All The Times Jim Ross Was Hired And Fired By WWE

Jim Ross spent about two decades in WWE, but it wasn't entirely a continuous run. At various points, after becoming more firmly entrenched as the lead announcer, he was demoted in various ways, sometimes after flare-ups of Bell's Palsy, the facial paralysis that's afflicted him since 1994. Sometimes this would bleed into storylines, as it was in 1999 when he turned heel, portrayed as having been driven mad by being replaced by Michael Cole.


But there's a lot more than that, including a dizzying array of hirings and firings in 1994 that can be difficult to keep track of. So let's help with that by going over the details of every single time that Jim Ross was either hired or fired/had his contract not renewed by WWE.

Hired in 1993

Jim Ross's February 1993 departure from WCW was, in a word, complicated. For nine months, the company had been run by his mentor, Bill Watts, as vice president of wrestling operations. Though Watts would end up being formally ousted over the resurfacing of racist comments he had made in a 1991 Pro Wrestling Torch interview, he had effectively been demoted days earlier, and as a result, Ross was also a casualty of sorts. According to Dave Meltzer's reporting in the February 15, 1993 issue of his Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Ross was being removed not just from his behind the scenes job as vice president of television, but also as WCW's lead announcer. Per the March 1 Torch, Ross announced in his segment on the WCW hotline that he had resigned from WCW. Meltzer added in his March 22 Observer that Ross was seeking a deal where he could go to the WWF if he gave up the six month severance package he was entitled to contractually.


Per the April 5 issue of the Observer, Ross confirmed on the March 29 episode of his radio show on WSB in Atlanta that he had signed with the WWF by having Vince McMahon on as a guest to announce it. This was particularly impactful because WCW was the main sponsor of the radio show. "McMahon hyped Ross as the business' premier announcer, saying Christmas came early for the WWF this year because they've gotten Jim Ross aboard and called it equivalent to John Madden jumping from CBS to NBC," Meltzer wrote. Ross debuted at WrestleMania on April 4.

Contract not renewed in 1994

Ross signed with the WWF for one year to start, and in early March 1994, it was reported in the pages of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Pro Wrestling Torch, and Matwatch that he would not be re-signed when his contract expired at the end of the month. This departure gets thorny quickly, though, because the news came down just weeks after Ross's first attack of Bell's Palsy — the facial paralysis that affects him to this day — but that's also not the whole story. On May 29, Ross gave Wade Keller an interview for the Torch, with his comments about leaving the WWF appearing in the June 18 issue. 


"The basic thrust of it was Vince was interested in me becoming a character, much like many of the wrestlers, and was very sure that if I would don a cowboy hat and a western jacket and a string tie that I would be more marketable and would be more effective to him and his product by being this character," Ross explained, as strange as it read the "cowboy hat" line decades later. "I felt very uncomfortable about doing it. It came to an impasse since I wasn't interested in doing that." After that, Keller asked Ross if his Bell's Palsy contributed to how he was treated. Ross responded by going over the timeline: The paralysis started on January 31, WWF human resources called him about seeing McMahon at the office about his contract renewal talks on February 10, and McMahon told him they weren't renewing his deal in the meeting on February 12. "I hope the Bell's Palsy wasn't a factor," he told Keller. "I don't think Vince is that cold-hearted that he would let me go because I was ill."


In September 1996, Ross did draw that inference when shooting the angle for his short-lived heel turn, though: "Well let me tell you how warm-hearted Mr. McMahon is: Mr. McMahon called me into his office on February 11th 1994, and he fired my ass!"

Rehired in 1994

As the Torch interview was being published in piecemeal fashion over the course of several weeks, Ross surprisingly returned to the WWF. Vince McMahon, preparing for his criminal trial on federal steroid distribution and conspiracy charges, was off TV, creating an opening for a temporary replacement announcer. Gorilla Monsoon initially filled the gap in "Superstars of Wrestling," "Monday Night Raw," and the King of the Ring pay-per-view event, but his work didn't go over great.


"The WWF was unhappy with Gorilla Monsoon's announcing performances," Wade Keller reported in the July 9 issue of the Torch. "In what had to be tough for both sides to agree to, Jim Ross and the WWF agreed to a two month contract. Ross will fill Vince McMahon's announcing role until after the trial."

Ross shined in the role, and at least outside of the company, people noticed. "Ross has apparently been turned loose to call bouts in the style which made him the mat industry's top commentary of the late 1980s and most of this decade," wrote Steve Beverly in the July issue of Matwatch. "His work on the Bret Hart vs. 1-2-3 Kid WWF title match July 11 on USA [Network's 'Monday Night Raw'] was arguably Jim's best call since the 1989 Ricky Steamboat NWA World Title victory over Ric Flair."


Contract not renewed again in 1994

Remember how Keller's interview with Ross was being published in multiple parts, with some coming after he returned to the WWF? That became a problem. "Jim Ross is through once again as a WWF announcer effective this past weekend," Dave Meltzer reported in the September 5, 1994 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. "Ross had been offered a contract for after the September expiration date, and the public word is that he and Titan agreed on a price but not on a work schedule, but the grapevine has it that he was pushed out because certain people were upset about comments he made in a Torch interview." (Keller echoed in the September 17 Torch that "there's speculation" of that nature.) That "public word," per the August-September issue of Matwatch came in the form of Ross's comments on "The Joe Pedicino Wrestling Machine," an Atlanta radio show, on August 27, where he cited his commute between Georgia and Connecticut.


So ... what did he say in that interview?

