Jim Ross – “Good Ol’ J.R.,” to many millions of WWE and WCW fans – is generally thought of as the greatest wrestling broadcaster of all-time. But there’s plenty more that he ought to be lauded for both on and off-screen. As the Executive Vice President of Talent Relations for WWE, J.R. was responsible for all hirings and firings. In turn, he can be credited for the signings of plenty of entertainers that have crossed over beyond wrestling, including John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Batista and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Beyond the squared circle, J.R. tours with his one-man show called Ringside With Jim Ross, contributes articles weekly to FOX Sports, hosts the weekly Ross Report podcast, and has a line of signature barbeque sauces and seasonings.
More than 40 years since his entry into the wrestling business, J.R. has managed to keep busier in his “retirement” than most people do in their working prime. Beyond all of the projects mentioned above, he has been working on an autobiography and still does live commentary when it’s an event of interest. As if that weren’t enough, he blogs every few days on his official website, answering the majority of the e-mails that fans write in. In turn, few people make a better candidate for a “Really Busy People” column than Jim Ross.
Busyness aside, Jim Ross’ story ought to inspire readers, since he managed to turn a childhood passion into a lucrative career. He paid his dues early on, learning from the elders of the business. He endured serious health issues, yet always stayed employed and kept up relationships. Now he is in the position of mentoring the athletes and entertainers of the future, which he is widely-known for doing. In turn, it was a delight to both conduct this interview and learn from a legend.
Most people know you as a wrestling announcer and a talent executive. However, within the past few years, you’ve become a prolific podcaster, you’ve kept up on your food business, you’ve been writing for FOX Sports, you’ve been doing one-man shows, you’ve done commentary for boxing and MMA, and you’ve been writing a book. Do you have a name for what do you these days? Or a way you introduce yourself when you meet a strange and they ask how you make a living?
Jim Ross: I usually tell folks that I’m self-employed and far from retired. My current job status is unique and generally takes some explaining.
Is there a field you haven’t yet worked in but still have your eye on?
J: I’d enjoy broadcasting football and more combat sports if the opportunities ever arose, but if they don’t, I’m happy nonetheless.
You were among the handful of wrestling-related personalities to appear in the movie Man On The Moon. That movie stretched the truth when it came to the timeline events, but was it an enjoyable experience to be part of?
J: I loved being a part of Man On The Moon and seeing how the filmmaking process works, and interacting with Milos Forman, and of course with Jim Carrey, who insisted on being called “Andy” or “Mr. Kaufman” by all during the entire process. I missed the Hollywood premiere as it fell on a Monday night, and I had to broadcast RAW with Jerry Lawler, who was absent while attending the movie’s premiere.
What’s the status of your autobiography?
J: The writing of my autobiography is certainly a process and we hope to have it finished by the holidays of 2016, but we aren’t going to compromise quality and accuracy to meet a commercial, self-imposed deadline.
What was the first podcast you ever heard?
J: The first podcast that I ever heard was our first one, which happened to be with [“Stone Cold”] Steve Austin. I wasn’t even sure what a podcast was when I agreed to start The Ross Report.
In listening to your podcast, The Ross Report, it seems like there’s more creativity in what you do nowadays than ever. You crack jokes and do voices more often, like your Stu Hart and Terry Funk impressions, which I don’t recall hearing from you during your WWE tenure. Was it a conscious effort to show more dimensions to your personality?
J: My podcast is simply my own, organic personality emerging. I want the show to be “infotainment,” and thus far we’ve been able to accomplish that we feel. I enjoy the podcast world a great deal and look forward to recording it each week. I enjoy the building process and the creative aspect of the genre as well, and look forward to seeing the Ross Report continue to grow. I’ve become more conscious of being entertaining on our podcast than when I first started it and certainly while I was a “straight man” to my broadcast partners in WWE.
You’re known for telling wrestlers and other entertainers to save their money. How did you first learn that money did not simply burn a hole in your pocket?
J: My first road partners, Danny Hodge and Skandar Akbar, preached to me that it wasn’t what I earned but what I saved. That was important not only in the wrestling biz but in any professional walk of life. I took those lessons to heart. Plus, growing up in a lower income bracket family also helped me to learn the value of a dollar. I never wanted to see talents who earned great money blow it and end up working for a couple of bucks to simply make ends meet. I was also a stickler on talents paying their quarterly taxes as independent contractors. Unfortunately, and not unlike in other forms of pro sports and entertainment, many were not diligent in taking care of their tax issues. That is still troubling to me.
When you were employed by the WWE, did you have any investments beyond your BBQ sauces? Were you bit by the real estate bug or the stock market at any point?
