Departure of announcer trumps Night of Champions
Although WWE offers Night of Champions tonight on pay-per-view live from the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the bigger story this week may well be the departure from the company of Jim Ross, considered by many fans to be the best wrestling announcer of the last quarter century.
Ross had worked for the company in several key positions since debuting somewhat ignominiously back in 1993 as an announcer at WrestleMania 9 when he teamed with Bobby the Brain Heenan and Randy Macho Man Savage.
A well-respected announcer for WCW for several years, Ross began refereeing and then announcing for Bill Watts and his Mid-South promotion prior to working in WCW. Like Gordon Solie, Watts treated pro wrestling as a legitimate athletic competition and was highly regarded by wrestlers for his ability to get them and their matches and feuds "over" with fans, tell a compelling story and bring a degree of respect to the craft.
As Vince McMahon often seemed to try to find a way to knock talent established elsewhere down a peg or two when he brought them in to the WWF, the irony of having the normally serious Ross dressed absurdly in a toga for the event at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas for his debut was not lost on "smart" fans. It would certainly not be the last time Mr. McMahon tried to get laughs by humbling JR.
The ardent Oklahoma Sooner fan was embarrassed as a member of the infamous KMA club, given a starring role in lame skits about questionable surgical situations and defeated in the ring in his home state in matches he likely did not request. He did his best with whatever he was asked and probably annoyed the hell out of Vince by doing so as respect, admiration and popularity for Ross continued to grow with knowledgeable fans of the mat sport.
He was simply great at announcing and was a big part of the company's success. JR also handled the unenviable task of carrying the ball through some incredibly tough situations such as the Owen Hart tragedy on a live ppv and subsequent tragedies with others including Brian Pillman and Eddie Guererro. Through it all, he was the consummate professional.
Behind the scenes, Ross began working in the office as the Talent Relations Director and was instrumental in signing many of the most successful stars the company employed. He dealt with contracts and negotiations and terminations and all of the nitty gritty things behind the scenes that go virtually unnoticed by the fans in the stands. By all accounts, he was pretty good at that job, too.
Despite all of his success, there were several setbacks. A couple of bouts with Bell's Palsy left him unable to announce for periods of time and when the company went with a youth movement he was put out to pasture as an announcer a couple of times, but fans and wrestlers in the company kept asking for his return and he was brought back before eventually being pushed aside in favor of Michael Cole as the play-by-play man on Raw.
Ross continued working for WWE as a consultant and was working in Florida in developmental, writing a weekly blog and selling the family barbeque sauce online until Sept. 11 this year, when the company announced he was retiring. Wrestling websites reported that he was really released and Ross took the high road on his blog, thanking the company for the experience and saying he was ready to move into a new chapter of his life that might include finally getting around to writing a book. Now, that would be an interesting read.
Meanwhile, life continues and the ppv this evening will feature everybody's favorite underdog, Daniel Bryan challenging Randy Orton for the WWE title. Rob Van Dam, who was booked rather strangely for a number one contender on television this past Monday when he was pummeled by Ryback, faces Alberto Del Rio for the world heavyweight championship. C.M. Punk continues his feud with Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel in an elimination bout.
A.J. Lee defends the divas crown in a four-way with Natalya, Brie Bella and Naomi. Rollins and Reigns of the Shield will put the tag straps up against the winner of a five-way tag event set to take place on the pre-show.