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I have been attending WrestleMania for over a decade and one of the highlights has been staying at the WWE hotel where all the wrestlers stay. In this surreal setting, I have met nearly every major wrestling star of the WrestleMania years. Out of all the people I have met affiliated with the company, possibly the nicest has been Jan Ross, wife of legendary announcer Jim Ross. I have spoken to her for hours at a time over the years, and she was one of the nicest ladies I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Tragically, she died shortly before WrestleMania in a bike accident. Courageously, J.R. decided to move forward with his “Jim Ross and Friends” show on WrestleMania weekend.
My friends and I were lucky enough to have tickets to the Sunday afternoon show the day of WrestleMania. I attended the show with former ProWrestling.net staff member Rich Twilling and UK fighter OJ Entertainment. Ross would be joined by Bruce Prichard and Jim Cornette as well as a surprise panelist, who turned out to be Mick Foley. It was an absolutely unforgettable show. Here is my live report of “J.R. and Friends” at WrestleMania 33.
1. Jeremy Borash was the emcee of the festivities, and he was the perfect voice to propel the show. I have not watched TNA in years so I was unfamiliar with his work, but he was an excellent choice to introduce the stars. J.R. came out and set the tone for the show, which would be a mix of humor and sadness. After losing his wife, he said that some people questioned his decision to even be at Mania this year. His response was simply, “How do you tell someone how to grieve?” Given the shocking circumstances of his wife’s untimely passing, his introduction set an emotional mood throughout the room full of about five-hundred fans and wrestling dignitaries.
2. Ross said that his wife had two wishes going into WrestleMania season and that was she would walk the red carpet at the Hall of Fame and she could hear her husband come out to his entrance theme on the grand stage. He wiped his tears as he stated her first wish could not come true, but he excited the audience by saying that her second may become a reality.
3. Prichard and Cornette were introduced, and they were the perfect bombastic personalities to counteract Ross’s serious style. We were all thrilled to see Prichard because we are big fans of his podcast, “Something to Wrestle.” Foley was brought in as the special guest of the show. He said he had been asked if he was really fired, and he stated that he was not working with the company and was not getting paid so it felt real as we laughed.
4. Interestingly, the direction of the show was largely dictated by the audience’s questions. One of the first asked how they would book WrestleMania. Cornette asked sarcastically if they planned on being there all day. Instead he answered that if he was booking WrestleMania, he would want to book Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe and give it a year-long build. Prichard said he would love to see John Cena vs. A.J. Styles with a double-turn. J.R. asked the audience whether they would have the patience for a year-long build to a match, and they responded enthusiastically.
5. Cornette was asked whether he was given a script or restrictions by WWE for his Hall of Fame introduction. He responded that he had not been given a set of rules, but he had bullet points to keep him on track. J.R. also gave a speech of how wrestlers need to find their own voice instead of the stilted scripted lines that have been featured in recent years. It was obvious that he did not like the idea of too many writers creating an unnatural promo.
6. In one of the funnier moments of the night, someone asked to see Ross and Prichard imitate Terry Funk and Jerry Jarrett. They each mimicked their own podcasts by doing uncanny imitations of Funk and Jarrett. It was classic, and it reminded us why these are two of the top wrestling podcasts.
Check it out HERE.
7. Speaking of imitations, one audience member asked if the panel had any good Randy Savage stories from the WWF. J.R. talked about how nervous he was coming to WWF on his debut. He said that Savage was tightly wound and extremely intense. Ross went on to mention how difficult his first day had been, especially when Vince asked him to wear a toga. He said it was tough to work with Savage at that show because of his unusual style. He also recalled how Vince asked him if he could wear a toga to the ring and, if he didn’t want to, he could at some point in the future. J.R. said he was game, but Cornette had the excellent point asking, “When the hell would you wear a toga in the future?”
Then Bruce Prichard said he had a more lighthearted story about Savage. He recalled that after Macho Man became champion, he was producing a series of local promos with him attempting to hype a match. Prichard did an uncanny Savage imitation showcasing how he rambled without ever even mentioning his opponent. It was pure genius.
Check it out HERE.
8. One of the fans asked Ross which wrestler that he felt would be a big star became a huge disappointment. J.R. responded that it was a tough question to answer without burying someone, and he did not want to do that. He did recall one of the greatest recruiting classes in wrestling history that included John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, and Shelton Benjamin. Then he said, “The greatest athlete of that group was Shelton Benjamin.” J.R. also mentioned that it was Benjamin that helped WWF sign Brock, who was his roommate in college. Ross felt that Shelton never got the opportunity he deserved, and that he should have been better produced on his promo skills. When he asked the crowd whether they remembered the classic match against Shawn Michaels on Raw, we all cheered. Personally speaking, I feel that Benjamin severely lacked in charisma and microphone skills so he had the career he deserved.
9. One of the more unusual moments of the night took place when Ross and Foley discussed their friendship with adult video legend Nina Hartley. Prichard said he was a fan and how her movies always had a “happy ending. “ Hartley is a good friend of mine, and she wrote the foreword to my book, “The Showstopper Lifestyle.” You can find it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
10. J.R. was asked which match he wish he could call that he did not get the opportunity to, and he said the answer was easy. Ross said that he was always a huge advocate of Foley, and he was disappointed that due to his Bells Palsy he was unable to call Mankind’s first championship win.
11. Foley discussed how much Ross meant to his career, and he felt that his call of his epic fall off the Hell in a Cell added to the legendary moment.
12. Prichard recalled when McMahon was first supposed to meet with Foley at an airport. He did an amazing imitation of Vince’s disgusted reaction when he saw him, “Who’s that? He’s not gonna be doing those crazy bumps on my show. Not on my watch!” Prichard said that McMahon walked away without even meeting him. Foley laughed and added that they put a mask on him because of his unorthodox appearance.
13. As the show neared the conclusion, Cornette, Prichard, and Foley all recalled fond memories of Jan Ross. They were all very emotional talking about what a nice lady she was and how much it meant to be there with J.R. for this show.
14. Ross went on to say that Jan always loved WrestleMania week, and she loved interacting with the fans. Personally speaking, this part was very emotional for me because I had spoken to her so many times and seeing her always felt like reuniting with a friend. She had shared many great stories about J.R. as well as her own life.
I remember when she told me she had been to Michael Jackson’s “Neverland Ranch” and how Jackson’s kids were huge wrestling fans. This was around when Kane “set J.R. on fire,” and hilariously, Michael had asked if her husband was okay. Can you imagine that surreal conversation? I had hung out with Jan for most of the WrestleMania after-party in 2009, and I remember her telling me she would send me some of J.R.’s BBQ sauce. She was truly a lovely lady and will be missed by all the fans as well as her friends and family.
15. Ross finished the show in tears talking about how much it meant to be there with all the fans during this emotional period. He said not only did he need to be there for himself and his wife, he needed to be with all of us. It was a genuinely moving moment and I had chills watching this legendary figure go through this catharsis. We all struggled to fight back tears and felt fortunate to be there for this event.
This was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen. It was an emotional roller coaster of laughter and tears. It was also special to see this legendary figure show strength in the face of the most tragic of circumstances. Ross went back to his passion for pro wrestling and some of the friends he met along the way to move on and celebrate the life of his wife. Somewhere Jan Ross is smiling and proud of J.R. for honoring her memory on this magical afternoon.
Follow Shawn Valentino and send questions, comments, and feedback on Twitter @shawnvalentino.