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Jim Ross Talks Complex Randy Savage Relationship, Agreeing With Vince, Matt Striker, His Shows, NJPW

I recently spoke with WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross, who will be performing a pair of his one-man shows during this weekend in Philadelphia, PA on Friday and Sayreville, NJ on Sunday afternoon. In part one of the interview below, JR discussed working with Matt Striker for the NJPW pay-per-view earlier this month, working with Randy Savage, if WWE had any interest in re-signing Savage in 1996, what fa

FEATURED WRITER
News 21 Jan 2015, 09:48 IST
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JR & Macho Man on commentary

I recently spoke with WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross, who will be performing a pair of his one-man shows during this weekend in Philadelphia, PA on Friday and Sayreville, NJ on Sunday afternoon. In part one of the interview below, JR discussed working with Matt Striker for the NJPW pay-per-view earlier this month, working with Randy Savage, if WWE had any interest in re-signing Savage in 1996, what fans can expect from his shows this weekend and more.

Make sure to check back later this week for the second and final part of the interview, where JR discussed Brock Lesnar possibly re-signing with the UFC, who should win the Royal Rumble, if Sting should face The Undertaker at WrestleMania over Triple H, the Lucha Underground rumors and more.

Tickets for both of JR's shows this weekend are available at AXS.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JRsBBQ and check out his blog at jrsbarbq.com. Also, don't forget to order some of JR's BBQ Sauce, which is great for the kitchen and the grill, at WWEShop.com by clicking here.


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How was the experience at Wrestle Kingdom 9?

Good times. It was a great show. I got introduced to a lot of new talents that I hadn't had a chance to build any kind of relationship with. All of the guys I'd seen on video, but I got to meet them. The American contingents there, some I knew, some I didn't know. The travel from Oklahoma to Tokyo wasn't fun, but other than that it was great. I had a real good time. They're looking to enlarge their footprint and build their brand?

Had you worked with Matt Striker before?

We had a few cups of coffee at the announce table in WWE. We worked together some. How well you work together is how well you know each other. We talked about the direction we were going to go in for that show, and got on the same page there and made a game plan. It took us a little while to get unwound. When you have a succession of multi-person, they don't have as much time to tell stories and everyone has to get a piece of the action. There were good matches, it's just that they're challenging the crowd back-to-back-to-back and it's more arduous.

As the show progressed we loosened up. I'm my own biggest critic and I've watched back several times and I thought there was a big difference in our rhythm and timing as we got into more one-on-one matches and things started clicking. You have to save your best for the last matches, the main events, the end of the show. The most important thing we did all show was in that fourth hour. That was a four hour show, so it was challenging. That presents its own set of issues. But we knew each other well enough and communicated well enough as well as our approach is concerned. I thought Matt did a real good job and triggered a great deal in introducing new talents. It was on us to make sure we introduced these talents while these matches were happening so new fans could enjoy the show.

Do you think there's anything American wrestling companies can take away from Wrestle Kingdom 9 or New Japan in general?

People who listen to my podcast will hear my take on things, and I've been saying for a long time that American promotions should tweak their product. Any company can always get better. Any company that thinks they're at a plateau and can't get better, I've never understood that idea. We can all get better at our jobs, our relationships, anything. The New Japan model is a good one to take things from and apply them to a company. It's really no different than the territory days when a place would get hot and other bookers around the country would flip the switch. That was done forever. Some relationships are tighter than others, some guys would call Bill Watts and ask what worked to improve towns and talent. If he had talent that he thought would help a territory he'd call that person or booker, or whatever. There's always a nice exchange of ideas.

It seems that in America, companies like to spend more time in a comfort zone than to be creative. A couple of examples: New Japan wrestlers work at a "processable pace," meaning they work at a pace that isn't slow or sluggish, they speed up, slow down, they burst, have a period of selling. They don't work so fast you can't process it as a fan. Another thing is that they're very fundamentally sound- the tackles, the kicks. They're safe for the most part, but very physical. That's an across the board thing for New Japan. I think that American promotions could be a little more physical.

