J.R. talks to WWE.com about his return
Immediately after the news broke that Jim Ross would be returning at Saturday Night's Main Event this weekend on NBC, WWE.com talked to the legendary announcer to get his feelings on his comeback, the Hall of Fame, the state of WWE and much more.
WWE.com: Is it true you are returning to the announce booth this weekend for Saturday Night's Main Event?
Jim Ross: Yes.
WWE.com: How did your upcoming return become a reality?
J.R.: It was Mr. McMahon's idea, and I thought it was a great opportunity to get back in the game a little bit. Hopefully, it's the right decision for all involved. I'm excited about it. But ultimately, it was Mr. McMahon's idea. His motives are whatever they are. The bottom line is I'm going to be sitting at ringside in front of a sold-out crowd and I'll have a live television show to try to steer my way through. So those are exciting, but challenging, opportunities. I'm looking forward to it.
WWE.com: Are there any hard feelings between you and WWE management, most notably Mr. McMahon?
J.R.: Well, there's no doubt who the bull in the woods is. That's Mr. McMahon. And he's a very difficult man to like. He gives you a lot of reasons not to like him. But it's like living in tornado alley here in Oklahoma. You have to respect the dangerous winds that come through and take precautions when they come near you. That's how I look at my relationship with Mr. McMahon I want to be respectful of his power, and give him plenty of room to operate. But I still plan on coming back and having some fun and leave the past in the past. I feel like it's a fresh start for me. As for hard feelings, I don't have any hard feelings any more than a normal guy would on how things materialized and how I left the air. I can't change what occurred, so all I could do is try to affect the future.
WWE.com: What are your thoughts about the way you were fired on RAW?
J.R.: You know, I would have rather had a barbeque dinner and a gold watch. It wasn't exactly the way I saw myself leaving RAW after being on the program for so many years. But it didn't kill me. I've been involved in a lot of unusual situations on TV over the years that none of my predecessors encountered. I was Pedigreed by Chyna. I had my arm broken by Triple H. I was burned by Kane. I was beat up by Stone Cold Steve Austin. I kissed Mr. McMahon's ass, joining the exclusive club. And I got the living hell beat out of me in Madison Square Garden, just to name a few. So it wasn't like I hadn't experienced unusual situations before. But the finality of not being on the air was probably the hardest to live with for a while because I was having withdrawal from not being on Monday nights. It was my way of life. My whole life was built around Mondays -- going into Monday, coming out of Monday, where I was, my travel, my personal plans, going to a ball game, making sure I could travel on Sunday to get where I needed to be on Monday -- everything revolved around Monday. So I had some anxious moments.
Watching the show and not being able to be a part of it was also tough. But it didn't kill me and I made it through. A lot of that is psychological games anyway. When you've been in the wrestling business for 33 years and you've worked with the strong personalities that I've worked with since Day One, you're able to absorb the bombastic treatment that you occasionally get.
WWE.com: So after being through all that for more than three decades, the Dr. Heinie skit probably didn't come as a surprise, did it?
J.R.: I thought it was a little personal. I also thought it ran a little bit long. I thought they could have gotten their point across a little quicker, but that's not how it was laid out or produced. It definitely wasn't one of my shining moments. It probably won't be on my clip reel of personal highlights of my RAW career. Again, when you sign on, you're not going to be overwhelmed by some of the things that happen. Every day is not a perfect day, and I've had a lot of imperfect days in the wrestling business, but I'm not condemning the business, that's just the nature of the beast. When you travel 50 weeks a year for so many years as I did when I was doing RAW, you're going to have some days that are less than perfect -- travel issues or bad food or bad matches or bad commentary or a bad hair day or whatever. It's just life. After my illness in October and my surgery, which was a lot bigger deal than I thought it was going to be going in, I really had a change of attitude in a lot of things. I've had to make a lot of lifestyle changes, both physically and mentally. I look at that surgery as a positive point because it forced me to change the way I was living my life. Over the years, I think I'll be able to look back and say that it was a turning point. I got some of my life back by having that surgery.
