Published on April 26th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
The Legendary Jim Ross On Working With New Japan Pro Wrestling & Signing WWE Greats
If you were a fan of professional wrestling anytime within the last 40+ years, then you undoubtedly know who Jim Ross is. Not only was Ross on-camera on a weekly basis for the WWE, WWF, WCW, NWA, UWF and Mid-South wrestling companies — he currently can be seen on a weekly basis commentating for New Japan New Japan Pro-Wrestling on AXS TV — but he was also responsible for signing some of the all-time top money-earners within the business. To name a few of the legends who Ross signed within his WWE career, that list includes “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Batista, Mick Foley, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Randy Orton, and Kurt Angle.
But there is plenty more to Jim Ross’ life and accomplishments than his current work with the WWE and New Japan; notably he is the only person to currently be under contract with both WWE and another wrestling company. Notably, the Norman, Oklahoma resident has the acclaimed J.R.’s Family Bar-B-Q brand of products, which include barbecue sauces, jerkys and seasonings. Last year, Ross released his long-awaited memoir Slobberknocker, which was years in the making. Ross also hits the road regularly for his one-man show — also known as the Slobberknocker Sessions — and has recently done live commentary for CBS Sports, FOX Sports, and MMA events.
Jim Ross: Oh yeah. I’m one of the exceptions, Darren, I’m lucky. I’m able to do my various jobs in various eras, various regimes… This is not sounding cynical, or being a negative crotchety old bastard, it’s the truth. If you get out of this business with five friends you can count on through thick and thin, no matter what, you’re a very lucky man. I take that a step further, quite frankly that’s life.
If you have to have a number that’s realistic, to have X number of friends, you can get money from them, they would help me in a bind, whatever… I know these five people would be there no matter what… If you’re listening or reading, you’ll say, “Who will my five be?” Sit down for a minute, clear your head and think of which five are on your list. Do you have any others that would supplant the five, or add to the five? Or are they just adding names for name’s sake? Five, you’ll find more often than not will be your magic number… That’s not something where you’ll have to go, “My life’s over, poor me.” It’s not that at all, it’s reality.
The way our lives and fragmented and we live our lives, we have less time in the day, we have less interpersonal relationships, we have less interpersonal interactions, we’re on our phone, we’re reading or texting… One of my favorite things to do in an airport… These guys that are walking down the middle aisle of the terminal, they’re looking down, I love stepping in front of them. They look so startled, “I can’t believe this happened.” You want to say, “I’m just having fun, but what you’re doing is pretty stupid.” It’s amazing how our devices and social media have dominated our lives. It’s the most amazing phenomenon in my lifetime.
You’ve always been full of wisdom, whether or not you want to admit it. When did you start to realize that a lot of the wisdom that came from the old-timers was true and not just sour grapes?
Jim Ross: When Bill Watts gave me more responsibility, all the games played, nepotism, sexual improprieties… The wrestling business is not anything unlike a microcosm of reality. It just followed along, it was part of life. It wasn’t unusual, people were checking their characters at the door sometimes. There’s a very unbalanced system built for paranoia and angst because you didn’t have a contract. You could be let go that night and that’s it. Imagine you bought that house by the school, or you have a six-month lease, you’re fired as of now. There’s always paranoia and mistrust, and then the pay system was largely discretionary, so that led to the alleged payroll injustices and all these things. The business bred a lot of malcontent, uneasiness…
I don’t know if the way some of these millennial kids have been raised by my generation, unfortunately in this case, how prepared they are to live the same life others lived getting into the business. They walk in now they get royalties, they get quarterly checks, they’re in a video game or on a t-shirt and they’re getting paid for that. They’re getting paid a decent amount of money to learn their craft.
Jim Ross: Bingo, a Rhodes Scholarship and they’re getting paid. It’s perplexing to me sometimes, you wonder if these kids realize what they’re doing, what they’ve got and how lucky they are, if this is what they want to do. The other facet is, I used to say this to guys, you’ve gotta have Plan B. If they lied to me about having a Plan B, they generally failed, because in the end they felt a sense of urgency that they knew they couldn’t control. They finally realized, under normal circumstances, “The way I am, my DNA, the lay of the land, my skill set, my abilities, I ain’t gonna make it to the next level.” Some of them when they get desperate, it’s because they’ve got no Plan B.
