Review: Jim Ross in Manchester, England
Jim Ross is a storyteller. His accent, his tone, his pace, his pitch, his cadence - everything in his armoury - makes him a storyteller. He is not the first, and certainly not the last, in a long line of narrators from the Bible Belt who tap into the Southern Gothic style and whose attitude is honest, wholesome and loyal. His open style and welcoming sincerity is engaging and inviting. “Wrestlers provide the music, I merely add the lyrics,” he says; a motto he repeats throughout his show.
As the ‘voice of wrestling’, his UK tour takes in four dates and sees him cover his life from childhood to modern day with a generous portion of his time given to answering fans’ questions.
Monday in Manchester, the seasoned traveller kicks things off by picking fault with our hospitality. The establishment that he’s booked into is not accommodation that one might choose if you were of his build; as he refers to himself, “a fat ass”. But this is no surprise, we don’t do things here like they do in the US and there’s no getting away from that.
Ross starts at the beginning, tonight – his childhood. He was taught from a young age, that you stick by your job and you see it through no matter what. No matter whether you like it, no matter whether you’re good, bad or indifferent at it and no matter whether you hate it. He paints a picture of the only child from Oklahoma to a doting mother and stern father, who was raised on a farm living under the harsh, lonely conditions that ranch hands would face. One resounding memory that Ross says shaped him to this day, was when he left the lock off the door his dog’s cage. The dog escaped, mating with its mother, fathering inbred pups. Being his fault, Ross was asked to take the litter of 8 in a bag to the nearby disposal unit with a hammer. He remembers that it was then that he realised that you had to stick to your jobs in life and see things through or you’d pay for your deviance in the end.
Many stories of his life with wrestling are from his early career and are from the road. Ross tells us of his life in chronological fashion, choosing to leave topics such as the attitude era, the WWE and current storyline/creative decisions to be dissected in the QA section. This may be partly because Ross is a team player and won’t speak ill of the team unless he pressured to do so. Throughout the evening he talks of his passion for the business and his dedication to it in the early days. He did everything in his power so that he could ensure that he had a future in wrestling.
Working for Bill Watts is where he cut his teeth – Leroy McGuirk pulled a rib on him when travelling one time and it was Watts’ advice that saved him. McGuirk was a blind and bitter drunkard when Ross chauffeured him from gig to gig. On the road one day, McGuirk said he wanted Ross to help him shoot Ted DiBiase. McGuirk was riding with a revolver and was asking Ross to seat him in his hotel room with the door ajar so that DiBiase could come in. Swimming in Ross’ head were thoughts of prison, leaving the business, desertion and finally, when he called Watts, he had his answer: get McGuirk so drunk that he passes out when you get to the hotel, and then you won’t have an issue.
He remembers refereeing Hodge and Akbar and the McGuire twins – two 600+ pounders who worked stiff and couldn’t move far. One night he was told to switch the finish in the ring and had no idea what he was being asked to do. The McGuire twins were so large, they didn’t tag behind the ropes, and they were always both in the ring at the same time. Speaking of giants, he was also once asked to take a picture of Andre the Giant in the shower by a girl who was keen to see whether he gigantic all over – Ross claimed he nearly did it but he wasn’t prepared to go that far to be in the business.
Crockett got rid of Ross in a fairly messy contract disagreement that lead to Ross being paid off and living what he calls “a fairly aimless existence” for a few months. He was told that he was “not fit to be the voice of a national brand.” Short-sightedness that partly shaped Ross himself into a man who tried to see the good in all the talent that he would manage.
When Vince signed him in 1993, Ross remembers Bobby Heenan telling him to go commando because “Vince likes a bold man who is prepared to make a difference”. When he asked Gorilla Monsoon, Gorilla exclaimed “is he still pulling that one? That’s why they won’t let him work in the office!” It was, of course, Monsoon’s illness that allowed Ross to debut at WrestleMania 9 in a toga, something which he vividly remembers as being full of pressure yet totally bereft of it: on the one hand he had signed with the biggest company around and was debuting on their flagship show, on the other he was a nobody (his words) so no one would care if he wasn’t a hit.
By 1994 and on his 3rd (and current) wife he was struck with Bell’s palsy, something that Ross says he refuses to let ‘define’ him. He has suffered with it ever since and apologises if he may seem stern because he is unable to smile but it led him to work in jobs off-screen and he climbed the ladder. Ross glosses over his moves from being JJ Dillon’s assistant to working in payroll to working in talent relations and how these all taught him life lessons. He is thankful for being brought back to television and says he still ready “should the call come” to work as a commentator on Raw or any other show.
A measured Ross is the ultimate company man throughout the evening. In the Q&A session, he is asked about Flair’s 2K14 outbursts. He didn’t bury Flair, but said that the man had been through something no one should ever go through this year, in losing a child, and he says that his actions were of a man still in the midst of the grieving process. He claimed, when asked, that the company had done the right thing with Darren Young, stating that lifestyle choice didn’t matter to him – it is down to you how you live your life and that Young was a good guy. Equally, when asked who the worst guy he’s worked with in the company was, he dodged the question – a coach works with all-comers to get the best out of them no matter what, he said.
Regarding in-ring action and announcing, he said that he regrets, deeply, that he wasn’t there to call Mick Foley’s title win. He said the worst match he’s ever been in was a strap match with Jonathan Coachman while the Brawl for All tournament was ‘ridiculous’ and a waste of Dr Death (who would get injured as a result). Butterbean, he said, was always going to face the winner and wasn’t a set up to beat Bart Gunn. He also said the WrestleMania 17 was a magical night to call and really strongly put over Paul Heyman. He said that Heyman has lost his parents lately and it has mellowed and matured him into a more accepting and easy-going member of the team. He said if he could call one more match it would be CM Punk v Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 30 but claimed that this was just ‘fantasy booking’ not an indicator of anything.
Ross rarely strayed from the party line. He said, when asked, that TNA would never be a challenge to WWE and companies like it were no doubt enjoyable to watch but would never matter as much as WWE.
Ultimately, whether you feel that his answers are political or not, Ross brings utter credibility to the stage. It was an honour to spend a few hours hearing stories from this great orator who will be remembered as the voice of this generation of professional wrestling. Condensing these remarkable stories into such a short space of time, however, is reductive and limiting. Hopefully, Ross will put pen to paper in the near future so that the ultimate storyteller can call the action on his own story in the ring.
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