Jim Ross reacts to getting the nod for WrestleMania
After it was officially announced that Jim Ross would be calling the action for RAW at WrestleMania 22, WWE.com caught up J.R. to get his reaction to his new assignment, Saturday Night's Main Event, the Hall of Fame and much more.
WWE.com: Before getting into your role at WrestleMania, tell us a little bit about how it felt to be back at the announcers' booth for Saturday Night's Main Event?
Jim Ross: It was an exciting time for me. Ironically, though, it was five months to the day that I had my colon surgery. So it was kind of a milestone in that regard. And it was fun. I've said it time and again, if I could only do one thing in this business it would be live wrestling play by play. Of all the jobs I had, that's always been the most fun, it's really what I enjoy doing the most.
I certainly had some pre-game jitters, to say the least. I actually get them more often than not, even at this stage in the game. I didn't want to let the team down. And I didn't want to do a disservice to the wrestlers. But I feel like we did a solid job and it was really fun. It was really cathartic to get back and be at ringside in front of a sold-out crowd.
But there was also a lot of responsibility involved in Saturday Night's Main Event (the WrestleMania promotion, the relationship with NBC, the entertainment value to the viewer, supporting the hard work of the wrestlers…), and to be able to come out of the bullpen and go back to work was great. And for a broadcaster, there's nothing quite like doing a live wrestling show. I've done NFL football and XFL football. I did plenty of basketball and baseball. But all those things are structured to give you the chance to catch your breath and reset the stage. But our business is so fast paced -- some might even say that it's too fast paced at times -- that you can fall behind and get thrown under the bus real quick if you let it get away from you.
Of course, The King and I have a long-standing personal and professional relationship, which helped. I haven't worked much with Tazz, but I can tell you that every time I do work with him, I've really enjoyed it. I enjoy his commentary and his ability to analyze a match. He does a real good job and he's gotten even better over the last few years. I always had fun working with him. I think the first time we worked together was at the Royal Rumble a few years ago. That's a tough match to do because it's a solid hour and at every interval, a new guy comes and it starts a new story. That then adds a new chapter to the story you're telling.
I was also cautiously optimistic about the Saturday Night's Main Event opportunity. I was nervous that I was not going to carry my end of the load. I didn't want to drag King and Tazz down with me. I was really more concerned about messing them up than about how I was going to be perceived. So there was a lot of things going on in my mind. But when I got to the building in the afternoon, everything started feeling real natural. The talent was very happy to see me, and I them. It was like I hadn't been away. So that made me a lot more comfortable. So in one hand you have great support and in the other hand you know that the expectations by everything involved are lofty. So it was a challenging night, but I like challenges. Hopefully, everybody was happy with the effort. Doing that show will really help me down the road with my next assignment.
WWE.com: Can you tell the fans about your next assignment, which will be WrestleMania 22, and how you learned that you would be calling the action?
J.R.: I was told Monday afternoon that the decision was made that I would call the RAW matches at WrestleMania. It came as a big surprise. The working plan was that I would emcee the Hall of Fame ceremony and probably do one match at WrestleMania. I figured that I would do the Mr. McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels No Holds Barred Match. I felt like that would be a good fit, considering both HBK and I have joined Mr. McMahon's exclusive club. So I really thought that was how my weekend was going to play out. But all that changed Monday. I felt excited and exhilarated. But at the same time, I felt some apprehension regarding Joey Styles' status. I know, like myself, he grew up as a wrestling fan and he's always wanted to work in WWE and I felt badly for him. At the same time, I won't lie, I was very excited to get the assignment. And I look forward to it tremendously.
WWE.com: In Joey's first WWE interview upon getting hired, he said it was his lifelong dream to call a WrestleMania. That is obviously not going to happen at WrestleMania 22, but do you think he will get the opportunity to call a WrestleMania at some point down the road?
J.R.: Absolutely. He's got a lot of WrestleManias ahead of him, as far as I'm concerned. I'm sure that as time goes on, you'll see me doing fewer events like WrestleMania. And as far as Joey is concerned, at his age and with him just getting his journey started in WWE, I would be extremely surprised if he doesn't call many WrestleManias.
Of course, I'd like to be a part of WrestleMania in some role, as long as I'm productive. But that doesn't mean that I have to call all of one brand's matches or do the whole show as I've done in the past. If in the future I did a match at WrestleMania, it would be a great honor just to be part of the event.
