I had the privilege of talking to legendary wrestling broadcaster and WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross this week, before he comes to Baltimore for his "Ringside" one-man show and Q&A at Rams Head Live! on May 16. Tickets are still available. We talked about his memories of Baltimore, doing a show during tumultuous times, as well as his thoughts on various things going on around wrestling right now.
Everybody's one man show is a little bit different. What can people who come out to your show expect from it?
They can expect to laugh, to probably get a tear in their eye for a story or two. Hopefully they'll get some motivation for life in general, because my journey has been all those things. The laughter is more prevalent and prominent than any other emotion in the show, but depending on the questions that the fans ask, there is some poignancy. It's hard to make a joke about some topics, like a question about the night Owen Hart died. There's obviously no humor in that. The questions dictate the answers and the mood. I talk about some of my challenges, but not at length, but my challenges from a health standpoint, because it may give somebody hope or may give somebody a reason to lace their boots up and get back after it. But basically it's going to be fun and lighthearted, telling some of the outrageous stories that I've encountered, lived and experienced.
Many people were recently exposed to a wrestling one-man show for the first time last week when the WWE Network aired parts of Mick Foley's show. How does your show compare to his?
I get a lot more content into my show. Mick is more of a long-form storyteller. His show is good, but he'll do essentially the same show for an extended tour. My shows are always different, because I change the show for each market. I'll have a different set of stories in my opening monologue because it's Baltimore, than I would in another market. I try to personalize it to the market that I'm in, before we get to the Q&A. Once we get to the Q&A, the gloves are off, there's no script. Every audience is different. If they have their significant others with them, sometimes there's better behavior. If they've had a few too many adult beverages, you get a different tone and tenor. Usually it's good, but I remember I did a show in New York City, and they were selling beer to everyone, and there were some kids who were over-served, so to speak, and they weren't heckling me, but they were having their own party in the first or second row. I had to take them to the woodshed and verbally spank them. They were good boys after that. Every room is different, that's why it's fun and new.
You talk about tailoring your show to your audience. What are your memories of Baltimore, and what are your thoughts on the Baltimore wrestling fanbase?
They've been great for decades. They were great long before I got around them. I want to say that the first time that I went to Baltimore was with Jim Crockett Promotions, the NWA brand, and they were doing a pay-per-view at the arena. I came in on a cool event, I think it was a Great American Bash. I remember the first time being there, to do this live pay-per-view show. We were battling WWE at the time, and everyone was trying to get their market share. Baltimore was one of those cities, much like Philly, where both brands would be there a lot. It was particularly a key market. Everybody was prepared to put their best foot forward. I found the fans to be very spirited there. They were loud...
The boys loved going to Baltimore, it was a great party town. We stayed by the arena, as a rule. That means we weren't far from Little Italy and Sabatino's. Sabatino's served as the unofficial student union of the NWA crew. It was always an adventure going there, because inevitably people would drink too much and eat too much, and you had to get up the next morning to catch a plane or go do the show. It was always worth it though because it was always a good time.
At the time I didn't really understand how important this was, but as I got older, and looked at it from a social standpoint, when Ron Simmons beat Vader to become the first African-American to hold a world title, it was a big deal. At the time, we were all working so hard, sometimes you don't stop and smell the roses as often as you should. Since I'm not in that grind, I can think back to things like that. That was a pretty big night. I've gone back and watched it a few times. It's fun to watch the crowd. It was a momentous occasion to a lot of fans there. A lot of African-American fans were shocked, because there had always been a glass ceiling in the industry for the African-American athletes. They would get close, but never could get over the hump. Ron Simmons' victory in Baltimore was a milestone as far as that was concerned.
Obviously Baltimore has had its share of turmoil recently. Throughout your career, there have been times when you've done shows in places or at times of turmoil. How cognizant do you have to be of that, and what's your mindset going in?
