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(Book Review) Under the Black Hat

Jim Ross is widely regarded as one of the two best professional wrestling announcers of all time.  However you rank him with Gordon Solie is right.  Ross was the voice of the WWE's "Attitude Era," and he provided the memorable soundtrack for the exploits of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, and others, for 20 years.  Longtime wrestling fans will remember his work with WCW in the late 1980's and Mid-South Wrestling before that.  In addition to being an announcer, Ross has also been part of management.  He's seen it all, the highs and the lows, both professionally and personally, and he tells some of those stories in his latest book, Under the Black Hat:  My Life in the WWE and Beyond.  (out now)

This memoir primarily focuses on Ross' career from 2000 until the present.  There's a lot of discussion of the corporate side of WWE, which we've generally found more interesting than the in-ring product for ages.  Ross was responsible for recruiting many of the stars of the last two decades, whether from other wrestling companies or through the amateur ranks.  He had an amazing track record on that front which is almost as impressive as his long announcing career.  He also had to listen to wrestlers' concerns, play the occasional enforcer, and handle things like payroll issues.

Regardless of what hat he was wearing (pun intended), Jim Ross also had to deal with WWE CEO Vince McMahon, the man behind this global behemoth of an entertainment company.  To be blunt, what comes across the pages is an account of a deeply abusive relationship between the two men, with Ross enduring a seemingly never-ending series of public humiliations, for no other reason than they appeared to amuse McMahon.  The WWE used to pretend they were anti-bullying, but Ross was constantly picked on for his weight, southern accent, and his looks, especially after suffering multiple Bell's palsy attacks that left him with some facial paralysis.

Ross was repeatedly verbally degraded, forced to engage in in-ring action (which he wasn't trained for, and no one needed to see), and fired on-air, none of which benefited the audience at the shows or watching at home.  The stress of his work likely contributed to multiple health conditions, and it eventually becomes painful for the reader to hear yet another chapter about him being treated so badly.  One might wonder why Ross subjected himself to such abuse.  He addresses that by discussing the thrill of being the top announcer in his industry and telling the stories that will be remembered for ages.  There are repeated mentions of the "former fat kid" craving the love of the audience, (an adrenaline rush that many wrestlers have referred to in their own books) and repeated mentions of living up to his stoic father. 

Without getting too deep into armchair psychology, Ross seems to consider McMahon a father figure to some extent and appeared to be constantly seeking his approval.  McMahon clearly has his own issues after growing up in a trailer park in North Carolina after his father, wrestling promoter Vince McMahon Sr., abandoned his family.  The younger McMahon's cruel streak and hatred of all things southern are well-documented, and it's not hard to see where they originated.  It's also easy to see what drives McMahon lashing out at Ross after he apparently feels abandoned by the announcer's decision to move home to Oklahoma.  However, no matter what causes them it's still painful to see them come into play time and time again in this book.

Ross writes repeatedly about what a beacon of light his late wife Jan was during the time period covered in this book.  Indeed, in many ways, Under the Black Hat is a tribute to her more than anything else.  She was apparently a constant voice of reason and support, which seems rare in the wrestling industry.  She repeatedly reminded her husband that there is more to life than professional wrestling, and she was apparently loved by all who knew her.  She's a reassuring presence in this book, which makes her eventual death all the more devastating.

As the book ends, Ross finally parts ways with the WWE, for now at least, and finds a new life as the announcer for the upstart All Elite Wrestling (AEW) company.    He is a man in need of a lifeline, and this seems like the perfect fit.   Hopefully AEW's management isn't nearly as toxic as the folks who run the WWE.  One can only hope that Ross can eventually find a lasting peace in his life, because it's clear that's what his wife wanted for him. 

Wrestling fans will enjoy Under the Black Hat, and they may also find themselves wondering if everyone in the wrestling industry would benefit from talking to a mental health professional.


Jim Ross Under the Black Hat CoverA tale of adversity and resiliency.  (pic via



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