Fighting

PRO WRESTLING: Spend an afternoon with WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross

“RINGSIDE: An Afternoon with Jim Ross” is Saturday, March 28 during WWE WrestleMania Weekend at the Rockbar Theater in San Jose, Calif.
“RINGSIDE: An Afternoon with Jim Ross” is Saturday, March 28 during WWE WrestleMania Weekend at the Rockbar Theater in San Jose, Calif. Photo Courtesy PinUp Productions

You can’t sell goods out of an empty wagon, and Jim Ross prides himself by always keeping his wagon loaded with viable product.

After his 20-year career in WWE came to a close, the legendary voice of professional wrestling turned his attention to a wealth of other projects. Along with expanding the reach of his line of JR’s BBQ and a handful of broadcasting gigs, the Oklahoma Sooners diehard has the weekly “Ross Report” podcast.

Next on the schedule for the man in the Resistol cowboy hat is “RINGSIDE: An Afternoon with Jim Ross” on Saturday, March 28 at the Rockbar Theater in San Jose, Calif.

During WWE WrestleMania Weekend, the event is about eight miles from the WrestleMania 31 site, which is in Santa Clara, Calif. Ross plans to feed off the excitement and anticipation for the grand event through his one-man show.

“Once you go on stage, it’s the same thing as broadcasting a match,” he said. “I’ve broadcasted matches in TV studios that had a 100 people and you put forth your best effort. It’s a natural thing for me. At the same time, I wouldn’t be very good at golf probably, but nevertheless it’s the WrestleMania atmosphere. I think if you’re a fan, which I am, and you care about your fans, which I do, then I think all of those ingredients will make for a pretty good barbeque sandwich, so to speak.”

Good Ol’ J.R. is excited at the prospect of having fans from around the world in attendance. Ross has toured his one-man show across the United Kingdom, as well as hosted dates in the United States and Canada. Each one brings its own unique experience and array of special guests from the pro wrestling business. Ross gets a similar adrenaline rush from these events as he did announcing live, without a net on “Monday Night Raw.”

“I’ve always tried to get better at everything I’ve done,” Ross said. “I don’t think you sit on your laurels. I don’t think you get complacent. The comfort zone is the kiss of death for many professions including broadcasting. You can’t say, ‘I’m in the Hall of Fame. I don’t have to work as hard.’ I like to think I’m improving. My shows in New Jersey and Philadelphia the afternoon of the Royal Rumble were two of the better shows I’ve done, if not the best shows I’ve done. You get comfortable in a new environment. It’s still the art of communicating. It’s still the art of story-telling. Difference is instead of someone telling a story of what you’re seeing on your monitor, and of what’s going on in the ring, the stories originate by me from my experiences, memories.”

On his career odyssey, the veteran worked in various roles at Mid-South Wrestling, NWA and WCW before making his way to WWE. Through it all, Ross always strived to get better. Just being good was not good enough.

“I’d like to think my work improved over the years as the styles changed and parameters for announcing changed,” he said. “I was able to morph my style a little bit and still remain relevant. That’s what I tried to do because the product certainly changed. The wrestlers provide the music and the announcers are providing the lyrics to that music. So over the years the music has changed. So the good broadcasters are able to adapt to what they are hearing. Then put a story with it. I know I have a long way to go with these one-man shows, but I do have a lot of fun and feel like I’m getting better. We are planning more of them this year. So the WrestleMania show is one we are really looking forward to. I’ve already started planning for next year’s WrestleMania in Dallas.”

For the 63-year-old, retirement only comes when he rides off into the proverbial sunset , similar to a scene you’d see in one of those John Wayne movies he loves. Until then Ross is enjoying life and is busier than ever building the J.R. brand. He credits his years working for Vince McMahon and WWE in getting him prepared for the shark-infested waters of business world.

“It’s about creating promotional opportunities, understanding value of impressions and how many people are experiencing your product,” Ross said. “I really got my masters degree and maybe doctorate from Vince McMahon on how to market…Being a student in college led to my career in the wrestling business because I was a good promoter and good marketer, or at least that is what Bill Watts and Leroy McGuirk thought when they hired me in 1974,” Ross said.

“I thought it was going to be a really cool summer job before I finished my last semester of college. All I can say is that summer has passed and morphed into 40 years and the registrar is still waiting for me to enroll again to finish my degree. So always had that marketing bug that helped me work with market reps in WWE, booking cards, which I did for years on lived events. I think it helped me to seeing talents and the potential in them and finding them.”

Sleep was the enemy in WWE. Ross wore many hats during his tenure with the company, besides just calling matches. He headed up talent relations, helped book live events and handle pay days. Ross’ schedule was demanding to say the least.

“Vince was really confident in my ability to hire talent,” Ross said. “I was talking to J.J. Dillon after my show in Philadelphia. I asked him if he was able to hire talents without running it by Vince. He said no. When I got the job, Vince wanted to change the talent relations department and steam line it and make it more effective. I ran some concepts by him that he liked. One of them was signing talent. Sometimes timing is everything. He said, ‘I’m going to leave that to you. I trust your judgment.’….Our track record by and large has stood the test of time. I’m very proud of the talent our team brought in…I don’t actually know when John Laurinaitis took the job how he exchanged with Vince, but I got the feeling they tried to replicate what I was doing in that particular facet of the business.

