I recently interviewed former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts, whose new book, Best Seat in the House, is available now at Amazon.com. In the second and final part of the interview below, Roberts discussed working with Vince McMahon, WWE pay, Triple H burying the locker room during a promo with The Undertaker, a funny backstage Undertaker story, his WWE departure, what's next for him and more.
How was Vince McMahon and working for him, over the years. You were with WWE 10-11 years?
"Twelve years. Vince was very intense, very micromanaging everything and listening everything I said and how I said it. He is intimidating but also sometimes he can be really helpful and you can go to him with a question and would instantly come up with a solution or sometimes you would work with him to come up with an announcement. It was always uncomfortable. I always tried to avoid him as much as possible. I just wanted to steer clear because he had those moments where he can easily turn on you and tell you that he doesn't like the way you look, what are you doing here? You're fired. I just tried to stay clear of him, but sometimes you couldn't avoid him. Sometimes he was helpful. Sometimes he was on me for being too over the top. Keep in mind that I grew up watching Vince on commentary, he was one of my favorite commentators, and always enjoyed his over the top commentary. I used to incorporate that in my ring announcing and he hated it, so I stopped doing that obviously. Then, sometimes my introduction would get bigger for guys like: John Cena, Undertaker, Jeff Hardy, Batista, and I would get chewed up and told to tone it down, so he was really on me for everything and on everybody for everything, and since it was his company he wanted it done his way.
You write about your book with Triple H going into the locker room, I think it was WrestleMania 28 around there with the promo with Undertaker. For those not familiar with the story; he basically went into the locker room and said basically that nobody was able to work with him because nobody was on his level except for the Undertaker. Is that the jist of it?
"Yeah. It basically says that everybody else sucks so I need to work with the Undertaker. It was his promo that he just buried the whole locker room and that he needed to work with the Undertaker."
What was the locker room's reaction because I can imagine CM Punk wouldn't have been too thrilled with that.
"Nobody was thrilled with it but what can you do? He's the boss."
What was your relationship like with him?
"I always just tried to do the best job and ask questions and just do the best job that I could, but he never wanted to be bothered by me, would always talk down to me. It just wasn't the best relationship. There were guys that he liked and guys that he didn't like and I wasn't one of the guys that he liked."
What about the Undertaker?
"Undertaker was awesome. Undertaker is great."
What were your thoughts on WrestleMania 33 probably being his last match?
"It's really weird. Just because he has been on I have been watching, so he has been on all those years that I have been watching, so he is probably the last one from beginning to now so it's really an end of an era. I wrote a whole article on Sports Illustrated about that, which was supposed to come out a few weeks ago and then because other stuff came out in the news it was pushed and got pushed again because that stuff was still in the news, so I am hoping it comes out this week and highly recommend you checking that out because I put my thoughts on everything the Undertaker."
Do you have any cool Undertaker stories from backstage?
"I tell about it in the book about reacting and selling for him, which I learned the hard way. This was another one that I told about the Reddit, ask me anything, which got lost in translation. Everybody is very intimidated, rightfully so, but he just never chilled with him around a big group of people. One day in catering, something called Banoffee Pie over in the United Kingdom, and they had in catering. There are a bunch of big tables, and the table I was at, Taker was at. We both just grabbed a bowl of this Banoffee Pie and everyone was just looking over at him like, he's just heading straight towards the Dessert. I thought that was great and he started eating it and I started commentating in my bad JR voice and commentating him eating the Banoffee Pie. I did the full, over the top heel JR, while others are trying to enjoy eating the Banoffee Pie in silent, I'm commentating for everybody to hear in my JR voice."
So Taker heard it, right?
"He was very quiet, but laughing."
You always hear that it is very hard for him to crack.
"I don't want to say loudly, he did have a big grin on his face. In the ring is something different. Outside the ring is a little bit easier, but inside the ring is a lot more difficult. I think Edge used to do it quite a bit."
You were there when the streak was broken at WrestleMania 30. You didn't know it was going to take place, right?
