Interview with WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross on calling New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV

WWE Hall of Famer Jim JR Ross and mixed martial artist/pro wrestler Josh Barnett will be calling the action for New Japan Pro Wrestling, beginning Friday, March 4 on AXS TV.
WWE Hall of Famer Jim JR Ross and mixed martial artist/pro wrestler Josh Barnett will be calling the action for New Japan Pro Wrestling, beginning Friday, March 4 on AXS TV. Photo By Ian Mosley/AXS TV

When his parents sent him to bed, instead of sleeping, Jim Ross snuck his transistor radio under the covers.

It wasn’t for listening to country nor R&B or rock-n-roll.

Ross enjoyed another kind of sound on the AM dial -- a classic sound..

It was for “listening to Jack Buck and Harry Caray when I was a little kid in grade school,” he said. “I was an only child. I grew up on a 160-acre farm in the country. I spent a lot of time in the summer and after school alone. So I was left to my own devices to some degree. i.e. reading and listening to my radio.”

That and they inspired his career choice.

“I had to go to bed at 8 o’clock every night til I was like in eighth grade for God sakes,” he said. “I kayfabed my radio into my room and put that little ear plug in my ear. I didn’t have any cool things like Beats or anything. I had a little plug, and it went in one ear. So every night I listened to KMOX out of St. Louis and just prayed that there was a Cardinals’ game on.”

KMOX 1120 AM houses the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, and a young Ross received a broadcasting lesson each night from legends Jack Buck and Harry Caray.

“The greatest broadcasters I’ve been around are radio guys or former radio guys who got into TV,” Ross said. “So I was influenced by the amazing broadcasters who I grew up with: Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Ray Scott, Chris Schenkel, Curt Gowdy, Lindsey Nelson, Mel Allen.

“And Mel Allen and Lindsey Nelson gave me hope that a Southerner could make it on a national scene. If I had been smarter...I didn’t know that I had a lot of strikes against me with a Southern accent, a nice little chubby face.”

Still, Ross not only became one of the best ever commentators globally in professional wrestling but he more than held his own calling other sports action -- boxing, football, MMA.

Speaking of MMA, Ross is teaming with MMA fighter and pro wrestler Josh Barnett to call New Japan Pro Wrestling, beginning Friday, March 4 on AXS TV. Ross, 64, the legendary broadcaster for Mid-South Wrestling, WCW and WWE, and Barnett, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion and NJPW veteran, begin their formation at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

Ross said: “I’ve worked with some really good partners -- all in which, by and large, made me much better, at least perception wise better -- but if I look high and low, I don’t know if I could find a better partner anywhere for this product at this point and time than Josh Barnett.

“His first pro match was for New Japan in the Tokyo Dome in the main event. He has had a lot of fights in Japan and wrestling matches in Japan. He’s spent time there. He knows the culture. He can enunciate the names very easily. He helps me with that. Quite frankly that’s a big deal if you work on TV and butcher somebody’s name, because your too damn lazy to work on it. So he’s perfect for what we need.

“He’s very, very intelligent. He’s a long time fan of my work, which I feel very honored that he is, and we’ve been friends for a long time. So we didn’t have to break the ice. It’s really going to be a good pairing. I think our first show [together] is good, but I think our work over the first six shows, you’ll see how much better it gets as we go along, as it should.

“We should get better. We should never hit a plateau. We should get better every single week that we’re on the air together, and a lot of that is determined by the quality that we see in the ring, but he’s a perfect partner for me.”

- NJPW with Jim Ross

Ross wears many hats. He is a WWE Hall of Famer, a BBQ connoisseur and No.1 Oklahoma Sooners fan.

He also dealt with adversity.

An inspiration, Ross proved he could still do the job on mic and do it well, even after suffering from Bell’s palsy (a facial paralysis) twice (1994 and 1998).

“I had a couple of bad hands in the poker game, but you throw your cards in and wait for the deal again,” Ross said, “and not let the Bell’s palsy identify me. I could never do that, even though it was thrown in my face -- no pun intended -- several times.”

In 1999, Agent/Booker Ed Ferrara became the character Oklahoma, which mocked JR by portraying him with his Bell’s palsy at the WCW broadcast table.

Ross continued: “You look at it. Are you going to get angry at the portrayal of your Bell’s palsy, or are you gonna shake your head and say, ‘That’s sad that somebody would think that’s good creative for TV.’ No big deal. It didn’t kill me. It made me stronger. At the end of the day, I’ve come out with my hand raised in my view. I’m still in the game. The old dogs off the porch, and he’s hunting again.”

His latest headgear is a headset, and he’s hunting New Japan Pro Wrestling as its new play-by-play commentator.

What differentiates New Japan Pro Wrestling from what else is offered today?

“A fundamental soundness, a more logical approach to the genre, a consistent level of physicality called strong style,” Ross said. “Everybody’s not fundamentally imperfect, but there’s just too many guys in the wrestling business now who we see on our TVs who are not fundamentally sound and really not ready for prime time.

“I like the approach of New Japan, their fundamentals, their mantra. The way they feel about their presentation is right down my alley. It really speaks strongly that it’s a storch-oriented presentation. It’s more steak than sizzle.”

What challenges, if any, has this presented to you, working this type of product?

“I think the biggest thing is not really the stylistic renderings of the New Japan product,” Ross said. “It’s basically a fundamental thing like instantly recognizing what wrestlers are on the screen and being able to then properly pronounce their names. As mundane as that sounds, it’s a fundamental issue that we all have to deal with. You gotta be able to pronounce the guy’s name correctly. That’s just fundamental broadcasting. So being able to get real comfortable on enunciation and recognizing names and faces together probably is the most challenging, and that’s never going to go away.”

A WWE Hall of Famer, Ross was known as the voice of WWE for nearly two decades, bringing his incomparable broadcasting talent to hundreds of TV and pay-per-view broadcasts for the organization. No stranger to New Japan Pro Wrestling either, the Oklahoma native Ross also called the first live English-language broadcast of NJPW with Wrestle Kingdom 9 in 2015.

Even with all that experience and success, Ross is still a student of the game.

“I have my notebook on my reading stand next to my chair, and it never leaves there, unless I pack it and go on the road,” Ross said. “So I have my pronunciations, the bios, and when I get some downtime, I read and expand data. So I’m going to work on that really diligently to make sure that becomes second nature [with NJPW].”

The first episode of New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV with Ross calling the action and Barnett adding color commentary premieres 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Friday, March 4.



In addition to his ringside work, Ross hosts the popular podcast “The Ross Report” and produces his own line of condiments and barbeque sauces.