Jim Ross on what talent has shined for AEW, who he feels will be 'The Guy'
All Elite Wrestling returns for their next big event on Sunday night from Daily's Place in Jacksonville, Fla. The main event features Kenny Omega defending the AEW heavyweight title against Orange Cassidy and PAC.
Also, The Inner Circle (Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, Sammy Guevara, Santana and Ortiz) take on The Pinnacle (MJF, Wardlow, Cash Wheeler, Dax Harwood and Shawn Spears) in a Stadium Stampede match.
The future is bright for the company with MJF, Darby Allin, Guevara and Jungle Boy on the verge of superstardom. In anticipation of the latest AEW pay-per-view offering, DAZN News spoke with lead announcer Jim Ross.
Ross talks about the partnerships AEW has with Impact Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, who are the future stars of AEW, and who is going to be "The Guy" for the company.
(Editor's note: This interview will be edited for length and clarity.)
DAZN: You called the Blood and Guts match on May 5 on Dynamite. How was this match compared to what we've seen in you calling Hell in a Cells?
Jim Ross: They're my boys. There's ten guys in there that I've grown close to. I always approached my role as head of talent relations (in WWE) like a player-personnel guy or a coach. I think that's why we had such great success. (WWE Chairman) Vince (McMahon) allowed me to hire a lot of talent. He allowed me to hire talent he didn't even know I never seen before. He didn't know who John Cena was. He didn't know who Brock Lesnar or Shelton Benjamin were. Shelton (Benjamin) was playing second fiddle to Brock in the University of Minnesota wrestling. In that one class, we had Cena, Brock, Batista, Randy Orton, and Shelton Benjamin. That's a pretty good class. That's a bunch of five-star guys. So I get close to them. And now, because I'm the oldest guy at TV, I was pulling for them. I knew what that match meant to those men involved. I knew what they expected of themselves and how they'd already perceived that opportunity to go out there and steal the show and deliver.
I was very proud of them. I was feeling very anxious about that match because it's an iffy transition. I said on commentary that sometimes you don't win against an inanimate object. That's what those cats were working and those two cages. You don't learn that at wrestling school. You don't learn that on the territories. You've got to adapt and make it work for you. I was very elated. I was disappointed some fans started criticizing our camera angles. I didn't know they had that much background as a director. It's like if Steven Spielberg tweets me that this camera angle is wrong, I'll give that more credence than somebody who had about 30 followers.
DAZN: I have to ask you this because when you were with WWE and the head of talent relations, you had that partnership for a minute with ECW. What do you make of the AEW partnerships with Impact, and it seems like right now New Japan?
JR: I think as it relates to Impact, that's done through the cooperative efforts of nature of Tony Khan. Don Callis is a part of the management team at Impact and the on-camera manager of Kenny Omega. I think I'm going to sound bad saying this, I'm sure. I think this relationship has helped Impact more than it’s helped AEW. But I don't know that we're measuring. I don't know that we're judging, quite frankly. If it helps the wrestling business, and it makes it more fan-friendly, then we all win. Tony Khan’s philosophy is to do business with everybody that we want that can help our brand. I think that's kind of the concept, and I don't think it's going to end with Impact.
I'd love to see us do more with New Japan. I had my little run there for three years doing New Japan voiceovers with Josh Barnett. I developed a friendship with a lot of those guys, just like I've done with this roster. I'm pulling for them. I know how talented a lot of those dudes are. I would like to see a pay-per-view with Okada challenging Kenny Omega for the AEW title. Why not? That's easy layup booking, but there's a history there. There's a backstory. You could lead into this thing for weeks and weeks until the day came for the big event. So things like that excite me. They got a lot of great talent over there that could match up with some of our guys. Darby (Allin) would be great. (Chris) Jericho had his run there and drew money. He sold tickets. I think there's a possibility that could happen down the road. I'm not in that circle. I'm not leaking any information that I shouldn't be talking about out of school. But I just think it makes too much common sense that once these COVID issues have been better addressed globally, I think that could happen. It may not be this year. But I think somewhere down the road. We're not going away. They're not going away. So when the time is right, you never know. I think it'd be fun for the fans.
DAZN: There's been a lot of talents this year that have shined for AEW. Who are one or two in your mind that have stuck out to you, and you're like, ‘Man, I didn't see this coming six months ago’?
JR: I love all of our homegrown talents. Certainly not saying that I don't have the same level of appreciation to the vets like Dustin Rhodes and Chris Jericho. Jon Moxley is in that middle area. He's still a young guy, but he's a veteran. He's been wrestling a long time, and he's damn sure good. But I like what we've done with our homegrown kids. There's Ricky Starks, Jungle Boy, Jack Perry, Darby Allin, MJF, who may be the top of the list, Sammy Guevara, who is going to be a big star. I love Santana and Ortiz. I'm a mark for Jake Hager. Wardlow is going to be a huge star. Trust me on that. He's the kind of guy that McMahon would covet. He's the kind of guy that McMahon would do anything to change Wardlow’s mind about his place of employment. I love this kid. (He’s) big, pleasant, polite, intelligent, never had any issues with any of those guys in the locker room. Sammy can be a wild child. Bill Watts, my old mentor, said one time, ‘You got to let these horses run JR.' That's what they are, and you got to let them have their head and go out there and do it.
MJF is a prodigy. He's special. He's a lot like a young, and I worked with him, a young Paul Heyman. He has a great gift for the English language. He has a heel's mindset. He’s very clever, very creative. I think he's as good a talker as there is in pro wrestling right now from my ears. Darby Allin is a ratings machine. Every time we put Darby in a segment, the ratings either grow or hold steady. We don't ever see a loss or two now with Darby Allen. I love Darby. Darby doesn't realize his size. He didn't realize that he's under 200 pounds. He doesn't care. He doesn't let himself get labeled in that box either. He's comfortable with who he is. He's got a unique style. Orange Cassidy is a little older than those two of those guys I've talked about in their 20s. When I first saw him work, I said, ‘What have we done? What happened? Why did we hire this guy?’ Didn't understand his gimmick. I didn't understand his persona. I realized, ‘Okay, hold the fort here, JR. This kid, you need to give some time. Be patient for once in your life’. So that’s what I did, and now I'm a big fan of his work because he's different. He hasn't copied his game from anybody that I can recall. I've seen a lot of guys since my debut in 1974. He's just different. He's a quality guy, educated, smart. We don't have a lot of these issues with guys showing up abrasively late or being malcontents. We got enough locker room leaders that don't want to tolerate it. They lived that life. Chris Jericho doesn't want to get involved in heavy-duty politics. He's lived that life. I can tell you from being in that political world of pro wrestling, this is a lot more fun. A lot more fun in AEW.
DAZN: You said something about Wardlow there. Who does remind you of when you look at him because you've seen everybody?
JR: Combination of a few guys. Physique wise, he reminds me of Lex Luger. I think he's going to end up being a much better worker. That's not knocking Lex. He's a little like Dave Batista. He's still evolving. Batista got getting better and better as he got older. He was never going to be confused with Kurt Angle or Dory Funk Jr. This kid's got it. He has the “IT” factor. We can't manufacture the “IT” factor. You can't anoint them with the “IT” factor. You have “IT” or don’t have “IT”. This kid's got “IT”. (He’s got) a big frame that promoters covered. Wrestling fans love an athletic big man. He's an athletic big man. He's the kind of guy that you're talking about on a football team. He could play on the interior if you want him to. He could also rush the passer from the edge. He could move. I love that about him. He may be the breakout star that we have in our company. It may happen this year. That wouldn’t shock me. I think sometime in the next year, in 2022, he's going to be “The Guy.” He's improving. If he stays healthy, doesn't get sidetracked with relationships, injuries, or silly mistakes, and I don't foresee that ever happening with this kid. He's very grounded, very smart, and you can communicate with him.