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Jim Ross Remains Wrestling’s Most Beloved Voice

The blindly-devoted WWE fan and the ‘things were better back in xxxx’ gallery of cynics seem to find consensus on one thing: Michael Cole is awful. Tragically for our ears, he’s meant to be awful, because his strings are pulled through the earholes of his headset by Vince McMahon, whose modern-day ailing of paranoia-breeds-control-freakism would make Richard Nixon shake his head.

The list of Cole’s annoying quirks is plentiful, from gun-to-his-head product shilling with all of the faux enthusiasm of a car salesman hawking invisible rust inhibitor, to wooden, almost-disinterested match calls that make him sound like Joe Buck calling a football game while responding to text messages at the same time. These problems seem to stem more from the man in his ear than the voice in his heart, but that seems to be the other problem: Cole lacks heart. For the numbers on his paycheck, and his lack of wrestling experience outside of WWE’s partition, he’s never going to question McMahon.

The fact that Jim Ross’ blogs, mere written words on a plethora of subjects, amplify louder and resonate more than Cole’s robotically-strung-together bowls of word soup makes it a crime that Ross was shunted down so far in favor of Cole in the first place. It’s most likely that passion of Ross’ that clashes with the sterilized outlook of corporate McMahon, which makes Cole Vince’s preferred avatar: no questions, all obedience. Ross clashed with McMahon numerous times when they shared the office, and likely Ross would defer to his own instincts in the booth.

The irony is that with Cole entrenched as the crony-ized ‘Voice of WWE’, it’s his duty to overpromote the very WWE Network in which the most desirable content is a virtual video-history of North-American wrestling’s last thirty to forty years. A sizable chunk of that retro content has Jim Ross in the soundtrack, screaming through fiery breaths the names of Ric Flair, Steve Austin, Sting, and Mick Foley, among scores of other classical heroes and monsters. His folksy demeanor plays like an acoustic guitar when telling stories, but wails with thrash-guitar forte when the action calls for it.

The demotion, and attempted devaluing through humiliating storylines, of Ross has had zero payoff in six years, unless you count Cole’s gallant attempt to be a snarky hybrid of Andy Kaufman and Jimmy Hart in 2011 (credit where its due, Cole made a wonderfully punchable villain).

Regardless, Michael Cole is indeed the voice of a generation; a generation that parrots the unrelated press release when prodded by legitimate and thoughtful questions.

Jim Ross is the wrestling fan’s uncle. No matter how much Cole, via McMahon, has worked to undercut him with pointless tales of ‘anal bleeding’ and awful battle raps, his journalist’s gravitas melds with the humble historian to be an authentic, believable voice, one that doesn’t extinguish easily.

Even while playing the salesman seated ringside, the onus being on him to sell you on the matches and pay-per-views, Jim Ross maintained an integrity that outsized the sometimes-poor product he had to sell. If Ross were TNA’s voice, you might willingly pay cash while Ross wheels the Orlando dumpster fire up your driveway.

I’ve never actively watched a live New Japan event in my life unless you count Starrcade 1995’s World Cup of Wrestling. In conjunction with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling, an American airing of WrestleKingdom IX on Sunday, January 4 will pretty much be allowed access to my wallet.

This will be the first time I ever purchase a wrestling event on the primary basis of who’s calling the action.

This isn’t to disrespect any of the actual combatants on the card. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada’s duel for IWGP Heavyweight Title can probably be assigned a five-star rating seven weeks in advance, and New Japan as a whole generally delivers from the discriminatory “workrate” standpoint. The event doesn’t need Jim Ross to be enjoyable.

But there’s that something extra that Ross adds, namely a bridge between an exotic, non-standard (in America) product and the American consumer. I’m not alone; viewers of a YouTube video weaving Ross into the WrestleKingdom lure are pledging to see the show because of Ross’ involvement. Fans from the UK and elsewhere abroad are tweeting Jeff Jarrett, desperately asking if the event will be available in their homelands. A jovial “Double J” is promising to make those announcements in a few weeks; he already delivered on the JR announcement, so he’s rungs above Dixie Carter’s mismanaged futility from the word ‘go’.

A lot could change in the next month and a half. Maybe the giddy voices that excitedly say they’re ordering the show will forget about GFW, New Japan, and thus Ross’ return to the booth. Could certainly happen; wrestling fans tend to be an ADD-riddled lot (I say this with love and respect). For the time being, the news of Ross’ involvement has sparked all of this hoopla, all of it needed by a company like GFW whose business model still looks like a barely-kneaded ball of clay from the outside.

In 2002, TNA sprung up as a low-rent ‘national’ stand-in for the deceased WCW, essentially promising an ‘alternative’ to a slowing-down, increasingly-stale WWE. That was twelve years ago, with WWE holding off the charge only half-heartedly. There were times in 2003, as well as a strong run from 2005-08, where TNA was a viable, enjoyable product. And yet, something was missing to keep it from really threatening WWE, who half-assedly churned out a lather, rinse, repeat product, while using the other cheek to press the ‘rely on our library of nostalgia’ button.

There’s no guarantee that Global Force Wrestling could ever surpass what TNA has accomplished (yes, said without sarcasm) in their lifetime, or if they will ever push WWE in any meaningful way. A new venture versus a time-tested establishment favors the reigning the champion, but there’s no harm in checking out a product of tomorrow.

Especially when they’re bringing back a key element from yesterday that everyone seems to miss.

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Justin Henry

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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