Monday, March 31, 2014

Jim Ross of The Ross Report talks about memories of the New Orleans wrestling scene

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 4:28 PM

click to enlarge Jim Ross: WWE Hall of Famer, wrestling commentator, condiment seller and podcast star.
  • Jim Ross: WWE Hall of Famer, wrestling commentator, condiment seller and podcast star.


On a recent episode of The Ross Report, his popular podcast, Jim Ross said, "When we stop dreaming, when we stop growing, that's when we begin the dying process." There can be no doubt this broadcast legend and WWE Hall-of-Famer is very much alive and kicking. Ross will be entertaining fans, taking questions and spinning tales this Thursday night at the House of Blues when he brings his one-man show "Ringside: An Evening with Jim Ross to New Orleans" as an unofficial kick-off to WrestleMania weekend.

Commentary is a crucial piece of the pro wrestling experience, and in almost every major match of WWE's peak periods, Ross was the narrator, a reliable, engaging voice helping paint the picture and fill in the backstory. Jim Ross on commentary makes good wrestling matches seem great, great matches seem spectacular and spectacular matches seem world-altering.

After almost two decades as an employee of WWE, he left in 2013 to begin calling his own shots, but he's only gotten busier. Already a New York Times best-selling author and the promoter of his own line of grilling condiments, he's since launched a run of live shows, a podcast that's been topping the iTunes charts, and a series of written columns for Fox Sports, including a recent remembrance of the Louisiana wrestler and civil rights figure Ernie Ladd.

I spoke with Ross about his extraordinary journey through wrestling history and the two shows he'll be doing here on the evening of April 3rd.


Mr. Ross, it's an honor to speak with you.

Well, thank you. You know, I've been coming down to New Orleans for wrestling for 30 years. I started off working for Cowboy Bill Watts in the Mid-South territory, so for years I was in New Orleans every Thursday night for Mid-South Wrestling's weekly stop. It's always fun to come there. My last trip to New Orleans a couple months ago was especially rewarding, seeing my Oklahoma Sooners beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

What can we expect at your one-man shows this Thursday?

I'll do a succinct open, to get everybody up to speed on my career, and then we go right into the questions-and-answers. Fans can ask any question they choose. No topic is off limits — I call it a no-holds-barred Q&A — and the questions lead to stories. I'm not a stand-up comedian, but a lot of the stories are organically humorous, so there will be a lot of laughs. The questions make every show different, and I think that's better than a long monologue. Each show has its own personality, its own tone, tenor and uniqueness. I don't work off a teleprompter or script. I'm still a wrestling fan, been one my entire life, so I like spontaneity and improvisation.


I think my story is motivational in spirit for some. I was raised as an only child on a 160-acre farm in East Oklahoma, not a child of privilege by any stretch of the imagination. A guy from Oklahoma, with a Southern accent, who had three Bell's Palsy attacks that left me with paralysis around my mouth — that guy isn't supposed to be successful, especially on television.

So we have comedy, history lessons, some motivation. And the audience is just as involved as I am, asking questions and stimulating banter. It's gonna be a fun night. For the VIP ticket holders, after the show I'll do a meet & greet and talk to them one on one. And you know I'm gonna bring down all the barbecue sauces, the mustard, ketchup, jerky, so we'll have those on hand as well.

I really enjoyed your Fox Sports piece about your friendship with "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd. Are there other memories or New Orleans experiences we can expect to hear about?

I have so many memories of New Orleans — and let me tell you, you have as much loyalty and wrestling heritage there as any city in America. I think a lot of people, even long-time fans, don't realize just how popular in the pop culture and sports world the Junkyard Dog was. New Orleans was JYD's town. From a box office standpoint he lit the city on fire; he was so charismatic. His greatest gift was being able to communicate with an audience: he knew no demographic bounds.

Even in towns where there was significant racial tension, when Junkyard Dog was in the main event, even when the villain was caucasian, you'd see fans, black and white alike, cheering for JYD. It might have been short-term, but it was a bonding experience. He had that power, to bring people together. He was so unusual.

I still meet a lot of Junkyard Dog fans around metro New Orleans.

His popularity in Louisiana and in New Orleans was pretty amazing when you consider he was an athletic entertainer who played the same market, the same venues, the same day every week. And people came out to see it every week. Not once a month, but week after week. It was amazing.

With Mid-South in the '70s we'd do Shreveport every Monday, New Orleans Thursday, Lafayette Friday, Lake Charles Saturday. And then on Sunday we'd alternate Houma or Loranger. And you had to get Biloxi and Jackson and Greenville in there... it was like being a milkman. You had your route, you had your towns, and you had to produce your TV shows and do the interviews. You have to have the ability to ad lib, to change, to make sure what you're doing tonight is different from what you were doing last week and next week.