WWE.com: Would you like to share with the fans some of the changes you've made since having the surgery?
J.R.: I remember going to SummerSlam in the MCI Center in D.C., and I had a real violent stomach ache. But being old school and being a hard-headed Okie, there's no option. You just don't call into work sick and say you can't come in because you have a stomach ache. That just was not an option. I worked through it as best I could. But what happened was I had a perforation in my intestine. So some of my bodily functions were seeping into my system. As a result, I was poisoning myself. But I made it through August and September. We had the pay-per-view in Oklahoma City in September and I wanted that to be a success, and it was. I was sick as hell at that point, but I worked through it.
It was a little stressful time because at my age, I was 54 on Jan. 3, I was susceptible to colon cancer. Obviously, that was the first thing we had to address. So, I was addressing that in October at the same time I was being shown the door on RAW. My wagon got a little bit loaded at that point. But we had the surgery and they were originally going to take out four inches of my intestine to cut out the diverticulitis that they perceived was causing all my pain But when they got in there, they saw that nine more inches of my intestines had actually collapsed and that there was a tumor attached from my intestine into my bladder. So they ended up removing 13 inches of my intestine and then reattached it to my bladder. Unknowingly, I was about two weeks away from having to wear a colostomy bag full time. And if I waited another month, the intestine would have shut all the way down, then the domino effect would have occurred and my urinary tract would have shut down. Immediate medical care would have been needed if that occurred and it would have been a life-threatening situation. So luckily for me, I got diagnosed and I had my surgery and the problem was fixed. As a result, I've had to watch my diet. I have to watch my red-meat intake. Can't eat Cracker Jacks anymore, which is a bummer. Can't eat popcorn or peanuts or basically anything that's hard to digest. So I've been having to watch my diet, which is a good thing. I eat more chicken and fish now than I do red meat.
And then I needed to get my strength back, so I started going to the gym and doing cardio. Since the beginning of January, I've missed only four days. And now I'm doing more than just the treadmill. I'm doing other things because I'm getting stronger. With all this illness came some really heavy-duty infection, and my resistance went to nothing. So my diet changed and I'm going to the gym virtually every day, which was something that I wasn't doing.
WWE.com: So how do you feel now?
J.R.: I feel great. To be honest with you, I haven't felt this good in years. I have a lot more energy and the infection is long gone and I'm rebuilding my strength. I've never done more work at any point in my adult life on the treadmill. I'm hitting high marks on my personal best at 54 years of age. It's all backwards. I should have been doing it all along, but that wasn't the case. I made a lot wrong decisions. If I write a book, I could write a whole chapter on abusing myself just out of ignorance. You just can't work 12-hour days everyday in a very stressful environment without taking better care of yourself. You can't internalize it or just have another cocktail. You need to do other things and I'm doing those things now and have been able to recapture my health. I look at my health as I had a gift given back to me. That tumor could have just as easily had cancer in it, but it didn't. So I look at it as I have a second chance at life. Now I'm going to make the best out of whatever time I have left, that includes the time I have in the business that I've been a part of for so many years and the fans of WWE.
WWE.com: For may of those years, you were the voice of RAW. Now, Joey Styles calls the action. How do you think Joey has done as the play-by-play man on RAW?
J.R.: I think he's doing fine. I read critiques of his work and it looks like some people are happier with it than others, but that's the same thing they said about my work over the years. Some people liked it, some didn't. It's their prerogative. He's in a tough position because a three man booth is very challenging. It can very easily get to become a clumsy environment and the only thing you can do to alleviate that is reps. It takes time, Monday after Monday after Monday. You have Coach in a role that he is still learning. And Joey is in a new system and my friend The King is hanging in there. They just need more practice and need create more interaction among the three of them. And I think Joey could get more assertive.
WWE.com: Speaking of Coach, he had some very derogatory comments for you after you were fired. What do you think of his negativity towards you?
