Special guest referees have become a huge part of many of WWE’s most historic feuds over the past few decades. The company came up with the idea many years ago that it would be much more fun to involve a bias third party in a match that had stipulations attached, rather than a normal referee.
Over the past few decades, this has become something that has helped many feuds become more personal and has ended partnerships and even friendships. Much of the time, guest referees are there to change the outcome of the match, which means that they often have a spot where they will include themselves in the match and then call the three count for the other competitor.
The shock factor is usually why WWE go with this as one of their favourite ways of ensuring a storyline runs for much longer than it would have. Of course, this isn’t always the case, much of the time referees call the match down the middle, but there is the rare time that they decide to include themselves in the match and these 15 are some of the most memorable times that has actually happened.
15. Shawn Michaels – Hell In A Cell 2013
It was one of the biggest storylines of the year and it saw The Authority pitted against Daniel Bryan as he attempts to be World Champion. Bryan obviously achieved this at WrestleMania 30 in 2014, but the build up to this match saw a number of people turn on Bryan as a way for WWE to gain the sympathy of the WWE Universe.
At Hell In A Cell 2013, Shawn Michaels was chosen as the special guest referee for the World Championship match between Bryan and Randy Orton. Many thought that Michaels would call it down the middle since he actually trained Bryan and they remained close friends, but when Bryan hit Michael’s best friend Triple H with a running knee, HBK hit Bryan with Sweet Chin Music and cost him the WWE Championship. This later won a Slammy Award for Double-Cross of The Year.
14. Brad Maddox – Hell In A Cell 2012
This was an original storyline for WWE since they hadn’t had a superstar come into the company disguised as a referee before, but at Hell In a Cell in 2012, Brad Maddox made his WWE entrance.
Maddox had refereed matches in WWE before so the WWE universe didn’t think anything of the match between Ryback and CM Punk, until near the end when Maddox hit a low blow on Ryback and a fast count to help Punk win the match and retain the WWE Championship. Maddox later went on to become Raw General Manager, but his career was not a very memorable one. He was released after a promo he delivered contained a banned word.
13. Triple H – SummerSlam 2013
Much like the Shawn Michaels one from above, this was also part of the storyline where Daniel Bryan was a B+ player and not allowed to win a World Championship. Triple H was against this whole idea and helped Bryan to go against Vince McMahon’s wishes. Hunter was later named as the guest referee for the SummerSlam match between John Cena and Daniel Bryan where Bryan was finally crowned WWE Champion.
Cena legitimately needed surgery and asked for the match with Daniel Bryan so that he could leave, which worked out well for WWE. After the match, Randy Orton ran out to cash in his Money In The Bank contract, but he had some help, as Triple H turned heel and hit Bryan with a pedigree before counting the pinfall for Orton to take the WWE Championship just minutes later.
12. Dean Ambrose – SmackDown 2016
Since the Brand Split back in July 2016, there is no doubt that SmackDown has faired much better than Raw, and definitely had better storylines. One of these storylines included Dean Ambrose, James Ellsworth, and AJ Styles.
After AJ Styles defeated Dean Ambrose for the Championship, it was rumoured that Ambrose was taking some time away from WWE. Instead, he took some time away from the ring and interfered in AJ’s matches. One match where Ambrose was guest referee, he helped Ellsworth record a win over the WWE Champion with some funny tactics and a Dirty Deeds.
11. Tori – SmackDown 2000
When you’re the bosses daughter, it seems you can get away with a lot, even when you’re the Women’s Champion. Back in 2000, Stephanie McMahon held the WWF Women’s title and she wasn’t happy about defending it, but she said that she would have a match with whoever won a Divas battle royale.
Tori was appointed the referee and when Lita was announced as the new number one contender, she took Lita out and left her easy prey for the Women’s Champion who was on commentary at the time. Lita crawled into the ring, Tori counted the pinfall, and she retained her Championship without breaking a sweat.
10. Bret Hart – Raw 2011
Bret Hart made many appearances in WWE back in 2011 that didn’t fully make sense, but he appeared at Over The Limit to help Jerry Lawler before he was made special guest referee for the main event match on Raw the following night.
The match pitted John Cena and Rey Mysterio up against CM Punk and R-Truth, and in true Hart fashion, Bret didn’t call the match down the middle and instead locked Punk the sharpshooter to allow Mysterio to hit the leg drop and get the win.
9. Mick Foley – Raw 2006
Edge had cashed in his Money in The Bank briefcase back at Elimination Chamber at the beginning of the year, but after Cena won the title back at The Royal Rumble, the Rated R Superstar and the leader of the Cenation embarked on a personal feud for a few months.
As part of that feud, John Cena and Maria defeated Edge and Lita and were allowed to name their own guest referee for the Championship match the following week, and they named Mick Foley. While Mick did call the action down the middle, this match was the one that began a feud between Edge and Foley that ended in a brutal match between both men at WrestleMania 22.
