Referees probably get more screen time per capita than any other class of performer in sports entertainment, but the best of them make a career out of barely being noticed except for the times the importance of their jobs truly comes into play. Professional wrestling referees may seem like a silly concept to those averse to sports entertainment in general, since if the whole thing is fake, the person who’s main job appears to be feigning the legitimacy of the contest obviously isn’t on the up and up. However, referees can actually play an extremely important if not outright crucial role in making sure WWE matches go the way they are supposed to, especially if those matches are filmed for television.
There have been countless professional wrestling referees throughout history, with every major wrestling promotion having a few go-to referees that were always on hand to maintain order in the most important wrestling matches of their respective eras. Its slightly paradoxical to put the spotlight on referees, since the point is for them to blend into the background while making sure everything is timed correctly and performed as safely as possible, but a few incredible refs have stood out on their own and deserve to mention for their consistently solid officiating. Being the biggest wrestling company in history, WWE has featured dozens of such standout referees, and quite a few of them were even so good at their job they started to segue into other areas of sports entertainment, as well. Keep reading to learn more about 15 WWE referees you barely noticed, but could never forget.
15. Teddy Long
Teddy Long will likely go down in history as one of the greater General Managers of the initial brand split. His long tenure as the GM of SmackDown was enjoyable enough to spawn a variety of memes, including turning all sorts of matches into tag matches, and forcing hapless victims to do battle with The Undertaker. Years before Teddy took a turn for authority roles, he was keeping order inside the ring as a referee. Long started his career in the wrestling business by performing errands for regional stars, and quickly became a part of the ring crew and then referee for Jim Crockett’s NWA. It wasn’t long before Teddy’s oratory skills became apparent and he became a manager, but Long reverted to his original job as referee when he first signed with WWE in 1998.
Thanks to his various roles in the industry, Teddy Long’s tenure as a referee will always be overlooked. His higher profile roles were easily more memorable, but Teddy started as a referee and often donned the stripes wherever he went despite his career taking off in other ways, and thus die-hard fans won’t soon forget his time as a zebra.
14. Brad Maddox
The evil referee angle is one that WWE and in fact most wrestling companies have used countless times with varying success, and it usually follows the wrestler forced into the referee job for the rest of their career. Such may be the case with Brad Maddox, who first debuted in WWE as the referee to a Divas Battle Royal on Raw. Maddox was basically just another referee in this time, despite the fact some fans were able to recognize him from his time in Florida Championship Wrestling. Maddox revealed he was no mere referee several months after making his debut, attacking Ryback at Hell in a Cell and making him easy pickings for CM Punk to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Maddox was an interesting take on the evil referee gimmick, because while most evil referees are either paid off or in management’s pocket, the idea with Maddox was that he so desperately wanted to be a WWE superstar he was willing to get his foot in the door as a referee first. It didn’t exactly pan out for him, as he lost his debut match to Ryback and then spent several months off camera, with the hope the crowd would eventually forget he had reffed for several months.
13. Danny Davis
Whenever a wrestler attempts to pull the evil referee gimmick these days, it’s hard to shake the feeling they got the idea from “Dangerous” Danny Davis. He may not have been the first, but in the mid ‘80s, Davis introduced the corrupt referee shtick at least within WWE, egregiously favoring heels, and particularly showing favoritism in respect to The Hart Foundation. Davis was a wrestler and a referee at the same time, always wearing a mask and calling himself Mr. X when he stepped in the ring as a competitor, until his dastardly efforts at giving the bad guys the advantage finally caught up with him and he was “relieved of his duties” by then WWE President Jack Tunney.
Davis continued his WWE career as a wrestler, aligning with The Hart Foundation and their manager Jimmy Hart, who in turn was the man who gave Davis his new, “Dangerous” name. The other referees in WWE at the time held a grudge against Davis, but he still managed to win his debut match at WrestleMania III, but he would eventually revert back to a normal and non-corrupt referee until he retired in 1995.
Jacqueline is a WWE Hall of Famer who has won both male and female titles in the professional wrestling industry, but many fans probably didn’t realize she spent a few years of her career as a referee on Sunday Night Heat. Jacqueline only graduated to Raw, SmackDown, or Pay-Per-Views in order to referee other women’s matches, a fact which may have something to do with the fact she quite frankly wasn’t the best referee. Nonetheless, Jacqueline still deserves distinction as the first female to become a WWE official for an extended period of time.
