Love them or hate them, WWE referees play a crucial role in every match. Whether they make the audience cheer by performing a three-count for a fan favorite wrestler or they’re being booed because they miss a critical low blow made by a top heel, WWE referees can make or break a match.
Refs not only have to withstand boos and jeers from an unhappy crowd of wrestling fans, but they also have to make sure each wrestler plays by the rules, ignore all of the many distractions outside of the ring, and be tough enough to stand in the ring with some of the biggest and most brutal athletes in the world.
What many wrestling fans don’t quite understand is that the job of a ref is more than just pounding the mat when a wrestler is pinned or kicking a tag team opponent out of the ring when he hasn’t yet been tagged. A ref is a critical part of the storyline in many matches, and he does much more than meets the eye. These 20 incredible facts will change the way you look at the referees of the WWE.
20. WWE Referees Aren’t Just Chatting with the Wrestlers – They’re Helping Them Out
Sometimes, fans may see the refs talking to the wrestlers. This may be after a wrestler dishes out a low blow or just doesn’t follow the rules of the ring. While it may look as though the ref is giving a stern reminder of the rules, often this is an opportunity to tell the wrestlers what moves to perform next. Opponents practice beforehand to create a great and entertaining match for the crowd, as well as to avoid injuring each other. Some moves are even choreographed as they go. However, particularly in long matches, each wrestler can’t remember a fully choreographed routine that will leave the fans wanting more. When they need a little push that will get WWE fans on their feet, the refs are in the perfect position to help them out by telling them what moves to perform. The refs obviously aren’t the writers, though, so how do they know what to say? That brings us to our next fun fact.
19. Refs Wear Ear Pieces for a Good Reason
When watching a WWE match, look closely and notice that each ref wears an earpiece. Why would the referee need an ear piece? The answer is simple – it’s so that writers and other staff backstage can communicate with them. Through these earpieces, a referee will always be aware of what should happen next to make the match truly unforgettable. Once the referee is alerted to any changes or any suggested moves, this information can be communicated to the wrestlers, typically by way of “lecturing” them after they’ve behaved badly. The writers can make changes to a previously rehearsed match or can add an intense finisher or surprise move that can liven up a dead crowd, all of which is relayed through the referee’s tiny earpiece.
18. The WWE Refs’ Uniforms Have Changed with the Times
From the WWF all the way to the WWE, referees have had a changing wardrobe that evolves with the times. Uniforms seen throughout the years include blue shirts paired with bowties, grey and black polo shirts, black and white striped shirts, all black shirts, and the more common black and white striped shirts with black pants. As names have changed, so have logos and emblems attached to the shirts. Throughout the years, referees for Raw and SmackDown wore different attire. However, since 2008, officials for both shows wear the same black and white shirts when overseeing a match. Special guest referees typically wear their own spin on the traditional WWE referee uniform.
17. Referees Have a Difficult Job – and Get Paid Handsomely for Doing It
No one said that being a referee is easy and much like other difficult jobs in the entertainment industry, refs bring home a pretty great salary. In addition to taking bumps and bruises, refs also travel with the WWE Superstars to different locations nationwide and around the world. This difficult job does have its benefits, though. Some of the best refs in the business earn a reported salary of around $2,500 a week. Newer refs or those who don’t work as often throughout the week may bring home a smaller but still respectable paycheck of around $1,500 per week. Referees who oversee Main Events earn even more, up to around $5,000 per week. This certainly makes all of the chair tossing, table breaking, and hard work worth it.
16. But Some Referees Object to This Pay
While the pay rate seems pretty high, it has been reported that some refs aren’t happy with their weekly paychecks from the WWE. TheWrestling Observer reported in 2014 that some undisclosed officials were not satisfied with their salaries. According to this report, the officials complained about the salaries because they were responsible for many of their own travel expenses. Plane tickets from coast to coast every day, hotel stays, food, and other necessities required for traveling to all of the WWE shows can get expensive, and many refs believed that they were getting shortchanged by their employers. No further news has been announced regarding this issue, and all of the most well-known refs are still with the company in 2015.
15. A Select Few Refs Are Immortalized as Action Figures
John Cena, Sheamus, and Randy Orton aren’t the only ones who have their own plastic action figures. A few referees have also had their very own action figures produces and sold in toy and department stores. Earl Hebner, one of the most famous referees in the company’s history, had his own action figure. Shawn Michaels, who had a stint as a special guest referee, was also immortalized in plastic. Instead of his traditional ring garb, this figure featured him wearing the black and white striped shirt that identifies these officials. These are now considered collector’s items as they can no longer be found in stores, and the Shawn Michaels figure sells online for almost $100 as of 2015.
14. One of the Longest Tenured Employees is a Referee
The wrestling lifestyle can be tough to endure. Constant year-long travel, injuries, and a grueling schedule can lead to burnout fast. However, like many of WWE’s top superstars, some refs make a lifelong career in this industry, and no one personifies that more than Mike Chioda. This ref, who still works for the WWE in 2015, first began his career with the company way back in 1989. Through the years, he has overseen many high-profile matches, including events at WrestleMania and other popular PPVs. The ref with the second longest tenure is Charles Robinson, who has been with the organization since 2001.
13. The Longest Tenured Employee Was Also Suspended
Mike Chioda may have made his mark in the WWE for working with the organization for over 20 years, but he also made news when he was suspended from the company back in 2011. The 30-day suspension was put in place because he violated the Wellness Policy of the WWE. He was the first, and as of 2015, the only referee to be suspended for violating this policy. After his suspension, he was allowed to come back to his position as an official, and he is still working with the organization as of 2015 with no additional violations to his name.
12. The Wellness Policy Also Applies to Referees
As already mentioned, Mike Chioda was the first and only official to be suspended for violating the WWE’s Wellness Policy. This policy requires WWE talent to have regular physicals and testing performed to clear them for the ring, and most notably, prohibits the abuse of drugs and other substances and grants the WWE permission to perform random drug testing. This is very important for the organization, as steroid use was rampant in earlier years. This policy allows the wrestlers to stay healthy, clean from drugs and substances, and it doesn’t just apply to the ones wrestling. All referees are subject to this policy as well, and face suspension or other consequences when not in compliance, as evidenced by what happened to Mike Chioda.
11. A Fake Ref Injury Can Change the Entire Match – and Upset the Crowd
Referees should be tough, right? They’re crawling into a ring with many wrestlers who are ready to tear each other apart – and are willing to go through the referee to do so. The ref makes sure that every shot is fair and that everyone plays by the rules. If this happened in every match, though, it just wouldn’t be the fun WWE that we all know and love. This is why a fake injury that takes the ref out of commission is a way to change the dynamics of the match and rile up fans. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take much to knock a ref out cold, giving a wrestler just enough time to completely destroy his opponent, right as the ref recovers and counts out the cheated wrestler. This is a move commonly used to allow heels to win dirty over a fan favorite. Bringing in multiple wrestlers, using illegal objects in the ring, and other chaos reigns when the ref is suffering from his injury. While this makes for an interesting storyline, it also puts the ref in a position to be booed by the fans, making this job both physically and mentally demanding. Don’t be fooled, though. Just like wrestlers, refs take their fair share of real injuries in the ring as well.
10. Refs Can Actually Get Hurt Too
Sometimes, injuries aren’t just fake. Anyone standing in a ring with some of the biggest, toughest men and women in the world is bound to get a few bumps and bruises. In an intense matchup when elbows are flying and chairs and tables are being scattered around the ring, it isn’t hard to see how easy it is for anyone in the vicinity to get injured. Some of the top referees of all time have taken some pretty hard blows and have walked out of the arena with injuries.
One of the most notable examples is Jim Korderas, a WWE referee from 1987 to 2009. Jim was seen in many popular matches, including Survivor Series and several WrestleManias. In WrestleMania IV, a plan to hit the ref with a megaphone to cause a disqualification went wrong when Jimmy Hart’s megaphone really knocked the ref out. It just goes to show that anyone who wants to be a part of the WWE team should be prepared for the unexpected – along with the potential injuries that may come along with it.
9. WWE Referees Can Be Easily Distracted
A ref’s job is to keep a close eye on the match to make sure that the best wrestler wins. As already mentioned, making sure that everyone fights clean and fair is all part of the job description. However, in some storylines, refs are easily distracted, leaving the crowd wondering what in the world is going on. Whether it’s by breaking up a fight outside of the ring, looking the other way when a player takes a dirty shot, or just doing something else because it fits better with the storyline, referees sometimes miss a lot of the in-ring action, which often leads to an unexpected victory.
It’s important to note that referees know exactly what they’re doing. These distractions are scripted to make the story more interesting to viewers, whether it’s to allow an underdog to win or whether it’s to infuriate the crowd when a heel doesn’t win clean. Just like fake injuries, these “distractions” can lead to lots of boos and taunts for the refs, who have to have a thick skin to take on the difficult job of overseeing these matches. While some distractions can irritate any wrestling fan who just watched an unfair match, these scripted moves make for a more interesting story that keeps fans coming back for more.
