Jim Ross proved Saturday night he is far more than the best announcer in the wrestling business. During his acceptance speech for the Lou Thesz Award at the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa, J.R. delivered a passionate, emotional soliloquy, taking the crowd from his eastern Oklahoma upbringing, to his early days in wrestling, to the politics of today’s WWE. It should be required reading, and SLAM! Wrestling is pleased to be able to present it to you.
“I don’t even know why I wrote this speech. Moments like these, you know, only happen once in your life. It’s almost like the wrestlers of today choreographing their matches. They sit for hours on end going over a five-minute match. When I used to be in charge of Talent Relations, I’d run their asses out of the dressing room, saying, ‘Get out of there. I don’t want to see you two together the rest of the day.’ Because you should feel what you’re doing. You should love what you do. You should have passion for what you’re doing, and understand and master your craft. If you’ve got to memorize your lines, then you’re not a very good actor. So I don’t know why I wrote this. I’m embarrassed.
“First of all, I’m going to blow away this five-minute time limit deal. So any of you guys that need to go out there, because the parking garage is full and you need to feed your meters on the outside of the building, then get your ass out there now, and I’ll still be talking when you get back.
“I want to congratulate Scott Teal. I’ve enjoyed a great deal of his work. I read a lot of books, and for anyone to spend that much time with Ole Anderson, you have to compare it to chemotherapy, it is a fate beyond belief. You are probably the strongest, bravest man in this room, and that includes the Dandies — Dan Hodge and Dan Gable. God bless you, sir.
“I was at the, [emcee] Mick [Foley] mentioned the Brock Lesnar / Kurt Angle shoot fight. I think that was in South Dakota. That right, Gerald? Angle said, ‘I’ll see you in five minutes,’ and Brock was 280 and ripped, All-American, he’d won one Division I runner-up, which I as I talked with some of the guys tonight, like Dan Gable and LeRoy Smith, being a runner-up in the national championships is a great honor, but if you’re from Iowa or Oklahoma, it doesn’t mean nothing. …
“So Brock Lesnar wins a national championship in Minnesota and I got old, brittle Gerry Brisco there, with that Buzz Aldrin haircut, to go recruit that baby. What’s it going to take to sign this kid? How many zeroes do we have to put on the contract? Bottom line is that in three years Brock Lesnar is getting out of Minnesota — notice that I didn’t say graduate; I don’t know that he got a diploma. We signed Brock Lesnar and in three years he made a million dollars plus, and he’s made much more since in MMA, and I’m very happy for him.
“I don’t know who won that fight that day. You’ve got a lot of people, it’s like Derek Jeter just got his 3,000th hit; for a lot of us, in 20 years, if we’re all still alive, God willing, many of us here tonight will have been there in Yankee Stadium that night when Jeter hit the dinger for the 3,000th home run — we will be. ‘Oh, hell, I was in that seat right by the dugout. I knew the P.R. guy and I was there. Derek came by to count number two and he gave me the high five.’ We’re bullshitting — we weren’t there.
“Bottom line is that I don’t know who won that contest between Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. Kurt Angle was the first American to win a freestyle gold medal at the Olympics at 220 pounds. He was a bad piece of business, Clarion College — right, Coach? Clarion College. We signed Kurt Angle when I was in charge of Talent Relations. Thanks to Mr. Brisco for making me look good. I will take credit for it, and, as Gorilla Monsoon would say, ‘I will break my arm patting myself on the back.’
“However, I am not so sure that Kurt Angle could have taken Brock Lesnar on that day. There was a disparity of weight, youth. But here’s what I do know, here’s what I do know about that day in South Dakota. My Oklahoma ass came within this close of getting fired that day for allowing that to happen by the Chairman of the Board. ‘How could you be that stupid to facilitate two of our top stars getting into a real wrestling match at a pro wrestling event with nobody there to buy a ticket, the guys around the ring. How can you be that stupid?’ Upon further review, as they say in the NFL — I think there’s still an NFL — upon further review, he was right. Why would I allow that to happen? Because those two stallions, full of P and V, somebody was going to go down and there weren’t going to be no stalemates, there weren’t going to be no draws, somebody was going to win that fight.
