Legendary announcer Jim Ross recently left the WWE to take on a commentator role with All Elite Wrestling. Ross will lead AEW's commentary team in the Double Or Nothing event from Las Vegas on May 25.
ESPN recently had a chance to talk to Ross regarding his roles with AEW, the pitfalls a new wrestling promotion needs to avoid and what led to his departure from WWE.
ESPN: How does it feel to get a fresh start with a new promotion?
JR: I'm very excited about where it's going to go because it's a new journey for me. I want to go into it with a little chip on my shoulder because I'm sure there are some internet fans out there who were never exposed to my work in the NWA or Mid South or any of those companies. It was just before their time. And then the WWE stopped using me to any significant degree around 2008 or 2009 and I went from being a starter to a relief pitcher. Then I went from being a relief pitcher to a closer. I had two bookings last year. I sat home. I went to Saudi Arabia then I went to New York for Raw 25. I can't live that way. I'm not ready to retire. I don't play golf, I don't fish, I don't hunt. When it's not OU football season, I'm looking for something to do.
ESPN: Were you given any reasons that your workload was cut back in WWE?
JR: I've always had a little bit of creative freedom to express myself. Over time WWE kind of reeled that back in, I guess they had some of that research or it was due to personal philosophy, I don't have a clue, but most of them don't understand wrestling -- they are in administration there. They are great marketers, they've got some brilliant, brilliant people in WWE, no doubt about it, but I think some of the key decisions are being made without an inordinate amount of product knowledge, which is not going to make them happy to hear, but that's the way I look at it. Vince could do better by surrounding himself with a different kind of consultant or writer or creative people or whatever.
ESPN: What was negotiating with Vince like this time around?
JR: I've tried to represent our business in an admirable and honorable way since 1974. I got taken out of the game by the coaches and the team's decision, of which I didn't agree with. So what do you do? Well, you can b---- all year, or you can do what you're signed to do and when the opportunity comes, like I did here, my contract expired and he and I agreed we're not even going to negotiate to extend it. To negotiate to do the same thing I'd been doing is something I could not live with.
ESPN: Did the death of your wife, Jan, impact this decision?
JR: I just felt like my time was passing by after Jan got killed in March 2017. I had to make a lot of changes or I was just going to be a story. A sad story. And I wasn't ready for that, nor will I ever be ready for that. I went through a lot of depression. I had to get out of the house. I talked to Vince McMahon about this multiple times. He understood. If anybody can understand wanting to live your dream and continuing to have fun and do what you were brought here to do professionally, it's him. He's 73 years old and still on TV getting beat up. So why would I be any different? Why should I be any different? I think going to work for AEW is going to extend my life. I may be overdramatic, but I believe that. I'm happier, I'm active and involved. I got a purpose and a destination. So for me I look at AEW as a lifesaver.
ESPN: How do you prep to get up to speed on a new talent roster?
JR: Number one, we need to get to know everybody. Some of the talents I do know. Some of the talents like Cody, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, Hangman Page were all at New Japan when I was working those three years with AXS TV, so I'm very familiar with their work. But I will tell you there's a lot of brand new talent that are going to be on this roster that I don't know. And here's what you do -- I don't do it any different from anybody else. You roll your sleeves up and you go to work. You watch matches. That's why guys like Alex Marvez and Excalibur and I are going to be very well prepared. Alex is a prep freak. Excalibur knows a lot of these guys much better than either of us. Between the three of our skill sets, we'll have a great scouting report on all of the talent and we will prepare even more diligently for the show we are going to do in Vegas on May 25.
ESPN: How do you manage the roles in a three-man booth?
JR: Well, you put everybody in their strength. Excalibur is a former wrestler, so he's going to be a color analyst that is going to talk about holds and strategy and things of that nature, more wrestling-oriented than not. Alex Marvez is a data guy. He's going to be our guy that's going to talk about insider type things. He'll give data and information that helps establish the characters and their matches. I will do the play-by-play. That's what I told these guys. I am the point guard. I will start the segments. I will end the segments. My job is to get you guys involved. So unless you're being paid by the word, chill, it will all be good. We shouldn't have to talk so much.
