Referees get a hard time in any sport. Whether it’s football, soccer, or MMA, appointed officials must deal with venomous abuse – much of which crosses the line and then some – from fans and competitors alike. Although WWE’s referees are tasked with officiating matches that have predetermined outcomes, they too must deal with the ire of the fans. In some cases, WWE referees suffer the wrath of legitimately irate professional wrestlers; see, for example, Chris Jericho’s heated exchange with referee Charles Robinson after Robinson neglected to count a pinfall which was intended to bring a speedy end to his match with an injured Neville.
Yes, WWE’s referees, like all referees, have a difficult job. Of course, the nature of refereeing means they must try to stay out of the way and so they are given very little credit for their work. From time to time, WWE announcers will make reference to an official’s actions and the company website will occasionally post a video interview with a referee, but even then they are treated as secondary figures with little to no character. Because of this, WWE fans know very little about the referees they watch every week. We’re going to try to rectify that today.
Here are eight things WWE wants you to know about referees and seven it doesn’t.
15. Remember – Referees Get Hurt Easily
Let’s start out with some of the things the ‘E wants you to know about those it tasks with officiating matches. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about WWE’s referees is that they are extremely delicate.
For decades, WWE’s referees have exhibited a shocking inability to take punishment, with even the slightest accidental strike from a performer knocking them unconscious. Of course, they aren’t really that weak. In fact, WWE referees are probably up there with the most resilient officials in any sport. The bumps which take them off their feet and leave them writhing in pain in the corner of the ring are planned beforehand and are included in matches as a means of letting one competitor – typically the heel – use a chair or some other illegal object without being disqualified. The infamous “ref bump” was a frequent sight during John “Bradshaw” Layfield’s reign as WWE Champion and was integral in him retaining his title on more than one occasion.
14. Forget – Referees Must Pay Their Own Expenses
Okay, now that we have covered some of the things WWE would like you to know about its officials, let’s take a look at a couple of the referee-related facts the company would like you to ignore.
While Vince McMahon likes to point to the high salaries of WWE referees as an example of his generosity, many former WWE officials have bemoaned the fact that the company refused to pay for their expenses.
Like their Superstar counterparts, WWE officials are on the road for over 300 days of the year. That means they drop a lot of money on hotels, travel, and food. Money which Vince McMahon, for the most part, refuses to reimburse. While more senior officials such as Mike Chioda and Charles Robinson may have some of their expenses covered, inexperienced referees are forced to spend significant chunks of their earnings just to get to work every night.
13. Remember – They Are Corruptible
In any sport, a referee must remain unemotional in an emotional situation. They are trusted to call every match down the middle and not be influenced by personal or financial matters. Blatantly favoring one team or competitor over another could result in the offending official being relieved of their duties. Unless, of course, that official is part of WWE.
Vince McMahon would like us all to remember that not only are his referees unlikely to be punished for unprofessional conduct, but they are also extremely likely to be corrupted, especially when money is on the line. Over the years, numerous referees have aligned themselves with villainous competitors for personal gain. The most notable heel referee is arguably Danny Davis, but Scott Armstrong and Charles Robinson have also had stints as dastardly officials.
12. Remember – They Must Adhere To The Wellness Policy
WWE takes the three strikes and you’re out approach when it comes to violations of its wellness policy. If an employee is found to be consuming a substance which is not permitted by the policy, they are suspended for 30 days. A second violation of the wellness policy results in a 60 days suspension, while a third sees the offending employee released from their contract.
For a long time, it was believed that the strict wellness policy applied only to WWE Superstars, but referees must also adhere to it. The standard to which Vince McMahon holds his officials became clear in August of 2011 when it was announced that senior referee Mike Chioda had received a 30-day suspension for his first violation of the company’s wellness policy.
