Jim Ross didn’t screw Jim Ross. Vince McMahon screwed Jim Ross.
It is perhaps a situation that has been brewing for years; one would even argue as many as 20. The man who served as the voice of the WWE for an entire generation of wrestling fans (who enjoyed what many consider to be wrestling’s peak period) is no longer with the organization, and a sense of uncertainty remains around the situation.
Wednesday afternoon, the world was surprised with the announcement that Ross had decided to retire from his duties with World Wrestling Entertainment. The reason given surrounded his well-documented business ventures, and his services were openly admired by many personalities involved within the industry.
But just over 24 hours later, the writing is on the wall. Jim Ross did not retire. He was fired.
As seen on Wrestling Rumors, The Wrestling Observer reported that McMahon met with Ross over the past week, and informed the tenured announcer that his services in WWE were no longer needed. The company supposedly decided to announce the departure as a retirement for the sake of public relations, and that the decision was hardly Ross’.
Additionally, it is said that Ross had major heat for his handling of Ric Flair’s appearance on the WWE 2K14 panel last month, saying that he lost control of the situation as Flair rambled.
Excuses are one thing. But please Vince, this is a joke.
Frankly, I am amazed that this did not happen sooner. For fans of the 90s and 2000s era of wrestling, the evolution (if that’s an appropriate word) of Ross’ duties on and off the screen are well-documented. He has been viewed as the epitome of his profession; the czar of squared-circle circuitry. His understanding of the industry is unparalleled from a business and broadcasting perspective, and this seems to be a standard that was appreciated by fans and industry insiders alike.
Except for one man.
For whatever reason, Vince McMahon has held a vendetta against Jim Ross throughout his entire tenure in the company. Maybe it was the fact that he started out in Turner territory. Maybe it was his performance as Executive Vice President of Talent Relations (a tenure that saw him develop some of WWE’s most marketable stars). Or maybe it was merely Ross’ professionalism that made him easy to walkover that allowed for such a situation to unfold.
Let’s turn back the clock to February of 1994, where after less than a year of service, McMahon fired Ross after his first Bell’s palsy incident. Some public outcry and a federal government indictment later, WWE officials, tail between their legs, brought J.R. back to the broadcast table.
Then came the years of embarrassment, all at McMahon’s dispense. The storylines that saw Ross get pummeled with broken glass, lit on fire or even having his surgical procedures mocked on-air. The 61-year-old Sooner may even hold the record for most on-screen firings, a number which jumped to extreme levels over the last three years in particular.
And who will forget June 23, 2008, the night that all normalcy ended? Prior in the week, Ross had mentioned in his blog postings that he had no desire to leave the RAW announcing booth. Days later, as part of the WWE Draft, he was drafted to Smackdown, leaving a position that he had held for nearly 15 years. The unexpected shock from the announcers around him was visible, and more importantly, the disappointment on Ross’ behalf when he had to shout back at the guerilla in his ear after being told to “stand up.”
Yet still, he handled the move with grace and professionalism.
And from there, the examples only further. How could we forget “The Michael Cole Challenge”, which J.R. lost because he weighed less than Cole?
Be a star.
Ross’ talents are unquestionable. Not only did he lend his services to WWE, but to various other professional sports and organizations. His preparation and storytelling abilities are unrivaled by anyone in the broadcasting business, and he is the perfect accomplice to drama and theatricality.
Simply put, he is the best in the world.
I will never bash Vince McMahon as a businessman. There is no doubting his success, and he is a tremendous mind. Ross was an immense part of the thriving corporate model that McMahon established, on the screen and off. He was the voice of an entire form of entertainment, and went unrivaled until the move of Cole into his position (not counting Joey Styles).
Cole has moved into a favorable position in my opinion since his character was dropped. But there is a reason that J.R. was brought back for big match after big match. He was an irreplaceable presence.
But for whatever reason, he was working on borrowed time.
And with the debacle of the 2K panel, which was supposedly well-received by the members of 2K and audience alike, the company found its excuse to let him go. Even as he has been off-screen for some time, it is undeniable that Ross lives and breathes the wrestling business. Retirement was never an option for him. He was forced away.
Whether it was the 2K panel, the Bell’s Palsy or minuscule disagreements, the bottom line is that Jim Ross is no longer with WWE. Following him in his departure are the sentiments of wrestling fans of several generations, different companies and different countries. The retirement claim will sit in stone as the public story, and perhaps it may even be true.
But if not, and if there was a meeting that orchestrated Ross’ untimely termination, McMahon has much explaining to do. There is a place for business matters and personal matters, and J.R. leaving is most certainly not best for business.
But best of all, Jim Ross has handled it in the only way he knows how to: With grace and professionalism.
And regardless of whether this retirement story is true or not, his WWE career can be summarized in a simple manner. He got screwed.
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