As Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker prepare to square off during Sunday’s SummerSlam, the voice of the sport will be just a few miles away. Legendary wrestling commentator Jim Ross will be performing on Saturday night at the Gramercy Theatre with his “Ringside: An Evening with Jim Ross” show in New York. Ross plans on discussing his forty-plus years in the business of pro wrestling during the show, as well as accepting questions from the audience, and will dive deeply into SummerSlam analysis, beginning with the Brock Lesnar-Undertaker match.
“A brawl is the only way to go for these two,” said Ross. “What a great story it would be if both guys try to make their opponent submit. Think of what it would mean for a victory if both men were working for a submission–if the Undertaker continued to go for his gogoplata chokehold, and Lesnar was trying to get the kimura, which is a double wrist lock. Getting your opponent to tap out is the most macho of all the ways to win, and I can see that story woven in there by the announcers.”
Ross particularly enjoys how this feud has an extremely personal feel to it.
“That’s why it works so well,” he said. “It’s a personal angle, a personal issue, which is why the Undertaker isn’t turning heel. He’s pissed off that Lesnar broke his streak and that Paul Heyman has been crowing about it ad nauseam, seemingly forever, and he’s tired of it.”
Ross understands that the 50-year-old Undertaker is far closer to the end of his career than the beginning, so he is taking that into consideration when predicting the outcome of this match.
“It’s imminent that ‘Taker’s days are numbered wrestling in the ring,” said Ross. “The obvious decision is to have the Undertaker go over, so it’s one win a piece for ‘Taker and Lesnar, and you can have the rubber match at WrestleMania, but I don’t think that happens. Lesnar will go over. The Undertaker could then take his normal sabbatical, and return with some vignettes announcing his retirement match at WrestleMania 32 in Texas.
“That would be his last match–win, lose, or draw–and the only opponent he’d want to fight is Brock Lesnar. Then you have Undertaker go over in the last match of his career, and that is an emotional story. We’d have to see vignettes of the Undertaker investing so much of his mind, time, and body training for his final match. He’d become even more of a mythical, legendary character than before.”
Behind the scenes, when Ross was in charge of talent relations–which included hiring, dismissing, and paying the talent–the Undertaker, known to friends as Mark Calaway, was immensely loyal to Ross and his fellow wrestlers.
“When I was in charge of talent, you needed to speak to me on the record,” explained Ross. “Often times, I would ask ‘Taker, ‘Are you hearing the same things I’m hearing?’ Certain guys were passing out the bar, or pilling up to the point we couldn’t wake them up in the locker room, and I knew it was not going to be a good situation if I had to intervene. But when ‘Taker staged an intervention–and spoke to someone man-to-man–it did a world of good and saved us all some grief. ‘Taker would sit a guy down, and tell him to clean his s--- up and act like a professional. The boys knew he wasn’t BS-ing them or trying to get their spot. ‘Taker already had a spot. He was always willing to be the captain of the team.”
Ross does not envision any kind of scenario where there is a swerve and Heyman would turn on Lesnar.
“Heyman wouldn’t want it, and I promise you that Lesnar wouldn’t want it, either,” said Ross. “Heyman is a very positive influence on Brock, and Brock trusts him infinitely.”
Ross does not want the match between the two super heavyweights to run too long.
“It shouldn’t go long,” said Ross. They are two brawlers, and with the storyline, they can’t go long with the animosity that exists between them. Twenty minutes or less gives them plenty of time to tell their story.”
Ross is also looking forward to the champion vs. champion match between WWE heavyweight champion Seth Rollins and United States champion John Cena.
“It’s obvious Cena doesn’t need the title to be a star,” said Ross, who signed both Lesnar and Cena to their first WWE contracts. “But Rollins needs that title to maintain his growth and his build. So for the long haul, the WWE needs to keep the title on Rollins. I could also see the Authority getting involved, and Cena doing something with Triple H.
“But I sincerely hope there are no plans, somewhere down the road, to turn Rollins babyface. He’s still learning how to be a great heel, and it’s doing a damn good job with it. He’s a student of the game, works hard, and every week he adds another nuance of being a heel. He’s a major block in the foundation, so Cena beating him at SummerSlam is not the right thing to do. Rollins needs to retain the title, even if it’s with the help of plenty of outside interference.”
Ross has spent a lifetime working with pro wrestlers, and explained that there will be some tension over who is in the main event of the show.
“How do you have a double-title match go on anywhere but last?” asked Ross. “Or are we saying that Undertaker-Lesnar is bigger than both of those titles combined? There is a competitive rivalry between John Cena and Brock Lesnar. They are two legitimate athletes. You’ve got a small college All-American center, and you’ve got an NCAA Division 1 national champion wrestler. They’re each going to want to shine, be the guy who people are talking about.”
Ross does not see Sheamus cashing in his “Money in the Bank” contract.
“Sheamus’ angle with the ‘Money in the Bank’ contract has fell flat,” said Ross. “You’ve got to deal with it. They like Sheamus a lot over there–he’s a reliable guy, he’s good for the locker room, but he needs to work on his heel game. I don’t see him cashing him in his contract at SummerSlam. It’s not the right time.”
This SummerSlam, explained Ross, is going to be a launching pad for WrestleMania 32 and the WWE Network, enhanced by possible appearances by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and even Sting.
“SummerSlam will directly affect the main matches at WrestleMania in Texas,” said Ross. “The shock factor is what the WWE wants to bring back. That will help the Network. I don’t know that you give away two surprises with The Rock and Sting. Vince likes to have one major surprise, and you don’t water that down with another guy. But The Rock is rumored to be there, and I know Sting is training for another match and is in great shape. Sting may be a surprise run-in.”
