WWE Hall Of Famer recently had a long chat with wrestlinginc.com. During the talk they discussed TNA, his time with the WWE and more. Below are a ton of highlights for you to enjoy:
Wrestling INC: You've been commentating since the 1970s and you've seen lots of changes in eras. As a fan, what was your favorite era in the business?
Ross: Every era offered something unique and its own specific challenges. The 1970s was kind of a Wild West show and I'm a 20 something year old out in the world with these experienced veterans. The 1980s were turbulent because I was with Watts and then we sold to [Jim] Crockett and TBS took over. The beginning of the 1990s was kind of a crazy and adventures time in WCW. Then I left to go work for Vince [McMahon] for some 20 years and change.
If I had to give an answer, I would say the Attitude Era because the fruits of my labor, trying to assemble a roster, and the Monday night wars made it an exciting time. From a business point, it was the Attitude Era based on behind the scenes of bringing guys in, molding them together as a team, and by repeatedly losing on Monday nights. We kept believing and motivating each other and we finally won the battle and the war. I've had fun at every turn of the road during this 40 year adventure and enjoyed every decade for what it offered. I don't look back at any of the time in the business and say I could have done without this era. They are all life lessons learned. The Attitude Era was fun because we had great talent, not a PG-14 rating. It's ridiculous that people think switching back to PG-14 would solve problems.
Wrestling INC: You were talking about recruiting talent earlier? How did you get that position?
Ross: I was already at WWE on staff. J.J. Dillon left abruptly and Vince hired Bruce Prichard and I to oversee the talent relationship department. He made Bruce the vice president of talent relations and me the vice president of wrestling business—which is a new title. As soon as Bruce went back to creative the vice president of wrestling business title went away. I think I'm the only person in the WWE to hold that title. I became the senior vice president of talent relations. Vince knew of my background about working with creative and talent and I'd been in the business 19 years before I got to the WWE, so my body of work was kind of established as far as my background was concerned. I think Vince had faith that I could reorganize the department and retool are talent roster. It's real simple. I was given an opportunity, and as it should be, if I wasn't successful then someone else should have gotten that opportunity. I don't think it was a stretch for him. Vince always has a good eye for the bigger picture—more times than not—putting the right positions to help the company.
Wrestling INC: During that time, you arguably signed the greatest talent roster in history. What would you look for in a talent that you were interested in?
Ross: There are a lot of things. You certainly want personality. Personality sells tickets. That doesn't mean finding the funniest comedian on stage that night and make him a wrestler. The ability to connect with the audience through that personality is essential. It's easy to scout guys working in the wrong. You don't want to bring problems into the locker room. The business is already challenging with the travel, insecurity, and paranoia of being an athlete. You want people who have big personalities, are confident in their abilities, and competitive. You want to find fundamentally sound in ring talent. You don't want to hire someone who's just happy to be there. They don't want to grow or be in the main event. They want to make good money without the responsibility of having to sell tickets or closing the shows. Charisma, personality, and the 'it factor' are always crucial.
Back in the old days, when promoters found guys who were mechanically sound and good in ring technicians but had zero personality,
they often ended wearing a mask. They were able to function since the mask hid their weaknesses. A great booker can identify talent thoroughly, exploit their strengths, and disguise their weaknesses.
Wrestling INC: Is that harder to do today from what you've seen. It seems everybody is being taught to work the same way. There are exceptions, but it seems promos are being delivered the same way. Is it harder for talent to get over with changes in the system?
Ross: Absolutely because there are no territories to work off "Broadway" and refine their game in front of paying customers. Those who were in the territory systems knew when the territories faded away, there was going to be a time when those incumbent territory guys wouldn't be around and there'd be issues with finding main event talent. When they weren't able to teach the younger guys the art of performing in front of a larger audience, I knew we were in for challenging times.
The business right now is in a major transitional period because of the territories not producing talent. It's a business wide issue. Back in the day when you made it to WWE TV, you already had experience, personality, and headlined some smaller territories so you kind of had your game on. It's a lot tougher now and hopefully these kids being inserted into the WWE's main storylines will continue to evolve, push themselves, grow, stay healthy, and keep pushing by not finding that comfort zone. You can't foresee injuries or personal setbacks. In my opinion, today is harder than any other time to get over in the business. It's also the greatest time to break into the business. There are massive opportunities if you're good at learning, studying, and investing into a lifestyle that awaits you. At the same time, the audience has more information through the internet and many of them don't have a lot of patience. The lack of patience doesn't give a green talent many second chances.
Wrestling INC: With all the new WWE programs, do you think there's a problem with over saturating as well? Is it hard for people to stay with wrestlers because there is so much TV time to fill?