11. Forget – WWE Has No Female Referees
WWE’s treatment of its female competitors has come on leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. No more are they referred to as “divas” and forced to compete in five-minute matches for a belt with a picture of a butterfly on it. No, instead they are treated as legitimate wrestlers and have fought in steel cage and Hell in a Cell matches for more distinguished looking belts.
However, there is still an absence of females when it comes to the officiating side of things. Literally, every full-time referee employed by WWE is a male. It has been this way ever since Vince McMahon was accused of sexual assault by Rita Marie, a woman who served as an official during the 1980s. Knowing WWE, the company is unlikely to introduce any female referees until the mainstream media picks up on the lack of gender diversity among its officials.
10. Remember – Mike Chioda Is Among The Company’s Longest Tenured Performers
Many fans were shocked to learn of Mike Chioda’s aforementioned violation of the WWE wellness policy when he was suspended back in 2011. The suspension was surprising not only because many didn’t realize referees were expected to adhere to the wellness policy, but also because Chioda had been with the company for over two decades and had never had any trouble with Vince McMahon in that time.
One of WWE’s longest tenured employees on or off screen, Mike Chioda first began appearing for the company in 1989, when Gorilla Monsoon helped him score a job. He began officiating matches on a regular basis in 1992 and has since climbed the ladder to becoming an incredibly experienced and respected referee. In his time with WWE, Chioda has officiated such legendary bouts as Shawn Michaels vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV and Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X8.
9. Forget – They Serve As In-Ring Messengers
Since the mid-1990s, WWE referees have been wearing headsets while in the ring. These headsets are connected to Vince McMahon, who infamously watches every moment of every show from the Gorilla Position, just behind the curtain.
Vince often makes spur of the moment decisions as to what direction the Superstars in the ring should take their match. Of course, the CEO cannot inform the competitors directly, so he sends his directions to the referee through the totally noticeable headset. The referee will then pass McMahon’s directions onto the two or more Superstars inside the ring for them to alter their match accordingly. Wrestlers themselves often utilize the referee to pass a message from one side of the ring to another, allowing their opponent to prepare for whatever running attack they may be planning.
8. Remember – They Are Inattentive
Just like it wants you to remember that its referees are easily knocked unconscious and equally easy to bribe, WWE would like you to remember that its officials are also extremely inattentive.
For decades now, WWE referees have exhibited bafflingly short attention spans. Unable to focus on more than one thing at a time, they are often distracted by a manager standing on the ring apron or an unannounced guest at ringside. They can also be fooled by simple tricks such as one exhausted competitor being replaced by a fresh competitor who vaguely resembles them. Much like their inability to take a punch, the ADHD of WWE referees is often utilized as a means to explain a heel victory without hurting the momentum of a babyface.
7. Forget – Referees Have Been Pitted Against Wrestlers
It’s no secret that WWE cherry picks the rules which are enforced on television in order to suit the creative direction of each match. For example, a referee will almost always ignore that part of the rulebook which states you cannot strike your opponent with a closed fist or keep them in a corner for more than five seconds. According to former WWE Superstar Matt Sydal, however, referees are less forgiving at live events.
In a 2014 interview, Sydal claimed that Vince McMahon personally instructed referees to enforce rules at live events which would generally be ignored on television. Referees were told to make shoot-style disqualifications if a performer stepped a toe out of line, regardless of the planned outcome of the match. This left mid-carders such as Sydal feeling as though they were walking on eggshells in the ring and cultivated a sense of distrust among the Superstars and the referees.
6. Remember – Charles Robinson Was In The Navy
WWE loves to get involved with the United States military. WWE Superstars visit with men and women in the Armed Forces multiple times a year to lift their spirits as they go about their morally questionable duties. The company even hosts an annual tribute show – Tribute to the Troops – to honor those who have given their lives (and the lives of others) for the apparent good of America. A number of members of the current WWE roster have some sort of military experience, which WWE announcers frequently point out. However, at least one WWE referee also spent some time serving the United States as well.
