It was a struggle for Jim Ross to read his own words. The legendary wrestling announcer’s new book, “Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond,” provides a detailed and emotional look inside the latter portion of his time with World Wrestling Entertainment. It picks up where his previous book, “Slobberknocker: My …
It was a struggle for Jim Ross to read his own words.
The legendary wrestling announcer’s new book, “Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond,” provides a detailed and emotional look inside the latter portion of his time with World Wrestling Entertainment. It picks up where his previous book, “Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling,” left off, covering his return from a bout with Bell’s palsy for WrestleMania 15 in 1999 to him parting ways with WWE in April 2018, a year after his wife, Jan, tragically died in a car accident.
Going back to those memories of his “angel,” and her death in the final chapter with co-author Bill O’Brien, made “Under the Black Hat” a deeply personal project for Ross. He called recording the audiobook the “hardest thing I’ve ever done from a performance standpoint” and he did much of it with “so many tears in my eyes I couldn’t read the script.”
“Every time I’d read a passage that we wrote I lived it again,” the 68-year-old Ross said in a phone interview. “I had been there. I knew what I was wearing. I knew what she smelled like. It was hard, man.”
The book, set to be released on March 31, is also filled with endless behind-the-scenes stories, conversations and insight for wrestling fans. That includes how Ross would tabulate performers’ payoffs as WWE’s head of talent relations, calling the death of Owen Hart live, hiring staff for a WCW television show that never happened and sharing Jack Daniels and beers in a parking lot “sanctuary” with The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels after WrestleMania 26.
Early in the book, Ross takes us through “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s last days as a full-time wrestler in WWE. He recalls his reservations with Austin’s heel turn and checking on “The Rattlesnake” in the hospital with WWE CEO Vince McMahon prior to his retirement match at WrestleMania 19. Austin was dealing with anxiety leading up to the match, wanting it to be up to his high standards. One of the best ever didn’t want “to go out with sympathy.”
“It was hard seeing him in the hospital,” said Ross, who is currently an announcer and senior advisor for All Elite Wrestling. “We didn’t know until Saturday night late that he was even going to be in the match. That’s why we changed the order. Rock and Austin did not close the show at WrestleMania 19 and that’s the reason why.”
The book is also a superb look into the challenges Ross faced working for McMahon. It takes us through the WWE chairman’s thought process about wrestlers such as Eddie Guerrero and Brock Lesnar, the eventual strain on Ross’ professional relationship with him and McMahon being there when he was needed most.
“I think people think this is going to be a hatchet job, a tell-all type deal. It’s not,” Ross said. “I’m just being honest about it. Vince and I had, and still have in my view, a mutual respect for each other. We both are prisoners of our business. We may love our business more than we should.”
Ross said during the height of his work at WWE as an administrator – prior to his colon surgery in 2005 – he was self-medicating himself with Ambien and Xanax and chasing it with Crown Royal. We see Ross throughout the book trying to calculate his own self-worth while working for the complicated McMahon. Ross says he’s had “some of the greatest conversation in the world” with McMahon when they were one-on-one.
He says some of the blame for what happened to him behind the scenes at WWE falls on him too, because he’d let his ego get in the way and did not communicate his feelings about things well enough at times. Looking back, Ross sees that he structured his job, from announcing, to talent relations, to booking house shows, so that he always had something to do and that was “a mistake.”
“I emulated Vince in a lot of ways, where I worked more and I spent more of my passionate time, more of my emotions, more of my emotional investment, on WWE than I did anything else,” Ross said. “And I regret that because now my little angel is gone and there are all kinds of times I could have done more with her that I didn’t do because I put work ahead of it.”
After being pulled off commentary right before WrestleMania 26, Ross says in the book: “I saw myself mostly through the lens for my career. When it was doing well, then I was doing well; and when it wasn’t, it was hard to live with.”
Jan, always there to pick him back up through the highs and lows, responded: “I wish you could see yourself as they [the wrestlers] all see you” and “you can’t let your worth rise and fall because of your airtime.”
But what happened to him on camera – from being pulled in and out of the announcer’s booth to his awkward feud with fellow announcer Michael Cole – felt more personal because he didn’t play a character.
“It was me that it was happening to,” Ross said. “I didn’t have a fictitious name or a fictitious personality. What you saw on television, for better or for worse, that’s what it is. That’s who I was. That’s who I am.”
Ross appeared to have found an escape from the grind of McMahon’s WWE bubble when Triple H asked him to help launch NXT in 2012, with the likes of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Paige still there. He loved the Florida weather, truly enjoyed getting to produce new announcers and mentor the wrestlers.
That quickly stopped when longtime broadcast partner Jerry “The King” Lawler had a heart attack on “Monday Night Raw” and Ross was called back to replace him the following week. Ross, who is now playing a similar role with AEW, said he “absolutely” would have been happy and fulfilled had he been able to stay in NXT.
“Me being involved in a training operation like NXT, I would find some of these young kids need my feedback,” Ross said. “They needed my support. They needed my positive motivation and that’s a self-propelling prophecy. That’s good for all of us.”
Having gone through all of this has left Ross with a new perspective on life. He hopes for the lesson of “Under The Black Hat” to be that no matter how bad something seems to be, you can overcome it. Ross dealt with bouts of Bell’s palsy that left him unable to smile, ups and downs professionally and losing his wife of 25 years in an instant. It left Ross needing to pull himself out of depression while living alone and only working twice for WWE in 2018.
“I spend more time counting my blessings then reciting ‘poor me’s,’” he said of his current outlook on life.
Ross truly feels part of a team at AEW. He has learned from mistakes. He’s gotten rid of friends who brought negativity in his life, is spending more time with his daughters and grandchildren while taking better care of his health.
“Never let your life beat the s—t out of you,” Ross said. “You don’t have to let it beat you up. We’re not forced to take the hand we’re dealt. We can’t do a lot about what we’re dealt, but we can do everything about what we do about the hand that’s dealt to us.”
“Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and JRSBBQ.com