“I knew what Vince wanted and knew what I wanted. We wanted the same thing. I wanted to get Mick Foley hired so bad because I was getting a veteran into a locker room that was soon going to be younger. You want guys that are good teammates and don’t mind being a mentor and it is not all about them. I knew what I liked and knew my vision was on target because I was still a fan. I was still a wrestling fan that had a job in wrestling. We always were on the same page on the guys we hired.

“We got lucky on some of them that gave me an endorsement. Gerald Brisco was deeply involved in that. We wouldn’t have Brock Lesnar for example had it not been for Jerry Brisco. Jerry was teammates with Brock’s college wrestling coach in Minnesota. It’s always a team effort when you look at successes. That certainly was the case of talent relations at that time. We got results. We went from building new talents in a company that almost went bankrupt in the mid-1990s to then getting the onslaught of the ‘Monday Night War’ to finally getting our hand raised and prevailing. Then the company went public, which benefited a lot of us when that happened. It has been a really interesting ride in that regard.”

Ross is getting a chance to reflect on his historic career thus far putting together his autobiography. He partnered up with Scott Williams, who helped pen Bill Watt’s memoir. Knowing a lot of publishers wanted salacious material, Ross decided to write first and search for a book deal after it was essentially done. The process has already involved 12-hour sessions gathering content, to the point Ross realized one book may not be enough.

“We are going to write this book in an episodic way and tell a great story from when I first discovered wrestling as a kid all the way through to one of the pivotal moments of my careers when I came back from my second bout of Bell’s palsy at WrestleMania XV,” he said. “Then the second book will pick up after WrestleMania XV, which we will cover in the first book. The first book will be complete and have a happy ending where I call the first Rock versus [Steve] Austin WrestleMania main event after being on the sidelines, losing my mom and having that Bells palsy.. I thought my career was basically over. I would have been an administrator behind the scenes and been content, but Vince was kind enough to put me in that spot calling the main event, which made Austin and Rock happy. I went out there in Philadelphia and got a standing ovation. They don’t give standing ovations for free there. It’s a tough crowd. They know what they like. They know what they don’t like, and they let you know either way. So I was surprised.

“I remember passing Michael Cole in the aisle way. I tipped my hat and sat down by Jerry Lawler. I held my face up because it was droopy, and so I didn’t sound like I was doing a poor man’s Foster Brooks’ impersonation, one of the classic [comedic] characters of our time. I got tagged back in the game, and a few weeks later, was back working. It worked out fine in that regard. Somewhere around that time is when that book is going to end and the second book is going to have more detail on the ‘Monday Night War,’ company going public, signing a bunch of guys who are famous now. We got it mapped out. We are in the midst of it. The goal is to have a book deal done and have it out by the holidays. That is our goal.”

Whether it’s WWE or TNA or Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling or Lucha Underground, J.R. wants everyone to thrive. In the midst of writing his autobiography, Ross remains a fan. He is as excited about WrestleMania as any other member of the WWE Universe would be.

“I think the business in general I would like to see more momentum at this point in time,” he said. “However, I think our expectations sometimes get out of balance. I think before we get to March 29 there will be plenty of anticipation for the event. The momentum is going to continue to grow as time goes on. It’s still WrestleMania. It’s like emotionally investing in watching the Super Bowl and the team you support is not in the game. It’s still the Super Bowl. If you are a fan of football, you know that is the game, the last game. Now this is not WWE’s last pay-per-view or big show, but nothing else they do all year is going to approach the significance of WrestleMania. That’s the way it is, SummerSlam included. WrestleMania is its own unique entity. Any of us who have been in the game at a WrestleMania know the importance and significance of it, as it’s hard to factor that out of your system.

“I would suggest that if there are those involved in any role, and they don’t’ have at least a little bit more pep in their step and butterflies in their stomach, then they ought to step away because the day you take it for granted is when you might need to evaluate if you have been staying too long. I’m not even working for WWE and looking forward to WrestleMaina. I’m going to channel my excitement and enthusiasm as a performer in my one-man show. That’s how I position myself mentally. When you can get tickets for $20, and I set that price, I would challenge anybody coming to WrestleMania to find a better investment in your entertainment dollar than coming to my show for 20 bucks.”

Spoken like a true marketeer, entrepreneur.

- PinUp Productions is proud to present "RINGSIDE: An Afternoon with Jim Ross" Saturday, March 28 at the Rockbar Theater in San Jose, Calif. There will be a pre-show meet-n-greet for VIP ticket holders 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Doors open for general admission ticket holders at Noon with the show beginning at 1 p.m.

Visit www.JimRossLive.com for details.

- Listen to the “Ross Report”every Tuesday on PodcastOne.

- Follow Jim Ross on Twitter @JRsBBQ and visit

www.JRsBarbq.com to read his blogs and buy his products.

- Jim Ross has a role in the upcoming movie “What Now,” a comedy released April 3 on iTunes.

- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN

PRO WRESTLING ON THE WEB

http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/fighting/

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