Jim Ross is and will always be the greatest announcer in the history of professional wrestling. And his new book, Under The Black Hat: My Life In The WWE And Beyond, cements what that title truly means.
The man is a natural-born storyteller.
Ross — or “Good ol’ JR” as he’s known to wrestling fans — has worn many hats in his wrestling career. As an announcer, he’s the Hall-of-Fame voice of WWE’s Attitude Era. From his desk as head of talent relations for WWE during the late ’90s into the 2000s, he’s the man who signed much of the company’s top talent. Steve Austin, the Rock, Mick Foley, and Chris Jericho just to name a few. And as a man, he’s been a source of counsel in all aspects of wrestling.
And to yet another generation of wrestling fans, Ross is the voice of All Elite Wrestling. With 40 years of experience telling stories with a headset and a microphone, Ross lets loose the full extent of his storytelling abilities with his new book.
Wrestling With Wrestling
From the prologue of Under The Black Hat, it’s clear that Ross is weaving a tale of heartbreak, insecurity, and ultimately triumph. In the prologue, which picks up immediately after his previous autobiography, Slobberknocker, ends, Ross covers the decision to have him call the main event of WrestleMania XV. Mere months after a debilitating Bell’s palsy attack.
In those few pages, Ross tells a story of uncertainty about where his career will go in the wake of the latest attack. Will WWE Chairman Vince McMahon want to keep him around? Can he still do the job of covering the action and acting as WWE’s head of talent relations?
Throughout that balancing act is his constant reassurance, his late wife, Jan.
Under The Black Hat is ultimately the story of the two most prevalent relationships in his life. Those with Jan and McMahon.
There is a tendency for wrestling biographies to tell an abundance of Vince McMahon stories. And Under The Black Hat is absolutely no exception. But where other books present stories that focus mainly on the oddity that is McMahon, Ross personalizes those stories. They are less stories about Vince’s idiosyncrasies. But more about how those unusual aspects of the chairman’s character affect those around him.
Often to indifferent or oblivious reactions from the boss himself.
There are countless stories throughout Under The Black Hat of McMahon tearing Ross down. And for each of those stories, there’s one of Jan building him back up.
That isn’t to say that Under The Black Hat is all about Ross at odds with his old boss. Many stories may be old hat to wrestling fans. Especially in the podcasting age. But Ross finds new ways and new perspectives to tell them.
What’s Old Is New Again
Wrestling fans know the story of the WWE “plane ride from hell.” A long flight where the wrestlers ran amok, fighting, drinking, and pulling pranks that would carry jail time in the “real” world.
Less well-known is the story of being the man who has to smooth things over with the roster. And firing the ones who went too far. Under The Black Hat brings those musings to new life.
The book is full of those well-known wrestling tales, all through the unique perspective of Ross. Many of which center around McMahon’s bizarre need to humiliate him. Under The Black Hat has stories about the eye-rolling “Kiss My Ass Club.” And the infamous “Doctor Heiney” sketch.
These are stories Ross has told before But seeing them in prose from the perspective of Ross’s feelings at the time and through the 20/20 hindsight of today presents them through a more complete and credible lens. At times, Under The Black Hat trends toward Ross’ admitted biases. But it never lingers there, presented by an author willing to let the past go. And in letting it go, always maintaining an even-keeled perspective.
For the non-wrestling fan, Under The Black Hat tells Ross’s story of overcoming adversity after adversity. The wrestling business is explained in terms understandable to the layman. For the die-hard followers of wrestling, Ross crafts a narrative sure to satisfy those who want to know, “How did it feel when …?”
Good ol’ JR conveys the mixed emotions of Steve Austin’s final match at WrestleMania XIX. The highs of being needed and called back to work for WWE. No matter how often they tried to replace him.
And it perfectly presents the story of his relationship with Jan. She features prominently in Under The Black Hat but is by no means omnipresent. Jan is there when she needs to be — as she was for Ross in life. She’s is a constant in Ross’s story, making it more painful when he relates her death in 2017. Just 10 days before JR returned to call one last WrestleMania.
The book is a story of many things, but at its center is integrity. There is every opportunity for Ross to bury WWE. To cut loose and say every derogatory thing in the book about McMahon and his company. But he never does.
With Under The Black Hat, Ross shows the class exemplified by the best characters played by his idol, John Wayne.
Ross doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. He remains the voice of pro wrestling every week on AEW: Dynamite. But if he was going to ride off into the sunset, Under The Black Hat would be a perfect way to put a cap on his legendary career.
Feature image courtesy of Simon & Schuster and Tiller Press.
'Under The Black Hat: My Life In The WWE And Beyond' By Jim Ross
- Familiar stories with fresh perspective
- The tale of two relationships - Jan and Vince - tells the story of the man
- Ross switches between heart-wrenching to heartwarming without jarring the reader
- Accessible to the die-hard fan and the wrestling layman alike
- Ross successfully buys it back most of the time, but some passages drip with overt bias