Major League Wrestling has some pretty solid talent on their roster. Jacob Fatu has been getting rave reviews as their world champion, and considering his bloodline he’s obviously got a bright future. Speaking of bloodlines, LA Park and his kids have been making waves, recently winning MLW’s tag team championship from Kevin Von Erich’s kids. Then there’s Salina de la Renta & her stable of talent, including…Mil Muertes?
There’s a lot going on. MLW is still looking to get some more exposure though, as they find themselves behind Impact Wrestling & Ring of Honor in the battle to be the third-biggest wrestling promotion in North America. One good way for a wrestling promotion to reach a new audience is to crossover with sports. AEW is building a match featuring NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, which makes sense considering that TNT airs both AEW & the NBA. Plus all the various sports crossovers with wrestling over the years to varying success.
MLW has seen all of these successes over the years, and has decided to do an NBA crossover of their own. Probably not one you expected.
Indeed, that is former NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Not sure how he got cleared to be a referee in anything ever again, but MLW was apparently cool with him refereeing a Caribbean Strap Match. It didn’t work out too well for Savio Vega.
Watching Donaghy in action reminds me of other evil wrestling referees from over the years. Let’s take a look at the seven most magnificent heel refs.
7. Teddy Long
Before he was the beloved SmackDown General Manager booking people in tag team matches, Teddy was a young kid trying to get by in the wrestling business. He started out as an errand boy, then moved into officiating. As it turned out, young Teddy couldn’t really be trusted in the role, ad he turned heel in Florida & in WCW. The latter occasion led to the Road Warriors losing the NWA Tag Team Championship & Long being relieved of his refereeing duties. Fortunately, Long quickly became the manager of Doom & stayed active in WCW for serveral years afterward.
The WWF brought Long in as a referee in 1998, and kept him in the role for four years before returning him to a manager role. Long did well enough to be promoted to General Manager, and spent the next several years as a popular authority figure.
Lucha libre has a proud tradition of rudo referees dating back to the days of El Gran Davis. Davis was a rudo luchador that became a referee after his retirement from active competition. During the 1980s he was one of the most talked about referees in the world, and was a focal point of EMLL/CMLL booking. After Davis passed away in November 1991, many would follow in his footsteps and make rudo referees a common thing in lucha libre. Every lucha fed has to have one.
Tirantes is the one I’m most familiar with. He’s known for his suspenders and for always siding with the rudo luchadors. Somehow he kept getting to work most of the biggest matches in AAA for two decades, which one wonders why the athletic commissions went along with it. Most multi-man matches have two referees, so I guess they figure things will even out. Tirantes has a son that still referees for AAA and does many of the things Tirantes & Davis did.
5. Charles Robinson
Robinson grew up in North Carolina and loved pro wrestling, so obviously he was a huge Ric Flair fan. He broke into the business with the express purpose of being a referee for WCW, and he arrived in 1997. By the time 1999 rolled around, he had become an associate of WCW President Ric Flair, helping Flair & his cronies win matches in his capacity as a referee. Robinson had already been dying his hair to look like Flair’s for years, so he became known as “Little Naitch”.
Randy Savage, who had been suspended by Flair, was none too happy about all this, and made a challenge on behalf of his girlfriend, who was known as Gorgeous George. George wrestled Robinson at Slamboree in a match that was 10 times better than it had any right being. George was solid in her role & got the win to reinstate Savage, but Robinson stole the show with his Ric Flair impersonation in the ring. He even had the robe & tights. Robinson remained part of Flair’s group running WCW until Sting beat Flair to relieve him of his President gig.
Little Naitch is currently WWE’s longest-tenured referee, and has been part of many historical moments during his nearly two decades with the company, including Ric Flair’s final WWE match.