J: We did not venture out too far with our portfolio, but have been doing organized financial planning for over twenty years with the same representative. I accumulated a great deal of WWE stock over my years there which has served us well. We had a failed restaurant concept that was derailed by the state highway department closing the exit to our location for an excruciatingly long period of time. That was the only set back that we’ve encountered financially, but it also made us some money while it was open. So we look at it as a unique experience, take the good we learned from it, and continue to move forward. Our next major move will be to continue to get our line of condiments into major grocery store chains including Ingles Markets in the Southeast, over 200 stores, that should be in place soon.
Within the past year or two, wrestling has become more respected with ESPN covering WWE events, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone having beat writers on their websites, and Buzzfeed being among the websites to post content about it. Why do you think it’s become so mainstream even though there isn’t necessarily a universally-known superstar like a Hulk Hogan these days?
J: The genre of pro wrestling – a.k.a. sports entertainment — is amazingly tenured and has been a TV staple for decades. So why wouldn’t mainstream media cover it as they do a litany of other entities? It’s a global product with millions of fans, so covering the business seems logical to me for the ESPN’s, FOX Sports’, etc. of the world. Plus, the decision-makers at many of the companies covering WWE grew up as fans, perhaps
In all your years of traveling, have you found there to be a lot of closeted wrestling fans among celebrities?
J: Absolutely. There are many “closeted wrestling fans,” but they are “coming out” more prominently than in years past. The acceptance level regarding pro wrestling is much more relaxed than it has ever been in my career and I debuted in 1974.
Does your wife enjoy wrestling? Or are there limits to how much you’re allowed to talk about wrestling around family?
J: My wife has become a fan of the genre and we watch various wrestling shows together. When I was the EVP of Talent in WWE she was the perfect “coach’s wife” and spent many hours building relationships with our talents, especially their spouses.
Having been all around the world, what is it that keeps you in Oklahoma?
J: My family came to Oklahoma in 1882, which was years before statehood. My roots are here and we love the quality of life, the changing seasons, the cost of living and our many friends and family that live here. Plus, we are major supporters of Oklahoma University Athletics and live approximately three miles from the football stadium. Life is good for us here and we are able to travel when we need a change of scenery. Los Angeles may be in our future someday, as well, as it relates to a second abode.
What do you remember about your first-ever trip to New York?
J: My first trip to New York City was in the early ‘80s when I was working in radio and came to the Northeast to conduct a sales seminar for other radio stations in our group of stations. Saw my first hockey game, at Madison Square Garden no less, and was in the Garden when the late Bear Bryant was attending a Rangers game, too — so that was a memorable experience. Broadcasting from MSG was a thrill and a blessing for me.
I had the pleasure of being at your first one-man show, as performed at The Gramercy Theatre in New York. Any idea when you’ll be back in town?
J: Thanks for attending my show at the Gramercy, and we hope to play the market again in 2016, but it won’t be going head to head against NXT as we found ourselves doing this last August. The challenge of performing in the one-man show arena is challenging and exhilaratin,g and something that I’d like to continue to do as I can regulate my travel schedule and be able to reconnect with fans who have supported me for years. The Q&A’s at our shows are written by the attendees and are never predictable.
You’re known to be a big iPad guy. Are there any apps or tools that you regularly rely on to stay productive? Are you, for example, big on Apple or Google products?
J: Just about everything I have as far as devices has an “I” in it, so I guess that I’ve become an Apple guy over time. Certainly not premeditated, as I’m far from a technological wizard, but saw that if I did not keep up to some degree I’d be left in the dust.
When did you first get online? Was it through a Prodigy or Compuserve?
J: I was one of the last ones to get to the dance, as it relates to the computer craze. I recall when I got my own office in Titan Towers in Stamford around 1995, that I had a PC in my office but had no clue as to how to use it. I had also been put on [WWE] company e-mail unbeknownst to me. I had IT visit me to get me up to speed and we discovered that I had over 3,000 unread emails. I decided to erase them all and start over, and when asked, I simply told those awaiting responses that I had computer issues and to re-send their emails.
Is there something that you wish more people knew about you?
J: I love to write and I think folks will see that when they read my autobiography. My story of my professional journey from the “Farm” in Oklahoma to the “Garden” in New York City is one of overcoming significant odds. It will show that we cannot allow others to define us, and that we all have the opportunity living in America to be anything that we want and to find success and happiness. I also love to cook, grill, etc. and have taken a prominent role in the development of our BBQ Sauces: Chipotle Ketchup and Main Event Jalapeno Honey Mustard. Ol’ J.R. is a “foodie.”
Finally, Jim, any last words for the kids?
J: I advise others, especially younger people, to live their dreams and to remember that our tomorrows are not guaranteed. Find a career that you embrace and that doesn’t feel like a job. Most importantly, find a career that YOU like and that you aren’t doing to satisfy others.
-by Darren Paltrowitz