Ross’ major concern with the show, despite the fact it will run for four hours, is the length of the matches.
“The show is over-booked,” said Ross. “Even though they have four hours, there is a lot of content and ten matches. All the boys are going to think, since the show is four hours, they’re going to get more time, but I’m afraid some of them are going to be disappointed.”
As for the remainder of the card, Ross sees Roman and Dean Ambrose going over against the team of Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper.
“The babyfaces will go over, and Harper takes the loss,” said Ross. “It will be a very busy match, which can be good or bad.”
The Divas will wrestle in a three-team elimination match is an opportunity for the female performers to cause a spark in their “Revolution,” but Ross is not certain that will happen this Sunday.
“The Divas feuds are lacking structure and a reason to care,” said Ross. “The emotional investment is not there yet in this rivalry. Who goes over with nine of them fighting? And how much time do they have? They need two good finishes in this match, and then you need to have Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Paige win.
“But I don’t know where they’re going with this–they haven’t established any real rivalries yet. They’re on the roster, getting some exposure, but it’s inevitable that some of them are going to have to take out some of their repertoire in a match with nine people.”
The show-stealer, in Ross’ eyes, is the battle between Cesaro and Kevin Owens.
“Owens and Cesaro will be the sleeper match of the night,” promised Ross. “Cesaro needs to win. It will be a very competitive, very good match, but Cesaro needs to win it. He’s ready to go to the next level. He’s one of the best hands on the roster, and I would pay to see a Cesaro-Brock Lesnar match.
“Cesaro is everything you’d want–he’s experienced, he can work with anybody, he makes everyone he works with better, and he’s not a drug or alcohol guy. He’s always in great shape, he’s well-spoken, he does have a personality, and he’s just exquisite in the ring.
He can be a heel or a great babyface, and he’s got that one hold–the giant swing–that everybody thinks is the greatest thing since sliced bread. What’s old is new again, because that giant swing used to be a staple in every territory. So I like Cesaro to beat Owens in a show-stealer, as long as they’re given the time to tell a story.”
Another talented star, who unfortunately cannot seem to get on the right track, is Dolph Ziggler. Ross sees an unfortunate fate for Ziggler in his match against Rusev.
“You know Lana and Summer Rae are going to get into a catfight, which may be the high spot of the match,” said Ross. “Under normal circumstances, I’d say Ziggler would win, but I don’t think that happens. The WWE, for whatever reason, doesn’t have a lot of confidence in Dolph, so I’ll say the heel goes over and Rusev gets the win.”
Ross sees a bright future for Intercontinental champion Ryback, who defends his title in a triple-threat match with The Miz and the Big Show.
“The predictable thing is for Ryback to beat the Miz, but what should really happen is Ryback should beat the Big Show,” said Ross. “That’s the bigger move for Ryback moving forward. Now that he is healthy, he’s got a chance to get on a roll and make that Intercontinental more meaningful than it was than when he got it. He looks good as the champion, and he’s finally finding his voice. He’s been a heel, he’s been a babyface, he’s been on TV, he’s been off TV–Ryback has showed that becoming a star takes time. It’s not an automatic deal, but he’s really doing a good job. He’s like the Ultimate Warrior with a smaller tool box of moves he can do, but that’s what he should do–keep playing the power game.”
Randy Orton – another former Ross hire – is fighting Sheamus, but this is a match with a major problem.
“I hired Randy and he’s one of my guys, so obviously I like him, but the story between these two feels cold,” said Ross. “It doesn’t feel special. Even those both those guys are high on the list of WWE’s priorities, it sure as hell won’t do either of them any good to go twenty-five or thirty minutes. If the match is structured correctly, they can do a great job in fifteen minutes.
“One set of heat, one comeback, allow Sheamus to be boisterous and nasty and cheat, then you’ve got one comeback with Orton and you go home. Sheamus needs to make one mistake, then Orton capitalizes and gets the crowd on their feet for the win. The loss won’t hurt Sheamus one bit. The next night on Raw, he’ll still walk out with that Money in the Bank briefcase.”
Actor Stephen Amell and Neville battle against Stardust and King Barrett, and Ross knows how this match will finish–but he’s hopeful that Cody Rhodes–who is under all of that Stardust face paint–still shines in the loss.
“The babyfaces go over here, and that’s a lead-pipe cinch,” said Ross. “Amell will beat Cody Rhodes, but I hope that gives Rhodes a little more heat. He has the bigger upside than Barrett right now. I like Barrett, but I need to see him add a few wrinkles to his game. You can’t be a heel just by your demeanor. You need to do things that are villain-oriented–b---- and moan, retreat, or cheat to win, and all those things are imperative. Rollins and Kevin [Owens] Steen are two of the only guys who do that, but I don’t see Barrett or a lot of other guys doing that.”
There is also a four-way tag team title match on the card, but Ross has witnessed the gradual decline of the tag team division.
“The tag titles are just not overly relevant,’ said Ross. “I think New Day, much like Bray Wyatt, are better off as babyfaces. They’re entertaining as hell, and people enjoy their act, but people shouldn’t be clapping and cheering for villains. So they need to change a part of the technique if they want to be heels, but the fans want to cheer what they’re currently doing. WWE likes Darren Young and Thaddeus Bullard [Titus O’Neil], so I’m going to stick with the incumbents in this match. Unless New Day uses a 3-on-2 display to cheat, then the Prime Time Players will retain.”
Ross will not be at SummerSlam, but he will be watching on the WWE Network–for only $9.99–at home.
“There are going to be some unique surprises on Sunday, maybe even some Wild West booking,” said Ross. “Knowing how hard they want to promote the Network, you need to surprise people and give them something they didn’t expect. Vince wants this show to be really special.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.