This weekend, wrestling welcomes back two familiar fixtures of the past. After a 14-year sabbatical, it is the return of Saturday Night’s Main Event. And in the announce position at the Cobo Hall in Detroit will be none other than “Good Ol’ JR”, Jim Ross.
Saturday Night’s Main Event (SNME) airs Saturday, March 18, with a main event of RAW’s John Cena and Triple H teaming against Smackdown’s Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle and Randy Orton in a handicap match. Other match-ups on the card include a streetfight between Shawn Michaels and Shane McMahon, and Booker T tangling with the fearsome Boogeyman.
On Monday’s Raw, Vince McMahon announced that Jim Ross would host SNME. This will be Ross’ first since September 2005, when he was dismissed by Mr. McMahon for failing to apprehend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, during his stunner-laden attack on the entire McMahon clan at the WWE Homecoming show. It seemed all was not lost though; at the following Taboo Tuesday pay-per-view, “Stone Cold” would wrestle The Coach, with the stipulation that if Austin could defeat Ross’ replacement, the Oklahoma native would secure his job once more.
Back in real life, this seemed like a simple angle to incorporate Austin into the Taboo Tuesday pay-per-view, in the hope of drawing a much higher buy-rate than the previous year’s dismal effort. But it soon became clear that wrestling’s fine line of real-life and fantasy was once again being breached; behind the scenes, it became apparent that not only was Austin expected to lose to The Coach, but that Ross’ firing wasn’t really an angle at all, but a means of removing him from television altogether, for real. Upon hearing the news, Austin refused to lose to The Coach, and was dropped from all subsequent programming. Ross, meanwhile, was last mentioned on the 24th October RAW show, as “Doctor” Vince McMahon made fun of his real-life colon surgery.
But despite the apparent acrimony over his departure, Ross is clearly delighted to have been invited back in front of the camera. The announcer has never had the opportunity to be a part of SNME, so no doubt it looking forward to the return.
“It was Mr. McMahon’s idea, and I thought it was a great opportunity to get back in the game a little bit,” Ross told WWE.com in an interview. “I’m excited about it. But ultimately, it was Mr. McMahon’s idea. His motives are whatever they are. The bottom line is I’m going to be sitting at ringside in front of a sold-out crowd and I’ll have a live television show to try to steer my way through. So those are exciting, but challenging, opportunities. I’m looking forward to it.”
Whilst many fans will see this as a welcome return for Ross, the politics behind the announcement are perhaps more intriguing than the news itself. At first glance, the return of Ross would look to be a slight against the talents of Joey Styles and Michael Cole, who would have been the obvious choices to lead the announce team this coming Saturday.
However, what has so far been overlooked in this scenario is the not-so-coincidental return of “The Rattlesnake” Austin has agreed to return not only to SNME, where he will conduct a “beer drinking contest” with JBL, but he will also induct Bret Hart into the WWE Hall of Fame one night before an inevitable appearance at Wrestlemania 22. Indeed, it is highly probable that Ross’ return has been at the behest of his good friend Austin, as part of the deal which sees “Stone Cold” return. Furthermore, although it is uncertain as to where Ross’ on-screen future lies, with Styles remaining unconvincing as RAW anchorman, Vince McMahon — the man, not the character — will doubtless need little coercion to return Ross to his regular RAW spot.
Fortunately for him, If there is somehow any need for Ross to convince WWE higher-ups of his on-screen worth, he couldn’t have picked a better showcase for his talents than the revitalised SNME, such is it’s standing in pro wrestling history.
Saturday Night’s Main Event first appeared on NBC on May 10, 1985, as the brainchild of NBC executive Dick Ebersol and Vince McMahon. Ebersol was keen to find a ratings winner to substitute for Saturday Night Live on its off-weeks, and McMahon wanted to push his new brand of rock’n’wrestling to the masses on free television. With the first show pulling an 8.80 TV rating for a main event of WWF Champion Hulk Hogan vs Bob Orton Jr., proceeding events became almost bi-monthly, peaking with the March 14, 1987 show — which drew a 11.6 rating — as Randy “Macho Man” Savage scored a countout victory over George “The Animal” Steele.
“Vince and I had a great time together,” said Ebersol, who remains close with McMahon, in 2004. “There are few people you run across in this business who are more straightforward, more talented, more honest. He’s a great guy who happens to make his living in a larger-than-life cartoon.” For his part, McMahon is equally complimentary about Ebersol, noting that he taught him how to produce slick television shows that looked like prime-time material.
Now, in 2006, it seems that the excellent relationship that still exists between Ebersol — who is currently the chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics — and McMahon has prompted them to bring back Saturday Night’s Main Event to primetime on NBC. (The event will be simulcast on Citytv stations in Canada.)
Over the years, Saturday Night’s Main Event has brought us such memorable matches as Randy Savage vs The Honky Tonk Man, The British Bulldogs vs The Hart Foundation, and Hulk Hogan vs Big Bossman inside a steel cage. As such, the return of Saturday Night’s Main Event to our screens is a both a nostalgic throw-back to the heyday of pro wrestling in North America, and a look ahead to what we can expect from this year’s Wrestlemania. With the WWE firmly established as the number one wrestling organisation in North America, coupled with the historical importance of Saturday Night’s Main Event to the company, how fitting it is then, that the best announcer in the business, Jim Ross, should be there to call the action once more.