While Jacqueline is probably best remembered either for her reign as WWE Cruiserweight Champion or as a two-time WWE Women’s Champion, her tenure as a referee wasn’t exactly unmemorable, either. The reason Jacqueline wasn’t very good at her job was her tendency to scream spots far too loudly, distracting from the match and regularly exposing the business in the process. There may have been some historical value to Jacqueline’s refereeing, but when faced with the facts, it’s probably a good thing she didn’t last too long in the role.
11. Shane McMahon
If you view the position of referee as a meaningless one that could go to just about anybody, look no further than the fact it was the first step in the career of one of the most important people in sports entertainment history. Shane McMahon, the son of WWE owner Vince McMahon, made his debut for his father’s company in 1989 as a referee with the nom de plum “Shane Stevens.” Shane performed his duties like any other referee and was perfectly unnoticeable in his role, at least until he was forced to reprise it after his real in-ring debut as the boss’s son.
Shane-O-Mac will be remembered for dozens of unbelievable stunts and shocking moments throughout WWE history, which might have newer fans assuming his time as a referee could be ignored once again when looking at his legacy. However, refereeing will forever be a part of Shane McMahon’s character, as his initial feud with his father culminated in Shane being forced again to referee, acting as the official for the Mankind-Steve Austin match at Survivor Series 1998. In the course of the match, Shane revealed his true loyalties once and for all, screwing over Austin and giving Mankind the easy win, proving he was in cahoots with his father all along. Shane can jump off as many high platforms as he wants, but his defining moment of the Attitude Era might forever remain giving “Stone Cold” the double bird.
10. Bill Alfonso
Plenty of the referees on this list became famous for something other than refereeing, or at least doing something else in conjunction to their referee work. Bill Alfonso fits this mold to a tee, but it’s quite arguably that no other referee was ever forced out of their original position so quickly or so forcefully, and that’s all thanks to pure hatred Alfonso was able to garner through the role. Alfonso had actually been refereeing for decades when he broke out as a character in ECW, but if fans didn’t notice Alfonso throughout his tenure in WWE and NWA, that wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest. For over a decade, Alfonso was just another decent referee, doing his job and not taking any attention away from the wrestlers.
Fonzie debuted in ECW as the troubleshooting personal referee of Shane Douglas in mid 1995. Alfonso was the first ECW official to actually enforce the rules, which made him the most hated man in the company as far as the rapid and violent ECW fans were concerned. Alfonso quickly segued into becoming manager for the equally hated Taz, and later turned on Taz to join Sabu and Rob Van Dam in a role that finally had people forgetting he was a referee.
9. Billy Silverman
Billy Silverman is an interesting story, because while he was a long-time referee for WCW who very briefly jumped to WWE during the Invasion, the most memorable story about him actually took place behind the scenes. Silverman actually worked for WWE first, appearing at WrestleMania 13, before he was signed away to a bigger money deal by WCW, showing just how far the Monday Night Wars could extend at the time. When Silverman found himself back in WWE, he quickly found himself the victim of some serious hazing.
According to Silverman (and to nobody’s surprise), JBL was the worst bully of the bunch, as Bradshaw would verbally berate Billy whenever he got the chance. The rest of the wrestlers weren’t too kind to him either, forcing him to undergo the infamous “Wrestler’s Court” only weeks after he debuted with the company. The proceedings went so poorly Silverman quit the company and the business as a result. Charles Robinson was also allegedly hazed in the incident, but his decision not to speak out and complain could be why he’s kept his job for so long.
8. Joey Marella
It’s hard to combat nepotism in the wrestling industry, where a famous last name or even the mere implication of a shared bloodline can form the foundation of a career from the day a person is born. Countless wrestlers have both benefitted and been hurt by the concept, either immediately being accepted as the heir to their famous forefather’s legacy, or constantly being viewed with unfair expectations, with the assumption they could never live up to their parents. Joey Marella is one of the few second-generation wrestling performers who never quite had this problem, as the fact this unassuming referee was actually the son of the long-time Father Figure of all WWE, Gorilla Monsoon.
