When AEW was set to make its debut on national television, having Jim Ross on the call was an easy call. Cody Rhodes summarized the rationale for bringing Ross into the company as simply, “He’s f—- JR.”
To the general public, Ross is easily one of the most recognizable names and by far the most recognizable voice in pro wrestling. His success and popularity through multiple generations of pro wrestling, especially WWE’s Attitude Era, ensured that his voice would live on forever and eventually turn into a meme, making him known today to people who never watched wrestling in their lives.
Realistically, Ross is probably one of the five or so most famous people associated with wrestling alive today. Who else is more known than Ross? The Rock, Steve Austin, Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, John Cena…and that is probably it.
Unlike those names, Ross can realistically be on your television program every week and would be on throughout the entire program. I’m sure plenty of lapsed or casual fans scrolling through cable or their Twitter feed during the early days of AEW heard Ross’ voice and stopped. Making Ross the voice of AEW was a complete no-brainer.
However, as we approach the third anniversary of AEW Dynamite, Ross has reached the point of diminishing returns. The main value of bringing Ross in was to help introduce AEW to new fans, but now that the company’s growth period is over, we are left with diminishing returns. What Ross brings in name value, he has more than taken away from the product through his numerous weaknesses.
The grim reality is that Ross isn’t as sharp as he once was in the booth, and the expansive roster and frenetic pace of AEW just complicates matters as he struggles each week to remember names. He originally was slotted in as the main play-by-play guy for the company, which quickly proved to be a disaster, and he quietly was shifted away from that role in favor of Excalibur, who, unlike Ross, knows everyone on the roster and can accurately explain the action that is happening in the ring.
The fastball for Ross isn’t there anymore, and that has been obvious for the entire time he has been with the company; he often can’t keep up with the action that is going on and is regularly confused by the on-screen product. In some instances, at his grumpiest, he will become obviously upset with Excalibur for actually being able to follow the product, lobbing veiled insults ON-AIR at his partner, who never retaliates or takes the bait.
Ross losing his fastball pales in comparison to his larger sin, which is his obvious disdain for the modern product.
As a guy who came up in the territorial era under Bill Watts, it’s not surprising to know that Ross isn’t a personal fan of the indie-influenced AEW product. What is surprising is that for years, he has been let on-air to openly complain about the product; constantly arguing that the talent in the ring are taking too many risks, that the referee is letting too many people in the ring at once, that the modern wrestling style is wasteful and stupid.
Almost no match goes by without a Ross criticism of the product.
Even when he has an old-school style match that he should love right in front of him, such as the Two-Out-Of-Three-Falls match between Daniel Garcia and Brian Danielson, Ross will find a way to make a derogatory comment about the product, in that instance saying reassuringly that “nobody is slapping their leg,” essentially a direct shot at The Young Bucks, two of the biggest stars in the company and men largely responsible for Ross still being on the air in the first place.
This has gotten to the point that it has become noticeably distracting to viewers. Once you realize that Ross doesn’t like the on-screen product, every time he speaks you find yourself just waiting to hear his frustration come out. In some ways, it is similar to WWE’s excessive camera cuts on their television product, something so distracting it can immediately detract from whatever is happening on the show.
Now, some fans who are clutching their Mid-South Wrestling tapes will LIKE that Jim Ross is calling out the modern wrestling style for being a sham. “He’s just telling the truth!” they will shout. The problem is, Jim Ross’ job isn’t to tell the truth; his job is to sell the product to the viewer, and having one of the main announcers on the show is consistently burying the product is a horrible thing for a promotion to have.
This is magnified by the fact that Ross has the most cache with older or lapsed wrestling fans.
While Excalibur might know the product and be superior at his job; Ross’ words hold the most sway with those viewers who are watching the product for the first time. Hearing that man bury the product on their own broadcasts, will just confirm the beliefs that some fans have been misled to believe from other hucksters and charlatans sucking up oxygen in the wrestling ecosystem: That AEW is a horrible modern product that doesn’t produce “real” wrestling and is an insult to the business.
This isn’t the case of Ross becoming older and getting a little bit worse at his job; he can longer fulfill the basic requirements for his job. He can’t keep up with the action, is frequently ill-prepared for the shows, and actively dislikes the product he is supposed to be endorsing. Almost ANYONE would be better in the role than Ross is today, and if he didn’t have name value, he would have been pulled from the air long ago.
There needs to be a tough conversation between Tony Khan and Ross about his future in the company; either his role needs to be greatly scaled back, or he needs to be gone from the company. He’s an active deterrent to the product as it currently stands. As the novelty of seeing him return to calling wrestling continues to wane, he will only become less valuable.