WWE.com: In a recent interview with WWE.com, Joey said that he learned more in the five hours he recently worked with J.R. than he did over the past five months combined. How does that make you feel?
J.R.: I'm pleased that I can help him some. I had a lot of real good influences in my broadcasting career. And part of the responsibility of those of us who are considered veterans, whether you're an announcer, or a wrestler, or a referee or an agent or any other viable role within the structure of WWE, is to share what we have learned and to help teach others. So I am happy that I was able to help him some, and feel very honored that he would say something along those lines. I'm glad he was able to retain some of the things that we've discussed, including his approach to the WWE product vis-à-vis the ECW product. You have to differentiate one product from the other, based on the management of each company. In ECW, Paul Heyman had Joey announcing in Heyman's vision. And he did a hell of a good job and he'll always be known as the voice of ECW. And now he works for WWE and it's a different presentation with different requirements. It's kind of like the ice-cream formula. ECW might have been chocolate and WWE might be strawberry. They're different flavors, but they're both still ice cream. And if we agree that we both like ice cream, then we are able to tell the difference in the taste in a blind taste test. They're just a little different, but they're still ice cream.
WWE.com: What types of things did you talk to Joey about?
J.R.: We just talked about fundamental things and some philosophical issues. When I came to WWE in 1993, I came from WCW and was the lead play-by-play guy on all their major pay-per-views, live TBS Clash of the Champions and flagship Saturday night TBS show. And when I came in to WWE, it wasn't with open arms from the majority of people. I was perceived as the enemy. I was a southerner who worked for WCW. At the time, I was not a storytelling broadcaster as much as I was a play-by-play guy and that was not something that WWE relished. They would rather have more of a storyteller that can document the emotion, rather than have somebody describe the match hold by hold and maneuver by maneuver.
So I had 20 years of experience doing it one way. And as time went on and WWE evolved, the demand for play-by-play had lessened. Now Joey is being asked to do something different than his play-by-play background, which he is very good at. He's just going to have to tweak his style a little bit. And there's no way that it's not going to happen. The only reason why that would not happen is because his ego would not allow him to make a change -- something I've battled -- or he doesn't have the intellect to overcome the two styles of the two companies he's worked for. And he's certainly not lacking in intellect. He's very bright. He's a student of the business and a lifelong fan, much like myself. So I hope he's not as stubborn as I was. I don't think he will be, and I'm sure he'll have plenty of WrestleMania moments of his own.
WWE.com: So it sounds like the path Joey is taking is very similar to the one you took when you started with WWE.
J.R.: As far as being play-by-play men, yes. Like Joey, I had to tweak my style to be more of a storyteller. And when I got here in 1993, my goal was also to work a WrestleMania. I was only on the payroll for about a month when it was decided that I would make my debut at WrestleMania. There's a lot of pressure on you when it's decided that your first assignment is the biggest show of the year… and dressed in a toga, no less. It was all different for me -- I was working with a new producer, new talent, I was outdoors at Caesars Palace, I never worked with Savage and Heenan before… So it was a little scary the first go around. But we got through it.
Hopefully, we all have the same goal. If anybody in WWE that is involved in the production doesn't have the goal to be a vital part of WrestleMania they really need to think about looking somewhere else for work. WrestleMania is the Super Bowl. It's the World Series. It's the culmination of what we all work toward, regardless of our role in the company. And the same goes for a wrestler. If a wrestler doesn't wasn't to be the top guy on the roster, then he should think about changing vocations.
But I certainly understand Joey's disappointment. I sat home for WrestleMania X. I was living in Connecticut and wasn't even brought to Madison Square Garden in New York City for the show, and I was less than one hour away. And that was a great WrestleMania, which featured one of the greatest WrestleMania matches -- Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart. That's a match I would have loved to call. But not only did I not call the match, I wasn't even in the building. I sat home and bought it on pay-per-view. So I understand the disappointment and how he feels. And I have the utmost respect for him.
WWE.com: How does this return to the WrestleMania booth compare to your return to at WrestleMania XV after battling Bell's palsy?