Marella rarely matched his father’s on-screen presence, instead preferring to quietly and respectably perform his smaller scale job. Marella refereed several of the biggest matches in wrestling history, including the main event of WrestleMania III, and he also helped Danny Davis build his reputation as an evil referee by being the “good” referee who would try and keep Davis in line. Tragically, Marella fell asleep at the wheel while driving from one WWE event to another, resulting in a terrible car accident. Marella unfortunately died as a result of the crash, and Harvey Wippleman, who traveled alongside him, only survived due to the fact he was wearing his seatbelt, which Marella was not. Gorilla’s passion for the business likewise started to wane after his son’s death, and his on-screen roles were gradually diminished from then on as a result.
7. Nick Patrick
No, that’s not a picture of Danny McBride as Kenny Powers, that’s long-term WCW senior official, Nick Patrick. Like several other referees on our list, Nick Patrick initially wanted to be a wrestler, following in the footsteps of his father, “The Assassin” Jody Hamilton. Unfortunately for the junior Assassin to be, he was injured early on in his career, but a love of the business caused him to pursue a career as a professional wrestling referee, if not an outright wrestler. Patrick would eventually get his wish of becoming a wrestler, anyway, as he was involved in several high profile feuds during his tenure in WCW, including a match that nearly killed the company due to Patrick’s controversial officiating.
Nick Patrick first became noteworthy when he starting having problems with Chris Jericho, which resulted in a match that saw the future Y2J defeat Patrick with his right arm tied behind his back. Patrick then became known as the official nWo referee, assisting Hollywood Hogan and his cohorts in winning their matches up to and including Hogan’s title defense against Sting at Starrcade 1997. Patrick was supposed to make a fast count near the end of the match and cause a screw job finish, but either missed his cue or was bribed by Hogan into counting normally, ruining the match and the angle, and causing all of WCW to look foolish and weak in comparison to Hogan. Despite the major gaffe, Patrick kept his job for many years, and continued to flourish as the head referee of the SmackDown brand for many years before he retired due to a back injury.
6. Randy Anderson
When WCW was at its peak, part of their success was the fact that absolutely everybody on the show had a character or something to do, whether or not the matches were that great or the shows made much sense when viewed on the whole. Randy “Pee Wee” Anderson was one of the prime examples of this trend, as despite the fact Anderson was merely a referee who only even stepped into the ring against other referees, he was given enough attention and focus in the storylines that he became a true character, and fans were therefore happy when they realized he was the one refereeing the matches.
Anderson’s character was a quiet and unassuming family man who just wanted a job doing what he loved. It’s extremely relatable, and therefore was likewise powerfully sympathetic to the crowd when Eric Bischoff started bullying Anderson and then fired him for refusing to comply with the nWo. Anderson would win his job back only to lose it again on multiple occasions, but the real tragedy of his life had nothing to do with winning or losing any jobs. Sadly, Randy Anderson retired from wrestling in 1999 due to the discovery that he was suffering testicular cancer, and he passed away in 2002 as a result of the disease.
5. Tim White
Tim White was a WWE referee for over a decade before he began one of the most bizarre, tasteless, and offensive angles in the history of professional wrestling. White got his start in sports entertainment outside of the ring as Andre The Giant’s agent, and gradually segued that position into a full time role as a referee. Proving that wrestling is dangerous for absolutely anybody involved, White suffered a career ending injury during a Hell in a Cell match between Chris Jericho and Triple H. He didn’t quite realize the injury was career ending right away, until he attempted to rush his return to the ring and re-injured himself, and he quickly retired after his second accident.
The real story behind Tim White has nothing to do with his career in the ring, though. Once it was clear White had to give up the stripes for good, he made a highly questionable appearance at Armageddon 2005 to discuss just how deadly the Hell in a Cell match type can be. White appeared disheveled and despondent while interviewed by Josh Mathews, and ended the segment by shooting himself in the face with a shotgun. In the ensuing months, White would continue to appear in vignettes on WWE.com, where he would repeatedly commit suicide while Mathews stood by and watched him die. Especially considering the fact White was a referee, there was no way for this to pay off in any manner, few fans have anything positive to say at the time or in retrospect about this era of White’s career, and especially not his “Lunchtime Suicides.”