“I want to thank you all for this honor, because receiving this Lou Thesz Award, for me, I feel like a pair of brown shoes at a formal wedding. Lou Thesz I met in 1974 when I first got into the wrestling business. He was a god. He was Gable-like, he was Dan Hodge-like. He had no business talking to a guy like me who was putting up the ring, I was refereeing, and who had never in his life made more than $25 in one day in the pro wrestling business.
“My daddy thought that I had run off and joined the circus, and that I would come home one day. I never came home.
“Lou Thesz took time in 1974 to give me the time of day. I thought I’d say, ‘Hello, Mr. Thesz,’ and leave. He gave me time. He knew my passion. He knew I loved the business. He knew I wanted to be where I was at 25 bucks a day. There were no contracts, no bonuses, no 401k, there was no insurance. There was me and a crazy first wife making $25 a day, all in.
“And Lou Thesz was a gentleman to me and was a wonderful role model, because he was handsome and tanned and tall, statuesque, he dressed well, he carried himself with class and dignity. He gave our business, the grunt and groan business, that had separated the amateur world from the pro world for so long, dignity and pride. I will never forget those first minutes with Lou Thesz. I cannot believe I’m here to receive anything but Lou Thesz’s parking spot every third year at the Hall of Fame on the third Sunday of March.
“Lou Thesz was DiMaggio and Gehrig combined, and I was the batboy who just wanted to play on the team.
“I didn’t have any great abilities of some of my heroes when I was young. Growing up in Oklahoma was an unique experience. We had been criticized in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath because we’re ignorant Okies, and the dust bowl ran us out of our home state to California to pick tomatoes and whatever menial task we could do.
“But those of us who had families that stayed, and my family came there on a 180-acre farm that’s been in my since since 1882, uninterrupted. They didn’t run our ass out of Oklahoma.
“So I always figured that I wanted to be in wrestling, because as a young kid in the early ’60s, we had our heroes. We had our Oklahoma and Oklahoma State wrestling teams, because then the media actually cared enough to cover amateur wrestling. Then the amateur wrestling coaches actually knew enough to try convince the media to give them some love. And they sold tickets. I remember the day when, at Lloyd Noble arena, Oklahoma State wrestled Oklahoma, you couldn’t get a damn ticket, 10,000 sellout. Now they wrestle in a 3,000-seat fieldhouse and give tickets away. I told the Oklahoma wrestling coach the other day, ‘Your tickets are exactly what they’re worth, what they’re paying for them — nothing.’ And that’s a shame.
“But amateur wrestling played a huge part in my life, because I read about it, I was consumed by it. Myron Roderick and Stan Abel, Tommy Evans and Ed Gallagher — they’re heroes where I grew up.
“My first boss, Leroy McGuirk, was a national champion in 1931. Lost his sight in one eye when he was nine years old. He lost the other sight in the early ’50s when he was still a pro. He became a bitter, angry old man because he had lost his sight. So my first job, I made $125 a week at that time. Again, there was no 401k, no fancy benefits — $125 a week.
“And what was your job, J.R.?
“Well, it was to drive that blind promoter, to buy him whiskey, and to buy cigars, and to take notes, be a sponge and listen. If you’re not a dumbass, you’re going to listen closely because someday these skills may take you somewhere. So I got paid for buying whiskey and cigars, and at one point, I was asked to be a co-conspirator to the murder of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
“Ted DiBiase was dating the boss’ daughter, and the booker didn’t like it, and he wanted to kill him. So we drove 300 miles to Shreveport. Leroy had a cigar in one hand, his Folgers coffee can down on the floorboard of his Cadillac — and let me tell you, folks, I’d never been around a blind man or ridden in a Cadillac; I grew up in a four-room block house that was a converted milk barn in eastern Oklahoma, in my life, until I went to work in the rasslin’ business. Rasslin’. Pro rasslin’. I drove Leroy 300 miles. He’s got a 38 special in his lap. He’s drinking whiskey out of the bottle. He’s got a spittoon he’s using for the deal. I’m scared as hell because I don’t know if he’s going to get the gun in his mouth, the cigar in his mouth, spit on the floor, spit on the gun, fall off the road, whatever. Well, bottom line was I drove 300 miles with a drunk, angry blind man with a loaded weapon. Of course, as the story would go, the Million Dollar Man is alive and well and he was not murdered. So I did not go to prison for being an accomplice to murder.
