Lutz's Blog: Jim Ross's latest split with WWE was unfair but unsurprising
By Jeffrey Lutz
If I had the ability to foreshadow 20 years ahead, I would have known that the relationship between WWE and legendary play-by-play announcer Jim Ross wasn't going to end well.
Ross made his debut with the company in 1993 at WrestleMania IX wearing a toga at Caesar's Palace. Ross's garb fit in with the Roman theme of the event, but a playful beginning for a serious, respected announcer should have been the first clue that WWE didn't completely respect Ross's past accomplishments and wouldn't fully appreciate his future contributions.
WWE announced last week that Ross was retiring after two decades in the company serving various roles, most notably as part of the Monday Night Raw and pay-per-view broadcast team with longtime partner Jerry "The King" Lawler. Ross has given no indication that the split was anything but amicable, but reportedly it stemmed from his inability to control a possibly tipsy Ric Flair during a video game symposium before SummerSlam last month.
The way the announcement was made should have been the tip-off that Ross was let go against his wishes. The company did have Jim Ross Appreciation Night after a Raw episode earlier this year, but the retirement of a business legend like Ross deserves more than an innocuous article on WWE's website followed by a few less-than-sincere tweets from the very people -- the McMahons -- who have screwed Ross over numerous times.
WWE chairman Vince McMahon, approaching 70, grows more out of touch by the day, but a throwaway tweet to thank Ross for his service was embarrassing even for him. If you've paid any attention to the McMahon-Ross relationship over the years, it's probably not difficult to conclude that McMahon was more pleased than regretful over Ross's departure.
Triple H's Twitter post, however, was the most infuriating. Hunter has lobbied frequently for Ross to call his matches even when Ross wasn't a full-time announcer, but when it's time to truly go to bat for Ross, either Triple H has no influence or no interest. I also refuse to believe that Triple H, who re-built the bridges between WWE/McMahon and Ultimate Warrior and Bruno Sammartino, wasn't able to use his pull to keep Ross around. Ross has always deserved better from McMahon, but I never figured Triple H, whose career was enhanced by Ross's ability to put him over as a blossoming star in the late 1990s, that he would follow in those particular footsteps left by his father-in-law.
Letting Ross go almost seems like a wide-ranging plan by WWE carried out since the last time the company re-hired them. All WWE needed was an excuse, and Ross's loss of control at the 2K Sports panel is not a good one. I remember reading about Flair's "performance" the day after it happened, but I haven't heard a word about it since. The video game company was apparently thrilled with how the event went down, so who is behind Ross's termination of WWE didn't fabricate a reason? I can't imagine there are people still bent out of shape (if they ever were) about how the event unraveled, and if there are, I haven't heard them. The panel was lost from my memory by the end of SummerSlam weekend.
WWE's plan, then, must have been to keep Ross off television long enough for a new generation of fans to lose or never gain familiarity with him, then unceremoniously let him go in a way that wouldn't resonate with that younger segment of the audience. The problem with that strategy is that Ross's split with WWE resonated with fans who grew up knowing him as the voice of the product, and they wanted to know more about how the split happened. Once the report was released stating that it wasn't a retirement but a firing, the Attitude Era fans came to see this as the latest -- and perhaps final -- example of WWE's mistreatment of Ross,
The company clearly never knew what it had in Ross. The fact that WWE would fire him over an inability to rein-in Flair, a non-story compared to, say, the current WWE champion having two strikes against him on the Wellness Policy, is disappointing but not surprising considering the history. Ross, though, was not only a great broadcaster of at least his generation. He helped produce the Attitude Era as director of talent relations by bringing in young wrestlers such as Edge, Christian, the Hardys, Triple H and The Rock, who all turned into stars, and by giving a much-deserved second chance to Steve Austin, who had been let go by WCW.
WWE saw Ross's willingness to play ball as a sign of weakness. Ross obviously viewed the stories that included his getting set on fire, being forced to kiss the rear end of McMahon, and having his health issues mocked in poorly executed skits as just a part of the business, albeit an unnecessary one. WWE exploited and abused Ross's anything-for-the-company mentality by humiliating Ross whenever it had the chance during incidents that often looked more personal than business. It was against everything the business is supposed to stand for; after all, we never saw Gordon Solie receiving the same treatment during his days as an announcer.
No announcer received the same treatment as Ross, even the ones WWE didn't particularly like. When Matt Stryker fell out of favor with the company, he wasn't forced to kiss McMahon's ass on television. He just disappeared from television, for the most part, then went away. Michael Cole, Lawler, JBL and Josh Mathews also haven't had to endure the same unfavorable treatment, even though none of them rise to the high bar Ross established behind the desk.
Ross has at least two signature calls -- "Stone Cold! Stone Cold" Stone Cold!" when Austin won his first WWE Championship, and "As God is my witness, he is broken in half!" when Mick Foley was thrown of the top of the cell by Undertaker. None of WWE's current announcers has a call that famous, and I can't even think of what the third most well--known call is from an announcer in wrestling history.
Despite years of being under-appreciated, Ross almost certainly won't retaliate. There won't be a shoot interview and a future "tell-all" book probably won't actually tell all. The parties might work together again, and hopefully WWE will finally show real reverence to a man who has helped the company in so many ways. Ross is often above WWE's pettiness, or at least he has learned to live with it. He has been careful to not burn the bridge with WWE, even though WWE has often supplied the dynamite.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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