J.R.: Well, it was predicted. My grandma always said when somebody would chastise you, just consider the source. So considering the source, it really had no relevance. He has the right to his opinion, but I don't know how valued his opinion is. And furthermore, his opinion has no value to me, because I knew he was wrong. But I knew I had to make some changes to get back in the hunt and if I got the chance to get back in the hunt, some of those people might want to rephrase their previous statements.
WWE.com: So now that you've been officially called upon to do Saturday Night's Main Event, it looks like you are back in the hunt. Does that mean you may be looking to also return to RAW for good?
J.R.: No, I think my RAW days are over. I did many years on RAW and had fun. I have a lot of great memories. I also did the first SmackDown, so that was neat. This will be the first Saturday Night's Main Event of my career, which I'm very excited about considering it hasn't been on for 14 years. It was a show that I watched religiously when it aired. So it's a real neat thing for me to have this opportunity. But I think my time on RAW has come and gone. I have some other business interests that I'm anxious to pursue. We're looking at doing a J.R.'s Barbeque Restaurant in Norman, Okla., and we just built a 40-foot customized trailer that we're going to take to fairs and events. We may take it to Sturgis and rodeos. And next year is the Oklahoma centennial, so we think the trailer will be out a lot to the fairs and festivals. Some of them draw thousands of people and we'd like to sell some of them a barbeque sandwich.
So it's a pretty busy time for me right now. And no, a return to RAW has never been discussed. I think I've made it clear that I enjoyed my time on RAW. I think it's Joey's show to do now and let him grow into the role and get settled in and get a rhythm and comfort level that he could really perform in. I think that's what they need to do. I don't see myself back on RAW on a regular basis. I certainly wouldn't mind doing some appearances from time to time, though.
WWE.com: What about the Hall of Fame or WrestleMania? Will fans see you at either one of those events?
J.R.: I don't know. My sense is now that I'm doing Saturday Night's Main Event, it will open the door to do some other special events. If given the opportunity to be a part of the Hall of Fame, I would readily accept it, just so I could be a part of that night. And I would be just as happy if I didn't have anything to with it and I was sitting in the audience. I'm going to be at the Hall of Fame one way or another out of respect to those that are going in and those that have gone in prior. In a lot of different ways, this is a very special class for me personally.
WWE.com: Do you think returning to the booth at Saturday Night's Main Event will also open doors to do the Ross Report on WWE.com again?
J.R.: I've always enjoyed doing the Ross Report. But I would only want to do it if I could be totally honest. I was always honest before, but there were subjects I didn't want to approach. So if I was given the opportunity to talk about anything that is pertinent to the product and be honest about those opinions, then I would be very interested in expressing myself on WWE.com on a weekly basis or even more. That's a creative outlet that I enjoy. I like to write.
WWE.com: How can you trust that you will be treated more fairly this time around?
J.R.: That's something I don't worry about because I can't control how I'm going to be treated. I believe you live longer and healthier if you don't worry about things you have no control over. I used to do that all the time. I used to assume the worst over the years. Every time the phone rang, I just automatically assumed it was bad news and now when the phone rings, I look at the glass being half full, as opposed to being half empty. I can't control how I'm treated. To be honest, I'm a lot more worried about how I'm going to be on the air than I am about how I'm going to be treated in catering.
WWE.com: How do you want to be treated?
J.R.: I hope that I'm treated the way I treat others -- respectfully and professionally. I don't expect special treatment, but I don't think I deserve anything less than what somebody who has spent 33 years devoting their life to this business deserves. Just treat me like one of the boys. That's all I ever wanted to be. My role has changed over the years, but I started out as being one of the boys and getting the opportunity to finish up as one of the boys is not a bad deal. I enjoy my association with people like Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Ric Flair, Triple H, Shawn Michaels and those guys that have been around and mastered their craft. These are guys the younger guys can gravitate to and pick their brains and just observe. I've been in locker rooms where veterans weren't as helpful as they should be. That's not the case now. In the old days, it was keep your mouth shut and your ears open. I've been on 300-mile car trips where I was the driver in my car and I'm hauling three wrestlers with me who are paying me two cents a mile and I said very little of anything. Now people who know me today may find that hard to believe that Jim Ross was at a loss for words. I had plenty of things that I wanted to say, but was told to shut up and listen. So I just absorbed and I learned great psychology and the foundations of how I believe this business was intended to be.
