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MR. TITO STRIKES BACK - Jim Ross's WWE "Retirement", His Legacy, and Future in Pro Wrestling
By Mr. Tito
Sep 12, 2013 - 11:35:38 PM
Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Ross has left the WWE building...
Probably to many newer fans, notably ones just being born as the WWE exploded in popularity during the "Attitude Era" from late 1997 through the Summer of 2001, they are possibly questioning why someone like Jim Ross retiring is gaining such major headlines. After all, they see him as older announcer brought back like many of the other WWE Legends. They've grown up as wrestling fans to appreciate Michael Cole, the main WWE announcer and Ross is just someone from the past. It's why many WWE legends from the 1980's and 1990's just get a "meh" reaction by younger fans when they return and why they are shocked when an actor named the Rock is actually trying to wrestle.
But for any fans who were lucky to experience pro wrestling during the 1990's and early 2000's, you damn well know who Jim Ross is. To many, he was the main play by play announcer of Monday Night RAW and WWE Pay Per View events during the peak years. Most associate Ross with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, as Austin's rise to fame coincides with Jim Ross becoming an enormous success as an announcer. Austin's rise was a blessing to Jim Ross because Austin eventually feuded with Vince McMahon. Simply put, by Vince no longer wanting to perform play-by-play himself, Jim Ross took over. Ross has the privilege of calling the peak years of the WWE and his then heel color commentator Jerry "the King" Lawler was able to grow in his role calling matches as well. Lawler and Ross were the perfect announcing team and might be only rivaled by Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse "the Body" Ventura as the best announcing team ever.
Behind the scenes, in addition to his announcing duties, Jim Ross was a very important man. Through 2005, Jim Ross served as the Vice Present and then Executive Vice President of Talent Relations. It seemed that after 2001, he was slowly introducing his successor, John Laurinaitis, into that same role. Laurinaitis was acquired through the WCW purchase and WWE wanted to ease Ross's workload as the main WWE announcer and overseeing the growing developmental territory then known as Ohio Valley Wrestling. Before Ross could began transferring duties, he grew arguably the best crop of talent ever along with Jim Cornette and Danny Davis running the OVW territory. As you watch the WWE today and observe that Randy Orton, John Cena, and Brock Lesnar are STILL dominating the top of the card, understand that all 3 debuted with the WWE during 2002 along with former WWE main eventer, Batista. Jim Ross knew how to assess talent and gave the WWE a large stock of talent to keep it running well for another 10 years.
As an announcer, Ross remained "the man" until the WWE Brand Extension of 2002. After the WWE failed to recreate a World Championship Wrestling (WCW) brand (and badly, I might add) during 2001, the WWE got the idea to split up the roster in half and have them featured on each of their own shows, Monday Night RAW and WWE Smackdown. During 2002, both RAW and Smackdown had equal television deals with RAW being on Spike TV and Smackdown being on Viacom/Paramount owned UPN network television channel. Smackdown became a very successful separate brand with Brock Lesnar as its lead star and Paul Heyman being a successful booker of the "Smackdown 6" (Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, and Chavo Guerrero). RAW during 2002 and especially 2003, diminished in quality. It was still living on fumes of the "Attitude Era" (see Katie Vick and & Hot Lesbian Action) while Triple H completely dominated the roster (ask Chris Jericho, Kane, Bill Goldberg, Scott Steiner, Rob Van Dam, and Booker T).
Through 2003, especially with Michael Cole succeeding with Tazz on the Smackdown brand, wrestling probably became boring to Jim Ross. He also continued to have health issues as he suffered from the Bell's Palsy (3 major attacks occurring during 1994, 1998, and 2009) along with other health complications. Performing announcing duties and overseeing the developmental territory was probably burning him out. Additionally, 2 of Jim Ross's best friends, Jerry Lawler and Steve Austin had issues between 2001-2004. Jerry Lawler actually walked out of the WWE during early 2001 after his then wife Stacy "the Kat" Carter was terminated by the WWE. I would argue that Jim Ross was at his best after this because Paul Heyman became the replacement and created an awesome team because Heyman played the heel so well and purposely tried to irritate Ross on commentary. Later during November 2001 when the WCW/ECW Invasion was over and Heyman was "fired" from the announcer booth, Jerry Lawler would return but he just didn't seem to have the fire as he once did before he walked out.
The issues with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, I believe, affected Jim Ross. Austin and Ross were probably friends dating back to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) days. Jim Ross joined the Jim Crockett owned Mid-Atlantic version of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) that was in process to be bought by "Billionaire" Ted Turner (creator of CNN, TBS, and TNT channels) to become World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1987 when his promotion, the Bill Watts owned Mid South territory or Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) was acquired by Crockett's NWA. Did you get all of that? Either way, Jim Ross worked for what would become WCW from 1987 to early 1993, I believe. During that time, Ross grew stronger as an announcer and then became the lead voice for WCW. In addition to becoming a great announcer, he was also assuming some Creative duties backstage.