If you have a college degree, you can be a substitute teacher, if you have talents and skills, can you fix a computer? If you have nothing and you lose the only thing you had, there’s a sense of desperation, it’s human nature. It’s inevitable, so I tried to avoid those situations., making sure they had a Plan B and keeping them informed… You need to be thinking about it beyond it or if you’re immersed in it. There’s ways to fix it.
Your career has been very well-diversified for the past five years. Was that the plan for once you left WWE? Or that all happened organically?
Jim Ross: I wanted to diversify because I had a lot of interests. The great thing about leaving WWE in 2013 is the same thing that’s great today; Vince McMahon made sure that me and my family were financially-secure for the rest of my days. At the same time, he’s always opened the door to more opportunities to make more money and help the company. There are a lot of things I can do to help the company. My experience, the things I’ve done in my career, can help others doing those same jobs now. I can be a sounding board, I love to mentor, I love to coach. I can teach others a better headlock? That’s absurd. I can teach you how to a better businessman, how to prepare for your future, how to prepare for your home life. There are a lot of things I can do that I look forward to doing. Now that I’m alone, my kids are grown… I need that audience. I like that activity.
I just did Edge and Christian’s podcast, and they’re both financially-secure. They’re both doing well. They’re two kids I hired, I think I gave $200 a week, a little developmental deal. They were Ontario indie wrestlers. I ended up thinking Edge was extraordinarily-special. He had $40,000 in student loans and I gave him a $40,000 bonus to pay off his student loans. He had not earned it, it was all to come. It was off the record, low key, it wasn’t something I wanted attention brought to. It was the right thing to do. But I could also see someone saying, “That was not good management, J.R. That kid is tall and skinny and he hasn’t drawn a dime yet.” But I thought he would. That’s why I got paid good money to find those guys. That’s why one class we had [Brock] Lesnar, [John] Cena, [Randy] Orton, [Dave] Batista, Shelton [Benjamin]…
Jim Ross: I look at the fact that I can look at some people and see things or not. It’s my opinion, it’s all it is. But through the years, my opinion has panned out. I’ve been lucky a lot of my guys that we as a team signed have gone on to do well. I was kidding Edge and Christian on this podcast, I said, “I’m glad I was able to help you guys get rich.” I am, I really am. They worked hard for it. They didn’t come in with a lot of fanfare. They weren’t Brock Lesnar, they didn’t look like John Cena, they didn’t have the genetics of Batista, they didn’t have Randy Orton’s third-generation pedigree. They were two indie wrestlers that were way ahead of their time that we liked from their in-ring work. We looked at them, I interviewed them, I liked them… Those are the best success stories for me. Some of these kids are doing really well now, because of their journey to the WWE. I was one of the doorkeepers there.
Being at this point in your life and career, does it feel paternal? Do these people feel like your kids in a way?
Jim Ross: I feel like a proud father and uncle, because you remember when. You remember when they didn’t have any money, they didn’t have any luggage, they didn’t have good gear, they had nothing. They were just hungry, passionate, big-eyed guys that wanted to live their dream, just like I did. So we give them a chance for something, and then they took the ball and ran with it. It’s always cool when that happens.
I talked to Mark Henry the other day about something. I remember signing him 16 or 17 years ago while he was still trying to go to the Olympics. We paid for his last year of Olympic training. We did a lot of good things. But then there weren’t as many platforms to step on after the Olympics. You just did it, you went about your business, it was the right thing to do.
Related to the business, is there anything you are still hoping to accomplish? Or have you already accomplished everything you originally set out to do and more?
Jim Ross: I’d like to get better at announcing and improve my game. I enjoy those challenges. I’d like to be able to get in the position as an influence, a mentor, advisor, coach, whatever term would fit the bill, to these kids in NXT. They’re the future of what we’re going to have here in the business, by and large. People will say, “There’s one WWE.” Of course there is, but if everybody’s honest, all the other companies… Most of them are going to say [if given the opportunity], “I’m going to WWE.” That’s the big pot of luck. You hit. You may end up like Dwayne Johnson. There’s the arena that you need to play in for things like that to generally happen, then it’s a long shot, then it’s very rare, but if you go somewhere else and their arena, it’s an even longer shot.
I want to write another book. I want to see about Slobberknocker becoming a movie or a TV show. I’m anxious to seeing that process playing out, either with something happening or until it runs its course and they say, “Well, can’t do.” It’s the process. The chase is fun.