While i’m only three articles into writing about wrestling and this is the second spotlighting someone called Jim, it’s simply a subject I had to discuss today. It’s odd how things happen. Thinking about Jim Cornette and his incredible live appearances after my write-up on him two weeks ago, I sent him a cursory tweet asking him if he’d ever show his face in England again. Hearing back from him almost instantly that he’ll in fact be making some appearances in just less than a month, I bought VIP tickets instantly to his upcoming Inside the Ropes show with Jim Ross himself (how could I pass up a chance to get a picture with two of my absolute heroes?).
Ross is much better known to the UK audience i’m a part of than Cornette, which is unfair on Cornette but entirely deserving for good ol’ JR. After all, he’s widely considered the “Voice of the WWE”, and has been for some time now since taking the mantle from Vince McMahon in the mid-nineties. In his role as an commentator and talent scout, Ross was absolutely integral to the WWF product by the turn of the millennium and would continue that importance long into its transition into WWE and what we know it as today. Practically every match, every show, every Pay-Per-View and WrestleMania was called by him, along with his on-screen partner Jerry “The King” Lawler. It wasn’t just the hilarious banter between him and Lawler’s heel commentator character, but the weight and depth he would bring to everything around him.
At first I was going to end that last sentence with the weight he brought the matches in front of him, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that he would effect far more than that. Yes, he would inject practically every match he called with intense gravitas, helping sub-par matches reach averagedom and the best become legendary, but his influence spilled over holistically into his entire surroundings. He would enhance the wrestlers as talents, the moves they used and the attitudes they carved out, but on an even bigger scale than that he could just as easily improve any TV taping, Pay-Per-View or interview segment with the mere tone of his voice.
For people who pay attention to the minutia of the art, Ross’ infamous call for Mankind’s tumble off the Hell in a Cell in 1998 is as defining as the bump itself. It’s not just his beautifully exaggerated wails of “That killed him!” or “As God as my witness, he is broken in half!” that sold one of wrestling’s most lauded segments though, but also the way he helped carry Mick Foley through a slow, laboured and difficult match with just the way he talked about his character and achievements. He knew exactly how to make the audience feel Foley’s manic pain and determination, spinning storyline and development like no other as if revolutionising the industry was no big deal. The man even knew how to break the fourth wall, and when done right that’s one of wrestling’s greatest charms.
None of this is even mentioning his work behind the scenes, where he was a key part of bringing in new talent and helping to keep the roster fresh and exciting. What he managed to do here isn’t fully appreciated by the casual fan, and it may surprise you to learn that it’s Ross you have to thank for bringing The Rock, Randy Orton, John Cena, Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge and Brock Lesnar to the WWE stage – and that’s merely the immortal superstars he’s led into the ring. I’d like to personally thank him for hiring Val Venis (now known as Kaptain Kannabis – brilliant), who I would contest to my grave is far more than a glorified jobber.
Let’s forget the humiliation he’s suffered at the company’s hands and a couple of recent live hiccups for this article, as I have no wish to do a “Pros & Cons” style criticism of someone who must surely be considered a god of wrestling. I remember seeing “IT’S NOT WRESTLEMANIA WITHOUT JR” signs at WrestleMania on one hazy year, and feeling all the more saddened that I only had Michael Cole (a thoroughly capable talent) in his stead. With a legacy behind him I would love to hear denied, he’s earned his place as one of the top people in the medium. It should be noted that he had to follow the holy announcing team of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan too, and that’s not an easy act to live up to. If I was forced to choose four faces to make up a personal Mount Rushmore of wrestling figures, i’m pretty sure JR would end up on there.