8. Chris Jericho – Raw 2005
The problems between John Cena and Chris Jericho reached a boiling point back in 2005 when Jericho helped Carlito become the number one contender for the WWE Championship. Cena faced the Caribbean Cool superstar the following week on Raw with Jericho as the special guest referee in what should have been billed as a handicap match.
Jericho helped Carlito throughout the match and it was only when Cena dumped both Jericho and Eric Bishoff out of the ring and a new referee came out, that Cena could hit the FU and retain his Championship. After the match, Jericho was so mad that he hit Cena with a low blow, and set up a personal feud over the title between the two.
7. Shawn Michaels – SmackDown 1999
This is the second appearance for Michaels on the list, but it seems WWE doesn’t realize that HBK has a history of being bias when it comes to refereeing big matches. This is proven by his actions back in 1999 when Michaels (who was Raw commissioner at the time) was made referee for the match between Triple H and The Rock for the WWE Championship.
Throughout the match, Michaels maintained order, he removed Chyna from ringside when she tried to interfere, and even prevented Shane McMahon from being a distraction. But it seems that he wanted to change the match himself, so when it seemed as though The Rock was going to win it, he unleashed an incredible superkick, Triple H then hit the pedigree, and Michaels counted the pin for his friend to retain the WWE Championship.
6. Batista – Raw 2008
Jericho and Batista had their own problems back in 2008, and on a night where Jericho had made his dislike for Batista apparent and The Animal had already faced Shawn Michaels in a lumberjack match, this was the main event.
Jericho took on CM Punk, who was unveiled as his surprise opponent before Batista made himself the guest referee. The match itself wasn’t a great one and it looked as though Batista was calling it down the middle until he made a two count and stopped to scratch his eye. Jericho was appalled and so Batista kicked him in the gut, power-bombed him and then counted the pinfall for CM Punk.
5. Referee Malee – Cyber Sunday 2008
If you’re one of the unfortunate people who remember Cyber Sunday, you’ll know that it was a pay-per-view that would allow the WWE fans to vote on matches and stipulations. The stipulation for Chris Jericho versus Batista was to name a special guest referee and the fans chose Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Austin was the referee until Batista shoulder blocked him out of the ring, then Shawn Michaels took over, and when he was shown to be bias JBL came out to take care of him until Randy Orton ran in to take over. Austin recovered and took out Orton with a stunner before Jericho and Austin got into it. Austin attempted to hit a stunner but instead provided the distraction to help Batista go on to win the match and the WWE Championship.
4. Daniel Bryan – Raw 2012
Daniel Bryan and Sheamus have a lot of history together. Sheamus managed to defeat Daniel Bryan in just 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28 for the World Heavyweight Championship, so there is no love lost between them and back in 2012, Sheamus was Bryan’s Extreme Rules opponent. It was only fair that he was allowed to be special guest referee for his match with Mark Henry.
The match hardly even got underway before Bryan counted a fast three count, and as Bryan tried to leave, the duo brawled around the arena. But it was the current SmackDown General Manager who got the upper hand and locked the “YES lock” in on Sheamus to gain momentum heading into their showdown.
3. The Rock – Raw 2000
The Rock and Stephanie McMahon never really saw eye to eye, so when he was made special guest referee for the Women’s Championship match between Lita and Stephanie McMahon, it was well known that he wasn’t going to call this one down the middle.
There was plenty of interference in this match, with Triple H at ringside for Stephanie and Matt Hardy in Lita’s corner, but it was Kurt Angle that caused a huge brawl when he interfered in the match. The Rock took out Kurt before Triple H attacked The Rock and Angle accidentally took out Triple H with the title. Kurt was hit with a Rock Bottom and Stephanie took a spine-buster. Lita then hit the moon-sault to win the Women’s Championship. It was a women’s match that was full of controversy and an example of exactly how it was back in the Attitude Era.
2. AJ Lee -Money In The Bank 2012
AJ Lee is widely considered to have been one of the greatest female presences in WWE for the last generation, and this is because she managed to hold her own in storylines with some of the biggest stars in WWE.
AJ was headlining Raw and pay-per-views with men before it became cool in 2016, and back at Money In The Bank in 2012, AJ was made guest referee for the match between the two men she was finding it hard to choose between, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Part way through the match, AJ was knocked off the apron and had to be taken backstage before she came back and took her place, she counted the three after both men went through a table. But it was Punk who was victorious, the man that AJ later went on to marry.
1. John Cena – Raw 2011
John Cena and The Nexus had huge problems back in 2011, so when he was made special guest referee for the match between CM Punk and Wade Barrett by the anonymous Raw General Manager, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to end well.
Cena took out both Barrett and Punk before the match before deciding to hardly even call the match. Cena decided to then award the bout as a double disqualification which meant that neither The Core or The New Nexus were allowed in The Rumble. Cena was later told to go back and apologize and the men were then added to the Rumble, but a brawl between the men ensued ahead of the event.