Following a brief hiatus after decades of commentating pro wrestling for companies such as WCW and WWE, hall of fame broadcaster Jim “JR” Ross returns to primetime weekly wrestling when he joins former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett as part of AXS TV’s coverage of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Recently, Ross spoke to MMAWeekly.com to discuss his return to the pro wrestling booth, his new co-host, as well as his other endeavors in combat sports in 2016.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Jim, tell us how you feel about returning to weekly pro wrestling coverage as part of the English commentary team for NJPW on AXS TV.
Jim Ross: I felt like it was the right product at the right time with the right people. Quite frankly it’s a great travel schedule. I’ll be on TV every week in a primetime roll, but I won’t be on the road every week to achieve that. I’m in the situation now where I’m with a product I love, a travel schedule that impressed me, and working with the AXS TV people is a delight. I’m very happy with my arrangement.
There are a lot of wins in this thing. Mauro (Ranallo) got a win because he got to go to WWE, which was one of his big goals, and I’m happy for him. He’s one of the best (WWE) hires of the year along with AJ Styles and those guys. I get back in the game a little bit and have fun with a schedule I like and a real good partner, so it’s all good news in that regard.
Jim Ross: He’s intelligent, very perceptive, has a great wit, and great product knowledge. He understands the Japanese culture better than I and he’s got a real sneaky knowledge of pro wrestling history and things of that nature. It’s fun to chat with him about (wrestling). You’re not going to find many guys as intelligent or well-versed in what we’re seeing.
Josh’s first pro wrestling match was in the main event at the Tokyo Dome (at Wrestling World 2003 versus Yuji Nagata for the IWGP Championship). He started out somewhat auspiciously in that aspect. He’s never stopped being a fan or devote of the genre.
I think we’re going to mesh well. I really do. I’m very optimistic about it. I don’t think it will take us that long. I hope we serve (NJPW and its wrestlers) well on the commentary, because it’s really fun to call.
MMAWeekly.com: NJPW had a working agreement with WCW back when you were with that company in the 90’s. Among the wrestlers who crossed over was Jushin “Thunder” Liger. What’s it like seeing him still with NJPW all these years later?
Jim Ross: It’s heart-warming to see Jushin do his thing. I know we brought Liger (to WCW) in 1991 and I remember calling his first big wrestling match in America, working his program with Brian Pillman. That was a nice piece of business, I thought. Those guys had real good chemistry and had some great matches. Their SuperBrawl II match in Milwaukee (in 1992) was a real fun, interesting match to call.
It’s funny to see him without his ring attire on and then make that metamorphosis to the full “Thunder” Liger gear. It’s an interesting transition. He’s a smart junior heavyweight and makes sure he doesn’t disappoint the audience. He tells a different story. His story is more a bit deliberate and ground oriented and striking oriented than flying oriented and does a great job in representing that (style).
MMAWeekly.com: A couple of years ago you covered Battlegrounds MMA with Chael Sonnen. Would you be interested in doing more MMA coverage on one of the top channels for the sport in AXS TV?
Jim Ross: They know I have interest in doing it, but they also know they have a very good guy doing it in Michael Schiavello. If there’s ever an occasion that I’d need to fill in, I think it’d be good thing to fill in for Michael and work with Pat Miletich. Pat and I are friends, and he knows I’m a fan.
I have great respect for MMA fans and the sport, even though it’s not always reciprocal. I know what it’s like being looked on as “less than” because of pro wrestling, but I’m over it and it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I truly believe that if you put something on the monitor and I’ve had time to prepare for it and have an emotional investment to some degree, that I can broadcast it.
I’m a big fan of MMA. I’m not going to go out and start going through my pro wrestling spiel. The fighters, no matter if it’s boxing or MMA, are going to write the music. It’s up to the announcers to provide the lyrics. I feel with a clear conscious, if given the opportunity in MMA, I don’t think I would embarrass anybody or offend any of the most ardent of MMA fans.
MMAWeekly.com: This year Sting will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. You were there in WCW in its previous incarnation when he joined the company. How does it feel to see him go from a young up-and-comer to a superstar and now a fellow hall of famer?
Jim Ross: If you look at all those guys who originated the UWF and survived the (Jim) Crockett years, Sting was easily the guy who was the shining star. He had a really terrific work ethic and was very competitive. That’s the one thing; he was a competitive guy who didn’t want to be the second best guy in the match. He wanted to have the match of the night. That was always his mindset where competition was concerned.
As a human being you meet people who are just easy to be around. You know every time you cross their path, you know what kind of mood they were going to be in, and what to expect from them, and Sting was that way. He had a very level-headed personality. He always stayed positive and stayed the course. He was reliable and you could depend on him. I’m really happy and proud he’s going into the WWE Hall of Fame. He’s well-deserving of it, no questions asked.
MMAWeekly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us, Jim. Is there anything you’d like to say inclosing?
Jim Ross: The first night on NJPW on AXS TV with Josh is Friday night, and on the same night I’ll be on The Voice vs. with Michael Schiavello, which went really good I thought. I’ve signed on to a monthly primetime boxing series with CBS SportsNet that starts on Saturday night, March 12, from The D in Las Vegas. I’ll be working with Al Bernstein, the Hall of Fame boxing commentator, so I’m looking forward to that.
We’re trying to really help build MMA with our free FITE TV app. We work with a lot of MMA promoters. And if you go on there and look, you’ll see a lot of the MMA that we’re doing. We’re providing the conduit for these smaller organizations to get exposure for their product and distribute it if they choose to. The same can be said with pro wrestling organizations and boxing promotions. If you’re into combat sports, it’s something you should have on your smart device.
I’ve got my one-man show that I’ll be doing three of during WrestleMania week the House of Blues Dallas that’s almost sold out. I’m working on my autobiography that will hopefully be out later this year or this time next year. I tell you, you get awfully vein when you’re working on an autobiography and reading everything back, but it’s going to be factually accurate and honest.