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Welcome back to a special edition Mr. Tito column exclusively here at LordsofPain.net / WrestlingHeadlines.com. Today, we take a step back from the current wrestling product and perform a book review of Jim Ross‘s Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling. It has been a while since I performed a book review, as I just don’t read books as much as my younger self when you’re reading emails, financial reports, and regulations all day long at work… My “escape” as my older self has been more visual such as film, television (big Netflix consumer), or even video games.
In the past, though, I inhaled many pro wrestling books and reviewed them almost instantly. As you can seem from my older column archives, I reviewed most of the wrestler books published through 2005 ranging from Mick Foley (both), DDP, Rock, Edge, Roddy Piper, Dynamite Kid, Bill Goldberg, Ric Flair, HBK, Chyna, Bobby Heenan, Jerry Lawler, Hardy Boyz, and other non-biographical wrestling books. Since my first column run, I have read only Chris Jericho, Eric Bischoff, and Bret Hart’s books but have not reviewed them. Thus, Jim Ross‘s book represents a “return to form” in some sorts.
I have to disclaim that I’m a HUGE fan of Jim Ross and this dates back to when I became a dedicated pro wrestling fan. In 1988, I was aware of pro wrestling thanks to Hulkamania’s exploding popularity but never new of NWA/WCW until my uncle showed me a VHS tape around October/November 1988 of Clash of the Champions 1 which was headlined by a 45 minute draw between Ric Flair vs. Sting. I totally believed that Sting was going to become NWA Champion that night and there was an announcer calling the play-by-play perfectly that night and his name was Jim Ross. Back then, WWE seemed like a major sugar high with the cast of characters but NWA/WCW appeared to me like a legitimate sporting event with out serious the titles were defended and the guy calling the action. From there, I was a loyal NWA/WCW fan and followed that promotion until it died… For the early part of it, it was great tuning in to hear Jim Ross call wrestling like a legitimate sports announcer. Then, he joined WWE and I was excited… Took a while to get his footing, but once Vince gave him the full-time spot and placed him with Jerry “the King” Lawler, magic was born to form possibly the greatest announcing team of all time.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s when I first learned, through insider reports, that Jim Ross was the guy managing Talent Relations for the WWE. Through signing Steve Austin and Mick Foley away from WCW/ECW, negotiating the debuts of Kurt Angle and the Rock as newcomers to wrestling, and then to creating a developmental system that constantly replenishes the WWE roster… I became amazed at what my favorite play-by-play wrestling announcer could do beyond the microphone. And then his greatest achievement, the Ohio Valley Wrestling “Class of 2002” which injected Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Batista, and Randy Orton onto the roster, all time Hall of Famers… Why do you think that I mention the “Class of 2002” so much? It is to honor Jim Ross and I really stepped up mentioning that after WWE released Ross following Ric Flair’s intoxicated appearance for a WWE video game event. Jim Ross rebuilt the WWE like a sports franchise with excellent free agent signings and a farm system that was much needed after WCW/ECW died. This is why I call Jim Ross the “architech of the Attitude Era” because without his signings and managing of talent, WWE might be 6 feet under.
Because I’m a fan of Jim Ross, I listen to his Podcast weekly and am tuned into other media appearances. Thus, much of what’s said in his Slobberknocker book was already known, particularly the NWA/WCW days and the WWE Attitude Era. However, I was pleased that a lot of unknown content to me was present about his time in the wrestling business. Notably, the Midsouth/Bill Watts stuff and some of the backstage relations with Vince McMahon. In my opinion, the best parts of that book was describing his early days in the business when working with Bill Watts and then how Ross gained Vince’s acceptance as both an announcer and later talent relations. What I also appreciated was how Jim Ross was always willing to learn as he had Bill Watts, JJ Dillon, Pat Patterson, and later Vince McMahon as mentors… Furthermore with Ross, he was also influenced by many shady characters in the wrestling business on what NOT to do as well.
