By Stephen LyonThe show took place at a really nice 500 seater theatre, with two balconies over-looking the stage. The venue wasn't sold out (attendance was hurt by going head to head with a big Manchester United soccer game happening at the same time, elsewhere in the city) but the crowd was the largest on JR's tour, with my estimate being around 350-400 fans in attendance, each paying around $40 a ticket.
As for the show itself, as you would expect from someone who has been in the wrestling business for nearly 40 years, JR was absolutely fantastic in both telling stories about his family upbringing, breaking into the business and recounting countless tales and anecdotes, many of which often carried an underlying moral to the overall motivational tale.
This was his third date on a four date U.K. tour. JR's talk was extremely well thought out and well structured, with many shorter stories and references tying into a larger theme, making sense later on in the show.
JR opened by poking fun at the Jury Inn hotel he'd stayed in the previous night upon arriving in Manchester and the poor food that he'd eaten at said establishment. Light hearted funny stuff.
He talk about his upbringing, being an only child on his families' ranch in Oklahoma. He recounted how his dad was tough but fair on him, wanting to raise a man, and instilled numerous values in him, of hard work, perseverance, a strong sense of personal responsibility for tasks given to him and of eternal optimism that if you work hard enough to meet your goals, you can achieve them, no matter the obstacles.
These were all themes that ran throughout the show. JR recounted how, at the age of 12, he'd helped his father move bales of hay around the families' 160 acre ranch and had developed blisters and cuts on his hands. His mother wanted JR to wear gloves, but his dad wouldn't let him, wanting him to tough it out, which he did, teaching him to gut things out.
JR's dad also bred puppies, and it was JR's responsibility to help him. JR screwed up one time and left a gate open, which led to the 'son puppy' mating with the 'mother puppy', creating an unsellable batch of inbred puppies.
As a punishment, JR's dad made him kill the inbred puppies with a hammer. JR didn't want to, but he obeyed his father, and never made the same mistake with the breeding dogs again. This was the only story of the night that kind of fell flat, due to its' rather horrific nature, and JR acknowledged that it took place in a whole different era, and that if it took place nowadays, it would be a national news story/scandal in the media.
JR mentioned how he was a wrestling fan from childhood, how he made a makeshift play ring and used his army men figures as the wrestlers. He talked about seeing an angle involving the Assassins and the Kentuckians, which involved one of the guys being split wide open, blood gushing everywhere, and from that point on, he was hooked on wrestling.
JR spoke about breaking into the business, holding a fundraising wrestling show at his college, which led to him meeting Bill Watts, and Watts inviting him to come and work for him. JR was making $120 a week initially, and boosted this wage by doing refereeing work. JR recounted his early struggles in making money, how he quickly learnt to make more money by chauffeuring guys around and charging them gas money.
JR mentioned how he was essentially Leroy McGuirk's assistant and chauffeur, recounting a hilarious tale about how McGuirk once asked him to help him murder Ted DiBiase. McGuirk had discovered a young 20 year old Ted was dating his teenage daughter Mike McGuirk and was furious. McGuirk forced JR to drive him to Shreveport were Ted was, to help him commit the deed.
JR panicked and rang Bill Watts at a gas station payphone on the way there for advice on what to do, and Watts told him to get Leroy drunk until he passed out, then drive him to Shreveport where Bill met them, and Bill took control of the situation.
JR told more funny stories about his struggles to boost his income, including once being offered $100 by a ring rat to take a full frontal nudity photo of Andre the Giant in the shower. JR politefully declined the offer.
JR didn't go into much detail about his time with Crockett, but recounted the dysfunctional nature of working in the Turner-led WCW. JR detailed how he was removed from the air for 'not being a good enough voice for a national broadcast', and mentioned how WCW basically screwed up because they were breaching JR's three year contract that he'd just signed 6 months earlier.
He was basically looking forward to a fully paid 2 and a half year vacation, but got bored after a month or two and decided to make a deal with Vince to go to the WWF.
JR described the tales behind his infamous toga debut at Wrestlemania 9, how Gorilla Monsoon was originally supposed to announce that show, but was actually sick the week leading up to the show, so they decided to go with JR.
He told a funny tale about how he wanted to impress Vince, and that Bobby Heenan told him that Vince liked guys who lived on the edge and advised him to 'go commando' under his toga during the broadcast and not wear any underwear. JR told Monsoon about Heenan's advice, who laughed and told him to never listen to another idea Heenan gave him ever again.
JR recounted the night he contracted Bells Palsy the first time, and how he dealt with it. He recounted his various firings from WWE and detailed his rise up through the corporate ranks. He wasn't bitter at all about any of the bad things that had happened and spoke positively and philosophically, saying that everything happens for a reason in life.
Occasionally he gets down about suffering from Bells Palsy, but quickly counts his blessings in his life, including his wife of 27 years, Jan (who he mentioned was his third wife) and his two daughters.
He spoke about his life and upbringing for the first 50 minutes. A 30 minute break then took place, followed by a further hour devoted to JR taking questions from the audience, saying nothing was off limits. Most of the fans questions were really good, although one or two were 'eyeball-rollingly' bad, including one guy at the end who asked JR for his observations on the Montreal screwjob and the whole day leading up to it, and JR obliged in detail for a few minutes, only for the guy to then ask if it was 'really a shoot' and 'you had to know something was up' which caused everyone to laugh.
A few notable answers that I can recall JR giving was, in regards to the recent WWE 2K14 video game press conference deal with Ric Flair, JR gave a defence for Flair's behaviour, mentioning how Flair had endured a horrific 2013, suffering the terrible loss of his son, and that it was his belief that Flair was still grieving in his own way, and that perhaps allowances should be made before everyone starts jumping on Flair and criticising his antics.
JR also debunked the whole Brawl for All story regarding how it was his idea for introducing Steve Dr Death Williams into the WWF and that JR was mad Bart Gunn won. JR stated he had no creative power, because if he had done at that time, Brawl for All wouldn't have taken place as he thought it was a stupid idea.
He said Bart Gunn never had any heat with him over winning it, that JR was more furious that Williams had torn his hamstring. JR badly wanted Williams to have one big run in the WWF, thinking he deserved it after all his career sacrifices in Japan, and that he knew as soon as Williams got injured that Williams chance had gone.
JR also noted that the deal with Butterbean facing the Brawl for All winner at Wrestlemania 15 was made in many months in advance and wasn't something booked specifically to get revenge on Bart Gunn.
Other topics mentioned during the Q&A included how JR used to watch the replay of WCW Monday Nitro in his hotel room after finishing that night's RAW, and not being able to understand how WWF were losing to WCW, because he felt WWF's product was so much better.
He talked a bit about the new talent down in NXT, and didn't want to single out anyone as being the next break out star or big thing, but did mention Paige by name as having the potential to make it big.
This is just a brief synopsis of what JR discussed during the evening, written from memory, as no notes were made. Show finished at 10:15pm and he got a standing ovation from everyone there. There were numerous 'known' personalities in attendance, including the host of 'WrestleTalk TV' on Challenge in the U.K., Joel Ross, and the daughter of the late great Davey Boy Smith, Georgia Smith. I thought the format of the show was great and could really be extended to a three hour format. There were a lot of fans attempting to ask questions that the M.C., Rob McNicol didn't manage to get around to because of time restrictions. I can definitely see JR doing more of these tours, as there seems a market for it, and he's terrific storyteller. He has a quick wit too, and made some very funny adlibbed lines at times during the show.
Overall it was a very enjoyable evening, to be in the presence of one of the all time great announcers and listen to his stories. A show highly recommended for any wrestling fans to attend.
St Helens, England, U.K.