Wrestling Legend Jim Ross Shares Insight Into His Iconic Commentary
Being a professional wrestling/sports entertainment commentator isn't a job for your average joe. The role of a sports commentator is already difficult but being on the mic for WWE or other wrestling promotions takes it up another gear.
Not only do you have to call the action and describe what's going on like standard sports commentary, a professional wrestling commentator has to tell the story of what is happening inside the ropes and ensure the audience understands what exactly is going on, and if you are a wrestling fan you'll be well aware that things can get a bit crazy from time to time.
The added responsibility that sports commentators don't have to deal with is the fact that if you are commentator for WWE, you are required to get the performers 'over' - that meaning to generate a reaction from a crowd whether they are a good guy or a bad guy.
In the scripted/pre-determined world of WWE, a piece of commentary can make or break a wrestler's career. If done well, it can make them a mega star and there are several examples where commentary has strengthened the connection that a WWE superstar has with the fans.
The absolute master of doing all of the aforementioned at the announce desk is the great Jim Ross. The WWE Hall of Famer is quite rightly regarded as the voice of WWE, in particular during professional wrestling's peak in the "Attitude Era" in the late 90's in the early 2000's.
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Comfortably the best play-by-play announcer in the history of wrestling, Ross delivered so many iconic calls and captivated viewers with his authentic and passionate tone. He made everything seem important.
It's impossible to think of Stone Cold siding with long-time foe Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 17 to defeat The Rock and win the WWF Championship without JR uttering the words "Stone Cold has sold his soul to satan himself" or The Undertaker tossing Mankind off the top of the cell at King of the Ring 1998 without the 65-year old losing his shit.
For years, like many, I've been intrigued as to what goes into JR's commentary and how he produced so many iconic calls over the years. And earlier this year, at a press conference for WCPW's Pro Wrestling Cup, a 64-man tournament featuring the very best independent wrestlers where Ross is the official ambassador, he was more than happy to share insight into his commentary.
JR must've stood up for about 40 minutes and those in attendance at the event in Milton Keynes were filled with knowledge. I was fortunate to be one of those people who had the privilege of asking Good ol' JR a couple of questions and he didn't disappoint with his responses.
He'd already told us that when it comes to the one-man shows that he does on a regular basis with some of his closest friends in the wrestling business, there is no script - while there are guidelines for certain stories he wants to tell, it's all done on the fly.
It's also the case for when he is at the commentary desk, as per the man himself.
Speaking to SPORTbible, he said:
"I prepare, I'll have some background, for example, I know the year Kurt Angle won in the Olympics, 96, I know his track record in WWE and IMPACT [TNA] and all that good stuff so I've got background information but the way I use it depends on the flow of the match and where I'm allowed to put it in and where I can get it in. I'm not very good at reciting lines to be honest with you, it's not my forte. When I do boxing, they don't tell me the finish, they don't tell me what spots they are going to do and they don't tell me the false finishes they are going to do - they don't tell me shit because I don't need to know.
"If I know in my head what they are going to do then all of a sudden I'm thinking about that and I'm not letting everything else flow. I'm cheating the audience, I'm the cheating the talent and it's just not good stuff."
Throughout his decorated career, Jim Ross has worked with some of the very best in the commentary booth. Matt Striker was his colleague for the WCPW True Destiny iPPV in February, where Kurt Angle had his last ever independent match in the UK before heading to WWE. When asked about his favourite partners, several household names pop up.
"I've been really blessed, I worked with a lot of good guys. Matt [Striker] and I worked Wrestle Kingdom 9 together at the Tokyo Dome, we also had some interactions in WWE when we were both there so I enjoy working with Matt. Going all the way back, Michael Hayes was a good partner, when I worked with "Cowboy" Bill Watts in the UWF, Bill Watts was a great partner - he taught me so much and was my strategist.
"My longest-running partner was Jerry Lawler and Lawler is probably my favourite because of the timing we had together. I had a real good time working with Paul Heyman in WCW and in WWE, I enjoyed working with Terry Funk, Jim Cornette's great - I've had some good partners and the wrestling guys that I was with speaks to the deficiency in the business today - verbal skill. When I could take a guy like Terry Funk, Jim Cornette or Paul Heyman, who was a manager at the time, and become a competent team it's because of their skill-set and ability to communicate, and capture what they see on the screen and put it into words is a fleeting art."
"The guys I had a chance to work with were great communicators and so I'm a firm believer that I could probably do darts, I could do snooker, I could do rugby, if I understand the genre and you can put it on the monitor, I think I could tell a story about it - that's my own ego-centric vent. My point is that great communicators can communicate and I believe I had the chance to work with some great guys and I hope they enjoyed working with me."
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