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Jim Ross Talks AEW, WWE Exit, Future Stars, Chris Jericho, Undertaker with B/R

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2020

Jim Ross continues to produce some of the best work of his wrestling career in AEW.
Jim Ross continues to produce some of the best work of his wrestling career in AEW.Credit: AEW

Although his journey with All Elite Wrestling has only just begun, Jim Ross has already firmly established himself as one of professional wrestling's greatest commentators of all-time.

Good Ol' J.R. has had an illustrious career that spans over six decades, both on and off screen. In addition to serving as the voice of WWE for so many years behind the booth, he worked in talent relations and had a hand in hiring everyone from "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Mick Foley to Eddie Guerrero and Brock Lesnar.

Ross details his time with the company and close relationship with Vince McMahon in his new autobiography Under the Black Hat, a direct sequel to his first tell-all Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling that was released in 2017.

"There's a lot of topics I didn't cover in that first book because of the chronological nature of it: the Attitude Era, the Monday Night Wars, the XFL original launch, WWE going public, more bouts of Bell's palsy, being relieved of my post another time or two," Ross said. "The story wasn't finished, so Under the Black Hat takes us all the way through those WWE years right up to me leaving WWE last year and going to work with Tony Khan and AEW."

Khan scooped up Ross as soon as he was contractually available in April 2019 and positioned him as the promotion's lead play-by-play announcer. The credibility and legitimacy he's brought the commentary table has been, in a word, invaluable.

The AEW president made the executive call last month to sit Ross at home for the foreseeable future, at least until the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Khan highly values the WWE Hall of Famer and considers his health to be of utmost importance.

"Tony Khan called me two weeks ago and said 'You need to stay home. If you get sick, I'm going to be feeling horrible,'" Ross said about his boss. "My problem of being home and isolated pales in comparison to the deaths and tragedies people are enduring today. It's bigger than wrestling, obviously. I love what I'm doing, and I can't wait to get back in the game."

While in quarantine, Ross has been binging everything from old episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to the new Netflix phenomenon Tiger King. The similarities between the show's over-the-top characters and the wacky world of wrestling are not lost on him.

"He's a crazy person he seems to me like," said the Oklahoma native about Tiger King star Joe Exotic. "He reminds me of a guy trying to be a wrestler and he never makes it past the opening match on an independent show. It's crazy. It's such a train wreck."

All Elite Wrestling @AEWrestling

The Dream Team you didn't know you needed in your life - for the first time | #LeChampion @IAmJericho & @tonyschiavone24 will be your announce team for #AEWDynamite TONIGHT on @TNTDrama 8e/7c. https://t.co/TOnYZJBx3E

Having called a handful of AEW Dynamite shows shortly following the outbreak of the coronavirus in March, Ross believes it's "challenging but not unattainable" to make wrestling watchable in empty arenas and that the "reverend of reinvention" Chris Jericho has filled in for him exceptionally well in his absence.

"I thought he and Tony Schiavone were really entertaining," said Ross. "Wrestling fans like new and they like different, but they also like consistency and stability. Chris Jericho is one of the most talented guys in a variety of ways I've ever worked with in my entire career that started in 1974."

Jericho was one of the biggest names Ross recruited into WWE while serving as a talent scout in 1999. It was his faith in the former WCW star that led to McMahon becoming a big believer in the future multi-time world champion, and the rest is history.

Jericho joins "Broken" Matt Hardy and Brodie Lee on the long list of AEW stars that Ross applauds for utilizing their creative freedom to stand out, something that isn't always possible in WWE.

"All those cats get a chance to step outside those restrictions and into an area where they can create," Ross said. "We encourage our guys to improve their skill sets in every area, and to do that they have to think on their own and not just memorize lines like they're a trained actor. They're not. They're people, they're athletes."

Ross continued his praise of the ex-AEW World champion: "Chris is a great leader in our locker room and a positive influence with Santana, Ortiz, Sammy Guevara and Jake Hager. I just have so much respect for Chris."

Despite not being seen on recently on AEW TV, Good Ol' J.R. confirmed that he'll be calling this week's empty-arena No Holds Barred bout between Jon Moxley and Jake Hager for the AEW World Championship remotely.

Ross has always brought a "big fight feel" to any match he's lent his iconic voice to, including every pay-per-view main event AEW has had over the last year.

He's been an incredible asset to the company's commentary team thus far, which currently consists of himself, WCW alum Schiavone and PWG founding father Excalibur. Despite their strong chemistry, even Ross realizes there is still room for improvement for the trio.

"All three of us get along and don't have agendas. We're team players, we like working with each other," Ross said. "You can tell by our broadcast that we're having fun and that we're not being dominated by overproducing or [someone] telling us what to say. We're creating our own content, and I love that."

To say social media has drastically changed the wrestling business would be an understatement, but that has especially been true for how fans react to the commentary. Even with the slightest slip-up, J.R. and every other announcer out there with an online presence are bound to hear about it almost immediately one way or another.

Credit: AEW

Ross has worked through the early hiccups in his AEW work and has truly hit his stride again as the reliable voice fans grew up watching. Considering the company started from scratch and he's been there since its premier pay-per-view Double or Nothing, he feels he's done a decent job behind the booth up to this point.

