The McMahon family, at least in the sports entertainment world that is WWE, has been talking a lot lately about doing what's “best for business.”
The official announcement that came down from company headquarters last Wednesday — on Sept. 11th of all days — was definitely not what was “best for business.”
It certainly wasn't best for the millions of fans the company likes to refer to as the WWE Universe.
Jim Ross, quite possibly the most loyal employee to work for WWE over the past two decades, saw his illustrious career come to an unceremonious end when his company announced that the Hall of Fame broadcaster was retiring “to focus on his personal business endeavors.”
“Jim has made many contributions to WWE and the sports entertainment industry, and we thank him for his many years of service and wish him well,” the terse release read.
But let's cut to the chase here.
Ross deserved a much better send-off than a brief statement from a company PR flack.
And to imply that Ross' retirement was of his own doing just doesn't cut the mustard — or, in Ross's wheelhouse, the barbecue sauce.
Some reports have tied the “retirement” to the 2K14 video game symposium held in Los Angeles over Summer Slam weekend that reportedly infuriated WWE brass. Ross, who served as moderator of the forum, and Ric Flair, a guest panelist, both were reprimanded over the incident — Flair for making “controversial” statements that didn't sit well with company officials, and Ross for allowing Flair to be, well, the Nature Boy.
That same forum, by the way, was well received by the game sponsors who put it on. But it apparently touched sensitive nerves of WWE higher-ups who didn't like some of the dialogue.
Others contend that perhaps a salary issue played a part in Ross's exit from the company.
I'm fairly certain that most of the fans who watch the WWE product would agree that Ross has deserved every penny of it, and the fact that WWE forced him to hang up the headset several years ago was one of the company's worst decisions in recent memory.
Whatever the reason, though, it appears that Good Ol' J.R. has been herded out to pasture. Sure, he will continue to receive obligatory platitudes from the same folks who apparently forced him out, if for no other reason than to avoid further alienating the company's fan base.
The McMahon family painted a politically correct happy face on Ross's departure.
From Vince McMahon: “Thank you for 20 years of service with (WWE).”
From Stephanie McMahon: “Thank you for everything. I've learned so much from you. You will always be the voice of the WWE.”
From Paul “Triple H” Levesque: “Can't thank you enough for all you've done for me personally and for (WWE). Enjoy your time, you've earned it.”
Always the consummate professional, Ross isn't likely to spill the bills and point figures. He'll take the high road as he always has.
He's been the whipping boy for years, the loyal first lieutenant who learned his place in the pecking order more than 30 years ago from Cowboy Bill Watts, who demanded complete, if not sometimes blind, loyalty from his employees.
Ross, though, has taken it all in stride.
“It all starts and stops with him,'' Ross once said of CEO Vince McMahon, who fired him several times during their tumultuous professional relationship. And each time, Ross came back stronger than ever, proving why his name is mentioned in the same breath as the late Gordon Solie whenever there's a discussion about wrestling's greatest announcers.
“At the age of 61 it's time to close this chapter of my life and begin exploring new adventures while my health is great,” he wrote on his blog.
But it shouldn't have ended this way.
The simple point is that Jim Ross is a bona fide legend in this business. Not just in WWE, where he has been the definitive voice of the company since 1993, but in WCW before that, in the NWA, and for Watts' popular Mid South and UWF promotions in the '80s.
Ross is widely regarded as one of the main reasons behind the success of Monday Night Raw, and his track record of being loyal, hard-working and professional has been well documented over the years.
But Ross has been more — much more — than an announcer during his tenure with WWE. For years he held the key position of talent relations chief where he oversaw the hiring of some of the greatest performers in the business during arguably the hottest run in company history. He also was in charge of the tedious and demanding payroll process, which no one else wanted or could even figure out, during that period.
Known for having a keen eye when it came to discovering new prospects, Ross was an invaluable talent scout who, until last week, helped recruit promising athletes, especially those who had excelled at the college level, and brought them through the developmental process.
He was a key consultant who visited WWE's training center in Tampa, and later in Orlando, on a regular basis to observe “the development of the young men and women who, I hope, all want to headline Wrestlemania some day.”
Jim Ross became a figure who transcended the wrestling business. He achieved celebrity status and became a brand name. Even Sports Illustrated chimed in last week, calling his departure the “ultimate slobberknocker.”
But Ross's broadcasting career won't be over. The Oklahoma native remains a top candidate for a position he considers his “dream job” — that of play-by-play announcer for his beloved Sooners.
“For the record, I'm not purchasing a rocking chair so I'm not going away,” he assured fans. “I have many interests and I plan on exploring them all.”
To say that Ross hasn't always been afforded the utmost respect in WWE would be a gross understatement. At times he's been bullied, on screen and off.
Ross has persevered despite several bouts with Bell's palsy, which affected his speech and physical appearance, and in a cutthroat business to boot. The Oklahoma drawl and honest, passionate delivery, along with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the business and sincere respect for its roots, have served him well. No one sold excitement and emotion like Jim Ross.
J.R. is, and has been for a long time, the best announcer in professional wrestling. Period. He's the gold standard.
WWE might not admit it, but the true star of many Monday Night Raws and pay-per-views over the years was Ross. And that's taking nothing away from the efforts of the talented performers who worked those shows.
It simply was Ross's magnificent storytelling that elevated the performers and the matches. Good Ol' J.R. in his signature black Resistol hat provided historical context for the bouts he called and always kept a step ahead of the audience's reaction to the participants. He had that rare ability to make scripted action feel real and sometimes even unforgettable.
In many ways, Ross helped his longtime sidekick, Jerry “The King” Lawler, elevate his game.
Pro wrestling is all about telling stories, and no one in the company could tell a story or give it the proper perspective like Jim Ross.
Sadly, it's quite possible that WWE fans may never see another announcer like Jim Ross in their lifetimes. They'll certainly never see one with the breadth and expertise that spans generations.
His voice will always be the one that fans will associate with some of the company's greatest moments. It never failed to bring excitement and enthusiasm to those who listened.
If there is something positive to come out of this development, it could be that Ross will finally have time to sit down and write his long-awaited autobiography.
“Business is about to pick up,” he will declare.
And oh, the stories he will tell.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.
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