WWE.com: What do you think of Stone Cold returning at Saturday Night's Main Event?
J.R.: I just talked to him today and he is aware of my return and we're both looking forward to seeing each other. We talk every week just to see what's going on. He was really there when I was ill. He made a lot of phone calls. He was right there the whole journey, which I appreciate. As for Saturday Night's Main Event, I don't know how you could have it and not have Stone Cold Steve Austin involved. I expect him to be full of P & V. He's in great shape. He's getting ready to go to Australia to start his film. So he's really in a positive frame of mind, and he seems like he is more enthused to come to a WWE show than I have heard in years.
WWE.com: It seems like everybody is really enthused about the return of Saturday Night's Main Event. Why do you think that is?
J.R.: It's really special, especially for a lot of us old-school guys. Because it was on network television and it was on NBC. It slid right into Saturday Night Live's slot, which was a really hot show at the time. And it gave the business, not just WWE or the wrestlers on the show, but the business in general a nice rub, as is said in the business. It enhanced the perception of the business in general because wrestling had made it to network television again.
WWE.com: While you were gone, many exciting things happened, most notably was Edge's WWE Championship run in January. As a fan, what do you think about Edge's reign as WWE Champion?
J.R.: Edge winning the WWE Title -- not taking into consideration his timing which was pretty perfect, and then Cena becoming the aggressive challenger looking to regain the his title -- was one of the more exciting times that we've seen on RAW in a while. And Edge was a very intriguing and interesting champion. I would be very surprised if he didn't get another chance to compete for the WWE Title and win it again. We didn't have a parade down here when Cena lost, but it reshuffled the deck and the chasee became the chaser. And Cena really elevated his game at that point. So I thought it was a pretty exciting month as a fan watching at home.
WWE.com: So it sounds like you haven't missed too much RAW while you were away?
J.R.: I don't think I missed a night of RAW since I left the air. When you're a fan, you're a fan. I also watch SmackDown every Friday night. I think Michael Cole and Tazz do a great job and they're getting better all the time. They're a good team and they work well together. And there's a lot of young studs there worth talking about.
WWE.com: Who are some of the young guys that have caught your eye?
J.R.: The roster right now is an interesting piece of business to look at from my perspective. I think that you've got some guys that are in the latter stages of their best years -- still strong and good -- but it makes for an interesting dichotomy. There's a lot of real good kids I like. We talked about Edge -- I don't think of Edge as being an old guy. Obviously, there's John Cena. He's a young guy that's going to keep getting better and better. I don't think that we've ever had a WWE Champion that works harder to promote the product and travels more miles and does more things for the company than John Cena does. This guy is a work horse. I respect that. He's a tough guy. He was a center in college. He didn't play one of those glamour positions. He was a center. So he knows what it's like to be in the trenches. That's his mentality. It's really reminiscent of Austin and his approach to the job.
I like Bobby Lashley's upside on SmackDown. He reminds me of a black Brock Lesnar. He's a high-character guy. WWE signed him out of the U.S. Army. He was on the Army wrestling team and he was serving our country at the same time. That's a pretty good pedigree, from my view. I think he has an unlimited future, if he can survive Finlay which isn't going to be easy. Finlay is an old-school throwback that just brings it. You may not be a fan of the persona, but he's a straight up, smash-mouth guy. And Bobby Lashley is going to be made or broken through his dealings with Finlay, and I think he's going to be made.
