Jim Ross will call AEW’s “Double or Nothing”

There will be a familiar voice in the broadcast booth for the launch of All Elite Wrestling.

In the biggest non-WWE news this week, the legendary Jim Ross has signed with AEW and will be calling the “Double or Nothing” pay-per-view on May 25, Sports Illustrated has learned.

“I’ll always be grateful to Vince McMahon for 26 memorable years in WWE,” said Ross from his home in Norman, Oklahoma. “However, now is the time to begin a new phase of my journey and to continue the love affair that I’ve always had with pro wrestling.”

AEW announced the move Wednesday, saying Ross had signed a three-year contract that is “the most lucrative deal in pro wrestling commentary history” and would also serve as a senior advisor to the company. 

Prior to his role in WWE during the “Attitude Era,” Ross sharpened his teeth in the territories during the 1980s. Still ambitious, even at the age of 67, Ross possesses a rare feel for the business that he hopes will only serve to enhance AEW.

“I’m back in the game,” said Ross. “I still believe I have value in the job that I love, and the folks at AEW agree.”

After returning to WWE in March of 2017, Ross broadcasted the inaugural Mae Young Classic in 2017, but was used only sporadically over the duration of his two-year deal. Signing with AEW provides a new opportunity to play a role in the continually evolving pro wrestling landscape.

Ross’s contract with WWE expired at the end of March and he reached a mutual understanding with Vince McMahon that it was best not to extend it. On an episode of his podcast, Ross expressed an interest in continuing to do wrestling play-by-play “even though others that may surround Vince think I can’t.” With AEW, he gets the chance to prove that.

“Helping create a new brand with AEW is heart-pounding,” said Ross. “I can’t wait to prepare. I’ve always believed I had some gas left in the tank, and today I believe it more than ever.

“I can’t wait to get started with this fresh and vibrant new company. Business is about to pick up.”

WrestleMania 35 has one match that stands out above the rest

In my eyes, there is no match at WrestleMania 35 more compelling than Kofi Kingston challenging Daniel Bryan for the WWE championship.

Both Bryan and Kingston are two of WWE’s top performers, and each is spectacular on the microphone. Fortunately, this match will not be a one-off—there will be rematches to follow. The storyline has been laid out perfectly, with Kingston being forced to overcome multiple roadblocks to show he is worthy of a world title match. And there will be no moment more memorable—with the possible exception of Becky Lynch’s hand raised at the end of the night—than when Kingston finally defeats Bryan for the title.

The history of the WWE Championship is seriously lacking in diversity, so Kingston, fairly or unfairly, is representing a number of wrestlers who were denied a fair chance over the years in the industry. He is the perfect man for that role: intelligent, gripping on the mic, and strong, the 37-year-old has found a way to take whatever role he was given in WWE and make it work.

I am all for getting lost in the suspense of a match. Every single time Bryan gets a close count—every time that pin fall reaches two-and-a-half seconds—will be filled with anxiety and angst. That is a recipe for success in pro wrestling, especially with two of the best in the world going at it in the ring.

Beyond Wrestling ready to break new ground with “Uncharted Territory”

Beyond Wrestling debuts its new live show, Uncharted Territory, Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET.

The live weekly show, which will be simulcast on FITE TVand Independent Wrestling TV (and can be viewed free of charge with the “Uncharted” promo code) has created enormous stakes for Beyond owner Drew Cordeiro.

“I want every person who has ever enjoyed a Beyond Wrestling event to watch Uncharted Territory,” said Cordeiro. “It’s imperative that this is the biggest audience we’ve ever had.”

Cordeiro has spared no expense in his opening night card, which includes a main event of former ECW champion Masato Tanaka against independent wrestling mainstay David Starr. SCU’s Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Scorpio Sky are in six-man tag action against the wildly talented Team Pazuzu’s Mike Draztik, Angel Ortiz (who forms LAX with Draztik in Impact), and Chris Dickinson, plus AR Fox vs. Kris Statlander, MJF vs. Kimber Lee, and Orange Cassidy and a mystery partner against Jordynne Grace and a mystery partner of her own.

“Putting together Uncharted Territory resembles what it’s like to put together one of our monthly Beyond shows,” said Cordeiro. “Beyond’s booking philosophy is to take our homegrown wrestlers and put them against people with more visibility to put them in a position to succeed in front of a new audience. The goal is to put together a card to help elevate our talent, as well as be the official kick-off to WrestleMania week.”

Beyond has thrived in multiple areas, serving as a launchpad for many stars of the business, but its focus on women’s wrestling has helped it stand out in the world of independent wrestling. The promotion has continued to experiment with new ways to bring pro wrestling to its audience, and is considering placing their ring announcer in the crowd instead of the ring.

“We have a bunch of different ideas, and there are going to be components of the show that vary from week to week until we feel that we’ve nailed it,” said Cordeiro. “Episode one is just the start, and we’re going to grow from here.”

Uncharted Territory will air for two hours, with some episodes extending past that time threshold.

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“We’re going to strive for two hours, but we’re not locked into the same constraints as television,” said Cordeiro. “There’s been rumors that the main event of the ‘All In’ pay-per-view had to be cut short because they were going off the air, so it didn’t get its proper time, and there are rumors that the first live MLW broadcast with the Tom Lawlor-Low Ki match didn’t play out exactly as planned due to television constraints. We’re not dealing with those constraints.”

Beyond is bringing a must-see show to the industry, creating a first of its kind for an independent wrestling promotion.

Uncharted Territory is designed to expedite the process of discovering new talent at an independent level,” said Cordeiro. “We will now be able to accomplish in three months what used to take an entire year.

“Our wrestlers will get weekly repetitions in front of a live crowd, which will speed up their respective fan bases. Uncharted Territory will be the platform to give these athletes their first big break.”

HBO’s John Oliver offers incomplete view on WWE

HBO’s John Oliver set his sights on WWE on Sunday for an extended segment on his Last Week Tonight show.

Oliver’s primary focus was WWE’s insistence on legally referring to its wrestlers as “independent contractors.”

While this is a complex topic, there is no doubt that wrestlers in WWE deserve more revenue, protection, and rights from their employer. Why shouldn’t WWE provide its talent with Health, Life, and Dental Insurance, as well as retirement options and annuities?

But the decision to use a Jesse Ventura clip from nine years ago on The Howard Stern Show was an odd choice to back up that claim.

The show relied on multiple clips and references that are simply outdated.

WWE is certainly far from perfect, and criticism of the company has been present in this column, but I was surprised that Last Week Tonight pulled clips from Bret Hart’s Wrestling With Shadows documentary, which was filmed in 1998. This doesn’t make Hart’s words any less meaningful, but I was surprised that Oliver also referenced the early death rate for wrestlers, but supported that claim with statistics from 2014.

The subject of independent contractors is significant, and a mainstream talent such as Oliver bringing light to the topic is valuable. But will the system ever change? Oliver called for fans at WrestleMania to voice their displeasure through signs and chants. Can the emergence of All Elite Wrestling change the way WWE does business?

As always, some of the most interesting topics in wrestling remain away from the ring.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts bringing one-man show to WrestleMania weekend

Jake “The Snake” Roberts is bringing his “Dirty Details” comedy tour to New Jersey.

“I’m going to give a little history of my WrestleMania moments, I’ll talk about some of the funny stuff no one ever knew about it, and some pretty crazy moments from backstage,” said Roberts. “I’m going to talk about an incident with Joan Rivers from WrestleMania II that got me in trouble, and I’ll talk about Hogan’s fear at WrestleMania III that Andre wouldn’t drop the match. I got in trouble again that night, because I wouldn’t stop playing cribbage with Andre.”

The show starts at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday at the Starland Ballroom, and the master of the DDT will explore wrestling stories and ring psychology.

“I want to tell people what really happened,” said Roberts. “But I’m also fixing to tell people what’s wrong with wrestling today.

“I’m tired of watching it. There is nothing you can do in that ring today to get disqualified. Babyfaces start throwing punches first, which stinks. When was the last time you saw a guy pull tights or pull hair to get a guy down? Making superhumans has destroyed all the credibility in the ring.”

Roberts stressed that fans want the semblance of doubt in a match. Whether it is real or not, he explained, people thrive off the possibility that what they saw could have been real.

“People want to think that was real, but you can’t have that when no one is selling any moves,” said Roberts. “I miss seeing the bad guy get in a couple punches when the referee isn’t looking. I’ll explain it all, and when I get through, you’ll say, ‘Damn, he’s right.’”

There is also a meet-and-greet before the 90-minute show, which is when Roberts will unleash his wrestling wisdom.

“I put my heart into it,” said Roberts. “The stories will be absolutely incredible, and there is no telling what the hell I will do next.”

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What do you think? Does intergender wrestling help or hurt the business?

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.