By Haydn Gleed
The cliché line of “he has forgotten more about the wrestling business than we will ever know” gets banded around loosely nowadays, but when it comes to Jim Ross it certainly rings true. As a man in my mid-thirties, good ol’ JR was the voice of my wrestling fandom during my teenage years so you can imagine my excitement when the news filtered through that he would be writing a book on his life.
It certainly lived up to expectations.
The book is bookended with his return from Bell’s Palsy in 1999 at WrestleMania 15 when he was on the call for the main event between The Rock and Steve Austin. We immediately get to see a more vulnerable side of Jim Ross that he would never allow to be seen on camera and is a great prelude of the honesty that he demonstrates throughout the book while discussing his life.
As a rule with autobiographies, it can sometimes feel that the subject spends too much time talking about their childhood and memories from high school, etc, In Slobberknocker, Ross recounts tales of his childhood which sets up themes that gets repeated all through his life so it feels there’s a purpose for these stories being shared. The importance of a good work ethic, the key role of responsibility for ones actions and the inspiration that he obviously drew from his parents at a young age are all highlighted through various different memories. As an animal lover, there is one upsetting story involving puppies from his childhood farm that instantly made me realize why Jim in later life would take the responsibilities given to him seriously.
The book moves swiftly through his early life and straight into how as an ambitious college charity promoter he managed to meet and impress “Cowboy” Bill Watts and get his foot in the door. I will say immediately that if you are looking for a book that buries people in wrestling and and reveals skeletons in closets then this is not the book for you, but that doesn’t mean that Ross doesn’t discuss stories from the road along with shoot incidents in the ring with an honesty and description that is refreshing. The stories of his early years as a referee and the liberties that some old school wrestlers would take with him could be considered shocking in the more sanitized world of 2017, as would be some of his encounters he faced as the young driver for the wrestlers moving from town to town. Some of the stories involving Leroy McGuirk had me in stitches and shocked in equal measure.
The book talks about the important characters in Ross’s career from Watts to Vince McMahon and again it’s all done with an honest perspective. Although he rightly considers Watts as a mentor, he also doesn’t hesitate to criticize his approach when their paths meet later in his career in both WCW and WWE. On the flip side, Ross shares some truly touching and personal stories of his interactions with McMahon which shows the more human side to Vince.
What comes across in equal measure to the honesty in the book is the modesty of Ross as a human being. He gives the impression that although he was probably more passionate than the majority of the people in the company he was working for, ultimately, he felt he was there to do a job to the best of his abilities and get paid well for it. What he doesn’t spend enough time doing is giving himself a pat on the back for the job that he did. In most cases, he passes the credit or an equal share of it for the success of the companies that he worked for to other people. During the Attitude Era for example, without Ross providing the story narrative and explaining to the viewers at home why what we were seeing in the ring was important, I’m sure the boom in the late ’90s wouldn’t have been as big as it was. Indeed, through his career he has played a major role in the careers of countless wrestlers both on screen and backstage, but at no point in the book does he give himself enough praise.
If I wanted to find a negative it would be the level of detail that is offered in the book. Similar to how the “30 for 30” documentary only scratched the service of Ric Flair’s life story due to time constraints, it would be impossible to put all of Ross’s memories in the confines of a 300-plus page book. With that being said, I feel that some stories were left half explained or not enough detail given. The best example I can give to that is when he was talking about his firing from WWF in 1994 and the letter he wrote to Vince because he was disturbed to learn that McMahon felt he was disloyal to the company. It would have been nice for us to learn what he had been told had happened and addressed it. There are a few occasions where this happened, but ultimately it didn’t necessarily take much away from the overall enjoyment of the book.
There are very few specifics regarding the private life of Ross and that’s an understandable stance. It is established early on how important his parents were to him and we understand why the passing of his mother was especially was traumatic for him. However, in terms of his ex-wives and his children, we are not given a lot of detail except for honest reflections and regret of how his work came first instead of his family. But we are given enough detail to understand why his late wife Jan was so important to him and makes the events of the past year all the more heartbreaking.
Ultimately, “Slobberknocker: My Life In Wrestling” is not the tell all book that I believe some people may have wanted, and it’s not even the complete story of everything that happened to Jim Ross in the 20-plus years that the books covers. It is however a story of one man that took what he learned as a good old country boy and battled through the sometimes murky and political world of professional wrestling in order to live his dream. Certainly, this is a book that I would recommend to wrestling fans as something they should put on their Christmas wish list.
If you want to discuss the book or anything pro wrestling related, feel free to get in touch via twitter @haydngleed or via email firstname.lastname@example.org