"Not at all. I thought it was a mistake. I really did. My stomach dropped when the Referee counted to three. I really thought it was a mistake and the bell was rung and I looked over at the person ringing the bell and thought, were you supposed to ring that bell? Normally I receive my cue after the bell to make my announcement but there was no cue. I look over at him and my stomach is still on the floor and a minute later I was cued to make the announcement, and making it was so strange because it wasn't going to be something that was going to be cheered or get booed, but everyone in the crowd including myself was wondering if it was supposed to happen, like they are not cheering or booing, it was just confusion, so when I got the cue to make the announcement I said, here's your winner, the winner of this match, Brock Lesnar, it didn't get a cheer or a boo, just a weird reaction, probably one of the weirdest announcements I ever called."
I remember it was just one of the weirdest scripted moment I had ever seen. It was just this odd silence like somebody died. It was just insane.
"It was just weird, really weird. Even now, you have people saying, really? Why?"
Did you think it was a mistake creatively as well to end it there?
"Yeah for sure. With a streak like that, why are you going to end it? If you are going to end it, why give it to somebody who doesn't need that? Brock doesn't need that, Brock is a beast."
What about Roman beating him this year. Did you think that was the right move?
"You know what, if that was his last match, yeah, for sure. You put somebody who is an up and coming guy over. Losing isn't a thing anymore since the streak was broken."
When you left WWE, that came out of nowhere. Did you sense that was happening or just as surprised as everyone else was?
"I sensed it as soon as I started there, like, I can lose my job any day. I went to work every week thinking that this would be my last day. By the time 2014 came about, I had been on the edge for 2-3 years at that point. I wanted to leave and be done, but I didn't have a reason to leave, and I was thinking that if I had left I would think that it would be my fault for leaving, I should have stayed, now I can never go back, and when it happened, when they let me go, I was thinking about how I can get fired without doing anything wrong? I just wanted to get out and get out of that roller coaster, so when they told me they weren't going to renew my contract, they weren't firing me, just going in a different direction, it was just a big sigh of relief.
"I tell that to my closest friends, it's a real thing. It was a relief. I needed to be done and I just needed for someone to do that for me, especially when there was no reason for it, they were just going in a different direction, it was like, great, thanks guys! All the stress, politics, travel, all of those times I would be looking at my calendar just travelling from one place to the next, fly through the night, get in at 4 in the morning, and you couldn't get a hotel because you had to leave for the Sunday town, just stuff that is hard to express when you are not in that travel mode. Just the way it was, the politics and travel, I was just ready to be done. When they told me, I was just relieved and yeah it came out of nowhere, but at the same time I knew that I wasn't just showing up and doing what they had told me, I started asking questions because I wanted to make sure that the show went off well and speak up and say, hey, last week this happened and this happen, is this what is supposed to happen? They just want people that will show up and do the job and do what they are told and not ask any questions. I asked a lot of questions and that of course put you in a lot of fire so it wasn't totally out of the blue, it was just out of the blue from the timing point of view because we had came back from a long overseas travel and they told me during the main event, which was John Cena and Dean Ambrose, someone came up to me and said that Talent Relations wanted to talk to me after the show, so I knew then and there it was the end. I had a live microphone and live television, and was thinking about getting on that microphone and saying something, leaving the mic and walking away, I didn't do that, that was not me, so I went in after the show and they told me they weren't renewing my contract so that was it and I was relieved and that was the end."
Did you see a big jump from where you started to where you ended up?
"I was paid well, it went up over the years for sure, but when you think about it. When you go to your job and you work overtime, you get paid really well during overtime, for us we're always working on the road. You're on the road, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and come home Tuesday if you don't go overseas, so you're on the road and at the end of the day you're not coming home, you're working and you're travelling, maybe driving 3-6 hours before and after the show and you're not getting paid for that. So if you think about the amount of hours you are putting in, and then you're on TV, and when you do TV shows you're in the Union, and you get paid Union for being on TV, but with that company you are working on TV but you're not getting paid Union so you're really not making much as you would be if you were working for other jobs and having a different type of deal with a different company if that makes sense."