J.R.: I was really apprehensive about WrestleMania XV. I think both of the guys that were in the main event that night independently went to Mr. McMahon and requested I do their match. I don't think it was necessarily a knock on Michael Cole, who was doing the play-by-play at that time. It was a personal compliment to me because I was in a position to help facilitate them by bringing them to the WWE roster. By no means am I saying I am responsible for their success, because once you throw them the ball, they have to run with it. And they both did. In hindsight, you could say ‘anybody could hire those guys.' But at that time, you had Austin who was pigeon holed as a black-boot wearing, non-marketable journeyman wrestler. I saw an entirely different animal when I looked at him. Then you had Rock who was an unknown commodity as far as wrestling goes, even though we knew his amazing heritage. He came out of the CFL. He was bright and articulate and had a college degree. I didn't see any gamble there. But you never know until you get them on the road for a few weeks and see how they respond to its grueling challenges. But as for the return at WrestleMania XV, I think it was a personal thing for them. Emotionally, I don't think I was ready. I was very self conscious about the way that I looked. The Bell's palsy had not healed. I remember holding my face up while I was sitting at the table so that I could annunciate well enough that the fans could understand me. I knew that I would have passion that night because it was very emotional for me because it was WrestleMania and it was two guys that I had enormous respect for in Rock and Austin. But I knew I wasn't at 100 percent. And it was a tough challenge, but we got through it.
This WrestleMania is different. I still have the residual effects of Bell's palsy. I just live with it. I don't fixate on it. I don't worry about it. It is what it is. I still have issues. The paralysis is still around my mouth. It's just going to be that way. Maybe someday, somebody is going to invent some medication or a treatment that's going to regenerate those nerves. Who knows? But that's not something I worry about. I just live with it. It's a part of what I have become. Outside of that, I haven't felt physically better in years. Hopefully my pipes will hold up during the show. So from those two things, it's a whole lot different. But I'll still be nervous and jittery and I'll still want to over deliver because it's WrestleMania.
WWE.com: Which match are you most looking forward to calling at WrestleMania?
J.R.: I go back to what I said earlier -- if you're in WWE and don't want to be the top guy on the roster, you're in the wrong business. The match for RAW that I'm going to be most interested in is for the WWE Championship. There's other matches I have a keen interest in, including Mr. McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels, which I have a strong personal attachment to. But I'm not a RAW vs. SmackDown guy. I'm not going to go on the air and knock SmackDown. I'm a fan of SmackDown. I watch it every Friday night. But the match that I feel is the most important of the matches that I am going to call is for the WWE Championship, Triple H vs. John Cena.
WWE.com: Do you anticipate any other memorable matches on the card?
J.R.: I'm really anxious to see Michaels vs. Mr. McMahon, and how it unfolds. I'm also a big Ric Flair aficionado. We've been friends for more than 20 years. We've gone though our marital woes together, we had our share of cocktails together and traveled many miles. I'm very anxious to see how he's going to fare in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match because it's certainly not his style. You know, there's an art to surviving those darn things. Flair will not be in his element in this one. It's not what he'll be remembered for. And it's not his legacy, unless, of course, he wins on Sunday. If he wins, he'll be put in line for something that he truly believes he is up to and that is having another run as the champion. It's not wrestle-speak, it's not hyperbole, it's not a marketing ploy, he truly believes in his heart that he has one more run left in him. For me personally, with all due respect to the other five guys in the match, the story of that match is ‘can Ric Flair do it?'
The other match that intrigues me is the Mick Foley vs. Edge match. I thought Edge was as hot as anybody on either roster back in January. He was about to embark on some real great moments and I think that he is a step away from being able to get right back to that level that we all experienced after he won the championship. The other part of the equation is the Mick Foley factor. I knew Mick in WCW, and when I got the job in charge of talent for WWE, Mick was a tough sell to upper management because he didn't have "the look" that the company often looked for. But sometimes you have to look past those things to the intangibles. And that's what you had to do with Mick. You can't judge that book by its cover, no pun intended, referring to a best-selling author. But it wasn't like he was Haystacks Calhoun or anybody.
I saw enough of his work, both in person and on tape, to know that this guy was special. So it brings up the question in my mind -- can Mick Foley regenerate the intangibles that made him a true hardcore legend? Can he conjure up that feel for aggression and violence one more time? I don't have the answer to that. The only person that can answer that is Mick Foley, and the only time he'll be able to truly answer that is when the match is over on Sunday.