Finally, the overall psychology they utilize is based on logic. No matter what you sell, it could be better. That's the nature of any beast, and wrestling is no different. See what other people are doing that's working and draw from that. Wrestling promoters are eccentric and a little hard headed and find a comfort zone that they like and just stay there. Change isn't a welcome occurrence. New Japan has a company philosophy of an old school base with a lot of new nuances. I knew it was going to be athletic based and we were going to call it differently. We watched the tape and learned how we would approach the broadcast. I had a lot of people sending me links and matches and stuff. I was really prepared for it and I think Matt was as well. We decided we were going to call it as a sport and try to get the talent over and let the people know who these guys are and why they're fighting and what's at stake. Any company can learn from any other company, and New Japan is no exception.

Vince McMahon famously said on Steve Austin's podcast that a lot of talents lacked ambition. What were your thoughts on that comment?

I didn't have a problem with it, I said that all along. I've always thought that talents preferred they be treated as athletes, not entertainers. If you use that theory, my experience is that you get better work and communication overall when the talent is treated as athletes and not entertainers. It's a matter of motivating your team. Coaches do it, NFL guys, college coaches do it. You get them to train harder, play harder.

Too many people are putting failures on not enough entities. It's a team effort when you succeed and a team effort when you fail. If you're trying to lessen the possibility of failure, are you doing enough on your end as a talent? Are you working on your fundamentals? Are you doing things away from the arena to make yourself better? Are you watching other talents to see how they got over? Are you studying the game and staying in shape, or are you showing up and just doing what you're told and driving to the next time? Do you spend time in a car with your peers talking about how everyone can get better, or are you plugged in to your iPod? People got better quicker because they were in the car with veterans and they exchanged ideas.

Vince has used that brass ring analogy since I got in the WWE, and that was 1993. So it isn't anything rude. It isn't anything different than Bill Watts or any other promoter or booker used. There's some misguided logic from some fans that 'the office' is responsible for the success and failures of a talent. That "When is so and so going to get his push?" There are a lot of holes in that logic. They're all obligated to get better.

Today there's very little refined selling, and people are looking to be stylistically accepted. Then they're looked at as simulating. You want to eliminate any sense of simulation because people should look at what you're doing as physical. You can do that very easily. Kicks, tackles, a clothesline, things like that. The routines and the movesets, people create their own boundaries. When you create those boundaries, it's hard to get out of that comfort zone and your foundation starts crumbling. It's not a matter of them traveling, and no off-season, and they're independent contractors and blah blah blah. The business has been the same for years. The guys who get real good at it push themselves to get better and grab that brass ring. Things that you can't execute well, don't utilize. If you can't throw a punch, don't do it. Clotheslines are now finishes so they're not high spots, DDT's aren't high spots. There are certain things you can't do. Well maybe in developmental or indy circuits if they worked on their punches and kicks and utilized psychology and wrestling holds they'd get noticed more. It's not about the 450 splash from the top rope to the floor. The "this is awesome" may not extend your career or make you more valuable. Do it at the right time, do it once. The brass ring statement, timely or not I don't know, but I agree. The hungry talent that aren't content with their role have to do something about it. You can't wait for creative or management to do something to make you better, it has to start with you. If they get a glimpse of something different that makes you work better, now they understand you better and makes them write for you better. Grabbing the brass ring can mean different things to different people.

It was announced that Randy Savage would be inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame. You wrote on your Fox Sports blog that you two didn't have the warmest relationship when you joined WWE. Why did you feel that was and did it get better?