“In the early ’60s, there were two great heroes in Oklahoma — Mickey Mantle, and every kid in Little League in Oklahoma wanted to wear #7, it wasn’t because of craps, throwing craps, the dice, it was because The Mick wore #7. He’s named after Mickey Mantle — Mick Foley. Hell, we’ve got a cat named after Mickey Mantle at home, he’s a silver Persian — The Mick. I’m showing my feminine side right now, for what it’s worth.
“But there was a second hero in Oklahoma, that was just as big as The Mick, and he’s sitting over here tonight — Danny Hodge.
“When you think of today’s sports world and think of ESPN sound bites and all the sports anchor guys, the Internet, the sound bites, the sensational headlines, think about this: What would SportsCenter do, ESPN do, or the ESPYs do, if they had a guy that won three — because he was only eligible for three, and don’t think he couldn’t have whipped everybody’s ass as a freshman — three Division I national titles and two Olympic Games, ’52 and ’56, never been on an airplane or a boat, from the farmland of Perry, Oklahoma. And, ‘You know what I think I’ll do? My feats are done in wrestling: I never was taken down; nobody ever escaped; I beat the top competition in the world; had about an 85% pinning rate. What the hell am I going to do now? I’ve got it. I’m going to box. I’ll take up boxing, by golly.’ So he takes up boxing and beats everybody in America, and becomes the Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion. You guys just think what the media would do with that, with that data. That’s what I lived with. He was one of my heroes. Sitting right there, God bless him.
“The first week I was in the wrestling business, I was refereeing, making that whopping $25 a day all in, that means you pay for your gas, you pay for your hotel, you pay for your food. So, yes, you knew who would let you stay with them for $6 a night, three guys in a room. There would be two wrestlers in a bed, two double beds — no Sigfried and Roy stuff going on here now. I’d take the bedspread and get my little rotund ass on the floor, lay down. There wasn’t any remote control on the television, for you young pups — ‘What, no remote control? No PlayStation?’ So guess who changed the channel? Danny would say, ‘Hey Tiger, why don’t you change the channel.’ Are you going to say no to Danny Hodge about changing channels? Have you ever experienced a double wristlock from Danny Hodge. I suggest you change channels. So for $6, I got to stay for little or nothing, because I was driving. But I got to hear a lot of, I got to smell a lot of cigar smoke, a lot of wrestler farts, things of that nature that help you grow in character.
“Danny would drive with me for miles and miles, and he’d be too tired to drive. So I would drive, and fight to stay awake. It only took one grip of his hand on your wrist to invigorate you like you were jacked up on Diet Mountain Dew. It was instant invigoration. He was my mentor. First day on the job, he was my first riding partner.
“Cowboy Bill Watts was another mentor. He was an amateur. Couldn’t beat Dale Lewis on the OU wrestling team, because Dale wrestled near the out of bounds line there, so Bill’s excuse was Dale was a defensive wrestler. I just think Dale beat Big Bill’s ass and he didn’t want to admit it. But I might be wrong.
“Bill did teach me a lot about the business, and business principles. And he taught me a lot of really creative curse words. I’ve never been called a dumbass or an ignorant bastard in so many ways than I have with Bill. But he was really a good teacher and a good mentor.
“Another hero back in the day in Oklahoma was Jack Brisco. He was our generation’s Jim Thorpe. You can talk about Michael Jordan being the greatest athlete all you want, you kids out there, as you’re driving home safely tonight, do a Google search on Jim Thorpe and find out who the greatest athlete in the history of America is. You’ll find it out real quick — it’s Jim Thorpe. You’ll see why when you do your Google or your BlackBerry. Well Handsome Jack was my generation’s Jim Thorpe. He lost two matches as an amateur: one as a sophomore in high school and one as a sophomore in college. He was tougher than a two-dollar steak, let me tell you. He became a great friend.