I think that the cruiserweights are underutilized. There are some tremendous athletes in that division that I enjoy watching -- Kendrick, London, Noble, Helms, Nunzio, Psicosis Super Crazy -- you can't have a bad match with any of those guys. So it's just a matter of investing in their personas and them rising to the occasion and getting it done. I know there are some live events where London and Kendrick are wrestling MNM for the tag titles. That's the opportunity of a lifetime for Kendrick and London. Somebody just threw them the ball, I hope they realized it. Now go out and turn it on.
You have to include Randy Orton in that group. He's a young kid, It feels like he's been around a while, but he's still in his early twenties. In another generation, a kid his age probably wouldn't even be booked in WWE. He would have needed more time and experience on the road and in the territories to make it in WWE. So he's a special athlete. A lot of it comes naturally, though, because he's a third-generation Superstar, much like The Rock. If Orton assumes some of the qualities that The Rock had -- the great work ethic, the intelligence and desire to be the best there was -- then the sky's the limit for him. He could be as special as anybody we've ever seen. He just has to stay clear of injuries and make the right decisions as it relates to his career and the path he takes. His potential is absolutely unlimited.
WWE.com: On the same night we learned of your return to the booth, we also leanred that Verne Gagne was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. What are your thoughts on Gagne being inducted?
J.R.: it's easy to say it's past due. I'm proud to see that WWE is looking outside of its specific alumni for the Hall of Fame. Verne was a pioneer in so many ways. He was one of the first great amateurs to go to the pros. He was a multi-time All-American in Minnesota and he played on the football team there. He was a two-sport star in college at a major university. And he created a great territory, the AWA. The AWA produced some of the biggest stars in the history of the business. My mentor Bill Watts used to work the AWA and learned a lot of from Verne. So a lot of Verne's basic knowledge I got from "the Cowboy." He was a great in-ring technician, kind of along the lines of a Ted DiBiase or a Dory Funk, Jr. He was very fundamentally sound, didn't take a lot of chances. A great mat wrestler. Then he became a very successful promoter. Just look at his alumni -- Hulk Hogan, Mean Gene Okerlund, the Blackjacks, Ric Flair. The list goes on and on.
WWE.com: Speaking of Hulk Hogan, what do you make of the story about Verne Gagne offering to pay The Iron Sheik $100,000 to break Hogan's legs after Hogan left AWA and joined WWE?
J.R.: It was a whole different animal back in the day. I once sat in a bathroom stall with my feet elevated off the ground so nobody knew I was there when a group of wrestling promoters talked about murdering Vince McMahon.
I was in a meeting which I'll write about someday, but I went to go to the bathroom and I was a little bit ahead of the pack. When I was in there, the door opened and you could hear the loud voices and the cursing and you could smell the cigar smoke. There was a little caucus of three or four guys that were trying to combat Vince McMahon's nationwide expansion program. They were talking about how it was going to adversely affect them. So one of them had the bright idea of having him killed. It was at that point, I made sure my feet were off the floor so if they looked under the stall they wouldn't see anybody sitting there.
So having personally experience that moment with promoters that had a different mindset in those days, it could have happened. I wasn't there. I didn't hear it. So I guess it would come down to Sheik's word against Verne's. It wouldn't surprise me that something like that could have been suggested. Maybe not as colorfully as Sheik described it at the Hall of Fame ceremony last year, but it's possible. It was a different mindset back in that day and it wasn't for the week at heart. I don't think that anything like that would happen today, but back in the day, it was nothing to have people burn or steal rings. Hell, I worked in Louisiana for Mid South Wrestling where the state only allowed one wrestling promoter's license. How constitutional is that? It's not. But that's the way it was.
WWE.com: Thank you for spending so much time with us tonight, J.R. Is there anything else you would like to say in closing?
J.R.: I'm just real excited. And I know I'm going to be even more excited on Saturday. Detroit is a great city. The fans are emotional and loud there. And that always brings everybody's performance level up. It's a great feeling. From what I understand , it will be Tazz, The King and me. Tazz and King will represent their brands and I'm representing the fans and WWE period. I have to leave my RAW allegiance where I left them... in the middle of the ring early October in San Antonio. It's a different game now that I'm playing and I'm damn sure ready to play."