of tomorrow are pushed out of the picture, regarded as relics of a yesteryear that just doesn’t understand today’s industry.
Jim Ross has had a hell of a career in the wrestling business and has nothing to be ashamed of. Too bad his (now) former employer can’t say the same thing.