“Then, of course, his little brother, Gerry, who I talked about as my chief recruiter, Hall of Famer. He is an Aggie from Oklahoma State, but God, I forgive that. Gerry did more selling in the ring for his brother Jack in tag matches than Tony Robbins did and does in an hour-long infomercial. Gerry sold, Jack got the hot tag, here comes Handsome Jack! Dropkick, dropkick, arm drag, boom, boom, boom! The Briscos win!
“I love Gerry like a brother, and thanks to him, our Talent Relations department recruited a lot of great amateurs, like, we signed Kurt Angle under our watch. We signed Brock Lesnar under our watch. And Shelton Benjamin from Minnesota. And Charlie Haas from Seton Hall. As far as I’m concerned, the WWE has the world of amateur wrestling, no different than the NFL has the college football world to recruit from. That’s where we should be living. We ought to be supporting amateur wrestling, we ought to be supporting the passion of amateur wrestling, and we ought to be recruiting the charismatic, big, gregarious athletes that want to become sports entertainers, and let them make a lot of money, and provide for their families.
“And for those that don’t want to be entertainers, let them go to MMA, which I love. Patrick Miletich does a wonderful job broadcasting it. I’m going to watch his show when I get home, on Channel 350 — it’s on DVR, I swear. Showtime, baby.
“I realize that some wrestling purists and some of the so-called legitimate sports media often look down their collective noses at the entity known as sports entertainment. I know that the pro wrestling bias exists, and that it has cost me some jobs.
“I wanted to be the voice of the Oklahoma football team. I told them I’d do it for nothing. I didn’t need the money; I’m not bragging, I’m not starved on carbs. I would like to be on that alligator show, that swamp thing — my kind of deal.
“But I think my pro wrestling background put a bullet in me, because calling football is no different than wrestling, amateur or pro. You’re telling a story, creating stars, giving people a reason to emotionally invest in what you’re hearing or watching. That’s what it’s all about.
“But I’ve got zero regrets. I’ve got less than zero regrets. Pro wrestling has the entertainment, done proper, featuring charismatic athletes involved in an episodically-produced weekly television program. It’s a real simple business. We are not amateur wrestling, but we love amateur wrestling for what it is, what it contributes.
“I will say that some days have been better than others. I’m going off my little script here.
“It used to be back in the day, the wrestlers would come to the show and get a script, and it used to be the script was for something bad — medicine. Now they get a script of what they’re supposed to say.
“I have been bought out as the world changed a time or two, I have been re-assigned about three times in my job. Starting out as a ring crew guy, making $25 a day, to becoming the Executive Vice-President of a publicly-held company, is a pretty good stretch. But along the way, I did get interrupted — like cable. I had an interruption of service two or three times because of my inability to keep my mouth shut or my opinions to myself.
“For a kid whose mom used to buy his jeans at the Sears husky section, and who speaks with an Oklahoma drawl, not to mention battling Bell’s palsy three times, which is facial paralysis — it’s added other challenges to my career. It’s a saying as a broadcaster, I have a face made for radio. I get it. Bell’s palsy is a hand I’ve been dealt. Poor me. It didn’t slow me down a bit.
“I believe this, if one quits on their dreams, if you fail to prepare for the next step — you should write this down, right here, I’ll go slow for you, alright? I don’t want you to mess this up on your website — if you quit on your dreams, if you fail to prepare for the next step, even though that next step might be unknown, if one fails to believe in themselves, if one allows themselves to be out-prepared by the competition, then failure is not only likely, it is inevitable.
“So I decided because I have yet to turn in my jersey, or check my passion for life or our business at the door, then I’m always going to be in the hunt.
“If we take ourselves out of the game of life, or remove ourselves from what we love doing, then what’s next? What’s next?
“The great Bobby Heenan would likely say the answer would be a dirt nap. A dirt nap. For me, the day after my dirt nap is the day I’ll be retired.