"It's a stark reality for some of us and we all have to remember that it's just some people exercising their opinion. They have a right to their opinion," Ross remarked. "My issue, if any, is that we seek out these half-empty glasses rather than the half-full glasses, so it's a somewhat cynical, defiant culture. I'd probably give myself a B."

What many fans may not remember is that, after being deemed "retired" by WWE in 2013, Ross returned in 2017, calling the main event of WrestleMania 33 between The Undertaker and Roman Reigns. He was used sparingly over the next two years for the inaugural Mae Young Classic, pre-show panels, NXT TakeOver shows and special episodes of Raw, among other things.

For a variety of reasons, his latest stint there wasn't what fans hoped for when news first broke he was coming back. After being used only twice in 2018, he knew it was time to move on once his contract expired the subsequent spring.

Credit: WWE.com

He's grateful to Vince for giving him the opportunity to grow over the course of his career in WWE as he is excited for what lies ahead for him in AEW.

"I had a great run there and I'm so thankful for all that, but I wanted to get back in the game. Tony Khan facilitated that happening," Ross said. "I've had a chance to mentor and coach, which I love doing. I've always thought that my greatest accomplishment in wrestling was the talent relations work and providing opportunities for guys that went on to become hall of famers, financially secure and happy in their lives. To me, that's better than calling Mick Foley getting tossed off the Hell in a Cell. The call is memorable no doubt, but the other part is what I'm particularly proud of."

That Hell in a Cell clash between Mankind and The Undertaker is far from the only memorable moment involving The Deadman that J.R. has been on the call for. He returned for what was likely intended to be his final match at 'Mania in 2017 and gave him a sendoff befitting of a phenom.

Credit: WWE.com

Having been on WWE commentary for all of Undertaker's American Badass run in the early 2000s, Ross was thrilled to see 'Taker bring that persona back at WrestleMania 36 against AJ Styles. He was happy to exchange words with his longtime friend via text afterward and is of the mindset that fans order the event in part to see what he's going to do.

"He's a wonderful guy and is the Clint Eastwood of that locker room without a doubt. I thought he and AJ Styles were absolutely amazing in their graveyard match and the concept, how it was shot, how it was edited was artwork," Ross said. "I think Undertaker is the greatest attraction wrestler in the history of the business. I hope we don't wait until he is retired to start truly appreciating what Mark Calaway, a.k.a. The Undertaker, has contributed to the pro wrestling business."

Along with Undertaker, the Attitude Era arguably produced more megastars than any other era in WWE history, most notably "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock. Ross was present at ringside to call all the action and played a pivotal role in those guys becoming the box office attractions they are today.

In other words, if anyone can spot a soon-to-be world champion from a mile away, it's this famed broadcaster.

When looking ahead to the future of the industry, Ross is confident that some of AEW's top talents, such as Cody, Darby Allin and Jungle Boy, have it in them to be main event players for years to come. The youth and willingness to learn from the locker room will be what carries the company into the next generation, Ross believes.

"I think Cody has the ability to connect with the audience and the skill-set in the ring, we haven't seen the best of Cody yet because he's an athlete. You can't not mention Darby Allin as well," Ross said. "Watching Sammy Guevara makes me think of Eddie Guerrero watching old tapes of him. He does things so naturally and so athletically that he makes it look easy.

"We have a great young nucleus of 20-something-year-old kids who are wrestling fans to start with and they love the role of pro wrestling. They don't really love the role of sports-entertainer, they want to be a pro wrestler, and that's what we foster in AEW. We are a pro wrestling company, unabashedly and unapologetically."

Credit: WWE.com

The Revival could soon join AEW's ranks as well coming off their release from WWE last week. Ross has admired their work from afar in recent years and would love nothing more than to see them ply their trade in the company's stacked tag team division.

"They're one of my favorite teams, and they're certainly a combination I've enjoyed watching. They're pro wrestling guys," Ross said. "I don't know what The Revival's plans are, I don't know what their no-compete clause looks like, but if you're going to get your release and you have a no-compete, now's not a bad time with everything being so crazy. I hope that when we get back to normal and if those gentlemen are interested that they will give us consideration for their next stop."

As for what he aims to accomplish himself going forward, it's hard to imagine he has anything left on his professional bucket list. Between mastering his commentary craft to writing two books to hosting his own podcast, Good Ol' J.R. has seemingly done it all, but he doesn't consider himself finished by any means.

Never one to settle for being content, Ross plans to not only make the most of his time with AEW, but also leave behind a legacy that ensures he is remembered as a positive influence to all who were fortunate enough to have interacted with him.

"This is a journey I'm on," Ross said. "I believe I was meant to be on that journey. I wish Jan was here to see it. She'd be so happy that I'm back in the game doing what I love. I feel like I have more self-esteem and worth.

"These young kids are so bright and inquisitive, they're thirsty for information. They trust me and they know my track record. When a kid comes up to you saying they grew up idolizing you and can't wait for you to call their match, I can't tell you how wonderful that is. In a business that's not long on sensitive moments, I found those moments. It's been wonderful."

With his late wife Jan in mind and millions of wrestling fans worldwide in his corner, anything Jim Ross is involved in is sure to be a slobberknocker.

   

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.

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