I think the best example I can give you is 9/11. We did Monday Night RAW in Texas, and then we went to Houston for the Tuesday night taping of Smackdown. On Tuesday, September 11, was the tragedy with the World Trade Center. So obviously the event was postponed. The show was cleared through all sorts of hurdles on Thursday. It was the first public assembly of people of that ilk of the country. We sold out. Every seat in the arena in Houston was full. I normally didn't do the play-by-play for Smackdown at that time. But I was put out there for that show. So you're very nervous before the event. You know where you are. You know why you're there, and what's occurred. But once the event starts, you get into your game mode, and do what you need to do to entertain the people that are watching...
It's the same thing in Baltimore. I've been keeping a close eye on what's going on. I've been coming to the city for years and I've been looking forward to this show with great anticipation. But more importantly, there's unrest and the issues with the police, and a human being lost his life and I still don't know why. I know there's been arrests made of police officers. It gives all police officers a bad name, and we know all police officers aren't bad. It's just a sad situation. I will be cognizant of everything that's going on right up until the show starts, and then I'll go into entertainment mode, and hopefully everyone that is there can have a little fun.
Moving from that to a slightly happier topic, I know that you're still an avid watcher of WWE, so I'd like to get your opinion on a few things that are going on in the program. Lots of people are still buzzing about the segment and match with Sami Zayn, John Cena and Bret Hart from this week's RAW. What did you think as you were watching that?
I thought it was great. It was really strategic booking. All the elements were ripe for it. First of all, Sami Zayn is from there. Everybody that's a wrestling fan knows of his journey. It was so timely to let him make his debut in his hometown. Some fans are going to say, "I can't believe they let him debut in his hometown and he lost." He was booked in a unique role, to play the underdog wrestling arguably the top guy in the company, for a title. He got introduced by a Canadian legend; he got the ultimate rub from Bret. It was a fantastic utilization of Bret Hart by the WWE. The least of my worries would have been who's going to go over. It's irrelevant. It was about the presentation. From the get-go, from Heath Slater's little role, to Bret Hart's role, to the match that the two had, to Sami Zayn getting beat by Cena's best maneuver. He didn't get beat by a fluke. He didn't beat himself. Most guys, if you ask them, they'd rather lose to the guy's best stuff, instead of doing something obscure to try to protect them. I thought it was really well-done. The crowd loved it, which made it better to watch at home on TV. I thought it was splendid television.
What was your thought on bringing back King of the Ring, but without much build, and only having it over two days, and what was your thought on the eventual champion?
King Barrett I have no problem with. I think they could have gotten more mileage out of the tournament. The thing you always try to do, is write episodic television. There's nothing more episodic than a tournament. The outcome always creates the next step. So I like tournaments. Would I want to have a tournament every week? No. But as far as writing episodic television, a tournament is an intriguing way to engage the episodic nature of television. My only complaint would be that they could have gotten more mileage out of it, had they chosen to.
I think the problem is that upper management there isn't as high on the King of the Ring concept as they once were. At one time it was its own Pay-per-view. It was a one-night affair. I called the King of the Ring 93, which was the Pay-per-view after Wrestlemania IX, where I debuted. Bret Hart won in the one-night tournament, with Randy Savage and Bobby Heenan. I really enjoyed that. It was a one-night event, but it was a big deal.
I have no issues at all with Barrett winning it. I just hope he can stay healthy and can start realizing his full potential. He has not been able to do that yet due to injuries. I think he is an intelligent, articulate guy. He wants to be a star, he just hasn't been able to, due to injuries. He's like my friend Sam Bradford, whose playing for the Eagles right now. Two ACL injuries, he can't stay healthy. He's great when he's healthy, he just hasn't been able to. And Wade Barrett is the same way. He has to stay healthy to reach his potential. Hopefully he will, because I like the guy, and I think he has what it takes to be special. I think he can be a truly great villain. He's arrogant, aloof and obnoxious.
Good choice for the winner, but it could have lasted a little bit longer.
There's one thing that I've wanted to ask you in particular. The standard wrestling booth has the face and the heel dynamic, and has for years. Do you think that dynamic is still necessary for wrestling?
