Jim Ross discusses new talent, state of ECW
By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling
With the kick-off of the XFL's inaugural season one day away, plans for WrestleMania being mapped out in advance and ongoing negotiations with in-coming talent, Jim Ross is busier than ever.
On his way to the airport to catch a flight to Florida where he'll broadcast tomorrow's Chicago Enforcers-Orlando Rage contest, Ross took time out of his very busy schedule to speak with SLAM! Wrestling in an exclusive interview.
Ross addressed several issues raised by SLAM! Wrestling, including "reports" on other wrestling websites that the WWF has signed a letter of agreement with ECW star Tajiri.
Ross, Senior Vice President of Talent Relations for the WWF, said those "reports" are completely false.
"We have never signed a letter of agreement with Tajiri," asserted Ross. "That's an Internet fallacy or a dirt-sheet fallacy or a media fallacy or whatever. I don't understand it. We have had no letter of agreement with Tajiri. Now, I'm not trying to camouflage that we're not interested in him. He's not signed but we're interested in signing him and we hope to."
"Tajiri is a guy we've talked to (WWF international talent liaison and wrestling agent) Victor Quinones about before he went to work for ECW because that's one of the reasons Victor is on our staff - he has access to a lot of talent that others might not have. We could have had Tajiri before he went to ECW but we didn't have a place for him at the time."
Ross also revealed that they have reached a verbal agreement with Jerry Lynn.
"We have come to a verbal agreement with a deal for Jerry Lynn but that's all it is, a verbal agreement. Nothing has been signed but we think we've come to an understanding with Jerry on terms of an agreement that has yet to be issued. We expect Jerry to be joining us in the next few weeks. Jerry Lynn needs to get something now because he's not getting any younger. He's in his mid-30s. But I'm really high on Jerry."
Ross also said they have an interest in signing current ECW World Heavyweight and Television champion Rhino.
"We're very interested in signing him. We feel that he's interested in coming here but we haven't signed a deal with him. Rhino is a kid that has a wealth of potential. He's young. Our track record on building stars here is pretty good so he should be able to take advantage of that because he's got a wonderful attitude that we covet. And we had him in our camp early on and he just needed so much more work and at the time, we didn't have a situation set up like we do in Ohio Valley, so he worked with Paul (Heyman). And Paul's done a wonderful job with him and this kid's worked hard, so he has the right intangibles we're looking for."
After getting off the phone with SLAM! Wrestling, Ross told WWF.com that they have "reached verbal agreements with Jerry Lynn and Terry "Rhino" Gerin.
Ross also publicly confirmed the signing of Pete Polaco, (aka ECW's Justin Credible), for the first time for a wrestling website other than WWF.com, since inking a deal with the former ECW star last week.
"He's signed. He's coming in and I think it's a good signing because he's 27 years-old, he's a lifelong fan of the WWF and he lives less than an hour's drive from our office and TV facility. He broke in here with us, we observed his progress in ECW and he's got a long way to go before he's a main event guy but he has the potential to continue to elevate. We expect him to elevate but we don't expect him to elevate over night, he's still in a growing period, he's 27 years old. There's a lot of time."
Ross said it's more than likely Polaco won't hold onto his Justin Credible character, saying they want to give the young star a "fresh start".
Ross also said Polaco hasn't received a start date with the WWF.
"It's a matter of creative, finding a right place for him and there's certainly a lot of ideas on the drawing board but nothing's been finalized. When the creative is ready we'll bring him in but there's no start date."
With the completion of the sale of WCW to Fusient Media Ventures roughly a month away and the preceding "hiring-freeze" rumoured to be over, speculation has run rampant that the WWF is going after ECW's roster of talent in order to beat WCW to the punch.
Ross insisted that isn't the case.
"It has nothing to do with WCW, it has to do with the status of ECW. The status of ECW is an unfortunate one, as everybody knows. I haven't talked to Paul Heyman so anything I say about ECW is only based on some of the things I read and some of the things I hear. It's obvious that they're having financial difficulties. I don't think I'm out of line for saying that. And it's unfortunate that because of those financial difficulties that a lot of their talent haven't been paid. This talent, not unlike anybody else who's probably going to read this, have obligations to their family, whether it's mortgage payments, or car payments or rent, little things by groceries, their taxes. So, we looked at it as an opportunity to acquire the services of some of these individuals that need to get their financial situation back under control."
"The bottom line is we feel all those guys fit into our locker room," continued Ross. "It's very important that they can obviously work and they all can work, they all bring different things to the table, they're all on different timelines. But, now that these kids are not getting paid, which is unfortunate and they're going to find work. They have to find work; they have to provide for their families. Everybody was all calling us. We didn't go out and intimidate these people to sign. It's been a very mutual thing. But the issue is real simple: if you can't feed your family doing what you're doing then I suggest you find something else to do. No matter what you do for a living."
"To me this has nothing to do with (their) loyalty to ECW," said Ross. "Looking at how the situation played out, they were probably as loyal and more loyal as anybody could expect them to be. When you work that long without being paid and I don't know that you would do it. I know that I wouldn't do it!".
Ross was also adamant in stating that the WWF's negotiations with ECW talent should not be construed as predatory.
"Just because we are, or have or will sign some of the ECW talent, doesn't mean Paul doesn't have access to them for a March pay-per-view if that's what he chooses to do. We're not here to pull the plug on Paul's life support. Now that these guys are "protected", he still has use of them. He still has access to them. If you look at it from an objective standpoint what we did should be of a big benefit to ECW."
Ross also addressed speculation that Heyman would join the WWF's writing team if ECW closes shop.
"I think Paul would be a welcomed addition to our company and could contribute immensely on the creative side. I think it would be an opportunity for him to recharge his batteries and to enjoy that aspect which we think he's best at in our business. But he has a huge challenge ahead of him as far as how he deals with these issues at hand for his existing business. Paul can work his way through that situation, and I have every confidence that he will, (but if he doesn't) I hope he does come to work for us."