January 23, 2015
Jim Ross was simply a wrestling announcer. He was Good Ol' JR and the voice of the WWE for more than 20 years, calling every dastardly deed of bad guys and heroes overcoming odds to win at WrestleMania.
Little did he know, Ross' emphatic calls from ringside would morph into the soundtrack of pop culture highlights for a generation.
His most famous one was his "Do you believe in miracles?" for scores of wrestling fans who have watched the replay for years: Ross called the action when The Undertaker tossed Mick Foley of a 16-foot-high steel cage straight through the announcer's table.
"Good God, almighty! Good God, almighty! They killed him!" Ross exclaimed from that 1998 bout. "As God as my witness, he is broken in half!" Later in that epic match, as Foley's busted body lay lifeless in the ring, Ross barked, "Somebody stop the damn match! Enough is enough!"
Not a wrestling fan?
That's OK, because thanks to the Internet, Ross' voice has become a bit like Forrest Gump, dubbed over one moment in history to the next. Versions of that call can be found overlaid clips all over Youtube, including a monster dunk by LeBron James and Jadeveon Clowney's crushing hit in the Outback Bowl that raised his stock in the NFL draft.
Forget classic Terry Funk or Ricky Steamboat matches. You can hear Ross narrate the toppling of a Lenin statue in the Ukraine in 2013 or scores more highlights on the Web.
"It lets me know that people haven't forgotten my work," Ross said. "At least I brought some smiles to faces and people enjoyed my work."
Ross no longer works for the WWE, but with four decades in the business behind him, he has plenty of colorful stories to tell. Ross launched a one-man show that hits the Starland Ballroom on Friday night in New Jersey and Underground Arts on Sunday in Philadelphia.
His Sunday location is no coincidence — WWE runs one of its signature events, the Royal Rumble, that night at the Wells Fargo Center. The man used to calling the over-the-top action will now serve on the undercard of a day stuffed with wrestling events. More than 14,000 fans have already sold out the arena, and plenty of them are expected at his 3 p.m show. For $20, fans can hear a WWE Hall of Famer share stories from the road and participate in a Q&A.
"It says a lot about what a great city Philly is for that and their support of the product," Ross said. "No matter what brand it is, they like the genre. They've liked it for decades, they've liked it for generations."
Ross had one of his fondest memories in the profession in 1999 when he returned to call the Steve Austin vs. The Rock main event bout at WrestleMania in his return from Bell's Palsy.
Nervous about the reception he would receive because the nerve damage had distorted his face, Ross' fears were eased when he was introduced at the same building as Sunday's Royal Rumble.
"The Philadelphia fans gave me a rousing, heartfelt standing ovation," Ross said. "It told me that none of us can let our afflictions, our issues define us. The fans were happy to have me back. They were ready to accept me the way I am."
Ross has proved there's life after the WWE, working an MMA card and Japanese wrestling shows, hosting a podcast, writing a column for Fox Sports and putting his name on barbecue products (like beef jerky and mustard). He's also filmed small roles in upcoming movies and documentaries and is writing an autobiography.
With so much left ahead, maybe Ross will take his own oft-quoted advice from a vintage match, "Climb the ladder, kid! Make yourself famous!"
Ross expected he would skip the Royal Rumble and watch from his hotel room on the WWE Network.
Listening to WWE matches without Ross still feels as odd as eating a slab of ribs that haven't been slathered in sauce, but the 63-year-old native Oklahoman hasn't been forgotten from the fans that still clamor for one more signature sound bite as he hits the road.