Jim Ross could feel a piece of himself and his career slipping away and wasn’t going to make letting go an option.
The Hall of Fame wrestling announcer worked just twice on camera — “The Greatest Royal Rumble” in Saudi Arabia and “Raw 25” — for WWE in 2018. The lack of work, the death of his wife, Jan, in a car accident in 2017 and a third bout with Bell’s palsy left Ross battling depression in an empty house. He didn’t want to shave or answer the phone. He remembers putting on his watch one day and its date was from “like three weeks ago” because he “didn’t even care what time it was.”
“I started disappearing [in my career],” Ross said in a phone interview. “And I wasn’t ready to despair. I always felt like I had something to offer. I feel like I have plenty of miles on my tires.”
Ross will get his chance to prove that starting this week.
He will be an integral part of the four-day Starrcast II wrestling convention in Las Vegas, working a number of stage shows including possibly his last one ever with former WWE colleague Jerry “The King” Lawler. On Saturday, he will be back behind the announce desk calling All Elite Wrestling’s first show, “Double or Nothing,” from the MGM Grand at 8 p.m. on pay-per-view and streaming on B/R Live.
Ross, who worked for WWE for 26 years, also has a new podcast with Conrad Thompson, “Grilling JR,” where Ross gives his unique perspective on wrestling events and stars of the past. Ross’ second book is expected out next spring, and he will also be doing a speaking tour in conjunction.
“You can’t do anything about yesterday because that’s history,” the 67-year-old Ross said. “Affect today, and today, I’m getting ready for the biggest assignment I’ve had in years, maybe in forever on Saturday night.”
After his three-year contract is up with AEW, he said he looks forward to renewing it because there’s no reason to stop working.
“Building a brand and all these things, it’s just how I’m wired,” Ross said. “And for me to sit at home, you know, is not constructed for me.”
At “Double or Nothing,” Ross will be joined at the announce table by former Pro Wrestling Guerrilla voice Excalibur and Alex Marvez, who has covered the NFL for more than 20 years and has a weekly radio show on SirusXM. The trio recently spent two days in Atlanta calling practice shows and building chemistry.
Ross said the most important thing was defining their roles. Marvez is going to be the insider like Jay Glazer is in the NFL and Mike Tenay was in WCW. Excalibur will be the go-to for match analysis, talking about holds and wrestlers’ strategies.
“We’re going to be fine, I think,” Ross said. “It may be rocky to get rolling, but shoot, by the time that show’s over and we call, which I assume will be [Chris] Jericho and [Kenny] Omega, if we ain’t rocking and rolling, that’s our fault.”
The style of the broadcast team is just part of AEW’s attempt to be a sports-based wrestling company, different in presentation from WWE — which presents itself as sports entertainment. Ross believes their approach will be less about giving backstory and more focused on the action in front of them.
He even used the recent contract signing on “Monday Night Raw” between Lacey Evans, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair as an example. When he watched, he said he failed to hear the WWE announcers make note of a momentum-changing big boot from Flair to Lynch.
“They’re not looking for play-by-play people, they’re looking for people who can narrate and give backstory,” Ross said. “And it’s very annoying for a wrestling fan. And maybe, someday, everybody will get there. If you’re talking about something totally different than what I’m seeing there is invariably a disconnect.”
One of the matches Ross will call at “Double or Nothing” will feature the Rhodes brothers, Cody and Dustin, facing off. The timing and storyline couldn’t be more poignant in Ross’ eyes. Dustin finally had a chance to step out of the shadow of his father, Dusty Rhodes, who died in 2015. Now he is living in Cody’s shadow after all the success he’s had. Ross expects the match to be a love letter of sorts to their father.
“This is why they were born, I believe for a moment like this, born in the world of wrestling,” Ross said. “This is an opportunity to show their dad what he taught them psychologically, ring-wise, physically, the whole nine yards.”
Ross will continue to call matches for AEW when its weekly show debuts on TNT this fall. He calls it a true partnership and expects a “very distinct and upscale look” because TNT will be handling the show’s production. AEW has already said it will not have scripted promos, which Ross agrees with because he said it will tell you what your talent really has.
“We’re going to give you [the wrestlers] your most sellable points, utilize those and work them into your promo,” he said. “And here’s your time, you get two minutes or a minute and a half. I just don’t see anybody going in the ring and doing a 10 or 12 minute scripted promo. It’s ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to me that that’s what the business has come to.”
As Ross gets ready to start the next portion of his broadcast career, he will potentially be saying goodbye to a piece of his previous one, with “WWE and AEW invariably going to have some sort of a rivalry, at least in the fans’ eyes.”
He will be doing a stage show with Lawler, who is still signed with WWE, on Friday morning at Starrcast II, which will also be streamed on FITE. It’s part of the nostalgia Ross — like Bruce Prichard, Tony Schiavone and Eric Bischoff before him — is trying to tap into through his podcast with Thompson, who also runs Starrcast II.
Ross’ podcast, which goes live on Thursdays, this week tackles the 20th anniversary of the death of Owen Hart at the “Over the Edge” pay-per-view. He will also host a “Remembering Owen” panel at Starrcast. Hart’s death is a topic Ross, who called the show from ringside that night, was reluctant to talk about.
“It took us about three or four hours to get through it because I would stop, blubber,” Ross said of the podcast. “It’s just sad. It’s so sad. And unless you’re there, again, it’s hard to put into words, or express your feelings on how heartbreaking it was and how many people’s lives that it touched, and how their lives continue to be lived afterwards. How they changed. It’s an amazing show. And if I had my vote, I’ll never do it again, this would be it.”
How popular shows breaking down the past have become with wrestling fans is very revealing to Ross.
“It tells me they are not happy with what they are seeing right now,” he said. “They want some qualities of the old days. And what that means is, it’s not really a physical thing. It’s a psychological issue. You want a tale you can make an emotional investment in.”
He hopes to give them that working with AEW. Ross admits he has a chip on his shoulder going into “Double or Nothing.” He wants to show he still belongs.
“I got something to prove, that I got taken out of the lineup too early and I can still play,” Ross said. “And it’s up to me to make sure that happens on Saturday night. And most of the pressure is on me, I put it on myself. I’m going to think about it all week, I’m going to worry about it all week and I’m going to be ready to go.”
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