8. Special Guest Referees Sometimes Make an Appearance
WWE always wants to shake things up and keep wrestling entertaining and fresh. While this is often seen through the dramatic storylines that fuel rivalries among top WWE stars, sometimes, the choice of referee can make the match even more exciting. In some matches, particularly those seen at high-profile Pay-Per-View events, a special guest referee is brought in to oversee the match. This list of special guest referees includes former and current wrestlers, as well as celebrities. These guest referees may simply be there to surprise viewers, or their presence may lead to a plot twist in a much-anticipated matchup. Notable guest referees of the past include Muhammad Ali, who oversaw the main event of WrestleMania, as well as The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels, who was the special referee for the match between Undertaker and Triple H at WrestleMania VIII.
7. Most WWE Referees Are Male
With a few exceptions, most WWE referees throughout the history of the organization have been male. Why women aren’t given a shot at this role can only be speculated. In the 1980s, Rita Marie was a referee for the WWF. It was reported that she left the organization after accusing WWE owner and CEO Vince McMahon of sexual harassment. The former ref appeared on an episode of Geraldo Rivera’s talk show to discuss the incident. Aside from Rita Marie, however, the only women to act as refs for both male and female matches have been Divas and other female wrestlers, including Trish Stratus and A.J. Lee.
6. Fans Can Get a Peek Inside of the Ring with Jimmy Korderas
Any fan who has wondered how it feels to be a referee, oversee some of the greatest matches of all time, and learn the inside stories of some of the tragedies that have occurred within the company can get an inside look through the autobiography The Three Count: My Life in Stripes as a WWE Referee. This book was written by former ref Jimmy Korderas and spans events from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. This autobiography has funny stories about life on the road and in the ring, as well as a personal glimpse of events like the death of Owen Hart and the Chris Benoit tragedy.
5. Referees Reportedly Have Staged DQs
In a candid interview in 2014, former WWE wrestler Matt Sydal made some very interesting accusations about WWE referees. The wrestler, whose real name is Evan Bourne, claimed that referees would pit wrestlers against each other outside of the ring. He also stated that referees would pick a favorite during a match and disqualify the other wrestler for a minor reason. According to him, the refs were paid bonuses for following the rules of the WWE. He also called the refs “snitches.” These accusations have not been verified, and it’s unknown as to whether or not referees really use the rules for their own advantage.
4. Refs Sometimes Get Their Own Storylines
A WWE referee’s job is simple: Keep the match clean and stay out of the way. Sometimes, however, refs have been put in the spotlight with their own interesting storylines. One of the most notable that many of the most hardcore wrestling fans will remember is the 1999 referee strike. This revolution, led by Earl Hebner, resulted in the referees being allowed to defend themselves if provoked by a wrestler. In the year following, Hebner was featured in an additional storyline with Triple H after quick counting, resulting in Triple H’s loss to Chris Jericho. After returning the title to Triple H weeks later, Hebner was fired, but not before taking a beating. As part of the storyline, his job was reinstated by Linda McMahon. This storyline really showed the versatility of wrestling’s referees.
3. Refs Fight Back
After the decision was made after the 1999 strike, some referees used this to their advantage. No longer putting up with the taunts and blows from the wrestlers, some officials stood up for themselves against WWE’s toughest stars. Fans may remember Scott Armstrong punching out The Miz, or they may think back to the match where the referee hit Ryback below the belt. These are just two examples of the ref getting involved in the action. In some cases, a ref is simply defending himself, but in others, the official is showing a darker, dirtier side that can change the entire course of a match.
2. Refs Can Be Heels, Too
Heels are a crucial part of wrestling, and they aren’t just found competing for titles, either. Throughout the history of wrestling, there have been heel refs as well, who look the other way to change the outcome of a match or who show a bias toward particular wrestlers. While most are unbiased, some are made to be heels (or “scabs” to many wrestling viewers) to get fans more interested in the match. Danny Davis was a notable heel ref, who favored the bad guys in the ring. It was even insinuated through commentary that he was being bribed. Like many other aspects of the WWE, heel refs follow a script to keep fans on their toes.
1. Sometimes, Referees Are Just as Surprised as the Fans
It only makes sense that WWE referees would have the inside scoop on all of the matches beforehand, right? Not necessarily. While most matches are predetermined and results are given to staff within the WWE, including the ref officiating the match, other times, the officials are left in the dark. One prime example is the infamous Undertaker versus Brock Lesnar match that took place at WrestleMania. Since this was such a high-profile match, the WWE was very secretive about the results, sharing with only a select few so that no leaked details would be revealed. Referee Chad Patton, the official overseeing this notorious matchup, was not aware of the results beforehand, according to sources. These sources say that he was simply told to begin counting whenever shoulders hit the mat. Some rumors speculate that he was actually told that Undertaker would be taking the match right before stepping into his ring. If these rumors are true, then he would have been just as surprised at the outcome when Brock Lesnar beat Undertaker’s undefeated streak.