Thursday, April 9, 2015

I Listen So You Don't Have To: The Ross Report Ep. 60

Superstar Graham is Jim Ross' best guest ever
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If you're new, here's the rundown: I listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are better wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but these are the ones in my regular rotation that I feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If I can save other folks some time, I'm happy to do so.

Show: The Ross Report
Episode: 60 (April 8, 2015)
Run Time: 2:13:34
Guest: “Superstar” Billy Graham (28:20)

Summary: Ross calls a true legend for this week’s episode. The lengthy chat begins with Graham’s youth and how got started in bodybuilding, his forays into revival preaching and pro football and how that led him to Stu Hart’s dungeon. They reviewed his time wrestling in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and the AWA, where the Superstar persona took off. Ross has lots of questions about Graham’s nine-month run as WWWF Champion. Graham explains why he loved working with Dusty Rhodes, then gets into his early 1980s return from injury, failed attempts in various Southern territories and his liver troubles and current health. There’s frank talk about steroid use and why Graham thinks it’s now irrelevant, an explanation of how the word “brother” became so prominent and Graham’s impressions of current WWE stars. They end with small talk about Graham’s daily life, hobbies and general outlook.

Quote of the week: “Influencing and inspiring Hulk to become Hulk Hogan, and having that impact I made on his career, is more important to me, and more valuable to me, than simply being the champion of the WWWF, because I left a lasting impression and the man became a phenomenon who will never ever be duplicated again.”

Why you should listen: This might well be the best Ross Report of them all. That’s not exactly high praise, but Graham still gives a great interview and Ross does his best job yet of laying back and letting the guest be the star. Taking the talk more or less in chronological order really helps the flow, and around every corner is another compelling story or just the chance for Graham to put his own spin on something you thought you knew in full. I especially enjoyed the details about his run with the WWWF title, but it’s hard to beat his affection for Dusty Rhodes.

Why you should skip it: Well, it’s really long. And that’s even if you follow my instructions to always skip the monologue. As usual with JR, his intro and wrap-up segment leaves you wondering if maybe he heard a different interview than the rest of us — Graham doesn’t appear nearly as upset about losing to Bob Backlund as Ross would have his listeners believe — but you really shouldn’t be paying attention to those parts anyway. Graham probably could dominate an entire episode just talking about steroids then and now, and maybe another show will have the courage to pursue that some day.

Final thoughts: With most podcasts, even the really strong episodes, you can get almost as much out of reading a detailed recap as actually listening to the show. But I found Graham to be such a compelling character, even at age 71 and long since removed from any regular pro wrestling affiliation, I definitely commend the audio version to anyone who’s the least bit interested in Graham. You don’t have to hear what he thinks about the Undertaker’s streak being snapped or if Roman Reigns is ready, just be prepared to enjoy a living history lesson dripping with charisma.