Referee Charles Robinson, who has been with WWE since the company purchased WCW in 2001, joined the United States Navy when he was just 18 years of age. He would serve as a submarine from 1982 to 1988 before embarking on a career as a professional wrestling official.
5. Forget – Some Referees Used To Wrestle
As I mentioned in the first half of this article, WWE likes to present its referees as physically unimpressive individuals who have neither the backbone nor the means to stand up for themselves against the company’s short-tempered Superstars. For that reason, Vince McMahon would like to hide the fact that a number of his officials have past careers as professional wrestlers.
SmackDown referee Ryan Tran, for example, began his career in professional wrestling with dreams of becoming a world champion. He was trained by none other than wrestling legend Harley Race and even made a couple of appearances on WWE’s poorly planned ECW reboot. Referee Scott Armstrong also has an extensive background in professional wrestling and is the brother of former WWE Tag Team Champion “Road Dogg” Jesse James.
4. Remember – The Timekeeper Doubles As A Referee
This is a rule WWE seemed to pull out of nowhere a couple of years ago, but Vince McMahon would like you to remember it the next time he has painted himself into a corner and needs some sort of ridiculous finish to get himself out of it.
The most obvious – and quite possibly only – example of a timekeeper performing the duties of a referee came at the 2015 SummerSlam pay-per-view. When the timekeeper assigned to the match observed The Undertaker tapping out to Brock Lesnar’s Kimura Lock, he rang the bell to signal an end to the match, despite the fact the official inside the ring had not told him to do so. Fans were confused by the action as nobody, not even the designated referee, was aware that the timekeeper had the power to bring an end to a match.
3. Forget – They Don’t Always Know The Results
Vince McMahon prides himself on his ability to run a tight ship. Storylines not included, he plans everything out weeks, sometimes even months, in advance, to ensure all WWE shows go off without a hitch. However, some former WWE employees have claimed that McMahon sometimes neglects to let referees in on the planned finishes of the matches they are tasked with officiating.
According to multiple sources who were backstage during the 30th instalment of WrestleMania, referee Chad Patton was not told what the result of the now infamous clash between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar would be. He was instead warned to treat the match as if it were a legitimate sporting contest and to count all pinfalls no matter what. We can only imagine how terrified Patton must have been after counting that final pinfall, momentarily believing he had accidentally brought an end to the Undertaker’s famed WrestleMania streak.
2. Remember – Referees Are Well Paid
Vince McMahon is often criticized by past employees for paying lower and mid-card Superstars modest salaries while giving millions of dollars to a select number of main event and part time talents. McMahon, however, insists that all of his performers are on significant salaries, from the main event level talent all the way down to the referees.
In WWE, officials are known to earn upwards of $2000 a week, with even the lowest ranking referee taking in at least $1500 for officiating weekly events. A senior referee such as Charles Robinson can expect to earn $2500 for a weekly event and a staggering $6000 when assigned to officiate one of the more main events. With a paycheck like that, it is no wonder horror superfan Robinson has been able to stock his house with the movie memorabilia he so proudly displayed in a WWE produced YouTube video back in October of 2014.
1. Forget – Their Names
Vince McMahon controls every aspect of WWE television, from what the performers do in the ring to what the announcers say during bouts. McMahon has introduced some bizarre rules for announcers to stick to while calling matches, but one of the most confusing was introduced in 2009 when the CEO decided that WWE commentators should no longer refer to WWE referees by their names.
Announcers and fans alike were baffled by this decision as it seemed like McMahon was focusing on something totally inconsequential while his company crumbled around him. Furthermore, there seemed to be absolutely no logic behind the rule, much like many of Vince’s leaked rules for announcers. Nevertheless, announcers ceased mentioning referees by their names and instead gave them vague titles such as “the official” or “our referee”. In recent years, announcers have been permitted to refer to the assigned referee by their name if it has some sort of impact on the match, but are urged to avoid doing so otherwise.