The bad side of the equation for those who are fans and friends of Mick Foley, as I am, is that if he's not at his best, not only will he be humiliated mentally, he will be humiliated physically as well. And that will be a hard pill to swallow. I hope for his sake that he can do it one more time the way he wants to do it. I'm not being pessimistic, but it's going to take a phenomenal effort on his behalf to rise to the occasion. Edge is younger, he's carrying less body fat and he's in better condition. He may even be hungrier. A win over Mick Foley in a hardcore match at WrestleMania puts Edge right back in the main event picture.
WWE.com: What will be your role at Saturday's Hall of Fame ceremony?
J.R.: I'm a fan. I'll be sitting in the audience with my wife enjoying the evening. I know that there will be some emotional moments for me personally and I know that there will be some tears and laughs, but I'm really looking forward to it. In general, the Hall of Fame is one of my favorite events. I believe that in our business, we don't pay homage to our predecessors often enough. You can't tell where you're going if you don't know where you've been, as the old cliché goes. And I think that our young guys need to pay more attention to where we've been and the people that have blazed the trails. All of those people were building blocks in the foundation of our business. I hope all the young people pay attention. I'm really looking forward to that night almost as much as I am looking forward to broadcasting WrestleMania 22.
WWE.com: Is there one particular induction that you are looking forward to seeing most this Saturday night?
J.R.: The most emotional to me will be Eddie Guerrero's induction, because of the circumstances. I was very close to Eddie. Those that have read his book know the trial and tribulations that we've had. It was tough love at times, but we had a wonderfully warm relationship over the past several years. There was never a cross word. But when he was abusing drugs and alcohol, there was plenty of confrontation, which ultimately pointed out the fact that we couldn't do business with him if he didn't change. And I think that his love for the fans and wrestling motivated him to change everything. He got his family back together. He became a better husband and father and brother and uncle once he got his demons under control. So that will be the most emotional because it's so fresh.
Then, of course, Bret Hart going in will also be emotional for me. I have enormous respect for Bret Hart as a wrestler and as a man. I also can't look at Bret and not think of Owen. There's hardly a day that goes by that I don't think of Owen in some capacity. But I have no idea what Bret will be talking about at the Hall of Fame. I'm anxious to hear his remarks about being inducted, but whether he brings Owen up or not, I'm going to be thinking about him.
And that's not to take away from the others that are going in. Sensational Sherri was certainly ahead of her time. I have great respect for Jack Lanza. The Blackjack team was outstanding. And Bobby Heenan will add some humor, which should be fun. Verne Gagne, my god, has had so many contributions from amateur wresting to becoming a national star to promoting AWA.
It will be a phenomenal DVD to get when it's done. That will go into my limited collection of items I like to go back to and look at every now and then. Selfishly, I'm a little remise that I'm not the emcee, but I'm really happy for Jerry.
WWE.com: When the Hall of Fame is over, and WrestleMania comes to an end, when can WWE fans expect to see you again?
J.R.: The next thing on my schedule is the Saturday Night's Main Event in July. But our business is always changing. If you had talked to me last week at this time, I would have said I was doing the Hall of Fame and just one match at WrestleMania. And now one week later, I'm doing all the RAW matches at WrestleMania and not doing the Hall of Fame. So things can change, but as best I can forecast, the next time I'll be on anything mainstream will be Saturday Night's Main Event from Dallas.
On top of all that, we're getting our barbeque project started hear in Oklahoma. We're going to have our new Web site up soon, where people can buy barbeque and merchandise and learn a little bit about what we're doing. So I'm not on vacation during the week, I'm still working. I'm just not there on Monday nights. And contrary to some reports, I have no plans of being there on Monday nights. Nobody has ever had a discussion with me about starting back on RAW. I read all the time on the Internet that I'm going back to RAW. That's news to me. In fact, I like my schedule now. I get to spend more time with my family and my two grandchildren. I kind of like not having to go to the airport every week. If called on, would I serve? Of course, I'm a team player. But nobody's said anything to me about it.
WWE.com: Thank you for the time, J.R. Do you have any last words before WrestleMania?
J.R.: As I said before, I'm tremendously looking forward to this weekend. The Hall of Fame is going to be amazing. And I can't wait to walk through the curtain Sunday night and hear Oklahoma's theme song play. I can't describe the feeling. I could very easily be sitting out there in the audience. If I wasn't in the business, I would still be a fan. In fact, I'd probably be trying to scrounge WrestleMania tickets from somebody. And by the way, I don't have any WrestleMania tickets to give away, in case my relatives are reading this.