He makes more appearances on WWE pay-per-views than John Cena. He gets the mic more often on Monday Nights than C.M. Punk, too. But Justin Roberts doesn’t end up with any bumps, bruises or cuts after any of his matches.
The lifelong wrestling fan gets to travel the world as the WWE’s official ring announcer, although he says some of his favorite matches to introduce are those held right here in his hometown. The Phoenix resident took a break from his busy schedule recently to talk about his unique career and about the upcoming “Money in the Bank” PPV coming to US Airways Center on July 15.
USAirwaysCenter.com: Did you grow up in Arizona?
Justin Roberts: No, I was born and raised in Chicago. When I was 18, I went to school at the U of A. I graduated and then moved to Scottsdale in about 2002.
USAirwaysCenter.com: Did you attend wrestling events down in Tucson or even up in Phoenix while attending the University of Arizona?
Roberts: I did. I went to them all. When I went to school in Tucson I would go to the US Airways Center and Tucson Convention Center. If I heard a show was going to be in town, whether it was WWE or WCW, I was there.
USAirwaysCenter.com: How did you originally become a fan of pro wrestling?
Roberts: I remember I would watch Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling on Saturday nights. I would be up late with my sister and we got into GLOW, which was very entertaining. We also got into Saturday Night Live, and every once in a while SNL would be preempted for Saturday Night’s Main Event. I already had that interest in wrestling, so I gave it a shot and was entertained. I still remember seeing Bobby Heenan and Mr. Perfect doing a segment with Hulk Hogan and I thought it was cool.
When I was about 11, my family was at a hotel in Milwaukee, WI, and someone came running into the swimming pool area and said, “The Ultimate Warrior and Texas Tornado are here!” So we all ran out of the pool and into the lobby area, and sure enough, there they were. We asked for autographs, but they were going into a restaurant, so we waited until they were done eating. The Ultimate Warrior blew us off, but Kerry Von Erich signed autographs and that Saturday morning I had to watch Superstars to see them on TV. Once I turned it on, I never turned it off. I was hooked.
USAirwaysCenter.com: Who were some of your favorite wrestlers as a kid?
Roberts: Mr. Perfect (Curt Henning), Hacksaw Jim Dugan, the Bushwackers, Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Undertaker, Bret Hart… just to name a few. I didn’t have a favorite. I liked everybody.
USAirwaysCenter.com: Tell us how you get into the business?
Roberts: When I was much younger, I knew I wanted to do something with WWE. I loved it and lived for WWE. I would get through the school day by looking forward to watching Prime Time Wrestling that night. Of course, as a kid, you think being a wrestler would be awesome, but as I got a little bit older, I started to realize that is wasn’t something that was easy to do. You had to go get trained for it, and I didn’t know anything about that.
I used to do impersonations or voices, and one of the voices I did was an announcer voice. I said, “Hey, I’m knowledgeable about wrestling. I can use this announcer voice. I probably don’t need special training to be a ring announcer.”
I started doing voice overs on a terrible wrestling hotline when I was 16 and through that connected to an independent wrestling company. I got to announce one match on an independent show in Washington, IL, and they then used me to announce their matches for their next two years until I went off to school.
Over the years I worked with any and every wrestling company I could to announce for them and went on to work the Tough Man contest for FX. I did girls softball at the University of Arizona. Really, anything I could announce.
USAirwaysCenter.com: Did you major in broadcasting?
Roberts: No, my major was in media arts. The funny thing is I was taking a public speaking class where they were teaching how to speak in front of 200 people. I would take my notes and give my presentations, and then on weekends I’d be speaking in front of 5,000 people. So I got my diploma, but I think most of my experience came from being out in the field on weekends while I was at school.
USAirwaysCenter.com: How did you first get noticed by WWE?
Roberts: I started sending out video tapes with resumes every three months starting in about ’99. Anybody and everybody at WWE, if I heard a name of someone who worked there, I would send them the video tape and resume. I would do independent shows every weekend, and I would send updated materials every three months. So I was constantly sending new material, but never hearing anything back. But I continued pursuing my dream and eventually in May 2002, when I graduated from U of A, I sent another e-mail and actually got a response this time. They said they would give me a tryout “next month.”
In June of 2002, I got to announce a dark match in Oakland, CA, before RAW went on the air, between an unknown guy by the name of John Cena and another unknown guy by the name of Shelton Benjamin. Then the next night, there was the big rematch of Benjamin and Cena before SmackDown, as well as Funaki against a guy making his WWE debut named Rey Mysterio. That’s all I ever wanted, to get to that stage and say, “This is what I got. This is what I can do.”
USAirwaysCenter.com: What does it take to be a good ring announcer?
Roberts: I think you need passion. That’s number one, because if you don’t have passion it comes through. My job is to enhance the introduction of the superstars and the divas. I’m not there to get myself over. I’m there to help and add to the introductions of the talent. So everything I do is to make their introductions as exciting as possible, and you need to have a passion for what you’re doing, in order to do that. You need to not be in there, not for yourself, but for the superstars and divas.
You also need to be able to do it on the fly, because most of what I do is on the fly. I have an idea of superstars that might be coming out, and the timing, but for the most part, everything changes and you need to be able to roll with it. You could be expecting one guy and then the music hits, and another guy walks through. It’s like that every week. Sometimes changes are made and I’ll be the last person to find out, and I find out the hard way (laughs). So you have to know what’s going on and guess correctly. I don’t have note cards or cue cards. Everything I do is coming from me. I don’t have any communication or ear piece, so I’m basically by myself out there. So you really have to understand the business and what the company wants, and go with it.
USAirwaysCenter.com: Given those last-minute surprises, how often do you make mistakes or say the wrong name?
Roberts: I’m not going to say I’m perfect. I’ve definitely messed up a few little things over the years, but for as much live announcing as I do on a weekly basic – I average four shows a week, each show about three to four hours – I’ll mess up, maybe once a year. You’ve got a lot of things running through your mind and sometimes that little red light (of the live cameras) can throw you off.