There is money in nostalgia, and there probably isn't a sports or entertainment genre whose fans are more vested in its history than professional wrestling. Longtime fans can recite title belt lineages (at least until titles started changing hands every week around 1999), "smart" fans know the real names of their favorite wrestlers and casual fans can spend hours on the Internet reliving their hardcore fan days on the WWE Network.
In most sports forms, the voices of those who described the action give us a Pavlovian feeling of good. They were our storytellers, they were the voices of our youth. Clutch City Era Houston Rockets fans could listen to Gene Peterson's voice for hours. Same thing with Dodgers fans and Vin Scully. And if you're a fan of professional wrestling over the past 25 years, chances are, for you, that voice belongs to WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross.
Perhaps you're an old-school Houston wrestling fan and you remember the days of Paul Boesch's promotion, and you recall Jim Ross's voice on those broadcasts. Or maybe you're a WWE fan of the Attitude Era, and you remember Jim Ross describing in graphic detail Mick Foley plummeting from the top of a 20-foot-high cage onto a table in 1998...
You could listen to Jim Ross (or "Good Ol' JR," as WWE fans know him) retell these stories all day, right? Well, this Sunday, right here in Houston, you'll get a chance to interact with him and hear those stories in person.
Jim Ross is bringing his one-man, spoken-word show to town this Sunday afternoon, September 20, at Warehouse Live at 4 p.m., conveniently in advance of the WWE Night of Champions pay-per-view at Toyota Center, which gets started at 6:30 p.m. (WWE fans should know that Warehouse Live is only a ten-minute walk to Toyota Center, so seeing both events is easily done, as Ross's show will be done at 5:45 p.m.) The format of JR's show is simple — Jim Ross tells stories, many of which he hasn't told before, and interacts with the audience in a Q&A, no-holds-barred format. (NOTE: There are also VIP tickets available that allow for a meet-and-greet at 2 p.m.)
The show, which is called "Ringside: A Day With Jim Ross," has been wildly successful and well received in the United States and abroad. In fact, the show actually got started in the UK last year. "A UK promoter contacted me through my website last year and asked if I'd do a spoken-word tour of four cities — Cardiff, London, Manchester and Glasgow," Ross recounts. "We agreed to give it a shot, and they all did well at the box office."
In a professional career during which he's worn nearly every hat possible in pro wrestling, through those overseas shows, Ross discovered even more about himself. "I discovered I loved reconnecting with the live audience of wrestling fans," he said. "I'm certainly not a comedian, but I AM a storyteller who tells very funny stories from the road."
In a business where wild stories are practically part of its DNA, in part because of the personalities of the performers and in part because of the seismic transformation the business has undergone in the past couple of decades, one-man shows like JR's are becoming more common for longtime, semi-retired performers. Ross explains what makes his show unique compared to the others:
"My journey in the business is unlike the wrestlers, in that I started by being part of the ring crew and being a referee," JR said. "Eventually, I became a ring announcer, promoter and an executive in charge of assembling the talent roster. I was an executive vice president in WWE. This was all in addition to being the lead play-by-play voice. My experiences within the genre are unlike any of the 'boys' (wrestling-speak for "wrestlers") who are on the road telling their stories."
Ross has now done the show overseas and in several markets domestically, and having broadcasted television shows nearly anywhere there's an arena, he's able to customize the spoken-word performances to give them a local feel. For example, Sunday, Houston fans can certainly expect some stories of JR's time working for Boesch, in addition to the copious amount of anecdotes from his time in WWE and WCW.
"Houston's huge in my professional life, man," Ross said. "I enjoyed my time with Paul Boesch, who was an amazing Houstonian, and also broadcasting two Wrestlemanias in Houston, and broadcasting WWE Smackdown live on September 13, 2001, two days after the attacks on our country. Houston is special to me."
The wrestling business is a tough one, demanding that performers be on the road practically year round. There is no off-season. So you'd think that being away from that grind would lead Jim Ross to take it easy and stick his toes in the sand. Think again. JR has his hands in several different projects, both in and out of broadcasting. In fact, a business school student could probably write a compelling thesis on Jim Ross and brand management. The brand of "Good ol' JR" has led Ross to successful post-wrestling endeavors in writing (a column for FOXSports.com), podcasting (the Ross Report, one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world), a book (an autobiography targeted for 2016 release) and even food (a very tasty array of barbecue sauces and seasonings).
While Ross is not an employee of WWE any longer, there is still a working relationship with the company, since his food products are sold on the WWE's shopping portal on its website. (See? WWE knows…there's money in nostalgia!) He also still watches the company's flagship shows on television each week and subscribes to the company's network, which is now over a million subscribers since its launch last year.
"The (WWE) product today is going through somewhat of a transitional period," Ross assessed. "New stars need to evolve sooner rather than later, and I'm interested to see who it will be. Stars drive the genre, just like quarterbacks drive the NFL. (NOTE: Houston collectively nods its head at that analogy.) Playoff QBs don't grow on trees and neither does the next Stone Cold or Rock. (NOTE: Houston is now crying.) That's what keeps so many wrestlers north of 40 and even older than 50 viable and relevant."
It's true. Wrestling is a sport whose present oftentimes feasts upon its past. Fans drive the bus, and if the past and the good feelings that come with it are part of what they want, it's the promoters' job to give it to them. Appropriately to that point, former WCW star and wrestling legend Sting, who is 56 years old, is in the main event on Sunday night at Toyota Center. And even at age 56, Sting will be cheered loudly by WWE fans, because the wrestling genre, more than any other, has a timelessness to it.
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SHOW ME HOW
Jim Ross called Sting's first matches ever when he was with WCW in the late '80s. What better way to get ready for Night of Champions than hearing JR tell stories about a young Stinger? "My show will be over on Sunday in plenty of time for fans to walk over to Toyota Center and be there for NIght of Champions," Ross assures. "Come tailgate with me, and then go to the game!"
Twenty bucks well spent, indeed.
NOTE: Tickets for "Ringside: A Day With Jim Ross" are available at ticketfly.com. VIP meet-and-greet tickets (which also get you into the show) are $50, and general admission tickets are $20 in advance, $25 on the day of the event. VIP meet starts at 2:00 p.m., main show starts at 4:00 p.m. and finishes around 5:45 p.m.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.