Yeah, it totally does. That is interesting, and now being away from the company a few years. Do you still pay attention to the product because I would imagine it would be much different now having worked there and dealing with the politics.
"If I am home and it's not I will turn it on for sure to see what is going on. I still love wrestling, but if it's good I will stay tuned in, but if it's not---and there's a lot of great talent. I have always said there is a lot of great talent and great group of people in creative, but ultimately the show you get is what the upper management wants so whatever you get you get."
As a fan now, if there are changes that should be made, what do you think can reignite the vision of what the company can be like?
"I can tell you first hand that a lot of times the shows came on first hand as the show had gone on the air so you'd hear them say let's just do this and this and this. I wish they can go back to writing storylines and letting them build. I know that you can do that with some of them and some of them have a decent build. That is the idea; let guys go over when the crowd is into somebody, it's not somebody the company wants to run with, the company will just cut them off, put them off TV or change their gimmick rather than run with what the crowd wants and continue to let that guy go over. Like the Attitude Era everybody was over, and now there are guys that were starting to get over, but they weren't who the company wanted to get over so the company would cut them off. I wish that wouldn't happen and wish everybody would soar."
Did you have one moment in your WWE career that really stands out above the rest?
"One moment that stands out - I always think that moment was the tryout because I worked so hard to get there and it was so impossible because there wasn't spots for Ring Announcers, they weren't hiring, I defied the odds. There really was no chance of me getting there as an Announcer. I would just announce what I could and I worked really hard to go from - I didn't know anybody when I got into wrestling, I just worked from the bottom and to the very top and announced anything I could by sending them video tapes, and once I was there standing in that ring on Raw at the tryout, that to me was like, wow, follow your dreams, anything is possible, so that very first time that I stood in the ring that was amazing and the bar kept getting higher and higher. I had some really cool accomplishments by getting to announce on SmackDown and on Raw and Survivor Series, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, it just kept getting bigger and bigger with Goldberg and Shawn Michaels, Rock, Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, all these childhood heroes of mine, I got to announce them."
It's an amazing story and such a fun story because it's something all of wrestling fans can relate to. I know you still do some Ring Announcing for House of Hardcore with Tommy Dreamer. Are you pretty much done with wrestling or is that something you can still see yourself get back into?
"I haven't done wrestling in a while, House of Hardcore stuff was a while back. Only Ring Announcing I have done lately is Boxing for CBS Sports and it's fun, something that came out of nowhere and said, cool, I'll give it a shot. The Producer I am working for is a super nice guy and really laid back and just says, hey, you do what you do, he's a wrestling fan. You do what you want to do. There's no, don't do this or that, he just wants to have the very best show possible. He had Jim Ross, Al Bernstein, MMA Commentators, me from Wrestling, he doesn't want a traditional Boxing show, he wants a mixture of worlds from MMA, Boxing and Wrestling."
How can fans follow you now and get a hold of your book?
"JustinRobertsBook.com there are links to the book, e-book, audiobook, and then my social media is @JustinRoberts, and if you looked at my Instagram there's a hashtag #ThatPath and there's different videos of throwing up and always having a microphone in my hand, from the Independence to getting to WWE and working Independence with the Miz and CM Punk to working with them in WWE so there's some cool videos on there."
Click here for the first part of the Justin Roberts interview where Roberts discussed growing up a wrestling fan, starting to work for WWE, meeting Vince McMahon for the first time, the Nexus angle and Daniel Bryan getting fired for choking him with a tie, how the locker room had changed during his time there and more.
You can purchase Roberts' new book, Best Seat in the House: Your Backstage Pass through My WWE Journey, for only $20.39 at Amazon.com.
You can purchase Roberts' new book, Best Seat in the House: Your Backstage Pass through My WWE Journey, for only $20.39 at Amazon.com.