Jim Ross is the greatest wrestling commentator to ever wear a headset, but recently he’s evolved into a problem for the promotions he’s worked for.
We give Michael Cole a lot of…”sass”…quite often for his commentary style. He may very well have his fans who will defend his work until the end of time; he’s not the worst, nor is he the best. Yet throughout the entire time he’s worked for WWE, he has yet to step out and openly criticize its business model, its practices or the WWE product itself. In fact, whether we like it or not, we’ve probably heard “it’s Boss time,” or “it’s the Big Dog!” a few million times too many. And that’s fine, because it’s what the “boss” wants and in these relative terms WWE is what it is, and that’s perfectly OK.
Ring of Honor’s Ian Riccaboni and NWA’s Joe Galli have a great deal in common with WWE’s up-and-coming play-by-play announcers like Vic Joseph and Tom Phillips. They’re skilled, young speakers who know what they’re tasked to do and commentate to the best of their ability while being wholly engaged in their work and the promotion’s product.
If you were a fan of WWF in the ’90s you might remember Kevin Kelly. He currently does commentary for NJPW’s English language broadcasts. Much like WWE’s announcers, Riccaboni, Galli or even Josh Matthews in Impact, they don’t consciously do or say anything to hurt or undermine the product/company they work for. They do what they’re paid to do, which is to discuss their company on-air in a manner that pushes the narratives forward regardless of whether it’s excellent, fantastic, great, good, poor or incomprehensibly absurd.
Mauro Ranallo, formerly of NXT, is one of the best all-around combat sports announcers. It doesn’t matter if he commentates on boxing, MMA or pro wrestling, he works hard to support the product and does so with enthusiasm. Conversely, Tony Schiavone (while he may not have Ranallo’s pedigree) has done an excellent job on Dynamite pushing the company product forward and does so with absolute enthusiasm. And if either ever had anything critical to say, you wouldn’t know it.
This brings us back to Ross, who for many of us was the voice of wrestling throughout the ’90s and perhaps even as far back into the ’80s if you were an NWA/WCW fan then. This isn’t to say that he isn’t a great announcer. Are his references or style somewhat dated? Sure, but so are most of my jokes and cursive writing. Is he any less knowledgeable, capable or worthwhile to have around the commentary desk or behind the scenes? No, not in the slightest.
A handful of stories have come out over the last week, one more so looking at the relationship between Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson, and another about Arn Anderson and Cody Rhodes. In both those stories Cody and Chris Jericho detail how Patterson and Anderson in their respective situations saw and see the value in openly discussing the highs or lows of a performance behind closed doors. If an angle sucked, Patterson told Vince just as readily if something was great. If Cody had a garbage match, Anderson told him; only praising his work where it was warranted.
That’s a running theme, a dynamic built off open-dialogue behind the scenes with the notion being that matches or the entire product on the larger scale can be improved by tweaking what isn’t working. Constructive feedback is how improvements are made; there’s an old line from HBO series “The Newsroom” that, paraphrased, says the first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging there’s a problem in the first place.
That problem, right now, is Jim Ross beyond any reverence we might have for him. He’s earned our respect over the years for being part of some of the biggest calls in wrestling in its biggest boom years. However over the last several years, even prior to AEW when he was commentating for NJPW, he openly chastised and railed against the product he’s supposed to be promoting on-air during broadcasts. That isn’t conducive to growing any audience if your lead commentator is undercutting the product or the talent (many of whom are young and learning). And if he isn’t doing that on the air, he’s used other media forms to convey the same thoughts.
I agree with Jim Ross’ recent comments, specifically about the high spot where a group of wrestlers stands together while another performs a plancha or dive onto them as they moronically stand still. It’s a common place spot, especially in WWE and AEW right now, but logistically it makes sense. However, Ross is completely in the wrong to have vocalized these thoughts in the way he has in the open. The criticisms are fair comment and agreeable, however, calling back to the stories about Pat Patterson and Arn Anderson, there’s a constructive and destructive approach to giving feedback and what Ross has done — for all his experience and knowledge — is wholly detrimental to the growth and development of AEW during this small window where the company has an opportunity to actually help improve wrestling as a whole; to additionally push WWE to up its game.
The reality of the situation is that if Ross made these comments publicly in WWE, he’d at the very least be reprimanded by McMahon. Worst case, if it continued as it has in AEW, he’d probably be let go. This isn’t to advocate for Ross’ removal from the Dynamite announce team, or from the company. This is, however, a test for Tony Khan to step up and right his ship away from a harmful element that’s been allowed to fester for a while now. It’s Jim Ross’ right to speak his mind as he has both positively and negatively, and his recent point is completely valid. However there’s a time and place for that criticism, and it isn’t in an article or a podcast.
For example, if any one of us went on Twitter and openly undercut the company we work for and disparaged its mission, we’d be fired regardless or at the very least reprimanded if its interests were compromised. I’ve witnessed the result first hand; social platforms are not the venue to discuss and undermine your employer ever, which is what Ross has done both on and off the air. There is definite value in what Ross said in the right setting, in a meeting, beyond closed doors or off to the side one-on-one after a show.
Jim Ross possesses a wealth of knowledge, but as it is he has been using his powers haphazardly as opposed to doing what he has in the past and helped along younger talent. It’s even worse when you hear stories about former wrestlers like Fit Finlay, Shane Helms or Jerry Lynn being such positive influences behind the scenes, or current talent like Dustin Rhodes and Thunder Rosa and their push to help the AEW womens’ division. It helps the whole.
Jim Ross can do better than he has, he can be better as an asset not just to AEW itself, but to each wrestler who heard him call WWE events during their formative years and may have called some of their landmark favourites. He matters. His commentary matters. No matter what company he works for, he has an immense wealth of care, passion and enthusiasm for wrestling.
I believe he wants AEW to be successful, he’s said far more positive things overall, but in order for that to happen he needs to understand his words and opinions carry serious weight. But realistically in order to get to that point, he needs to admit the avenue he’s chosen to communicate his feedback does far more damage than it does to cultivate the next crop of wrestlers who may be elite stars in WWE, AEW, ROH, NJPW, Impact or wherever else one, five or 10 years down the road.