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Wrestling Moments That Were Made Better By Jim Ross’ Commentary

Adam Van Winkle looks at some memorable moments that were made even greater by the voice of Jim Ross.

The NWA and AEW have come under fire recently for commentary controversies.

In the NWA, Jim Cornette forced his own resignation after making insensitive remarks about people from Ethiopia to force a bad joke.  In the AEW Jim Ross recently remarked on Emi Sukura’s Freddy Mercury schtick that “Freddy Mercury never looked so oriental…Asian…female.”  Clearly, Ross was immediately backpedaling from the outdated racist term “oriental,” and the damage was mostly mitigated by that.

Give Cornette and Ross some credit for trying to keep a sense of personality alive from the pro wrestling broadcast table after the WWE has done all it can to kill it.  Cornette, despite his real life liberal political views, can’t seem to stay anywhere too long without pissing others off with his controversial demeanor.  Good ‘Ol JR, on the other hand, has near universal revere among wrestlers and wrestling fans (save Seth Rollins, but who cares).  No doubt all this factored into the fan backlash directed at each.  So Cornette is out, JR is still with us.

The charm of JR on the AEW broadcast is certainly part of AEW’s appeal to the nostalgic nerve.  God bless AEW for pairing JR up with long time rival, Tony Schiavone.  The two most distinct play by play voices of my childhood are back together again (the two play by play guys did call the 1991 WCW Halloween Havoc together, when we got the legendary Jim Ross call, “Rick Steiner’s got that chainsaw!”).

And unlike Schiavone, for me at least, Jim Ross can make the in ring product better through his call.  While Schiavone holds a special place for nostalgia’s sake, with a critical eye he isn’t half the broadcaster JR is.  Perhaps it was the WCW protocol, but it seemed Schiavone was always too busy trying to weave the logic of existing WCW storylines and justifying each move performed.  JR on the other hand, has the ability to make a viewer more emotionally invested in a match by becoming emotionally invested in the wrestlers and match himself, and conveying that through the headset.

I’m still pissed JR wasn’t on the call for Mick Foley’s big world title win on Raw (that more people saw, including me, than would have thanks to Schiavone giving it away on Nitro).

To that end, this week, I’m taking a look back at five times Jim Ross made a great wrestling moment even better, because he called it damn it.

Good god is the jobber missing in today’s wrestling world.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of guys and gals who lose more than they win.  But the real jobber, the guy with worse tights, duller colors, a basic name, and no announced entrance, seems to be a thing of the past.  Probably Vince Russo killed it by drawing attention to it with the J.O.B. Squad.  It wouldn’t be the first time Russo ruined something by making it part of the visible story line.

No jobber was more jobby in the 90s than Barry Horowitz.  He was a regular loser on Superstar tapings and only ever got on Pay Per Views in numbers game matches, like the 1996 Royal Rumble, or under a mask and gimmick (see Survivor Series 1993 as he wrestled as the Red Knight under a black mask).  Horowitz stayed mired in the ranks of television losers like Reno Riggins, the Brooklyn Brawler, and Duke the Dumpster Droese. 

However, one time in 1995, he got the W.  As part of a heel character build of Bodydonna Skip, aka Chris Candido, the cocky but absent minded Skip was pinned by the jobber Horowitz.  Unlike Vince Russo, Jim Ross didn’t have to mention the word “jobber” to get the unlikelihood and remarkableness of the moment across.

Though the match occurred on WWF Action Zone, Jim Ross didn’t hold back putting it over like a pay per view moment.  A shocked JR declared;

“Horowitz wins!  Horowitz wins!”

Said as iconically as Harry Caray used to exclaim “Cubs win!”  What was really supposed to be a simple “get the best of cocky Skip” angle was superbly elevated by JR, becoming the defining moment of Horowitz’s career, and really, the most memorable jobber win in history.

A great call, a great quote, rises beyond the moment, the description, and becomes metaphoric.  Enter Jeff Hardy in a ladder match for the world title against the Undertaker on Raw in 2002.