I don't think it's as necessary to take it as extreme as it once was, where the antagonist broadcaster disagrees with his partner simply because that's his role. The smart ones find logical reasons to disagree, and just don't do it to be a contrarian. That becomes eyeball-rolling. It's not smart television. I don't think the product needs to be dumbed down. You can be a heel and still make valid points. I don't think it's as necessary to go over the top. I also don't think that the play-by-play guy, who traditionally has a face role, always has to endorse the fan favorites. You would never disrespect the face's athletic ability, or who they are as a character, but if they do something wrong strategically, you can certainly point that out.
The bottom line of it is that announcers need to get the talent over in the roles that they are cast. The thing about what I used to do, and what I still may do down the road, who knows, is that no matter what I'm doing it for, the concept is still the same. It doesn't matter if it's wrestling, or boxing or MMA, it's all the same. The competitors are making the music, and we add the lyrics. And the words are always secondary to the music. If we're good at it, it's a hit. You can't write great lyrics to average music. You can make average music better with good lyrics, or you can downplay a match by not saying the write things.
It's the SportsCenter mentality these days. Everyone wants to be cool, and glib, and hip. There's nothing wrong with that, until they're saying one thing, and I'm seeing another thing. That creates a disconnect. One of the two sides in that equation is going to be de-prioritized. Sometimes the soundbite world can create a problem. ... Sometimes there's that lame banter on wrestling shows that just doesn't work. I just believe in tying everything together. You can bring different moods, including humor, it just has to fit what I'm seeing on my monitor.
One final question, and I'm sure it's the question that you get in every interview. Is there any talk of you returning to wrestling broadcasting full-time, whether it's with WWE, or with Global Force, who you did the Wrestle Kingdom 9 broadcast for, or with anybody else?
WWE, no. There may be down the road some WWE opportunities, but I don't think it will be in the broadcasting side. Time will tell on that. If the Global Force thing is there, I enjoyed working with Jeff Jarrett for the New Japan thing in January. I hope that they do great. I think that they can do a real good TV show with the roster they're putting together. He still has to find a network to air his shows on. I would be very interested in working with Global Force, it's just a matter of time obligations and budgets and everything. Everything has to fit schedule-wise. Adding 13 weeks of TV tapings, then going to Nashville and doing voice-overs, all of a sudden it becomes a pretty big project. And I have so many projects already in the pipeline. I just don't know if we're going to be able to balance everything to make that happen. I'm not against it, Jeff and I have talked about it. I just don't know that I can do it because of the time obligations. I'm a big fan of what they're doing there. As I understand it, it's going to be 12 one-hour shows, and then a 13th final episode. I'm a big fan of the one-hour shows. The finale will be a two-hour special. I think that's a good concept. There's some real good wrestlers coming in as well. They'd be fun to call.
I just have so many commitments right now. I just signed a new contract with Fox in the past few days. I'm going to be providing digital content for FoxSports.com. That's going to take some time. I'll be doing some writing and other things in their digital platforms, which could lead to other things. Last Memorial Day I did the highest-rated boxing event that FOX aired. It got great ratings and they were happy with my work. They're in the process now of talking with Golden Boy Promotions, Oscar de la Hoya's group. Boxing is changing so much. There's a concerted effort now to re-jump start boxing. Everybody is trying to get back in the boxing business. So we'll see how that works out. I'm a big boxing fan, and I had a great time with that. I also got to call an MMA pay-per-view last fall, and that was fun. I got to work with Chael Sonnen [who is now going to be doing commentary for GFW] and that was a hoot. I had great chemistry with him, and I had a lot of fun with him. I like the different stuff, that I haven't done before. It's like a little adventure.
I like doing some of the things I'm doing now. Before, I was in and out of cities. When it's my own event, I can go into town early. I'll be in Baltimore Thursday. I'm going to the Orioles game Friday night, I know many of the Orioles are big wrestling fans. Back in my NWA and WWE life, those things just didn't happen. To be able to actually enjoy the city, these are moments that I'm embracing. It ends up creating a better show. It's a good situation. It's been a really cool adventure.
Both regular and VIP tickets are still available for Ringside: An Evening With Jim Ross, which will be at Rams Head Live on May 16. Tickets are available online at ramsheadlive.com, and they will also be available at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8.
Questions? Thoughts? Leave them in the comment section, email me, or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster.