Over the years, there have been numerous wrestling announcers that I’ve enjoyed listening to. The reasons for my liking certain individuals varied: some announcers used humor, others were able to raise my excitement level, because their voice was infused with a tremendous amount of passion, and still others impressed me with their knowledge of the wrestling business. Jim Ross is that rare talent that can do all three. He is, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this, one of, if not the greatest to ever call the action inside, what is known in wrestling parlance as, the squared circle. The first time I sat down to read his book “Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond,” I intended to read a few pages to get a feel for the book; sixty pages later, when I had to stop reading, to attend to other things, I knew I was hooked.
What some wrestling fans might find surprising, while reading Ross’ book, is that his career with the WWE didn’t commence and culminate with announcing. In fact, Ross was one of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s most utilized staff members. Ross, among other positions he held over the years with the company, was the head of talent relations from the late 1990s through the early 2000s. Furthermore, he was in charge of payroll.
“Under the Black Hat” starts directly after where Ross’s first book “Slobberknocker” leaves off, at Wrestlemania XV, which took place on March 28, 1999, at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While WrestleMania XV is the catalyst for the book, what follows delves into nearly two decades of the professional and personal life of Jim Ross.
For those wrestling fans, who perhaps thought life in the WWE was hassle free for Ross, as his book indicates, that was not the case. Ross is extraordinarily grateful to the wrestling business and WWE in general for the opportunities and financial security it has afforded him, but there was a downside. For example, the constant travel and long work days, that took him away from his family, especially his late wife Jan. From reading the book, I could tell that Ross loved her more than anyone else in the world. She was his biggest cheerleader. She knew how much the wrestling business meant to Ross and she stood by him, never once complaining about his time away from her. The only times, according to what was written in the book, that Jan did take issue with Ross’s profession, is when she felt he was being unfairly targeted and when he was disrespected on television. I’ll let those of you who are interested in reading the book learn about those incidents on your own.
For wrestling fans who enjoy learning the gossip of the business, Ross provides plenty of that as well. For example, the failed storyline of “Invasion” which took place after Vince McMahon beat and bought his major competitor, WCW (World Championship Wrestling). The idea was to have the WCW wrestlers start to invade WWE programming, and interrupt matches, create new feuds, and eventually become its own wrestling show, albeit controlled by WWE. The problem was that with the exception of one or two wrestlers, for example, Booker T, none of WCW’s major talent was available. The contracts of wrestlers such as Goldberg, Hogan, and Sting were cost prohibitive. WWE did eventually get all three of the aforementioned wrestlers to work for the company, but they had to wait until the contractual obligations owed to them by WCW were finished.
“Under the Black Hat” was published by Tiller Press on March 31, 2020. Co-written by Jim Ross and Paul O’Brian, it is 320 pages in length. The book is written in episodic style. For wrestling fans interested in gaining behind the scenes access, guided by an individual, who has spent four decades in the business, in my opinion, this is a must read.