Making the Jump from WWE, Jim Ross Hand-Pick Chael Sonnen for MMA Debut

October 2, 2014
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After forging a Hall of Fame broadcasting career in professional wrestling, announcer Jim “JR” Ross has been expanding his horizons into other sports including boxing and now MMA.

As part of a commentating team that includes former UFC title contender Chael Sonnen, Ross will be calling the action at Battlegrounds MMA’s O.N.E. single-night eight-man elimination tournament on Oct. 3 in Tulsa, Okla.

Speaking to prior to making the 100-mile trip to Tulsa from his home base of Norman, Okla., Ross discussed his decision to jump into the MMA game as well as his thoughts on how the sport shares similarities to his previous work in professional wrestling, and what other projects he has on the horizon. Firstly, Jim, tell us how you got involved in the Battlegrounds MMA event.

Jim Ross: A fellow Oklahoman, Bryan O’Rourke, contacted me and he knew from Twitter and following my career that I was an MMA fan. I would write about it in blogs on my website, I’d watch a UFC event and on Twitter would live tweet during the show little tidbits and stuff. He knew I had an interest in MMA, and asked if I’d be interested in doing the PPV on Oct. 3. I got him with my manager and they worked out a deal. What are your thoughts on working with Chael Sonnen?

Jim Ross: I was concerned about whom I was going to work with because I knew that chemistry on a broadcast is very important, so I suggested Chael Sonnen because even though he and I never met, I felt like I knew him from watching him on TV. He kind of reminds me of Paul Heyman in a way, being highly intelligent, has great product knowledge, has really good timing, knows when to be funny and when to be serious, and knows when to be entertaining and when to inform.

When Chael and I meet in Tulsa for all of our meetings and all that other stuff, it will be the first time we’ve ever met, I feel confident that we’re going to have a prominent level of chemistry. And that’s the magic of any broadcast team – you have to have chemistry – and has to be emotionally invested in what you’re broadcasting.

I think it’s going to be a very entertaining and unique presentation that won’t make MMA loyalists roll their eyes. We’re not going to be doing a pro wrestling broadcast at an MMA event. How do you feel doing an MMA pay-per-view will compare to doing one for pro wrestling?

Jim Ross: I think some of the MMA purists might not agree, so I apologize if I offend anyone, but there are many similarities to their televised presentations. You have replay, you have HD, multiple camera angles, multiple microphones around the cage – you have a lot of production elements that are very similar.

Obviously the issue of Jim Ross coming on and explaining the virtues of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and proposing being an expert is ridiculous and is not going to happen. I’m not going to disrespect the business or myself by trying to be something I’m not. Chael is there and it’s my job to ask him the questions which I perceive viewers are curious to know the answers to. My job is to get him into the game as much as possible. At least you won’t have to worry about someone going through your announcer’s table at an MMA event.

Jim Ross: I hope not. [Laughs] You’ve got a real malfunction of production, as they say, if someone comes through the cage and lands on your table. And I don’t think anybody is going to be coming outside the cage, grabbing a chair, and hitting someone upside the head with it. What are your thoughts on the event’s tournament format?

Jim Ross: You have a formula in this tournament that is episodic in nature. When pro wrestling is done right and is most successful is when it is episodically produced and one week’s television’s program leads to the next and there’s continuity and you connect the dots. That’s what a tournament is. If you win – you stay alive. If you lose – you’re more likely to have hot water in the shower because you’re going to shower early. It’s episodic and organic in that regard.

To me that’s the thrust of this tournament and PPV. Who can survive all the challenges – physical and mental – and walk away with a nice $50,000 payday. On a different note, of late you’ve gotten a lot of exposure from people taking your pro wrestling commentary and overdubbing it onto other sports.

Jim Ross: It’s very flattering and it goes everywhere. I reach an audience that’s not always connected to wrestling. One of my calls is 16 years old. That’s the one of Mick Foley getting thrown off the Hell in the Cell in 1998. I get tweets all the time from guys who I wonder were even alive when I said that. I find it flattering.

The businessman in me says, “How in the heck can I monetize that?” But I haven’t been able to figure that out yet. [Laughs] I’ve seen it in NFL games, UFC fights, and even some very adult rated material – to which I say that someone has way too much free time in that instance.

It’s cool that 16 years after some of that stuff it is still relevant and it keeps me relevant. It reminds people of what I used to do. I’m proud of what I used to do. I look at it as a positive. The bottom line is that it’s done in fun. And it’s free publicity. For a guy who is doing his own thing now, getting a little publicity is not a bad thing. What other projects do you have going on that you’d like to tell our readers about?

Jim Ross: I’m working on my autobiography. My writing partner is an attorney in Houston. He’ll be here tonight and we’ll probably write 10-12 hour days before he heads home to Texas. It’s a lot harder than you think. I hope to have the book out by next year, so I’m on my way towards working to that.

I have my podcast on PodcastOne and iTunes that’s called The Ross Report. You can subscribe to it for free. I do it one show a week. It stays more often than not in the Top 10 of the sports charts. It’s been a real fun thing. I can use a bit of my creativity, reconnect with my friends, and it’s been a blessing. Steve Austin talked me into that. He has a successful podcast with the same company. I was initially skeptical, but Steve and my manager together finally sold me and it’s done real well.

After the first of the year, I will probably go back and do some one-man shows, which I really enjoy. Again, it allows me to engage with the fans. I do a little stand-up and the other portion is a Q&A segment, which allows the fans kind of produce the show. I did some of those shows last year and I really enjoyed it. We’ll probably do one or two international tours with the Ringside with Jim Ross shows, right now we’re just finalizing dates.

I’ve spoken to Fox about doing more boxing, so we’ll see where that goes. I had a blast doing boxing for Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Productions. They were great to work with. I think Oscar was pleasantly surprised with my work on his Memorial Day event. Sounds good, Jim. Is there anything you would like to say to our readers in closing?

Jim Ross: My wife will tell you that I’m probably on Twitter too much, but I like to interact and communicate. I enjoy hearing from people that like my work and are appreciate of it. It’s the least I can do to show some appreciation and gratitude.

My broadcast career started in Tulsa and this event is going to emanate from Tulsa, so that’s kind of a fate type thing, which I take as a good omen.

As far as MMA, I’ll always be a fan, and I feel I can contribute to the genre. Where it goes, heck, I’m not sure, but I’m looking at this event as my Wrestlemania, my World Series, my Super Bowl, and I’ve got one shot to make it work. I’m not going into it with any lofty expectations other than doing the best I can and see where the cards fall.

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