By Michael Stets, special to Cageside Seats.
Almost every WWE fan remembers the Hell in a Cell (HIAC) match between The Undertaker and Mick Foley back in 1998, as well as the famous call made by Jim Ross when "Mankind" was thrown off the very top of the cage onto the announcer's table, leaving everyone including the broadcast team in utter shock of what they had just witnessed.
"As God as my witness, he is broken in half!" Ross yelled that night on the pay-per-view (PPV) broadcast, a call that is repeated and mimicked today, almost 16 years later.
Ross recently spoke with MMAmania.com correspondent Michael Stets as he prepares for his first foray into announcing for mixed martial arts (MMA). On Friday night (Oct. 3, 2014), the WWE Hall of Fame broadcaster will call the PPV action for BattleGrounds MMA alongside retired UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen from inside the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Among the many topics of discussion was the famous HIAC match and whether or not he knew about the craziness that would ensue during that historical contest.
"One of the biggest misnomers about being a pro-wrestling announcer... I've not denied that the endings being predetermined, but the route to get from the opening bell to the closing bell, even though I knew what the destination was going to be. In other words, I knew that The Undertaker was going to win the match to Hell in a Cell. That's all I knew. I didn't know all the nuances and specifically Mick getting tossed off the cell and Mick falling through when it gave way. Nobody knew that was going to happen. Those guys knew that was going to happen. But they knew Mick was going to take that crazy fall from the top of the cell through the announcing table."
"I didn't seek that information out because I always felt like I did a better job of reacting to what I saw and using my instincts to explain it to you as a fan, or call it. That call was absolutely real, organic, how I felt in the moment. No different from a football game, or this MMA show. I want to see it, I want to process the information and try to communicate it. So, I didn't have any idea that match was going to go the way that it did. I was obviously very emotionally invested. I was I think at that time the VP or the Senior VP of the talent relations department, which meant that I was in charge of the talent roster like a player personnel type of guy."
"So I had an emotional investment in the talent because they were on my team. They were my guys. I didn't know that they were going to do that. That call was very organic. You talk about guttural. That was real. It was absolutely raw to see the least, no pun intended. That was 16 years ago. People are still using excerpts of that commentary on various videos. NFL plays, UFC fights, boxing fights, car crashes and everything under the sun."
For instance, a highlight reel of a recent blowout on NFL Thursday Night Football was layered full of "JR" quotes.
"Last week there was one out of there -- you'd get a kick out of it -- it takes about two minutes to watch it," said Ross. "It was the Atlanta Falcons killing the Tampa Bay Bucs and all the highlights of the football broadcasters were stripped and replaced by my calls. Some of those calls were from Hell in a Cell from 16 years ago. I have people that walk up to me because I go to all these OU games. People come up to me and say, ‘JR remember this? As God as my witness he is broken in half!' So I say 'Yeah, I remember that one.' They are trying to be friendly and I've heard it 1,000 times, so I humor them. 'Thanks for remembering. How old are you?' 'I'm 23.' 'Wait a minute, you were like seven years old.' 'I saw it on YouTube and it's become kind of a cult thing.' I get that all the time, those calls. People recite the calls or someone will say 'Hey is this game going to be a slobber knocker?' I'll be walking to the stadium and 'Hey JR we love you, but we hate the Sooners and we are going to beat them today like a Government Mule.' I say 'good luck and have fun. That's why they play the game.'"
"It's just crazy the influence you don't even know you have on people. I have slogans in the Urban Dictionary. 'Slobber Knocker' is in the Urban Dictionary. 'By God' is in the Urban Dictionary. There are JR terms in the Urban Dictionary that came from my wrestling work. That is ridiculous, but in a fun way."
Ross, 62, was in the wrestling business for 40 years, 21 with the WWE. He has plenty going on these days with his "Ross Report" Podcast, line of BBQ products and one-man, "Ringside with Jim Ross" shows, but that doesn't mean he doesn't miss his days there.
"I think there are days that I miss the wrestling business," Ross said. "Generally when I'm watching one of the shows or someone's show and I think something is really good or really fun it reminds me of the feeling that I had of sitting ringside when you are part of something extraordinary. You miss those moments. Do I miss 51 weeks of travel? Do I miss introducing myself to a TSA attendant at every airport of the country for seemingly 51 weeks of my life each year? Another hotel? Another rental car place? No. I did it for 40 years."
Ross said he was "kind of surprised of how I left the WWE, the abruptness that occurred" and the "story will come out at some point in time." He also revealed that he has begun to work on his autobiography that will tell his side of the story on his departure and feature plenty of stories about his career that spanned over four decades.
"I finally have the time to write this long-awaited autobiography of this crazy journey that I've been on since 1974 in the wild and wooly days of wrestling, before corporate wrestling and drug testing and all these things," said Ross. "We have great stories to tell and great lessons to learn. I'd like you to read my book and say it's hilariously and entertainingly motivational. That's what I would like you to say. So that is a goal. I want it to be funny. Most of the stories are funny, but some aren't. There are some poignant stories in it."
"I was sitting 20 feet away from Owen Hart dying, falling out of the rafters. There is no humor in that. I haven't relived that moment. I haven't watched it since that day; It shouldn't have happened. I never watched the tape back, but I will watch that segment back because I have to interpret my feelings of that moment in my career because it was a major day that I'll never forget. So I've had a great career and more often than not it was really fun with some wild characters, some legitimately out of the ring, crazy, entertainment kids that never grew up. Men that forgot they were men, they were just always child like."
The broadcasting legend says "it's been a great journey and "it's never too late to reinvent yourself." Even though he is a career wrestling announcer, he has also done NFL and boxing for FOX Sports 1. He's had to overcome different obstacles throughout his career and made a point to say "don't let anyone put restrictions on you." He referred to his three bouts with Bell's Palsy and also the critique of his now world-famous voice.
"There were some of my peers that made that a major issue and wanted to define me by that (Bell's Palsy) and I refused to play that game. Same as those telling me that my Southern accent was a detriment as a broadcaster. I said 'Why don't you try telling that to Lindsey Nelson and Mel Allen and Keith Jackson and some of the famous Southern radio broadcasters that are legends in their schools and folklore.' It's lame. People don't want generic. They want uniqueness. I'm not ashamed of my heritage. That would be like me apologizing for my heritage, 'Yeah I have a Southern accent damn it. I apologize.' I'd be apologizing for my upbringing and I'd be damned if I'd do that."
"The Southern accent excuse don't flush with me and the Bell's Palsy was a situation that occurred and there is no known cause or cure. It is a neurological issue. They think it could be viral. They think it could be stress induced. I don't know what caused it. I just know that I had it three times. It made many in the WWE uncomfortable that they had a guy on the air who looked and sounded like me, but it didn't seem like it bothered the viewers and it didn't seem like it bothered the ratings. And at the end of the day, I am proud of my run there. People forget I had 19 years in the business before I got to WWE. So I had 21 there in WWE and 19 prior to that, 40 years altogether and I wouldn't change a thing. I would've stayed healthier, but maybe that just made me stronger. It hasn't slowed me down since I left. It hasn't affected too many other television people that are giving me opportunities to go out and do what I love to do. I feel very blessed."