Jim Ross Recounts Convincing Vince McMahon To Hire Randy Orton, John Cena’s Passion For Wrestling

Conrad Thompson and Jim Ross kicked off their first live “Grilling JR” show in Jacksonville, and part of the show featured Ross recalling how some of WWE’s biggest stars ended up being signed. Ross started by telling a story about how he quizzed John Cena on his wrestling knowledge as a recruit, praising Cena as being a bonafide wrestling star and a legitimate fan of the business. 

“It was off the cuff. I don’t remember the questions. I really wish I did, it’s a great question from you. I know it was a wrestling trivia question cause he talked to me about growing up in the Boston area and he talked about what he watched allegedly when he was a kid, and so I thought, ‘Well maybe I’ll throw a couple questions at him to check his oil.’ And he passed. He passed. He had great recall and a great use of storytelling ability and you could tell he loved wrestling. A legit fan. There’s manufactured wrestling stars and there’s wrestling stars. He was never manufactured. Yeah, he got refined as a character, but the fundamentals of his passion were right there and then I even went a step farther.

Ironically, his strength coach at his college—Springfield College I think it was—he was an All-American center in football in Division II or III and his strength coach there is a friend who was with him, down at OU, Oklahoma University. So I heard about the connection so I called him up and talked to him and he said, ‘Man, that son of a gun was the first guy in the gym for workouts and the last guy to leave every single time. Nobody worked as hard as John Cena in the weight room on the practice field. Great leader. Man if he wants to get into wrestling, JR, he’s gonna be a big time player. So you hear that kind of recommendation so you know you might be kind of onto something so we followed through with it and obviously John has had a magnificent run thanks to those meetings that we had together and him getting an opportunity to play on the team and make the most of it. I get a lot of credit for signing these dudes, at the end of the day, I tell ’em: ‘I can only get you so far this journey you’re on. You gotta carry more of the water than me.’ So he did that and look at him now. He’s slowly getting in The Rock league of things outside of wrestling. Well not quite, but you know, The Rock’s in another world.”

Ross went on to mention Cena’s OVW class that included guys like Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, who JR said that Vince didn’t want to hire because of his dishonorable discharge from the Marines. Ross said Vince initially wanted to pass on Orton, but he ended up coming around after being talked into it. Ross also touched on some of Orton’s reported behavioral issues early on in his career, noting one incident involving a hefty fine for telling off a barber. 

CONRAD: “Let me circle back to that. Vince didn’t want you to hire him because of the discharge, even though he was second generation?”

JR: “No, it didn’t matter. McMahon is that patriotic. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, we did it cause I talked him into it. ‘We gotta give him a chance. Everybody deserves a chance, Vince.’ He said it all the time. ‘Let’s give this kid a chance.’ Cause he’s getting one chance now, right? One chance. If it don’t work, he’s done with us. For f’n ever. There’ll be no more recalls and there will be no more call backs; we’re done. But he deserves a chance.’”

CONRAD: “He’s probably had a few more. We’ve heard that he’s had some, I don’t know, behavioral incidents. Is that a fair thing to say?”

JR: “But here’s the thing: here’s what you gotta forecast as best you can. You’re exactly right, you’re exactly right. I fined him five grand one time for saying a bad word to the barber at the TV tapings. He wanted a one and she gave him a two or some shit like that, some numbers in their haircuts. Anyway, it was bad exchange of dialogue and it cost him five grand. I just said, ‘You just paid for the highest haircut you’ll ever have in your life.’ That’s how I managed that roster.”

(Transcription credit should go to @DominicDeAngelo of WrestleZone)

Conrad & JR have their next live show coming up on Saturday, August 17 in Charlotte, NC (aka “Flair Country”). You can purchase tickets to the event by going here and details about the event are below:

The legends of wrestling yesteryear return to Charlotte this August for The Gathering! On August 17th you’ll have your chance to meet dozens of legends for pictures and autographs and that night there will be a Supercard Rumble Event of live wrestling matches. Immediately following the matches, join Good Ole JR for a trip down memory lane with Conrad Thompson steering the ship to discuss Jim’s life in the wrestling business. From Leroy to Watts to Herd to McMahon to Khan, JR has seen it all and this is YOUR chance to pick the brain of the incomparable Jim F’N Ross!

To hear my interview with Conrad Thompson about the “Grilling JR” live shows and why the two chose “Flair Country” as a landing spot, listen below: