Jim Ross Relishing His Role Broadcasting the Action in AEW

The Week in Wrestling: Iconic broadcaster Jim Ross on his job broadcasting for All Elite Wrestling following the passing of his late wife Jan three years ago, COVID-19's impact on WWE and more.
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Jim Ross: 'Wrestling is my destination. It gives me purpose, it fulfills me’

Sunrise in Norman, Okla., does not always paint a picture of happiness.

For Jim Ross, the signature voice of wrestling and a mainstay in the business for the past 46 years, it is a reminder of what—or, more specifically, whom—he is missing.

“That’s the hardest part of the day,” said Ross. “I don’t have a lot of company except for the sun.”

Ross was widowed three years ago when his beloved wife Jan was struck by a vehicle while riding home in her Vespa. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, and was pronounced dead two days later.

“For me, loneliness is not a great ally,” said Ross, 68, speaking from home. “I’ve had a hard time getting over Jan’s death. It was so unnecessary. She was turning into our home when she got hit. I pass that spot every day.”

Still grieving the loss of his best friend, Ross has turned to the one constant in his life for comfort. Long before the birth of his own children, at a time when his mother was doting over her only son and his father was providing discipline, Ross found a love in pro wrestling.

“When I was a boy, my reward for finishing all my chores was watching wrestling on Saturday mornings,” said Ross. “Wrestling is my destination. It gives me purpose, it fulfills me.”

The renewed vigor in Ross’ voice can be heard every Wednesday night when Dynamite airs on TNT. Joining AEW provided Ross with closure in his on-again, off-again relationship with WWE that began in 1993, which is covered in great detail in his new book, Under The Black Hat: My Life in WWE and Beyond.

The book, which begins with Ross’ unfulfilling journey in the WWE corporate office, extends from WrestleMania XV in 1999 through his departure in April 2018, sharing memories of working for Vince McMahon and constantly trying to get back into the broadcast chair.

“Ultimately, WWE made the decision it was time to turn me out to pasture,” explained Ross. “That was the consensus among Vince and upper management. That was troubling because I’ve always believed if I can paint a picture people can see on the TV screen, then that’s what I should be doing. All I’ve ever wanted to do is call the matches.”

WWE decided it was time to move on, and so did Ross. He found a new purpose with his work in All Elite Wrestling. Sharing the broadcast booth with Excalibur and Tony Schiavone, he brings legitimacy to the airwaves and a tone familiar to multiple generations of wrestling fandom.

“I was amazed this past weekend that so many people remembered the call that I made 22 years ago from the Hell in a Cell with Taker and Mick,” said Ross. “This is what I was brought into the world to do. I’m glad that I am still able to do it, and I hope at a pretty high level.

“As for our team in AEW, I think we’re the best broadcast team in pro wrestling. I truly believe that. Even though I’m not a three-man booth guy, as a rule, we’re making it work. And it’s fun.”

If Ross sounds more comfortable with the AEW product than he did when calling New Japan Pro Wrestling in the studio for AXS TV, or more passionate now than he did in his role as an occasional one-off announcer for WWE, like when he called the Raw 25 show in 2018, it is because he is back in his element. While Ross has evolved and embraced modern wrestling, the only way he can truly succeed is to be present every week. One of wrestling’s foot soldiers for the past five decades, Ross needs to be part of the process every week to provide his intimate touch of the product.

“I got to referee Harley Race-Dory Funk, call Steve Austin against The Rock, and now I am calling this generation’s stars in Kenny Omega and Hangman Page,” said Ross, who will call Omega/Page as they defend their tag team titles against Chuck Taylor and Trent Wednesday night on AEW’s FyterFest special. “I’ve been blessed in this business, and it’s an honor to call the talent I’ve called and still do today. They’re so passionate, creative, and talented. That resonates throughout our entire roster. Mox, Jericho, Cody, Britt Baker, Sonny Kiss, MJF, Scorpio Sky, they’ve got it.

“It’s been a hell of a run so far, but it’s not over. Our best work in AEW is yet to come. FyterFest is the equivalent of a pay-per-view, and it’s free. We’re dealing with coronavirus issues, just like everyone else, but it’s going to be a great show.”

A cursory glance at the television broadcasting industry shows that Ross is an anomaly. On-air roles are for the young and glamorous, and the elder statesmen are typically ushered out and replaced with their younger counterparts. Ross has persisted and endured, a touch of the past that fits seamlessly into the present, and he remains grateful for the new life that AEW CEO Tony Khan has provided him.

“I will always be indebted to Tony Khan for bringing me aboard AEW,” said Ross. “I feel wanted in AEW. That’s a great feeling.”

Ross is just a kid compared to Vin Scully, the legendary broadcaster who called Dodger baseball games for 67 seasons. Now 92, and still involved in baseball on a periphery level, Scully continues to provide inspiration to Ross.

“Vin Scully is a national treasure, and he gives a lot of broadcasters the hope that they can extend their game,” said Ross. “I was influenced by these great announcers as a kid, listening to St. Louis Cardinals baseball on my transistor radio, listening to Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Walter Cronkite, and Curt Gowdy. They were great storytellers, and they were the voices of my childhood. I always wanted to be one of those guys.

“I never wanted to play a character, I never had a fake name. I tried to be myself. Eventually, I started wearing that black hat because Vince thought everybody in Oklahoma wore one. I didn’t like it at first, but it became part of my presentation, and now it’s part of me.”

Pro wrestling will forever blur the lines of reality, so it is apropos that the man calling the action has endured his own personal battles, enhancing his ability to share the strife of others. After all these years, the man in the black hat continues to persevere, adding to the industry that has brought him immeasurable joy.

“I am living my best life,” said Ross. “I would love to be living my best life with Jan, but that’s not the hand I’ve been dealt. We’ve got a great thing going and I’m having a lot of fun. I still miss Jan and cherish her memory daily, but I think she would be happy knowing I’m back in the game I love.”

Mornings remain tough for Ross, but his days are now filled with less sorrow. Wrestling is his passion, and working with AEW has reinserted joy back into his soul.

“My favorite time is putting on the headset and calling wrestling,” said Ross. “Wrestling is my life-saver. If you’re listening to our show, I’m not going to let you down.”

COVID-19 remains a major issue in WWE

Concerns of COVID-19 are paramount in WWE.

Last Friday’s SmackDown was completely altered by COVID tests, with several performers absent and others feeling justifiably nervous about working the show. There were also stars missing from Monday’s edition of Raw. Nevertheless, one prominent figure remains undeterred by the effects and reach of the virus, and that is WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.

It is hard to believe that WWE was put in a position last week where multiple members of their contracted talent and staff tested positive. Yet that stance is not altogether surprising when considering that McMahon’s philosophy regarding the coronavirus has followed the same model set by President Trump.

The United States is locked in its worst public health crisis in a century. Back in February, Trump stated, “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Regardless of your political affiliation, there is no questioning that Trump and McMahon have a close friendship. They also certainly share similar ideologies, which led to the decision by McMahon not to test his talent consistently until the middle of June.

McMahon’s lack of respect for COVID is maddening. But such is to be expected from a man emboldened over the years by his victories against the federal government and Ted Turner, as well as proving that the XFL could, in fact, be brought back as a successful entity. Mishandling the pandemic may cost Trump his bid for re-election this November. WWE, thankfully, has finally taken more serious measures to protect its talent, which is especially important in the state of Florida, where the number of positive coronavirus tests continue at an alarming rate. As a debate still rages over whether or not people should wear masks—they should—there were over 6,000 new coronavirus cases announced Tuesday in Florida.

Led by the work of Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon, WWE has issued a more serious approach to the virus than it had previously. All of the extras in the crowd on Monday’s Raw were wearing masks, and testing talent has increased to its highest levels in WWE.

With cases continuing to rise, WWE had no choice but to respond—and swiftly. There are certainly costs involved with their new standard set on testing, and the changes to the television script have to be creatively stifling to the writing team, but the fact remains that WWE’s number-one priority must be to protect its talent.

QT Marshall documentary now available

Filmmaker Frank Zarrillo took a chance on QT Marshall, and that risk is paying off.

The winner of the San Diego Comic-Con’s “Best Documentary” in 2017 with The Wrestler: A Q.T. Marshall Story, Zarrillo spent over two years documenting Marshall, who is now part of AEW, adding an even higher profile to a compelling documentary.

The story details Marshall’s journey in pro wrestling and follows his dream of making it in WWE. Viewers see Marshall’s passion as a wrestler and teacher at the Monster Factory wrestling school in New Jersey, and also provides a look behind the curtain. His resilience is on display, and there is a true sense of the ambitions, fears, and vulnerabilities of Marshall—New Jersey born Michael Cuellari—throughout the film.

There are plenty of standout moments, which largely include the Monster Factory and a visit from longtime WWE talent scout Gerald Brisco.

“Two weeks after I bought new equipment, I was filming the Brisco seminar,” said Zarrillo. “It all happened that quickly.”

Zarrillo filmed an incredible amount of content, much of which did not even make it into the final cut, and felt he had everything he needed—with the exception of one scene. He ultimately found it when Marshall and his wife were having dinner with his mother.

“That dinner scene with his mother and his wife, that was the moment I knew we had something special,” said Zarrillo. “Then we paralleled that with the Gerald Brisco scene, someone who had been in the business and been such a big part of it, and that’s when I knew we had the right stuff, elements where people watching can relate.”

Zarrillo has already started filming his next project, a bodybuilding documentary that includes insight from Arnold Schwarzenegger. But he will forever champion the work of QT Marshall, an underdog with dogged tenacity and determination.

“QT was in the business so long and he just wouldn’t give up, despite injuries and setbacks,” said Zarrillo. “I think a lot of people can relate to that. Being there with him, watching the doc, you understand what he’s going through.”

The (online) week in wrestling

• On Twitter, Cody Rhodes issued his first statement on Sammy Guevara since Guevara's suspension earlier this month.

• On the subject of Rhodes, NXT is using the Great American Bash brand name for its show the next two weeks to compete against AEW’s FyterFest. That is a show created by Cody’s legendary father, the late Dusty Rhodes.

Rhodes took the high road when responding to a comment about it, but it is not a coincidence that Paul “Triple H” Levesque is using a show name that will rankle Rhodes. And to Levesque’s credit, led by Sasha Banks-Io Shirai, the card he has put together is nothing short of outstanding.

Chris Jericho returns to commentary for FyterFest, and Best Friends vs. Kenny Omega/Hangman Page has the potential to be the highlight of the night for AEW. These two teams share some recent history, with Trent giving Omega a fight during their match in April that saw Omega win only 50 seconds before the match was called a time-limit draw, and the Best Friends then defeated Omega the following week when he teamed up with Michael Nakazawa. Personally, I’d love to see the titles change hands, even if their title reign is brief, just to further establish Taylor and Trent.

• In an interview with MetroPlus, Roman Reigns shared another reason why it was so important for him to stay home during the pandemic: “I’m not convinced, and I can’t trust the fact that everybody is taking it as seriously and locking themselves down at home like I am. I trust my life with my co-workers every time I step foot in the ring, but I just can’t put the same trust when it has my children, my wife and my family involved.”

• There are few better at covering professional wrestling than PWInsider’s Mike Johnson. Johnson broke the news Tuesday that WWE released NXT UK referee Joel Allen. Other WWE releases connected to allegations from the #SpeakingOut movement include El Ligero and Travis Banks, as well as the suspension of Joe Coffey.

• Another piece of breaking news reported by Johnson was that Impact Wrestling had ended its affiliation with Tessa Blanchard, who was their reigning world champion. A new champion will be crowned at Impact’s pay-per-view in July, and Blanchard—though she comes with a reputation—will have suitors in WWE and AEW, as well as opportunities to work throughout Mexico.

• Dr. Luther was Chris Jericho’s guest on the most recent edition of the “Talk is Jericho” podcast, and Jericho revealed that he suggested Luther as The Dark Order’s Exalted One. He also added that Marty Scurll was the original choice, then Matt Hardy, before AEW ultimately decided upon Brodie Lee.

• RIP, “Killer” Tim Brooks.

• Free agent Heath Slater has changed his look.

• Congrats to Renee Young, who announced Wednesday that she has wrote her own cookbook.

Conrad Thompson previews this week’s edition of “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”

A new episode of “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” is set for this Friday, as Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson discuss Impact Wrestling’s Slammiversary from 2017.

“It’s such a fascinating story, from start to finish, of how Bruce even got the gig,” said Thompson. “We did record downloads when Bruce slayed TNA for a couple hours in 2016, and it was so well-received that we did a part two. That worked so well that Jeff Jarrett called Bruce and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come in?’ We couldn’t believe actively sh------ on a company was a trick to getting hired. But it worked for Bruce, and he found himself back involved with wrestling.”

Impact was very much in a transition period in 2017, with the company seeking an identity under new ownership. Even the Slammiversary main event featured a collision of two different titles, as Alberto El Patron wore Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling belt in the main event against Impact champ Bobby Lashley.

“We’ll talk about Bruce’s experiences in the company,” said Thompson. “Some of those folks now work with Bruce in WWE, like Bobby Lashley, and we’ll spend a lot of time looking at Impact when it was very much in a state of flux.”

The card also included Santana and Ortiz, who now star in AEW as part of The Inner Circle, as well as Taiji Ishimori, now part of Bullet Club in New Japan. WWE’s reigning Cruiserweight champ, Santos Escobar, was also on the card as El Hijo del Fantasma, as well as EC3, Eddie Edwards, Moose, and even former NFL star DeAngelo Williams.

“We’ll discuss the matches and the performers, and who he liked to work with and who he didn’t like to work with,” said Thompson. “It’s a real weird time. No one could predict that AEW was going to happen. There was still an opening for the top promotion behind WWE. Impact is back on pay-per-view here, they’re looking for a television home, and they’re fighting for their identity.

“This is only three years ago, but it feels like it took place 100 years ago. And who ever could have predicted that night that Bruce would eventually return to Vince? There is so much to talk about, and it will be a very different discussion for us.”

Kevin Owens implores people to wear masks in public

Kevin Owens made a heartfelt video on Sunday to discuss the benefits of wearing a mask in public and practicing social distancing.

A little over a month ago, the grandfather of Owens's wife passed away due to COVID-19. Sunday was Owens's mother-in-law's birthday, and he delivered the message to show support his family and to underscore how future deaths could be prevented if people take the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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