ESPN: What's the story behind the AEW commentary drills that Cody Rhodes tweeted a picture of a few weeks ago?
JR: It's all about getting better at what we do. This is a brand new team, so for us to go to Double Or Nothing without actually sitting in a room together and calling some matches would have been very unprofessional to me. A three-man booth is challenging enough. Doing a live TV event is challenging enough. But when you do it with a team that's never worked together before, you've got to do some preparation. So I felt like it was incumbent on all of us to get together and call some matches. We did that over a couple of day period and I thought it went very well, it kept getting better and better.
ESPN: Will you have any roles in AEW outside of commentary?
JR: I'm going to do all I can to help this young group. Share what I got, what knowledge I have, what expertise I have, whether it be in the infrastructure of the talent relations department or other areas. As a senior adviser, I can advise anyone in the company, especially the president. So I may be as much as Tony Khan's consigliere as any other job. It's a good way to describe what I'm doing as senior adviser is helping all of these guys, but I'm not going to get into that world of playcalling and strategizing matches. If somebody asks, I'll tell them what I liked and didn't like, how I thought it could be better or whatever it may be.
ESPN: Were you asked to take on a more specific role in talent relations?
JR: I don't want to be head of talent relations. I'm not hiring any talent. I'd like to make that clear. People are wearing me out wanting me to hire them. I don't hire anybody. I would have not signed on if I had to be an EVP and be in charge of the talent roster. It wouldn't have been something I wanted to do. My patience for some of the millennial kids they are hiring, that anybody hires -- they need a lot of time, time I don't have. I'm going to help them as much as I can, but that's not my area of expertise.
ESPN: AEW has stated it wants to be a talent-friendly promotion. What are the most important aspects of being a talent-friendly promotion?
JR: The wrestlers need leadership and guys need to be mentored. One of the things I am going to do is be a leader and mentor and communicate. You see when you don't communicate well with your talent the unrest that it can create. If you're following WWE, you can sure see it. Why do you think that everyone wants to leave? Because they're too happy? They aren't saying, "I want to leave because I'm too happy." It's ridiculous. I don't know if that area has the same philosophy and management and the leadership as it did back in the Attitude Era and shortly thereafter. We're not going to have communication issues in AEW. If talents have an issue, have a problem, have a question, have a concern -- it's going to be addressed. It's not going to be tabled. We won't tell talents that we can't talk to you as much as we talk to the other guy because he's a main eventer and you're not. That's stupid.
ESPN: How do you strike a balance between the old school "wins matter" approach and the entertainment aspects that today's fans have come to expect from wrestling?
JR: The company is going to have a certain amount of needed entertainment content, without a doubt. It's not all going to be hardcore wrestling. You gotta tell stories, you gotta set up stories, you've got to develop personalities and all of that good stuff. I think the vision, at least with those I've interacted with at AEW, is that from bell to bell it's going to be an athletic-oriented and somewhat of a reality-based presentation. You say we're going old-school and everyone's going to say well I guess they're all going to wear wool tights and short boots and every match is going to have two out of three falls and all of this stuff. We're going to go old-school in the fundamentals, of getting back to the fundamentals of storytelling and the genre. And the way you do that is to have noticeable physicality and present a logical presentation from bell to bell.
ESPN: How high are the expectations for Double Or Nothing?
JR: I'm excited about the fact that we can build a company through our experiences and be talent friendly, but the bottom line is that the pressure on the talents to provide a helluva match on a regular basis. And with great effort and storytelling that's logical and plausible, is not going to end. The burners are all going to be turned up on these guys. They've never been in an environment where as much is going to be expected of them as they are with this company. We're young, we're green, we can't be fumbling out of the box. In one place, it's going to be fun to work, it's going to be enjoyable, communication is going to be good, respect is going to be the underscoring word, but the expectations are going to be higher on the AEW guys, in my opinion, than they ever were anywhere they've worked. Anywhere.