The journey for WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross began in the 1970s and 80s with Mid-South Wrestling, a territory during days when such things existed and thrived.
His first main job in the business, Ross called the Mid-South Wrestling action, and there was plenty of it.
What does Mid-South Wrestling mean to Jim Ross?
“It means the beginning for me in a lot of ways. It means reality-based pro wrestling. It means the beginning for a lot of guys including myself to really get to establish their body of work, at least a beginning. So it means a lot of things, and all of them are good.”
When Mid-South Wrestling became the Universal Wrestling Federation in 1986, it only lasted a year, before being purchased by Jim Crockett Promotions and thus ending a stellar promotion.
“The Mid-South territory, which was the fore-runner for the UWF, had a real long and profitable run,” Ross said. “When [owner Cowboy] Bill Watts decided to try and be the third national promotion behind WWE and the NWA/the Crockett group, that’s when we changed the name to not make it so regional, at least not so regional sounding and call it the Universal Wrestling Federation, UWF.
“We were very dependent on our core territory, and our core territory was very dependent on oil and gas. When the bottom fell out on the oil and gas business, our region was struck with overwhelming unemployment and a recession that lasted longer than anyone ever dreamed or wanted. So the economy in our core area that we had established became very challenging, and the lack of disposable income among our fan base, even though our tickets were not expensive, made it very hard to keep our attendance up. That’s the primary reason the UWF didn’t last any longer than it did.”
The UWF ended in December 1987.
“The other thing that hurt us was we thought we had a deal with [Ted] Turner to air our shows on Sundays, and we got a little run on Sundays [TBS SuperStation], and the ratings were very good,” Ross said, “but as business often goes, other deals were made, and the exclusivity aspect of being a wrestling content provider bit us in the backside. Although Bill and Ted had a great relationship, the business model Turner then established with only having one provider left us out in the cold. So without a national cable outlet and the fact that our core fan base was being hammered with this recession and oil and gas issues, the combination of all of those really spelled the death of it.”
Could the UWF survive today?
“If we were able to gather the athletic-based guys,” Ross said. “Bill had a really good eye for talent, and that certainly helped me with my signing of guys later on in my career.”
Ross not only worked into the lead announcer’s position for WWE, but he also signed talent as the company’s executive vice president of talent relations.
“A lot of the things I learned from Watts,” Ross said. “The key of surviving today is talent and television. Assuming we were able to secure talents who had the Cowboy Bill Watts’ mindset and assuming we were able to get a cable outlet, there’s no doubt in my mind the brand would be very competitive in today’s marketplace, because it would be a different alternative to what anyone is currently seeing, just based on Bill’s philosophies and how he approached writing and producing television.”