It never really changed much. He was pretty consistent in his personality and how he was. It was 1993, and I don't know how old he was but he wasn't a spring chicken, but he was set in his ways. He had a real unique personality. The wrestling business is exactly like Hollywood. The participants are often untrusting, insecure, paranoid, it's the nature of this beast. Football players are worried about getting a debilitating injury or getting cut or being put on IR and never being the same again. My friend Sam Bradford was picked in the draft, got $50 million guaranteed, and had 2 ACL rebuilds. He has financial security, but never may be the player he should have been because of injuries so he may have to take a different career path like a backup role and get paid less. That's one illustration. People on TV series' are paranoid of getting killed off the script. This is no different. People think they aren't being used properly, wondering why they aren't moving up the card or getting noticed. So that was the genesis of that whole deal.

Randy, maybe by nature, doesn't trust a lot of people. I always greatly admired his work, which was excellent and fundamentally sound. But he was hard to get along with because he was so guarded. When you said something that was perceived as more than one way, he'd look at the glass half empty instead of the glass half full. He was entertaining at the announce table, he was unpredictable. He wasn't easy to work with, he was challenging to work with, which I liked because it kept me on my toes. I didn't dislike it whatsoever, it was just challenging. I don't know if it's because I was from WCW, or I took Gorilla Monsoon's place in the WWE hierarchy that he was a part of. My work at WrestleMania 9 in Gorilla's spot was basically because Gorilla was ill, he had health issues. That was mother nature and father time, not me. My job was to be the best I could be.

Randy was a complex guy and the stuff I wrote about in that Fox Sports article, I wasn't trying to dissect him or tarnish the Hall of Fame induction. I was trying to point out that he was a very unique guy, he had great passion. In 92-93, he was only a couple years off of headlining WrestleManias and all of a sudden he's setting up at the announce tables. Randy Savage created the Macho Man, lived it, and it's hard to be the Macho Man and a legendary ass kicker, and sitting down at an announce table. I don't know that he was totally pleased with his life at that point. Obviously he wasn't overwhelmed with it, because he elected to not re-sign and go to WCW. When he continued to wrestle he wasn't doing commentary, that could have been part of it. He knew that his clock was ticking. I don't know what the exact reasons where, but it wasn't always a bad relationship. He was volatile and he cared.

One of my big regrets is that later in life I never reached out to say I wished I could sit down with him just to clear the air for my own peace of mind. I didn't dislike him, he was just tough to work with. We often times sprint to look at the glass half empty instead of the glass half full. So when the announcement made the reaction was more like "finally." He had unique promos, a unique sound, he was an innovator. Randy was approached more than one time while he was still alive, but at that time he wasn't ready to do it. I tried to show the human side (in the column) of a character that wasn't easily to play every day.

You became WWE VP in fall of 1996, around the time Savage's contract with WCW was up. The feeling for a while then was that Savage would end up back in WWE, which didn't happen. Was there any discussion of bringing Savage back at that time?

I don't recall. We'd kind of moved on from the announcing side. The announcing group was evolving, so I don't think there was interest to bring him back on the commentary side. I don't remember any specific discussions about that, even to wrestle. He wanted to wrestle, for whatever reasons irrelevant to me, he wanted to wrestle. It was not the plans at that time for the WWE to bring him back to the ring. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong, but there were no serious conversations that I can recall, but I could be wrong. Unlike a lot of wrestling fans I don't have a great memory of specific things in 1996. That's an awful long time to remember a specific talent being brought back. It could have or couldn't have. He was just very adamant that he wanted to continue to wrestle, he felt he had more years left in the ring. It was the talent wanting to do one thing and the company not having the same mindset.

You also have your shows coming up this weekend, what can fans expect from your shows?