“The wrestling business has been rewarding. I’ve traveled the world many times over. I’ve been able to provide for my family. I have made life-long friends and many of them are here tonight. I’ve been a part of an amazing growth of our business, from the regional territories which aired on down and dirty TV productions on local TV, to being on national cable TV, to the advent of pay-per-view, satellite television, global television. I’ve been fortunate enough to sign some of the top names in our business in history. I’ve been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame — all for a kid who wore husky sized jeans from the Sears store, who grew up in a four-room milk barn converted to a home in eastern Oklahoma.
“You know, I used to wonder why nobody wanted to spend sleepovers at my house. I thought they thought I had flatulence or some other stuff, I don’t know. Well, hell, I didn’t have an indoor bathroom until I was in the fourth grade. I sound like Abe Lincoln or a Toby Keith song here. If you came to my house and did a sleepover, one, no cable, two, no indoor bathroom. No thanks.
“The wrestling business has marked so many milestones. I was in London getting ready to do a pay-per-view, and as all the wrestlers here and the oldtimers will know, ‘Well, I had the belt, I got a little color, sold out, turned away, never seen so many damn many people.’ So I go to do a pay-per-view in London, and I get a phone call. My 64-year-old mother died. ‘What do you want to do, J.R.? Do you want to go home? Or do you want to stay here and work?’ Well, I know what my mother would have said. She’d have said, ‘Get your ass to work,’ as she sucked on a cigarette, maybe had a little cocktail. I stayed there and I did my work. When I got home, I took care of my mother’s burial, because I had no brothers or sisters.
“The Road Warriors returned to Monday Night Raw at the Manhattan Center and my dad died. I don’t think it was The Road Warriors’ pop that got my dad — they may say that, but I don’t think it was. My dad’s old ticker gave out on him. So that was another link to my wrestling world.
“My wife is sitting here tonight. We’ve been together 20 years. Now, pro wrestling marriages, being with the same woman for 20 years is like 140 years [Charlie Thesz shouts out, “For her!”], for her. Thank you, Charlie. I met my wife on a USAir flight, sitting next to Ric Flair. We were imbibing, we were re-hydrating at seven in the morning, I think, on Bloody Marys, or something, I don’t know. My wife was a flight attendant, and we’ve been together ever since. She’s seen all the highs and lows, the good and bad, me having Bell’s palsy, me losing my job, me coming back to work, me sitting at home in my big La-Z-Boy, bitching at what I hear on TV. Things that I don’t like, she hates with me. God bless her, she’s the best. I couldn’t have made it without her, no doubt about it.
“So, as you can see, the business changed since 1974. And I rolled with the punches. You’ve got to be resilient. I love what I do. Next time I get to do it, I’m going to do it the best I can. I don’t know when that’s going to be, but as far as I’m concerned, I have not turned my jersey in. So I feel, then, that I am still in the game.
“I have seen the McGuire Twins, one weighed 660, one weighed 640, I have seen them shower nude. How tough am I? I have seen them wash each others back; one weighed 640, the other 660. There’s a visual for you that will keep you away from the apple crisp at the dessert buffet.
“I have driven with Leroy McGuirk, drunk, angry, bitter and blind, with a 38 Special in his lap, explaining to me, a 22-year-old kid from eastern Oklahoma, how he and I are going to murder a man in a matter of hours. And I’m wondering how I am going to learn to sleep on my back in prison the rest of my life.
“I have heard Bill Watts admonish Danny Hodge for using too much time and making his act too hard to follow. Danny was in the semi-main, intermission, Cowboy. Danny, great athlete, intermission, the owner/booker/star is on last. ‘I can’t follow you, Danny.’ So I hear Cowboy read Danny the riot act. Ironically, when I got back to the shower when the show was over, all the hot water faucets in the shower had been twisted off. Isn’t that coincidental? So the large Cowboy, who had the red ass, thanks to Danny had to take a cold shower that night. And I’m riding with Cowboy. ‘I’m going to get that Hodge tomorrow.’ And I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to see this. This is the best promo of all.’ Well, that ain’t gonna happen. By the evening of the next day, Bill had forgiven Danny for his own welfare.