The bigger theme that I received from Jim Ross, though, was family… He sacrificed himself for the sake of the wrestling business and the poor guy missed out on a lot back home. Wrestling isn’t a 9-5 job and requires employees to become workaholics whether they want to or not. The more amazing thing was that Ross did everything as a non-wrestler role, meaning that he was putting in insane hours to make OTHERS look good in the wrestling business. That’s dedication and also needing to work even harder to show wrestling promoters that a guy who would never touch the ring (besides refereeing and putting up the ring) could make a living in the wrestling business. You can hear his regret in lacking a strong relationship with his children and having difficulties maintaining a healthy marriage while being in the wrestling business.
What made me fall in love with his book early was describing his relationship with his Father. From the sounds of it, what made Jim Ross aspire to become an announcer was simply by watching sporting events with his dad and then his father challenged him to tell him the meanings of the games, plays, or coaching moves. It seemed like it caused Jim Ross to critically think about the sporting event that he was watching. It was a touching section of the book before we even started on the wrestling stuff, particularly for me based on recent events in my life. There is something special about the father-son relationship that should always be appreciated and for anyone reading this, don’t take your father’s time on earth for granted. Once they’re gone… Ross had a great relationship with his mom, too… It just read to me that “Good ol’ JR” seemed to hatch before us through Jim Ross watching sporting events with his dad and then breaking down games.
I really enjoyed the Midsouth stuff and relations with Bill Watts. In my opinion, Bill gets a bad reputation for what happened in 1992 for WCW. Oddly enough, Ross barely discusses Watt’s tenure during 1992 but I think that it was probably out of respect to Watts. Bill taught Jim Ross so much about the wrestling business and gave him many opportunities to succeed in a non-wrestling role. Watts saw something in Ross and seemed to personally teach Ross about the wrestling business, inside and out. However, Ross seemed to inject what he personally knew about college/professional sports into Watts’s operations and how to market events to build hype. Based on the creative booking and actual superstar creation that the Midsouth promotion did, they were just a big national Cable TV contract away from really breaking through. Instead, they were forced to merge into Jim Crocket’s NWA promotion and that was Ross’s gateway into what would become Ted Turner’s purchased NWA/WCW promotion.
To my surprise, Ross was light on his criticisms of World Championship Wrestling, notably Jim Herd. Ross appeared to be the “middle man” between Herd and the backstage Creative Staff. That role seemed to cause Ross to probably have a real friendship with Herd and didn’t feel the need to bury him. Ross can let Jim Cornette or Ric Flair do that damage. As noted before, Ross said little of Bill Watts from his 1992 run in WCW, but that’s out of obvious respect. Again, you can hear others bury Watts for that era. I believe that time has healed wounds with Eric Bischoff and he was mostly nice to him despite Bischoff being mostly involved with his exit. We’re 20+ years from these events and thus Jim Ross has perspective… What I did like, however, was respect towards Ole Anderson as a booker. Everybody bashes 1990 WCW, but as a kid, I remember it being mostly entertaining besides the Black Scorpion. Ross noted that Turner Executives began to heavily insert their motives into WCW’s product that year and Ole had to obey. For example, the Robocop deal which Turner forced on him. Then, they were pressuring him to create something mysterious and over-the-top… So he complied and gave them the Black Scorpion. That’s a different perspective on Ole that I never heard before…
Onto the WWE years… Seemed like Vince McMahon didn’t fully know how to use Jim Ross… Vince wanted his announcers to be characters like “Gorilla”, “the Brain”, or “the Body” and during the 1990s, Vince still wanted to be a play-by-play announcer himself. At first, as well, Vince didn’t seem like he knew or needed Ross in other non-wrestling capacities. Then, Ross started working with JJ Dillon and Bruce Pritchard and he began adding his influence to WWE’s backstage, notably on talent. However, I believe where Ross fully cemented himself was with the signings of Steve Austin and Mick Foley. Steve Austin was beginning to draw through late 1996 but it wasn’t until the Mankind sitdown interview with Ross where things really began to improve with Ross. See, Vince didn’t have faith in the Mick Foley signing and Vince even mocked Ross for it. Then, after that intense Ross/Mankind interview during 1997, the wheels started turning in Vince’s head how to use Foley beyond just his heel upper midcarder role as Mankind. It seemed as though by proving Mick Foley was an amazing signing, it won Vince McMahon over. Ross was cemented as the #1 announcer and talent relations guy after that and had Vince’s full trust. You can see that when Ross had his second Bells Palsy attack and Ross’s spots were not in danger.