After a grueling big man versus little guy storyline match, Jeff Hardy knocked ‘Taker out with a chair shot.  Then JR made his call;

“Climb the ladder, kid!  Make yourself famous!” 

I don’t know how these things work, but it seems that there are two poles for preparing to call a match: broadcasters can brainstorm lines based on likely scenarios booked, or it all comes off the top of the broadcasters’ heads.  Surely, each broadcaster broaches this differently.  Whether JR had this one thought up or it came in the moment, he nailed it.

The exclamation is directed at Jeff Hardy, but it makes the highlight reels (and this list) for its metaphorical quality.  Climb the ladder—whatever the obstacle, you climb, you make yourself famous. No doubt, it made Hardy’s rise to prominence here even bigger.  It made this more than just a highlight, it made it an iconic moment.

Gawsh, Jim Ross, that’s good stuff.

Wrestlemania XIV was the official crowing of the year’s phenomenal rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin.  While I think the 1996 Royal Rumble is his defining moment, as he lay sprawled on the mat by himself in the ring and motioned for the next challenger to come, and his match with Bret Hart when he passed out in the sharpshooter is probably the best Austin match, Wrestlemania XIV was when Stone Cold was finally crowned champ.  The enthusiasm in JR’s call is one for the coming Austin Era, and of course knowing that he himself had lobbied for the WWE to sign Steve Austin.

To set up the match between Austin and champ Shawn Michaels, Mike Tyson was famously brought it as a guest referee (to another famous JR call of “Tyson and Austin!” as the two inevitably collided on Raw).  While Tyson had been spotted in a DX shirt, he swerved at Wrestlemania and went for his man “Cold Stone” as Tyson called him afterwards.  But more awesome than all that, was JR’s glee when Austin finally won his world title.

Once Tyson counted the three, JR elated;

“Austin is the champion! Stone Cold!  Stone Cold! Stone Cold!”

What an emphatic triple stamp on one of the most singularly important moments of the Attitude Era.

Good ‘Ol JR found the perfect pitch for this one.  Thanks to the legendary sit down, kayfabe breaking interviews Ross did with Mike Foley on Raw earlier in 1998, there was an extra layer of investment on Ross’ part in the match.  This was a guy he knew personally and was rooting for.  In addition to that, Ross was able to find the perfect space between awe and genuine concern for Foley as the crazy, crazy Hell in a Cell match between Mankind and the Undertaker unfolded at King of the Ring 1998.

“Stop the damned match!”

he yelled.

“He’s broken in half!”

he lamented.

That perfect mixture of personal investment, concern and awe moved from JR’s mouth trough the screen and into the viewer watching.  JR’s feelings become the viewers.  We’d all come to love Foley on some level, no one doubted his hardcore credentials, and we watched with concern, but not so much concern we weren’t in awe of what might and did happen next.  Jim Ross gave voice to the viewing experience perfectly.

As the match unfolded between Ron Simmons and Vader in August 1992 for the WCW World Title, no mention was made of the lack of black champions in the annals of wrestling history.  While Bearcat Wright had won the WWA (World Wrestling Associates) World Heavyweight Title in California in August of 1963 by beating Freddie Blassie, no black world champion had ever been crowned in the two biggest wrestling platforms, the WWF/E and the NWA/WCW.  Frankly, the WWF didn’t even have a black wrestler hold a singles title until Ahmed Johnson won the Intercontinental title in 1996.  None of this was spoken by Jim Ross on the broadcast.

And yet, Ross certainly brought his broadcast up to the moment it deserved to be.  When Simmons powerslammed Vader and pinned him, Jim Ross goes nuts on the broadcast. While he never proclaims what Simmons had indeed done, become the first black world champion in a major promotion, every bit of the import of that moment is in Jim Ross’ voice.  He screamed into the mic;

“Simmons has won the match!  Simmons is a champion!  Simmons has won the world title!”

The audience too rose in a fever pitch, and combined with JR’s emotional call, I’d say it’s likely the most overlooked great moment in recent wrestling history. 

And of course, it was made better because Jim Ross was on the call.

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You can find me on Twitter @gritvanwinkle.

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