Ross: I'm not a big proponent that there's an over-saturation. You've only got two brands in the United States that are on national cable. How's that over saturating? The WWE produces a lot of TV, so maybe that's where the over-saturation point could come into play. The two hours Impact Wrestling does on Spike TV doesn't contribute to over-saturation.
They're [TNA] missing the boat on not being more unique and separating their presentation from a more WWE like presentation. I say that with respect to Impact. I have many friends that work there—in front of the camera and behind. There's nobody that wants them to succeed more than me. I criticize with opinion. Someone could use over-saturation as an excuse, but I'm not buying it.
Then you have Ring of Honor on a plethora of Sinclair broadcast stations. I don't think Sinclair realizes how much potential Ring of Honor has with a few minor tweaks to become a major revenue generator. They need better lighting and production elements, which one would assume they would want to do being a broadcast entity. It looks like it's been produced by the sophomore drama class. They have hard working talent that I love to watch wrestle. I think they should slowdown and sell more, but that's my opinion. Selling is a huge part of pro wrestling and it's a fundamental skill that is learned and refined.
I always watch RAW and that's in my DNA after doing the broadcast for so many years. I watch SmackDown more often than not on DVR. I rarely watch Main Event. My wife loves Total Divas, so we watch that on Sundays. I watch Ring of Honor late Saturday on a FOX affiliate because I'm a night owl. For some reason, I miss Impact more than I should. It's not a diss, I just forget.
Wrestling INC: I think we all want TNA to do well. Business is best when there are other strong companies, but TNA does have a talented roster like you mentioned.
Ross: TNA's got a core of really talented men and women. I might be too old school, but I think people tune into a TNA Wrestling show because they want to watch wrestling—real shocker there. I don't think people tune into a wrestling show to embrace the phenomenal, off the radar performance of a guy that should be an Oscar winner someday. Nor do they watch to discover the yet to be discovered comedian in the land. I believe dramatic promos when based on an issue or viable meaning is great. Organically, I do think wrestling can produce some hilarious moments. When you try to script it all too heavily, then you lose me. A viewer can cut a promo or act like a clown, but they can't do what these men and women do bell to bell.
That's the biggest difference in a wrestling presentation in my view. I'm not saying it should go back to the old days where the good guys wear white tights and the bad guys wear black tights. Don't take away the whistle and bells, but don't take your eyes off the fundamentals. All the promotions that are in America today are too relaxed in my view on basic fundamental elements in the business.
Wrestling INC: I wanted to talk about your upcoming show in Chicago at the House of Blues on May 31st. What can fans expect from the show?
Ross: The show starts as a roadmap of my career as a fan then into the business aspect. Being in the wrestling business back than was like being in the mafia, there's just no violence. You either know somebody or have connections. I got lucky and made a connection promoting a couple of events that impressed the bosses and the opportunity came after that. I tell some outrageous and funny stories of the territory days. I was around to see wrestling get big from local TV stations, to cable and satellite, followed by pay-per-view. Working for Watts, Crockett, all the bookers they had, Ted Turner, Vince McMahon, WCW, WWE, and being there for the Monday night wars gives me a unique perspective.
My journey is different from everybody else. I didn't get in the business to be a wrestler. I wasn't sure what I wanted to be, but I always wanted to be a broadcaster and the opportunity came about and I found my itch. Along the way all these other skills like booking, evaluating talent, interacting with talent, payroll, and being an administrator I acquired through the journey. I do a little standup of those stories, which are intended to be mostly humorous. Then we do a massive question and answer with the audience, without restrictions—hoping people won't be vulgar since we don't have restrictions. People paid their money and came to support me, so I'm not going to put restrictions on what they should ask. I will do my best to answer every question. If I don't know the answer, I won't make one up. They've been popular because I do try to interact with the fans and always appreciated them for their support. The question and answer is a major hit. I enjoy them, the fans seem to like them, and it gives every show a different personality. If you come to one of my shows, the next one will be different than the previous one. Different parts of the country have different questions.
Chicago is unique because it's at 2 p.m. start; it's a matinee, which we've never done before. It's what the promoters wanted and the building was available. It's open to all ages at the House of Blues. We always holdback tickets so if you don't feel comfortable buying them online, you can get them at the door. That's old school in me. The V.I.P. meet and greet is at noon and the doors for everybody else opens at 1 p.m. and the show starts at 2 p.m. The next day is WWE Payback, so maybe folks can make a two day event with my show and Payback from the Allstate Arena. There's humor, motivation, information, the question and answering is always unpredictable so hopefully we will have a nice house as they say and everybody will leave saying they had a good time. My goal is to entertain the masses.