Not much that should have offended anyone; he wasn't at all negative or inflammatory. The timing of its release obviously made it read differently, but he didn't do much more than be open and honest about the inner workings of the company. Ross even described it as "mundane" (h/t 411Mania) on his "Grilling JR" podcast in October 2019. He did, however, go into detail about the degree to which Howard Finkel was the butt of Vince McMahon's jokes, saying that "sometimes you wonder if they don't take some of them just a little bit too far."

Rehired again at the end of 1994

Yes, Jim Ross had a roller coaster of a year in 1994. At the very end of the year, he was re-hired by the WWF, which was first reported in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter cover dated January 2, 1995. In theory, he was not being brought back as an announcer, instead being hired strictly to work behind the scenes as part of the creative team and a producer of various WWF TV shows. Days later, in the January 7 issue of the Pro Wrestling Torch, Wade Keller fleshed out more details.


"The WWF booking hierarchy in order of power and influence before Ross's hiring was as follows: Vince McMahon, Pat Patterson, Bruce Prichard, Shawn Michaels, and J.J. Dillon," wrote Keller. "All sources indicate that Ross has been inserted high in pecking order and Patterson has been moved down, with perhaps a leave of absence coming." In addition, Ross was specifically given the title of executive producer of Monday Night Raw.

All of that said, Ross was back on TV right away, replacing McMahon on Action Zone alongside Todd Pettingill starting on January 8. "You've been gone a long time!" remarked Pettingill during the intro for the January 8 show. "You've been on vacation! Either you went to the moon or had a baby! You've been gone a long time!"


Retired in 2013

Jim Ross would stay with the WWF/WWE (the name change came in May 2002) through 2013, eventually rising to the level of lead announcer and executive vice president of talent relations, ceding the latter job to John Laurinaitis in April 2004. Though it wasn't all rosy in the intervening years, with Ross demoted from his lead announcer spot at times, sometimes coinciding with occurrences of his Bell's Palsy, he was still with the company continuously from December 1994 through what was announced as his "retirement" on September 11, 2013. According to Dave Meltzer's reporting in the September 23 issue of his Wrestling Observer Newsletter, though, Ross was "let go" after a meeting with Vince McMahon earlier that day, with the "retirement" announcement being something that "allowed him to leave with dignity."


According to Meltzer's reporting, the feeling was that, a few weeks early at a SummerSlam weekend panel discussion promoting the release of the WWE 2K14 video game, Ross had let the "WrestleMania symposium" fall off the rails. Specifically, once Ric Flair started talking, he never really stopped, and Ross was unable to get the panel back on track. This led to Flair bringing up topics that were considered too dark for what was supposed to be an upbeat event, like his son Reid's death from a heroin overdose, or were considered bad optics, like talking about cleancut John Cena being a heavy drinker. There had also been speculation that Ross and Flair were drunk; while Flair had hit the bar before the panel, Ross insisted that he was not intoxicated, but a Bell's Palsy flare-up had caused him to slur his speech.


Rehired in 2017

Jim Ross returned to WWE at WrestleMania 33 in 2017, less than two weeks after the death of his wife, Jan, in a hit and run motor vehicle accident. At the time, Ross gave an interview to ESPN where he outlined how the return came to be. As outlined in the article by Arash Markazi, Ross had been in talks to return for a while, with the idea being that he would come in for part-time work, calling select big matches and hosting WWE Network programming.


"That conversation began months ago, and my wife was so excited about the prospects and about the potential of us coming to WrestleMania," Ross also told Fox Sports. "She wanted to get dressed up and walk the red carpet at the Hall of Fame, and she wanted to hear me get introduced and to see me walk out and call a match."  He added that his new contract "has a specific number of dates that I'm obligated to work, which I think is good for me," with WWE having "a lot of things that I can contribute [to]."

The story behind the story is a little more complicated, though. "The catalyst for his coming back was clearly WWE didn't want the familiar voice of Ross as the lead announcer on the ITV wrestling show," reported Dave Meltzer in the April 10, 2017 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, referring to the British network's attempted revival of its legendary World of Sport wrestling show. "The ITV show is either going to be a blockbuster presence if the show is handled correctly, or a quick failure. From a pure business standpoint, the WWE offered him two years and ITV could only guarantee him ten weeks."


Didn't renew his contract in 2019

Jim Ross's 2017 contract was a two year deal, and shortly before it was set to expire, he announced that he wasn't seeking a renewal. "My WWE contract after 26 years will expire on Friday, March 29," he said on his podcast at the time (h/t TMZ). "And, after talking a couple of weeks ago with Vince McMahon, we have mutually agreed I need to move on ... I still think I can do play-by-play even though others that may surround Vince [McMahon] think I can't."


Ross expanded on this a few weeks later in an appearance on ESPN's Outside The Lines. "I miss being around people," he explained. "The main reason I'm leaving WWE is because they weren't using me very much, and I feel like I've got some great years left. I needed to get out of the house, and I need to be involved. I need to be on the road, and I need to be around people." In addition, the formation of AEW had been announced, and Ross confirmed that he was in talks with the new start-up promotion. "I don't know, we're talking," he said. "I just haven't signed anything yet. My people and their people are doing their thing. The only agent I grew up knowing was a State Farm agent in Oklahoma, I got a real agent now, man. So, they're working on it. I'd like to get into some voice-over work, I'd like to do some... I wouldn't mind having a radio gig doing college football."


Less than two weeks after the ESPN interview, AEW announced Ross's signing, referring to the contract in their press release as "the most lucrative deal in pro wrestling commentary history."