Pro wrestling Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross, no longer affiliated with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), spoke Monday on The MMA Hour about potentially working in MMA, notably the UFC.
“The most challenging part to me would be to engage in talent development, recruiting the right kind of people for the organization,” said Ross, while speaking with Ariel Helwani. “Any entity like the UFC, the NFL, WWE, it starts with its talent. It starts and ends there. Talent is the reason the people pay to engage in the product.”
While Ross is best known for announcing, he worked as the Head of Talent Relations for WWE – then known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) – for a number of years, including during the late 90s when pro wrestling was at its most popular level in the U.S. since the early 50s. Ross was partially responsible for originally signing a number of unknowns who went on to major fame in pro wrestling including John Cena, Randy Orton and Adam “Edge” Copeland. He also believed in recruiting from college football and college wrestling, including signing former University of Miami lineman Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and NCAA champion wrestlers Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar. He also signed Steve Austin, who went on to become pro wrestling’s biggest drawing card of the last 20 years.
“The most challenging thing would be to work with talent,” he said. “That could be a lot of fun. You want personality traits, athleticism, and dedication.”
He also believes he can be an effective broadcaster in MMA, a sport he watches regularly and in the past has had conversations about calling. While best known for pro wrestling, Ross did XFL football on NBC and was part of the Atlanta Falcons radio announcing team in the early 90s.
“I think that, quite frankly this may sound egocentric, but I think the transition from calling a pro wrestling match and calling MMA fights would be easy,” said Ross, who has heavily praised the work of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan over the years. “I think it would just be getting more familiar with fighters, more familiar with techniques, nuances that I try to study with ample preparation. I’d say the same thing about broadcasting football.”
The WWE announced Ross’ retirement from the company on Wednesday. Ross met that day with WWE owner Vince McMahon at the company headquarters in Stamford, Conn. Ross had worked on-and-off with WWE since 1993. He portrayed it as his retirement, the official company word, and denied the suggestion he was forced out. But numerous sources in wrestling have stated the decision was made by McMahon, who had let Ross go on two other occasions in the 90s, and took him off the air as a full-time announcer in 2009 even though most wrestlers publicly had stated he was the guy they would most want calling their matches.
Ross moderated a video game symposium on Aug. 17 which saw Ric Flair talk about how Cena, the company’s biggest star, with a clean-cut image, went out drinking with him and marveled at Cena’s ability to maintain his physique while drinking six-packs. This led to a great deal of controversy after the event since those in WWE were unhappy how it turned out, and Ross and Flair got the blame.
But Ross stated on the show the retirement was his choice.
“I think after a good discussion and expressing many of the things I’d like to do and the timing of everything, when you say mutual, you say it like partially forced out the door and treated poorly, which really wasn’t the case,” he said. “It was something we talked about casually. It seemed if you look at the lay of the land, it seemed like good timing. I’m not really a negative guy. I’m always pretty upbeat. I look at the glass half full instead of half empty. I had health issues in the past. I think it’s the right time, everything presented as it as. It was the very best decision to make.”
He talked about wanting to send more time writing, watching football, MMA and spending time with his family.
“When you’re immersed in that world (wrestling) that has no season, you find yourself being challenged to find time to do other things that you’d like to do and need to do. This was a good opportunity. I’m a young 61, and it’s the new 41. My health has never been better. It seemed the right time to make that move.”
He said right now he’s going nothing planned to venture into MMA.
“(I’ve got) no plans at this time to make this move,” he said. “However, I’m open minded. Would I listen? Absolutely.”
Ross had met with UFC President Dana White briefly several months back when he was in Las Vegas for a pro wrestling reunion convention. He had a meeting set up with UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner, who he knew from when Ratner was on the Nevada State Athletic Commission and they regulated pro wrestling.
“I had a great meeting,” he said, about being invited to the UFC office to talk with White. “It was impromptu, casual, very quick, but a very positive meeting with Dana.”
He said the conversation centered around like University of Oklahoma football, one of his passions, Brock Lesnar and some MMA. This led to him being put on the spot and asked who was the better promoter.
“They do have a lot of similarities,” Ross said. “Both are very driven. Both are very focused. The great thing is, they don’t have to tell you how to make the watch, they tell you what time it is. I don’t know who the better promoter is. You have to look at longevity. You look at longevity, Vince would have the edge at this point in time. That’s not to say Dana hasn’t done, along with his team, an amazing job of adding the aura of legitimacy as far as UFC being accepted as a legitimate sport. I look at the UFC no different than the NFL or Major League Baseball. They’re there. They’ve come out of the shadows of Tough Man fights and the beginning of MMA on television, which I was a fan of then. They’re in the legitimate sports world. That’s an amazing accomplishment, and their greatest days are still to come.”
Ross noted that a few years ago, he had a meeting with HD-Net, where broadcasting MMA came up, but noted at the time he wasn’t interested in leaving WWE.
“It just wasn’t the right time,” he said. “It wasn’t the right place at the right time.”
He also said at this stage of his life, his interest would be more UFC oriented than working for another organization.
“Would you rather broadcast the arena league or the NFL?,” he said. “The UFC is the NFL. In my opinion, at my stage of the game, for me to be interested in something in the MMA world, it would be the UFC, or somebody has to sell me on the opportunity it would be equally as challenging and equally as rewarding. I’m certainly open minded. I think I’m a good enough businessman not to eliminate any opportunities. But my preference would be the UFC, if that could be my next adventure, my next journey, headed in that direction. I wouldn’t close the door on anybody.”