They're very unique. The first priority of my shows are the people sitting there watching it. I want them to have a great experience. There will be some funny stories; I'll do a monologue where we'll get things going from my territory days. My career started in 1974, and look at all these things that changed since 1974 that I've personally been involved in. Examples: local TV in your territory was the be-all, end-all, everywhere. Then as you see the territory promoters refusing to change and refusing to improve their production quality, networks moved to studio wrestling show. Territories didn't want to change because of the alpha male mentality and ran themselves out of business. I saw wrestling go to cable TV, satellite television, pay-per-view came along and changed all of our lives. You saw more territories fade away and fewer big talents being developed, which was bad. The Steiner Brothers were Big 10 guys trained by Verne Gagne who would send them out to other promoters to get seasoning and then they'd come back and get their big run in the AWA. After all those years it came down to two major promotions in WCW and WWE. I'm not saying that to offend ECW fans, the other two just had the mass majority of the market share, that was a change.


The Monday night wars were unique. WWE coming out on the other side, WCW being defeated was another significant time in our business history. I've seen a lot of changes. I take people through a tour of that. I don't use a script or a teleprompter. I have an idea what I want to do, but you have to listen to your audience. I don't want to force things down their throat if it isn't what they want. The word monologue sounds boring, so we do a 15-20 minute verbal presentation, and then I turn it over to the audience. If they care enough about me to want to come to one of my shows, I make sure that I don't restrict that. It's a no holds barred thing, there are some delicate topics. I love the humor, I love the answers, and it's a very interactive show. Every show is different, every market is different, every town's chemistry is different. It's a very interactive show.

I've had to restart my career on more than one occasion. Facial paralysis in the form of Bell's Palsy isn't great for your TV career. Another one of the side effects is depression, so I don't know that I would have had the will after my second bout with Bell's Palsy that put me on the shelf. I came back and called WrestleMania 15 after I thought I'd be on the scrap heap. It's been difficult because of my speech pattern, and my look, and I have a southern accent that's a bit more pronounced, so it's always been a battle, even in the TBS days.

It's a labor of love, it's a way of interacting with the fans. I owe the fans everything I've ever accomplished for supporting me. It's a small way of giving back. I enjoy the Q&A's, but even more I enjoy the VIP meet & greets. We set a certain number of tickets aside, maybe 100, and then people bring memorabilia and sign it. I give them a bottle of barbecue sauce as a thank you. I was ready to accept the hand that was dealt from Bell's Palsy and stay on the administrative side of WWE and stay off the air because I didn't know if I would heal. The muscles around my mouth are still not functioning, I can't smile, I can't show my teeth. It's embarrassing when people ask me to smile for pictures, and I never say anything because I don't want to embarrass them. It can be problematic.

That night in Philadelphia gave me the confidence I needed, and got a standing ovation. I tried to stay away from mirrors at that point in time. By the time Michael Cole and I passed in the aisle way and I tipped my hat to him, and I got to the announcer's table and Jerry Lawler was standing and clapping, I had a lot of tears. I sat in my spot, I got comfortable. It reignited the fire in Philly, and I didn't let Bell's Palsy define me. That story illustrates that there will be some motivational things in the show, but won't be driven down your throat and won't monopolize the show, but might help your life out a little bit. You'll get a few laughs, you'll get some new information, some things signed. We'll start the meet and greet in Philly at 1, it'll run until 3, then we'll start the show and it's going to be over around 5. People will be able to very easily make it to the Royal Rumble. We'll be doing it at a place called Underground Arts, minutes away from the Wells Fargo Center. Tickets start at $20. Any information they need, they can get at www.AXS.com. For Sayerville, we'll be at the Starland Ballroom Friday night. It's an 8 o'clock show with a six o'clock meet and greet, tickets also start at $20.

Make sure to check back later this week for the second and final part of the interview, where JR discussed Brock Lesnar possibly re-signing with the UFC, who should win the Royal Rumble, if Sting should face The Undertaker at WrestleMania over Triple H, the Lucha Underground rumors and more.

Tickets for both of JR's shows this weekend are available at AXS.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JRsBBQ and check out his blog at jrsbarbq.com. Also, don't forget to order some of JR's BBQ Sauce, which is great for the kitchen and the grill, at WWEShop.com by clicking here.

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