In New Orleans, the Municipal Auditorium downtown was a hot venue for us. Then some dates at the Lakefront Arena, and during the year we'd run generally two, sometimes three major shows in the Superdome. That Superdome is an amazing structure. People would come to New Orleans just to look at it, not even going inside. And of course, there were years back then when the Saints weren't always a very uplifting team. Whereas when you bought a ticket to Mid-South, and stayed long enough, the hero would prevail and you would leave with a good feeling. You'd be leaving the Superdome with a smile.

Those Superdome shows would always be special; the card would be enhanced, for instance with guys who were on TBS. A lot of people in those days got TBS on basic cable, so we could bring in Andre the Giant, Dusty Rhodes, Tommy Rich or Ric Flair. The big stars would come in and work the major shows in the Superdome. One of those shows featured Muhammad Ali.

Oh, man! The Champ in the Dome, with Mid-South...

Yes, I got to spend a few days with him. He and I had a suite at the Hyatt across the street from the Superdome; we each had a bedroom and shared the common area. During the three or four days before the Superdome show we went out every night to Bourbon St. to stir up publicity. Muhammad Ali was like the pied piper; you'd get people pouring out of bars and restaurants as he went by, a crowd following us down the street.

Bill Watts and I took Ali to Dooky Chase. Ms. Chase was back in the kitchen when we were seated. Ali was always making jokes; he told Mr. Chase, "Man, you look like Jackie Mason." Then Ms. Chase came out into the restaurant, and she snatched the menus out of our hands. She said, "No, no. I'm going to cook for you." It was one of the most heavenly meals I've ever had. I remember one dish in particular that had fried catfish and potatoes prepared together... Coming from Eastern Oklahoma, one of the things about New Orleans was all this food that I'd never even dreamed of.

It's all been an amazing adventure for me. Getting into the business as my first job out of college, at 22 years of age, was never something I'd planned for. And in my show, I talk about how that came about. Then my journey— not being a world-class athlete, or star inside the ring, I had no idea this thing was going to last forty years, but I found a way. I was never satisfied, never in cruise control. I'm a big fan of not staying in your comfort zone. When you get comfortable and get in a routine, whether it's your relationship, job, or family, you start taking things for granted, and that's when the bottom falls out. That's one of the things I've learned.

click to enlarge Jim Ross' memories of New Orleans include Muhammad Ali, Dooky Chase and the Municipal Auditorium.
  • Jim Ross' memories of New Orleans include Muhammad Ali, Dooky Chase and the Municipal Auditorium.

Your show's the first event of a big weekend, which of course is built around WrestleMania. Do you have a pick for a sleeper match at WrestleMania XXX?

Because of what's at stake and the two guys in it, I think the Triple H/Daniel Bryan match could very well be the show-stealer on that card. I expect that match to go on early, so the audience is going to be fresher, full of "P & V." Then the fact that there's something definitive at stake as relates to the winner. [The winner gets a title shot later that night.] You have a destination, you have a reason, you have two highly talented guys that have so much professional pride. I think that Triple H/Bryan match is one that will tell a very compelling story. It's not the beginning or ending chapter; another chapter will be written later in the night. But it's got a chance to be a great match.

Are you going to be there in the audience?

Oh hell, yeah, with about a dozen friends. It's my first WrestleMania in person.

Oh good. Well, a match that, for anyone who hasn't seen it, I think will make a lasting impression is the [Undertaker defending his WrestleMania winning] Streak. There's a feeling about the Streak that's hard to describe, a feeling you and those around you have when that match is about to begin. It's not something that you can necessarily articulate, even as a skilled wordsmith or journalist. Undertaker's 21 and 0; I've broadcast a lot of those matches, and it's one of the most unique environments— and this isn't hyperbole— I've ever experienced. When you look at Undertaker's body of work, he wants to raise the bar every outing. The whole presentation of the Streak, in person, is an experience you just can't replicate.

But as far as something just bell to bell, I think Bryan/Triple H will take us on one heck of a ride, one where the outcome is far from obvious.

Among the things you've done since parting ways with the WWE is launching a very successful podcast. What's been the biggest learning curve for you in the world of podcasting?

What I've learned is to have a basic outline of things that you want to address, but don't work from a script. Leave yourself the flexibility to deviate from your GPS — you're still gonna get to the destination. You want the podcast to be entertaining and informative, but don't overscript; that takes the sponaneity out of it. It's the same as my live shows. It's better being more conversational, more one-on-one and personal. Podcasting has been a real fun venture. I'm enjoying it, it's a good way to stay connected to the business.

When I left WWE in September 2013, I'd been there a little over 20 years, and in the business 40. I'm 62, I thought maybe I'll slow down a little bit — but I enjoy being busy, being active, being around people.

The one-man shows, the podcasts, the project for Fox, the family brand of food products — it keeps me out of mischief.
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— Jim Ross is doing two shows at the House of Blues at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on April 3rd. Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com. More information about Ross' podcasts, live shows, and his line of BBQ sauces and jerky are available at jrsbarbq.com. Follow Ross on Twitter at @jrsbbq.

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