"Good ol' J.R." Jim Ross talked about Taz's WWE debut on his Grilling J.R. podcast. Taz debuted at the 2000 Royal Rumble pay-per-view and took on an undefeated Kurt Angle. Taz broke Angle's undefeated streak to a lot of fanfare. Ross talked about the reception Tazz got in Madison Square Garden.
"Taz earned one of the biggest ovations that I'd ever heard in the Garden for anybody in WWE in my career there," Ross said. "I remember when Austin came back. I remember when Triple H came back. A lot of guys [returned] where we can go back and say, 'well that was a big pop.' They all were. You're right but nothing that I had ever heard from a brand new guy that had never worked in WWE before [overshadowed] what Taz did."
Ross took a moment to congratulate Taz on signing a contract with All Elite Wrestling as a broadcaster as well as talking briefly about AEW renewing their contract with TNT through 2023. He also talked about an interesting fact about the Taz - Angle match.
"Congratulations to Taz. He signed a long-term contract to broadcast on AEW, who of course got renewed through TNT through 2023 which is great for me because I was always wondering what I was gonna do past 70. I want to work, so hopefully I'll get that opportunity," Ross said. "That's good for the company, and now Taz is there now so it's good for us to have a quality guy on our team. But man the audience went nuts. The beauty of this match, here's the irony of this thing, we ain't got Austin there, but we got a match that went three minutes and 16 seconds between Taz and Kurt."
During the match, Taz dropped Angle on his head. Taz has said that he knew from the get-go the company would be unhappy because he got a big pop without being pushed. Ross defended Taz, talking about how the blame should not be solely on his shoulders.
"There is no way as a talent or someone that's involved in talent management that I'm gonna look at a great pop like that as a negative. I think he overreacted there in my opinion. I do remember there were moments in the match, and look, Taz didn't do those suplexes acapella, Kurt was taking them dare devilish," Ross said. "It takes two to tango in those scenarios, but there's not doubt there's some release-type suplexes some things going on that we had not a lot of in WWE, and the reason for that was because they're not totally safe. You gotta have a guy that knows how to take the bumps [and] that is prepared for it.
"There were moments in that three minute 16 second match that somebody could see that Kurt was going along trying to help Taz. He was acquiescing to unsafe moves. You can't throw guys on their head. I don't know if that's anybody's fault. It could be nerves. It could be not as bad as people thought."
Ross talked about Taz's personality being unsettled and called him paranoid. He noted that Taz was always going to be taken care of and suggests that he may not have been in that kind of environment before.
"Look, Taz is a difference maker. I can see in my mind as we speak in this very minute that my secretary handed me a note from a phone message from Peter Sernerchia. The first thing I say is, 'who the f**k is Peter Sernerchia?
"'Well he said you'd know who he was. He's one of the boys.' So hell I didn't have any idea who Peter Sernerchia was. I can tell you who Taz was, but I didn't know Taz's real name. I did some investigative work. 'Oh, that's Taz.' Taz still gets unsettled too easily. I kid him about it. That was the deal. I think he was a little paranoid. He still is paranoid in a lot of ways. He shouldn't be. He should be sure of himself. He's got a great ability, but I think that whole thing was kind of blown out of proportion, and I don't know how comfortable he was once he got with us.
"I can tell you, not too long after, he tore something, and he was concerned. I remember Bruce talking to him, 'look, we're not gonna turn you loose. We're gonna pay for your surgery. We're gonna pay your weekly while you're healing. Then we hope to get you back to work.' That was the bottom line of that deal: 'we're not gonna screw you around.' We didn't, but he had never been in an environment where he felt protected and taken care of."
Ross also talked about the changes that were happening at the time. Taz's height did not match the stereotypical type of wrestler that WWE promoted. Ross said that Taz's push despite his height did not garner a lot of praise backstage.
"A lot of guys didn't like Taz because he got over at 5'8"," JR noted. "Again, it's the same whole deal of size matters, and if you're 6'3" or 6'4", you're gonna endorse that with all you can because you want Vince to not change his philosophy, but he sure changed his philosophy during this whole period of time because we got Tazz in there, we got Benoit, we got Malenko, Saturn and love him, god bless him Eddie. None of them were six feet tall so a lot of things happened that was going against the grain of some of the power brokers behind the scenes and certainly some of the creative guys that heard Vince say over and over, 'he's too short. He's too short.'"
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling J.R. with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.