I'm guessing it was during 1991 through early 1993, especially when Jim Ross was on the WCW Creative Team, that Ross and Austin bonded. "Stunning" Steve Austin dominated the WCW Television Title (title defended on every WCW broadcast) and that midcard success helped shape Austin into a great professional wrestler. After Austin was booked well as a TV Champion with Jim Ross around, Austin then formed the "Hollywood Blonds" as Ross was leaving WCW with the late Brian Pillman and was allowed to really show personality. The strong midcard years with Jim Ross around and the brief success of the Blonds team in 1993, in my opinion, put Austin on the map to allow for one promotion to really recognize his talents during 1996 and begin to push him, especially after renaming him "Stone Cold". I believe Austin owes part of his career to Jim Ross and Ross probably appreciates the gratitude. I'm willing to bet that Jim Ross was very instrumental in the WWE hiring Steve Austin during 1995. From there, Austin renamed himself "Stone Cold", did the famous "Austin 3:16" speech at King of the Ring 1996, had an awesome program with Bret Hart, and the rest became history when Austin feuded with Vince. Jim Ross was there to call it all.
Steve Austin suffered a broken neck at SummerSlam 1997 but opted to keep working just before Survivor Series 1999. By the time Austin returned during the latter half of 2000, the WWE landscape was changing. The Rock and Triple H both stepped up and were able to carry the WWE without Steve Austin. Triple H began dating Stephanie McMahon and Stephanie herself became the WWE's lead writer on the Creative Team by late 2000. WWE had new faces with a developmental call-up named Kurt Angle while they stole Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero (Malenko and Saturn, too) from WCW that each caught fire during 2000. WWE didn't need Austin as much as it may have during 1998-1999. Then, WWE acquired more talent through the purchase of World Championship Wrestling during March 2001. Furthermore, the WWE brought in Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash during 2002 to reform the New World Order (NWO) stable. Then, Jim Ross's Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental territory promoted many during 2002 such as John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, and others. The WWE roster had become crowded with talent and the WWE became especially interested in re-establishing Hulk Hogan and pushing Brock Lesnar to the moon.
Wrestlemania 18 was supposed to have Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan. It didn't happen. There were major disagreements between the 2 superstars over the finish regarding the match. So Austin refused to wrestle Hogan and the Rock was inserted instead. Austin went home after Wrestlemania 18, citing exhaustion, and would return soon thereafter. In addition to pure disgust for Hulk Hogan, Austin was having regular disagreements with WWE Creative regarding his character and opponents. As noted, the WWE was crazy high on pushing Brock Lesnar. On one random night of RAW, the Creative Team wanted to have Brock Lesnar vs. Steve Austin with Lesnar winning the match. Furious with the timing and randomness of the match, Austin actually walked out of the WWE for the 2nd time. This put Jim Ross in a spot and the WWE actually forced him to comment on the situation and condemn Austin for walking out. I can guarantee you that this was not easy for Ross and as VP or EVP of talent, he was right in the middle of the Austin vs. Creative Team debate. For all we know, Ross's reduction in Talent Relations duties could have been affected by a stance on the Austin situation. Austin would return, eventually, and convert to a non-wrestling role and would be gone from the WWE after Wrestlemania 20 in 2004.
Jerry Lawler's exit in 2001, Austin's problems during 2002-2004, becoming bored of the RAW roster through 2003 due to lack of quality, the success of Michael Cole on the Smackdown Brand, and just overall burnout of working extremely hard to help make the 1997-2001 Attitude Era success took its toll on Jim Ross. Oh, and that brief XFL announcer stint... He was not the same announcer. He wasn't evolving as an announcer even though the WWE product was beginning to feature new wrestlers and was having a changing fanbase. I always personally struggle with the Wrestlemania 20 ending not just because Chris Benoit raises the World Heavyweight Title to end the show, but hearing Jim Ross attempt to scream with a shot voice about this big moment. It's embarrassing and serves as evidence that Ross isn't the same announcer as before. He peaked and various factors took him down. The WWE would gain more confidence in Michael Cole as the lead voice of the WWE and after an announcer swap during 2008 that put Ross on Smackdown and Cole on RAW, Ross would remain on Smackdown until 2009. Since then, he's made various appearances and had brief co-announcing stints with the WWE, while always serving the purpose of being "cheap heat" for wrestlers or even the heel announcer, Michael Cole.
Reportedly, there were some issues with Jim Ross being host of the recent 2K Sports WWE 2K14 promotional event. "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair arrived hammered and the WWE Corporation frowned upon Flair's appearance at a major promotional event. We're in the "PG Era" of the WWE along with the Wellness Policy in place. To uphold its public image with shareholders, the WWE Corporation has tried hard to shed the drugs and partying lifestyle that has stereotyped professional wrestling industry for many years. You don't hear of current WWE superstars partying heavily on the road as Ric Flair's generation of wrestlers were doing. The WWE Corporation, led by the McMahons, were embarrassed by Ric Flair's appearance and felt the need to hold someone accountable. With the WWE needing Ric Flair because he's in a large portion of its video library as a performer, they probably opted to blame event host, Jim Ross, instead.
Since 2009 when he was no longer a regular announcer for the WWE, the WWE has probably kept Jim Ross on the WWE payroll, probably paying 6 figures, to keep him away from TNA Wrestling. There was some reported interest by TNA in Ross but chances are that the WWE Corporation was willing to pay Ross to not work for TNA wrestling. Seeing the wrestling industry through 2013 and with Ross being 61 years of age, Vince McMahon probably assessed that Ross couldn't do too much damage to the WWE with a competitor. Additionally, Ross has shown success as one of the guys but not THE guy. The late 1990's saw Vince McMahon overseeing Vince Russo, Bruce Pritchard, and Jim Cornette on the creative team, Jim Ross overseeing contracts and developmental wrestlers, Pat Patterson overseeing matches and their finishes, and many former wrestlers acting as road agents (Gerald Briscoe, etc.). While Ross certainly deserves credit for replenishing the WWE talent repeatedly, he's not running the WWE promotion by himself. I would argue that he needs someone else to join him at TNA in order to succeed there. He doesn't appear to be a General type but is a successful officer of a unit led by someone else.
And I don't think he'd join TNA now unless certain conditions were met. I don't know if there's any real heat with Hulk Hogan, but there is for Eric Bischoff. After Bill Watts left as the WCW boss through late 1992 (I think), there was a job opening at WCW to replace him. Both Jim Ross and fellow announcer Tony Shiavone both applied for the job. However, Eric Bischoff presented himself well and convinced Ted Turner executives that he was the right person for the job. This infuriated Ross and led to Ross leaving WCW and eventually joining the WWE by Wrestlemania 9 during 1993. The 2 would remain heated competitors through the Monday Night Wars between WWE Monday Night RAW and WCW Nitro and for all we know, Eric Bischoff's 2002 existence on the WWE roster as RAW General Manager could caused backstage heat. Mix Bischoff in with Ross's other issues during 2002-2003, things are beginning to make sense.
In my opinion, Ross would need both Bischoff/Hogan to leave TNA and then grab a Creative guy like Paul Heyman to complement Ross's eye for talent. Ross could revamp the roster and Heyman get the talent over as he did with ECW during its life and the Smackdown roster during 2002-2003. I'm certain that the WWE will convert Heyman into the "new Jim Ross" by paying him 6 figures to remain with the WWE instead of joining a competitor, especially with Ross gone and available to join TNA. Heyman has been very successful with his feud with CM Punk and managing Brock Lesnar. He's getting over on television as a heel personality and the television exposure in recent times is enough to make the WWE keep Heyman paid. Believe me, the WWE does not want Paul Heyman to join another promotion and would continue to pay Heyman for a few years just to stay away from TNA. Then, we could see a "retirement" announcement for Paul Heyman with the WWE.
Jim Ross had a great legacy with the WWE, especially between the years of 1997 to 2002 when he was not only calling the matches with pure excellence, but he restocked the WWE with strong talent that's still on top of the wrestling industry today (Lesnar/Cena/Orton). His NWA/WCW career was pretty damn good too. It's sad that the WWE (the McMahons) can't find some role for Ross because only a few actually possess the wrestling mind that Ross owns. His ability to assess talent is top notch and someone like Triple H should want that as a consultant. However, the McMahons dislike anyone who disagrees with them regularly and has the guts to tell them they are wrong. Furthermore, Triple H and Stephanie seem to be hoarding more and more duties while installing their own personal choices for management. Ross is a relic from the older WWE whether you can agree or not that the past WWE was better than today's WWE. Ross does not fit with the current direction and management of the WWE.
I would LOVE to read a no-holds barred autobiography by Jim Ross. You'll get to read about the late 1980's NWA/WCW, his role in WCW during the 1990's, his WCW exit, early struggles as a WWE announcer, rise to fame during the Attitude era, and all that erupted between 2001-2004 that I believe ended Ross's peak years with the company. Hopefully, it's not a WWE sponsored and/or filtered book.
I tip my hat off to Jim Ross and express a major THANK YOU for all that you've contributed to pro wrestling. I started watching religiously as a kid during late 1988 and was very loyal to the NWA/WCW programs on the weekends back then. I grew up listening to Jim Ross for 20 years of my life and he's a big part of why I'm a pro wrestling fan. He announced with enthusiasm as if what he was watching was always the greatest thing he's ever seen. He was highly intelligent and called moves flawlessly, especially in his prime. It was awesome hearing Ross call the Attitude Era with Jerry Lawler in his prime.
I wish Jim Ross the absolute best in whatever he attempts to try in his post-WWE life. I'll support it.
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