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Top 10 Rules for a Pro Wrestling Referee

Steve Austin, Shane McMahonThe WWE has yet to induct a WWE referee into its hall-less Hall of Fame, and that is in the words of the late, great Gorilla Monsoon, “a miscarriage of justice”. As fans of 80s pro-wrestling, we grew up with the likes of Earl Hebner and Joey Marella, who were the third, oft-abused men in the ring for some of the decade’s classic wrestling matches. They would run around the ring, pass signals to wrestlers, and all the while be on the receiving end of a never-ending stream of abuse from the broadcasters who would constantly question their credentials for the job.

Along with being an integral part of the pro-wrestling show, the referee gives your average fan with an interest in joining the business a more realistic goal. It’s pretty unlikely that someone whose genetics point him towards the bench rather than the field will be able to become a pro-wrestler, no matter how many scraps he’s won on a mattress at the local city dump. Becoming a referee should be within the grasp of most mobile fans of the sport. (See Point No. 2 – qualifications appear to be minimal).

[adinserter block=”1″]We have compiled the following as a tribute to the formerly bow-tied arbiters of justice in the squared circle and as a guide of key points to the job for aspiring refs:

1. The referee will never disqualify someone for not breaking on the count of five unless the wrestler plans to hold on to it for a full five minutes to injure his opponent and establish himself as a psychopath. There would be fewer limbs with which to hail cabs if such a policy were adopted in the UFC.

2. Unlike referees in other sports who often simply look like they could be replaced by just about anyone, in wrestling it is actually often the case: the pin-head stripers can be replaced at any juncture by a celebrity, old wrestler, or even some guy who runs into the ring from the stands to count three after they’ve been knocked out.

3. The ref will usually draw out the count of three like a reality show cliff-hanger unless a roll-up pinning combination is involved. When that happens, the ref will count the three as if the building is on fire and every second saved is precious.

4. Regardless of the severity of the impact, “accidentally” being bumped will send the referee flying to the mat or outside the ring and knock him unconscious for as long as required for someone to pull something underhanded. His miraculous recovery will automatically coincide with the heel going for the pin.

5. On a related point, when a ref takes a fall, he will land in such a way that his vision of the chicanery going on behind him is obscured as he stands up. Also he bizarrely chooses not to look around as he comes to, but rather stares straight ahead or at the mat, thus giving the villain a few extra seconds to do something dastardly. (A common scenario: the heel partner outside the ring, wails the baby-face with a chair, the heel goes in for the roll up.)

6. Every time someone puts on a hold like an abdominal stretch or some equally boring rest hold, the pro-wrestling referee will lean in with an intense focus that suggests he reckons this just might be the first time in the history of wrestling that someone will submit to such a hold.

7. While the ref is in heated discussions with a tag team partner outside the ring, the legal man can be stomped by Bloods, Crips, members of the audience, pepper-sprayed exposed to caustic industrial chemicals and left for dead. What the ref could possibly be discussing for this length of time is one of those “suspension of disbelief” wrestling mysteries best left untouched.

8. When wrestlers are battling on the outside of the ring and the ref begins the count of 10, an epoch in human history will often pass before he completes the count in an important match. People will do somersault planchas into pile-drivers through tables, return to the dressing room to get their buddies’ impressions of the move, hold a press conference detailing the media’s exaggerated impressions of steroids in pro wrestling… Then they’ll stop for a late night snack, before finally getting gas and returning to the ring. The ref will be at 4.

[adinserter block=”2″]9. The ref will invariably fail to see that the bad guy has his legs stretched to the ring rope for added leverage, even when the heel manager or tag team partner is latched onto them and swinging about. Worse, rather than looking at the video footage afterward and ruing ever having fallen for such a ploy, the ref will miss this night after night, allowing the heel to cheat with impunity.

10. If the ref is in any way athletic or larger than, say, Jimmy Mouth of the South Hart, he will probably make a biased call in a match and find himself embroiled in the classic “heel referee” skit that pro-wrestling likes to trot out whenever the creative well runs dry. (The greatest of these was, of course, Dangerous Danny Davis).

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  1. Regarding #8, I actually saw the opposite happen one time at the old Boston Garden. Haku and an out-of-shape Andre the Giant were defending the tag titles against Demolition when Andre chucked either Ax or Smash out of the ring. Ref Fred Sparta did a "one-two-ten, ring the bell" count-out that left the crowd befuddled.

  2. Throwing punches (with closed fists) is technically illegal in wrestling, but refs are never allowed to actually disqualify someone for breaking that rule. The same goes for standing on the ropes for more than a 5 count.


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