Jim Ross, the former World Wrestling Entertainment broadcaster known for his colorful catchphrases — “Good God almighty,” “It’s gonna be a slobberknocker” and, of course, “Business is about to pick up” — is embarking on a new journey that he can stamp in the passport of his legendary career.
The 40-year broadcast veteran will be heard weekly on New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV where Ross will provide commentary alongside Josh Barnett starting March 4. In addition, Ross recently inked a deal to call boxing for CBS and will debut on March 12 with the first of eight scheduled monthly events called "Knockout Night at the D."
Despite being in the commentary business for the better part of four decades, Ross expresses excitement for these new ventures. With his “The Ross Report” podcast that averages just under a million weekly listeners, a healthy Twitter following of 1.4 million, a weekly blog and a successful line of BBQ products, one would think the 64-year-old would have his hands full. But the Hall of Fame commentator sat down with Yahoo Sports to talk about his new ventures, the current state of pro wrestling, whether we will ever see CM Punk in a wrestling ring again and WrestleMania.
YS: Your first taste of calling New Japan was at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 (NJPW’s version of WrestleMania). What were your thoughts on the product?
JR: It was the first time I had seen an entire New Japan show in person and I was blown away. How they have maintained the pureness of pro wrestling in their presentation was enlightening. I really enjoyed the process.
With the WWE’s recent signings of several NJPW talents (AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson), do you see this as an opportunity to introduce American fans to the Japanese wrestling product?
JR: Absolutely. We’re looking to create awareness for the brand. Hopefully, when you tune in you like what you see and hear. There’s no reason to not like what you see, because it’s good. I hope you like what you hear from myself and (Josh Barnett).
One of the talents from New Japan that you spoke highly of was Nakamura, who ended up signing with WWE at the beginning of the year. Did the signing at all surprise you?
JR: Not really. I talked to Triple H (WWE executive vice president of talent, live events and creative) and Vince McMahon (WWE chairman) about what I saw after I came back from Wrestle Kingdom last year and I was raving about Shinsuke Nakamura. He’s money. He and Brock Lesnar are the two guys who have the most unique charisma in the wrestling business. I hope the WWE lets him be himself. If they don’t try to doctor his game, he’s going to get over big time in the WWE. People are going to love that he’s more physical than anybody on the roster aside from Brock Lesnar.
Let’s talk WWE for a minute. With WrestleMania around the corner, there has been a lot of conversation about the main event between Triple H and Roman Reigns. If you were still with the company, how would you suggest they book the match?
JR: I’d do a double turn like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Bret Hart had at WrestleMania 13. I would have Vince McMahon in the corner of Triple H. I would have The Rock, Roman’s cousin, in his corner. I’d have Roman Reigns cheat to win and The Rock would come in to say ‘what the hell is going on?’ and Reigns would drop The Rock with a Superman punch. Vince McMahon would align with Reigns and screw over his son-in-law that got too big for his britches. Reigns would be champ, Triple H would be pissed at his father-in-law and Reigns would go over as a huge heel.
Staying on the theme of WrestleMania, what are your thoughts on Shane McMahon ending his six-year hiatus away from the company to face The Undertaker in a Hell In A Cell match?
JR: Honestly, I was shocked to see him back. You learn early on in this business to never say never, especially in this case because the bloodline runs too deep. The match itself won’t be Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat or “Stone Cold” vs. The Rock, but it won’t be Dada 5000 vs. Kimbo Slice, either. If your expectations aren’t unreasonable, it will be great match. There will be big spots, crash and burns and things like that. I think the storyline of Shane not losing his place in the McMahon lineage is great. You can really make this an interesting story.
How much wrestling do you consume?
JR: My wife says I watch way too much. But I have a podcast and a website (JRsBarBQ.com) where I talk and write about wrestling. The audience is so in-tune with what’s going on that if I’m not on my game I can’t communicate with them. I watch TNA, Lucha Underground, Ring of Honor, NJPW, NXT and, of course, WWE. Then there’s stuff like Evolve and Shimmer that I catch as well.
What’s your take about the current state of pro wrestling?
JR: There’s certainly an ample amount of product to consume. You don’t have to look far to find wrestling. But regarding the in-ring product – and this is where I tag in the grouchy old school J.R. – it can use some work. I have no issues with effort from today’s guys and gals. But I think most wrestlers work too fast and try to get everything in. These guys work so fast that they forget the most crucial element of wrestling: selling. If I can’t see your angst, feel your pain and see your jubilation, you’re not selling. You have to sell yourself and your emotion. It’s a key element that, without it, neuters your product and it becomes a stunt show.
Do you think CM Punk made the right decision leaving the WWE and starting a mixed martial arts career with the UFC?
JR: Yes, because he was miserable with the WWE. He could have probably went on to do something else in wrestling if he chose to. But he seemed as if when he left it was cathartic for him. He's a very introspective guy with a high IQ who seemed to be more at peace leaving the turmoil of the WWE behind. But it has kind of followed him with the lawsuit with the WWE and the injuries that have postponed his UFC debut. I think he'll stay the course and eventually make his debut. What kind of career he will have? I'm not so sure. He's an attraction. A well conditioned Kimbo Slice, if you will. He's a student of the game and I would never discount his desire. I think he made the right call because you can't stay in an environment and be miserable. It's unhealthy mentally and physically. He seems to be happier now that he's married and now he's at home more. He's so good at wrestling, there's no reason that he can't eventually circle around and come back, if he wanted to. He'll never have a problem finding work but his window to try new things like the UFC is small. Until he proves that he's a skilled fighter, his cache is his reputation as a pro wrestler with the WWE. Brock Lesnar was the same way until he proved he could kick some ass.
On March 12, you will step into relatively unfamiliar territory when you provide commentary for Zab Judah’s return bout in Las Vegas on CBS. In preparing for this, what do you have to leave behind from your pro wrestling commentary when you’re calling boxing?
JR: Maybe a little bit of the over-the-top hype but not all of it. Every punch is not the bottom of the ninth home run call. But I’m not going to be any less passionate about it. Unlike wrestling where you have so many masters to serve, I’m focusing on what you see on the TV screen. I’m going to have a blast in Las Vegas.
At this point in your career, what’s left for you to accomplish?
JR: I’d like to do call MMA and perfect my boxing work. I’d love to do football because that’s my number one passion. There’s always another adventure if you keep your head above water and I don’t have any desire to slow down because it keeps you young. My mother and father both died at 64. I’m 64 and I think about it every day. I’m not fixated on death but I know tomorrows are not guaranteed. I can always get better at what I’m doing because I’m not nearly as good as I think I can be. I’m going to try to improve every chance I get. I don’t know what’s next but something will be as long as I stay in the game.