The book ends with Wrestlemania 15 from 1999… That leads me to believe that a Book #2 could be on the way for the future. Ross could certainly talk about the year 2000 through his WWE release from 2013 with the difficulties of getting older and moved into different roles within the WWE. He could add more stories about any of his tenures from the past, as maybe we’d hear more about the Herd/Watts WCW era? I’d be especially curious about how he built up that mega developmental class in Ohio Valley Wrestling who all debuted in 2002 and quickly became all-time great stars. It could be very much like Mick Foley’s first book that was follow up by a second one to fill in various gaps. I’d definitely read it.
I’m NOT criticizing the book for ending at 1999, nor am I criticizing things being a little lighter within the WCW chapters. Jim Ross had a tough task of writing about over 20 years in the pro wrestling business while also wanting to incorporate his personal life experiences in the book as well. He covers everything mostly well and it’s easy to read. His coverage of the Bill Watts era and then his experiences with WWE and Vince McMahon are deep in detail. My guess is that he made longtime friends from NWA/WCW that he just doesn’t feel the need to rip them. That, or everything on that era has already been covered by everybody else in great detail (Jim Cornette, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, etc.). That’s OK because again, we had lots of depth on the Bill Watts promotions and his 1990s tenure with WWE. Plus, we got to learn more about Jim Ross, the man…
And the last point that I want to make about Jim Ross’s book… The tone. Very positive about his personal and professional life despite its highs and lows. The book’s writing style makes it easy for anyone to pick up and read. Contrast that with Bret Hart’s book which is long and overly detailed, maybe tells you too much and is often negative about bad experiences. Ross gets the points quick and is efficient with his storytelling in his book. The book makes it easy to not only follow Ross’s career, but what he specifically learned from the business and great promoters Honestly, if anyone wants to learn about the pro wrestling business, this is your textbook. The way Ross was able to articulate the teachings of Bill Watts makes for a magnificent read for the first half of the book. It’s not easy to run a wrestling promotion or to know the actual business of how it operates. Jim Ross presents the operations of the wrestling business in an easy way for anyone to comprehend.
LAST WORD: Get this book. Strongly recommended for a nice 20 year recap of various parts of the wrestling industry from the territories to the Ted Turner world and then to Vince McMahon’s WWE. Ross gives you an amazing peak into his personal life, professional life, and also many trade secrets of the business. Most of all, it’s an easy read for anybody to pick up and understand. One of the very best wrestling books that I’ve ever red, simple [ A+ ] to reward as its grade. My only gripe is just a thirst for more information on 1988-1992’s NWA/WCW and its operations, although Ross gives enough detail. I’m just guessing that he doesn’t want to bash two guys that he’s legitimate friends in Bill Watts for 1992 and Jim Herd for 1988-1991. I’m FINE with that because again, Ross covers Mid South and late 1990s WWE so well that it’s easily forgiven. The lessons learned about the wrestling business and stories about his personal life help lift the book as well.
Jim Ross could easily do a 2nd book by cutting off at 1999 and also filling in the gaps from anything not mentioned in this book. In fact, I welcome it and would immediately pick up that 2nd book to read and review as well.
Again, “A+” grade… GET THIS BOOK!
Where does Jim Ross’s Slobberknocker rank all time as a wrestling book? Mick Foley’s first book and DDP’s Positively Page remain my top books of all time. I’d say right there at #3 behind Foley (#1) and DDP (#2).
In my opinion, if you read Jim Ross, Mick Foley, Ric Flair, and Bret Hart’s books, you’ll be well versed in the wrestling business for the last 20-30 years…
SO JUST CHILL… ‘TIL THE NEXT EPISODE!
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