Tonight, for the first time since his departure from WWE, Jim Ross returns to a regular gig doing pro wrestling announcing with his first episode of New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV. This all came about when Mauro Ranallo, who had called the show with Josh Barnett up to this point, was hired by WWE to be the voice of SmackDown. AXS clearly knew what they had to do: Ranallo’s work had been so highly praised that very few announcers would have been seen as anything but a step down, even if they do good jobs, but Ross is THE legend of wrestling announcers in the modern era. Ross is also great for getting the show/product publicity.
AXS TV sent out a screener of tonight’s show recently, which I’ve watched. I won’t lie: There’s a bit of an adjustment. Ranallo and Barnett did this show together for a year, and were good friends before that, so they had developed a smooth rapport. As a unit, Ross and Barnett aren’t there yet. It was also strange to watch a show where you don’t see Ross (even though you know he’s dubbing 10 month old matches), and hear him in a studio when we’re used to hearing him at ringside.
That said? It’s Jim Ross! A motivated, a reinvigorated Jim Ross. He did his homework, called moves well, and drama…everything you’d really want from Jim Ross. What stood out to me, though, was how he set up Barnett. At one point, there was a spot where Ross mentioned how you can see how Shinsuke Nakamura’s mixed martial arts training and fighting experience came into play. Barnett seemed a little confused for a second before Ross explained how the front facelock/front headlock has so many uses in MMA that can be adopted in pro wrestling. It was a great touch.
It was a very solid debut, and I’m sure Ross gets into even more of a groove in future episodes. Check it out tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET on AXS TV.