25 Sep 2020 5:21 PM +00:00

Wrestling's hidden heroes: Why referees matter

It is a famous idiom in sports that says the best referees are the ones you don't notice. Ed Hochuli's biceps are famous enough to warrant their own twitter page. "Balkin" Bob Davidson has made a career of calling pitchers on illegal moves. The NBA has been involved in a gambling scheme, and the Olympics have had their officials accused of fixing everything from the 1960 Gold Medal Basketball game between the US and Russia to figure skating. The NHL has had such inconsistencies in their officiating that they created a department to explain calls made during their games. But officiating is never at the forefront more than in professional wrestling.

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The ref is down!

The bump of wrestling referees is legendary. Often during a "Dusty Finish", an unconscious referee has been the cause of many title changes and controversial finishes. The ineptitude of referees to see blatant cheating, or wrongfully accusing wrestlers of the dirty deeds, helped make Eddie Guerrero a champion and fan favorite. Often times, a ref will turn to keep a manager from interfering, only to have some nefarious deeds going on behind their backs. Multiple refs have been in the ring and have different opinions on to what has gone on and who won the match in question. Referees have been bullied into reversing their calls, used video review to change the winners of matches, and even aligned themselves with wrestlers to make outcomes fit into a storyline. 

Some referees in the WWF/E, WCW, ECW, Impact Wrestling and countless others have parlayed their time in the striped shirts into other careers. Teddy Long, for example, went from being an in-ring official to a manager, back to a referee, to a General Manager. "Dangerous" Danny Davis would go from referee to wrestler, and even compete at WrestleMania. Bill Alfonso, due to some troubling actions in ECW, would have one of the bloodiest matches in the crimson masked history of Extreme Championship Wrestling with Beulah McGillicutty. He would turn that into managing the likes of Sabu and RVD.

They have emotions

Some referees have made careers out of being in ring officials and even poked fun at themselves. In 2002, Tim White was the referee in a Hell in the Cell match between HHH and Chris Jericho at Judgment Day. White injured his shoulder during the match. He would return for a match between Jericho and Christian at WrestleMania XX, but he would reinjure his shoulder at the end of the match and his career would end, at least in the ring. 

He and Josh Mathews would embark on something of a mix between controversial and hilarious. Beginning in 2005, during an interview with Mathews, White would consume a large amount of booze at the bar he owned in Rhode Island. He would take a shotgun and fire a shot offscreen intended to make viewers believe he committed suicide. Over the course of three months, the segment was referred to as Lunchtime Suicide on the WWE website and featured White trying to commit suicide over and over again, only to fail.



The crooked referee is something of a cliche nowadays, and while he was not the first to be the crooked ref, "Dangerous" Danny Davis made it a staple.  As mentioned earlier, he would take his less-than-fair practices and move into the ring as a competitor. Towards the end of his run, he would be reinstated on a probationary period and fairly rule matches until he left the WWF in the mid-1990's. He blazed a trail for the likes of the Hebner brothers, both in the WWF and TNA, and Nick Patrick in the WCW, among others. 

Just take a look at SmackDown Live as of late. Kevin Owens was screwed by Chioda out of the US Title. To make sure that didn't happen, Shane McMahon refereed the rematch at SummerSlam. When that was not good enough, Baron Corbin was tasked to wear the zebra shirt. He would throw the shirt to Shane mid-match, and the ongoing saga of referee ineptitude surrounding Kevin Owens, who donned the shirt and screwed his former partner Sami Zayn, continues. 

Charles Robinson is one of the more seasoned referees in the WWE. He was dubbed as "L'il Naitch" due to the striking resemblance he has with Ric Flair. Robinson has made very few waves in his career, which is a good thing for an official. I met this man after a house show in Wheeling, WV. He is one of the nicest guys you could ever speak to.

Not all referees are crooked. Charles Robinson, Jimmy Korderas, among others, have been shining examples of everything referees should be. Robinson, getting his start as a young kid in WCW, is one of the longest tenured WWE referees remaining in the business, along with Mike Chioda. Korderas has moved on from the biggest company in the industry to an on-camera role in Canada.

Korderas is one of the more honored referees in history. However, raising hands in victory and calling for the bell is not what some people remember about the man. Korderas had the unfortunate draw of being in the ring when Owen Hart fell to his death. What is commonly mistaken as a scream, Hart yelled for Korderas to move so he wouldn't land on him. While his foot made contact with Korderas, it was the last selfless act from a great man that probably saved the life of Korderas.

They are historic

Not a lot can be said of the senior referee Mike Chioda, aside from the recent kerfuffle with Kevin Owens. While most of the research I have found on him mentions little, other than his one match where he teamed with the Rock and Chris Jericho against the Dudley Boyz and fellow referee Nick Patrick. He would score the pinfall against Patrick after using a People's Elbow. He has been one of the fairest and toughest referees since he became a normal referee in 1992. He was suspended one time for 30 days due to a wellness violation.

If fairness is what a wrestling referee is measured on, then the name that comes up to the top of the list is Joey Marella. Often a launching point of humor for Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Marella was one of the best referees in the business. He was in the ring during one of, if not the, most famous matches in wrestling history, Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant at WrestleMania III. He was the son of another familiar face in wrestling, Gorilla Monsoon, who would often come to his defense after the ribbings issued by Ventura. Sadly, a car accident in 1994 would claim the life of Joey Marella.