I recently spoke to WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross about his new job with New Japan on AXS and several other topics for an exclusive interview. Ross talks about some of his favorite performers in New Japan, in addition to telling the WWE about who he thought would be good fits after Wrestle Kingdom 9. Ross also spoke about Vince McMahon's feelings on his new job.
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AXS had to move away from Mauro Ranallo when he signed with WWE. Usually companies would have to take a step back when replacing him, but they went out and signed you. What is the feeling you get about AXS' commitment to NJPW?
"When Mauro came to them and let them know he was going to the WWE, they wasted no time in contacting my business manager to let me know I was their top priority. That's always nice, but you still have to get a deal. We had to talk about travel and you always get down to the bottom line of what you're going to get paid, and they stepped up to everything. They made sure that I'd be working with Josh Barnett come March 4. I love the product, I love going to Los Angeles. It's a good job to have with the wife that I have because she loves going to LA. 8 to 10 times a year we fly out there, do a couple of days of voiceovers and have a blast. There's no pressure. I get to go out there and be creative. It's free flowing and I think that shows up and it sounds that way on the broadcast."
Did you speak to Mauro Ranallo about the NJPW gig or him going to WWE?
"No, not at all. I'm assuming that Mauro and WWE were negotiating in confidence, so I didn't talk to him at all until he got it. I congratulated him and he was happy to hear it. We're friends, respect each other's work. He's one of the best hires WWE made in a long time. We didn't talk about it, but I watched their show. I'm a regular viewer of NJPW on AXS. I was very familiar of the style, the cadence, how Mauro worked. I'm a little different than him, we're different guys. I was just happy for him going to WWE, which I know he's been wanting to do for a long time."
Did Barnett admonish you for calling a double wristlock a Kimura or did you manage to avoid that?
"I knew the double wristlock back in the shooting days when it was Lou Thesz's go-to hold. Danny Hodge was a big Lou Thesz devotee, and my boyhood hero, so he was a big double wristlock aficionado as well. Only since the proliferation of UFC on TV has Kimura found a pulse in the lexicon of which we're speaking today."
I saw that you had spoken to WWE about some of the guys you saw at Wrestle Kingdom 9. Is that still something you'd do while calling this show?
"I was going to Florida, and I have a great friendship with William Regal, who does a lot of the scouting for NXT -- one of the unsung heroes there. When I got back from Japan, I talked to Vince McMahon and Paul Levesque, and I keep in regular touch with William Regal. I said it was a great experience, had a lot of fun calling wrestling again, fun to watch the show live. By the way, New Japan has some hellacious talent. One of those guys we talked about was AJ Styles, who I always thought was a player even when he was in TNA. Seeing Nakamura in person was really memorable for me. I think he could be really big for WWE, he has a really big opportunity. I just told WWE who I saw and what I like. All of a sudden, whether I had anything to do with it or not, Nakamura, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows are signed by the WWE. I'm happy for all those guys. It's a new start, it's good. As long as they're allowed to be themselves, I think WWE's onto something big with those guys."
Did you hear anything from WWE about the NJPW on AXS gig?
"No, I did not. I probably won't, and that's okay. Actually, I take that back. I talked to Vince early on. He congratulated me. I said it's interesting that I'm probably one of the only men on Earth who has worked for Ted Turner, Vince McMahon and Mark Cuban in their lifetime. Great visionaries. He was happy for me, he knows how much I love calling wrestling. To be able to get some skin back in the game with a product I like on a travel schedule I can live with, and with a cool bunch of guys like they have at AXS. It's cool when the front office guys are old school wrestling fans and you have execs who grew up watching my work. It's unique. It's a little bit daunting, to be honest. You want to be better than what they grew up hearing. So every time I sit down and put the headset on, I want to be better than the last time. I think that's a good place to be. Nothing grows in a comfort zone."
Who have been some of your favorite performers to cover in NJPW so far?
"I like Okada and Tanahashi obviously, the big two. I like KUSHIDA. Josh and I called KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O'Reilly. One match the whole show, I was blown away by it. I didn't cheat and watch the match. Because they were super juniors, I unfairly stereotyped them in my head thinking it was a high spot fest, flip flop and fly with no selling. KUSHIDA's good, Ishii's good. There's so many guys there that are just major players. Shibata, he's exceptional. Ibushi is good. I'm really excited to be able to call Fit Finlay's son David's matches and Cody Hall's matches when they get to that next level."
I'm doing a feature on the infamous Brawl for All tournament in the WWF. How did you feel about it?
"I didn't like it. You're mixing metaphors. We had a lot of guys raise their hand to do it, couldn't wait. The rules were loose and lax, we kind of figured it out as we went along. The medical bills for the injuries was ridiculous. The ongoing innuendo that we paid Dr. Death to be the winner before the match. Ridiculous wives' tale, which is crazy. I didn't like a lot of the things about the Brawl For All. I didn't like the injuries, I didn't like the lax rules, I didn't like the way it was laid out. I thought it was a knee-jerk creative decision. I wish we'd have never done it. A lot of the things you hear about my relationship with Bart Gunn is asinine, ridiculous, embarrassing in my view. The Dr. Death storyline was that JR was angry when Dr. Death got beat. I was angry that he tore his quadriceps from the knee. We have a 40-something year old wrestler that we want to bring in for one more run and now that whole run, that whole investment is gone. Had nothing with him losing, had everything to do with him getting injured and never being the same again.
"The fact is that the legend of the Brawl for All has grown. I spoke to Bob Holly, who had written in his book that Dr. Death got paid ahead of the Brawl For All, and he didn't hear me say it, he didn't hear the office say it. Dr. Death told him that. The wrestlers are the wrestlers. One of the great arguments and controversies in any wrestling locker room is the wrestlers to talk about their paydays with their peers. They rarely tell the truth, and are embellishing their pay to look better than their peers. I love Doc like a brother, but he's no different than any of the other boys. He wanted to make himself look better than he was. We thought he had a good chance of winning it if he wrestled more of an MMA style. All of these guys wanted to go out there and show everyone they could box. Very few could whatsoever. Bart Gunn was the best of the group by far because everyone wanted to stand and throw punches and he was good at that."
Isn't it terrifying that Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock were offered to fight people with no experience?
"Of course it is. That's why I didn't like it. "You put alpha males in an arena they're not proficient in, and they're made to look bad, and they're going to react a certain way. Nobody is just going to walk away and say 'Oh well, it's another day at the office.' It's not another day at the office. You're on live, global television and you look like Ned in the First Reader. Nobody's going to react to that well. It was ill advised. Nothing about it made sense to me."
You can hear the full interview with Jim Ross in the audio players at the top or bottom of the page, of you can download it at this link.