“I remember tagging with, I actually, you’re not going to believe this deal, because I can’t judge a book by its cover. You know recruiting, right? I’ve actually been in some matches. I’m pretty bad ass sometimes now. But there was one time in Oklahoma City where I teamed up with Jerry Lawler against the Dudleys, no I take that back, against William Regal and Lance Storm, two fine international gentlemen, Lance Storm, Canadian, William Regal from England. Lawler was a polished performer/wrestler, and me, I’m a cow on ice. We had a tag match in Oklahoma City, and guess what, Mick? Sold out. [Mick Foley responds: “Never seen so many people.”] Absolutely, never seen so many people in my whole life.
“Here’s the deal. Lawler was between relationships and he thought he needed to get on this low carb diet where you’re drinking all these things that clean your system out. And he decided to break out all his white, Memphis superhero babyface gear. He’s drinking all this, no carbs, he’s just eating meat, no potatoes, nothing good. He says, ‘I’m taking this.’ Well, here’s the deal, folks — if you’re on a diet and you’re afraid to fart, then you need to get on another diet, because that’s not natural. Lawler then has a little bit of a problem, in his white tights. And I’m waiting for the hot tag, because I’m the big babyface from Oklahoma. He’s going to make the hot tag and I’m going to come in and tear the house up. Well, we weren’t quite ready for the hot tag, but Lawler got slammed, and what he thought was going to be a little bit of gas turned out to be a little bit of liquid. It started out in those white tights kind of like a Milk Dud. We’re on TV now, we’ve got the OU pep band in the crowd, we’ve got 8,000 people watching, Good Ol’ J.R., the Boomer Sooner fight song, got the OU thing on my trunks, got the OU jersey on. Well, the Milk Dud became kind of like Milky Way. And then we kind of had to rush into our hot tag, which meant we had to ad lib our finish. We worked through that, and fortunately the good guys prevailed, and everybody lived happily ever after in wrestling-land.
“So I’ve seen kind of a lot of things about how the business has changed. They haven’t all involved bodily fluids. But it’s been a wonderful run.
“I want to tell everyone here in Iowa that Coach Stoops says hello, and we’re blessed to have him. He thinks Dan Gable is God, and so do I. Bob is a wonderful Iowa Hawkeye and proud of his heritage. I appreciate seeing everybody here, guys I’ve admired, Larry Hennig, Bob Roop, of course, crazy Terry Funk. [In Funk’s voice] ‘I’m on my cell phone, dammit, I don’t have time to listen to you. I have to receive something for my brother Dory, and I don’t even know where he is.’ Jim Duggan, who I saw drive a bolt sticking out from a ring post through his head in Houston one night; he was our star. This will tell you how tough that son of a gun is — it just pissed him off. He never stopped, he never missed a booking. He was one of our guys, he was a man’s man. And he beat cancer; think of that — he whipped cancer’s ass. I don’t know how many national titles you win, Jim Duggan beat cancer’s ass, and that’s pretty big in my books. Baron von Raschke, ‘Jimmy Raschke from Nebrasky.’ There are so many more that are here.
“The wrestling business has been really cool to me. I’d like to be able to come back on an annual basis. I have no idea how I got this award. Lou Thesz, to me, is a deity. I am an overachiever. I never quit, I never gave up my passion, I never would allow myself to be outworked or outperformed — but I don’t understand how I can be spoken of with Lou Thesz in the same sentence. I am very humbled to be here. I’ve had a wonderful time in Waterloo. I accept this honor with a great deal of pride and gratitude, and can only close by saying, that this night has been one hell of a slobberknocker.
– transcribed by Greg Oliver
TRAGOS/THESZ CLASS OF 2011 STORIES
- July 27, 2011: Jim Ross’ acceptance speech for the Lou Thesz Award
- July 23, 2011: J.R.’s passion shows through at Tragos/Thesz ceremony
- VIDEO: Mick Foley introduces Scott Teal
- VIDEO: Terry Funk tells a Chris Taylor story
- VIDEO: Jim Ross starts his speech
- July 21, 2011: Recalling Monsoon before he was top Gorilla
- November 15, 2010: Tragos/Thesz HOF to honour Funk Jr., Monsoon, Ross, Duggan