4. Brian Hildebrand
If entertainers were measured not by their height and weight but by their hearts, Brian Hildebrand may well have been one of the biggest humans ever to be involved in the professional wrestling business. Standing 5’6, Hildebrand was smaller than even most cruiserweights, and as a result his time as a wrestler was fairly short-lived. In fact, Hildebrand couldn’t even make much of a name for himself as a manager, though he tried, perhaps because he was too happy and quiet to perform the angry promos most managers are required to bring to the table.
Nonetheless, Hildebrand trained to be a wrestler with some of the best, including none other than Mick Foley. Hildebrand gave up on wrestling pretty early and quickly became one of the best referees in history instead. Hildebrand started refereeing for Smoky Mountain Wrestling and ECW, and it was in WCW that he started to become appreciated worldwide for his considerable skills at officiating pro wrestling. Hildebrand was known as Mark Curtis during this time period, and earned the additional nickname of “The Shooter” after a match after he quickly tackled an interfering fan and held said fan in a guillotine choke until security had the person removed. Unfortunately, while at the peak of his career, Hildebrand was diagnosed with stomach and bowel cancer in 1997. Despite countless benefits from the wrestling world, Brian Hildebrand succumbed to his diseases two years later, when he passed away in September of 1999.
3. Charles Robinson
WWE never fully adopted the trend, but in WCW and various other wrestling promotions, it actually isn’t that uncommon for referees to have a nickname or some sort of minor character. Mark Curtis was “The Shooter,” Randy Anderson was a “Pee Wee,” and Mark Johnson was “Slick,” but Charles Robinson was the real winner of the referee name game, because he got to be “Lil Naitch.” Robinson also has the distinction of rising higher in the ranks than any other referee ever has, when he very briefly was the kayfabe President of WCW for a few weeks in 1999.
Robinson obviously benefitted heavily from the fact he held more than a passing resemblance to The Nature Boy, but it’s not like he wasn’t an exceptionally gifted referee in his own right. Robinson’s expressive face was the first step to the major role he would later play in WCW, and the fact he has remained with WWE longer than any other referee to join during the Invasion should say it all about his ability to adapt to his environment wherever he goes. Bridging the gap between the two companies Robinson spent the most time with, when Sting finally made his WrestleMania debut in 2014, he personally requested Robinson be the official during the match.
2. Earl Hebner
Earl Hebner is without a doubt the most controversial referee in history. For many years, he was considered the most respected and important official in WWE, despite the fact he entered the company through an angle that shocked and disgusted fans to no end back in 1988. Hebner’s brother, Dave Hebner, had also been a WWE official for many years, and was thus picked to referee the main event of The Main Event, a one-off NBC special headlined by Hulk Hogan losing the WWE World Championship to Andre The Giant after his initial four year run with the belt. Hogan lost by way of heel chicanery, of course, as Earl and Dave Hebner are identical twins, who switched out halfway through the match so Earl could award Andre the match by way of a fast count.
Despite the fact Earl entered the company as a villain, his brother Dave was receding into an off camera role as a road agent, and thus Earl became the most recognizable referee in the company. Earl main evented the majority of Raw‘s and Pay-Per-Views during the Attitude Era, and even stepped in the ring as a competitor more than once to team with The Rock and feud against Triple H. Hebner’s WWE story would come to a crashing halt in 2005 though, when he and Dave were accused of illegally distributing WWE merchandise without company permission. The Hebners have worked for TNA ever since.
1. Tommy Young
Tommy Young only briefly worked for WWE, but that doesn’t preclude him from perhaps being the greatest professional wrestling referee ever to live. The majority of Young’s career took place in the NWA, where he was Ric Flair’s personal referee for many years. As a result, Young officiated nearly ever NWA World Heavyweight Championship bout of the 1980s, and his expressiveness, attention to detail, and ability to throw his body into whatever position the match demanded of him shined through in order to make him one of the only true superstar referees in sports entertainment.
Young finally made the jump to WWE in 1998, acting as the referee for Jim Cornette and his invading NWA faction. Although the storyline itself was much maligned, Young was the one piece of the puzzle that actually worked, with his presence providing the professionalism and NWA history the rest of Cornette’s hodgepodge group of outsiders were sorely lacking. Young retired shortly after appearing in WWE due to a persisting back injury, but fans will never forget his contributions to the sport. In fact, it wouldn’t even be out of line to claim that Tommy Young defined the occupation of professional wrestling as it’s known today, and fans have long been calling for a WWE Hall of Fame induction as a result.