4. Nick Patrick
If it was more widely known that WCW Senior Referee Nick Patrick was the son of the legendarily devious Masked Assassin, we would have seen his run with the New World Order coming. The Assassin’s services were always open to the highest bidder during his time in the sport, and as it turned out, Patrick’s were as well. He agreed to join the New World Order during 1996 and was mysteriously assigned most of their matches. Patrick refereed every match during NWO Souled Out PPV, to the best of my knowledge being the only referee before or since to work every match on a PPV. Maybe Ryan Byers knows somebody else that did it.
Patrick ended up leaving the group a couple of months after Souled Out and went back to being a regular WCW official, but controversy did not go away. Nick was assigned the Hulk Hogan vs. Sting WCW Championship match at Starrcade 1997, and what happened at the end of that match is still talked about today. Hogan was supposed to beat Sting via a fast count by Patrick, which would lead to Bret Hart coming down, declaring that he wouldn’t let Sting get screwed like he did in Montreal, and refereeing the finish of the match where Sting would beat Hogan. Instead, Patrick did a regular three-count, leaving fans to wonder what Hart was complaining about.
Patrick didn’t turn heel there, and he remained unbiased until WCW was purchased by the World Wrestling Federation. During the Invasion, Patrick, in his position as WCW Senior Official, would be biased in favor of wrestlers part of the WCW/ECW Alliance. He feuded with WWF Senior Referee Earl Hebner, leading to a 5-star match at WWF Invasion. Patrick eventually became a senior referee in WWE after he checked his personal biases at the door.
3. Earl Hebner
Earl’s career had more ups & downs than anybody else in the history of wrestling refereeing. After a decade of refereeing for Jim Crockett Promotions, Hebner made the move to the World Wrestling Federation, where his identical twin brother Dave was already employed. Earl’s debut came in a pretty creative fashion during what was the most watched match in pro wrestling history. Dave had been assigned the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant WWF Championship match on The Main Event, but Ted DiBiase paid Earl off to take his brother’s spot and make sure that Andre got a three-count on the Hulkster. Dave came down and the world saw two Dave Hebners, one of who was on the take. It was a shocking moment that set up more to come.
It didn’t set up more for Earl Hebner as a heel referee, largely because Dave got injured during the angle. Earl worked his way into being an accepted unbiased official, and became the WWF’s Head Referee during the 1990s. He would avoid controversy until November 1997, when…well, you know. I think Earl’s still selling “I Screwed Bret” t-shirts. Earl was seen as a sympathetic figure by fans who knew that Mr. McMahon forced him to do it, and he continued on as the WWF’s top referee.
WWE let Earl & Dave go in 2005, and Earl wound up working for TNA/Impact Wrestling for the next twelve years. He had some interesting heel moments there, including helping Madison Rayne win matches due to a relationship between the two. Not the most believable storyline I’ve ever witnessed.
2. Danny Davis
Davis began officiating for the WWF in 1981, and for the first few years there nobody really took much notice of him. He was even able to wrestle wearing a mask on some shows as Mr. X without people noticing anything suspicious. Things began to get a little iffy in 1986, when Davis wound up being the official during a number of title matches where the bad guys would win via nefarious means.
Randy Savage knocked out Tito Santana with a foreign object & became the Intercontinental Champion under Davis’ not-so watchful eye. Davis allowed the Hart Foundation to illegally double-team Davey Boy Smith throughout a match where the Dynamite Kid was knocked out on the floor to become Tag Team Champions. These incidents put the spotlight on Davis, and his lackadaisical officiating in other matches helped create enough fan outrage that WWF President Jack Tunney banished Davis for life…from officiating.
Davis went into wrestling, taking on Jimmy Hart as his manager & facing off against most of the men he had wronged. It didn’t go all that well for him, as his win-loss record put him near the cellar. Davis requested to be reinstated as a referee, and was in April 1989, just a little over two years after his lifetime banishment. For the rest of his time with the WWF, Danny Davis behaved himself.
1. Bill Alfonso
You know what made Bill Alfonso a better heel referee than anybody else? When he said he was going to call it right down the middle…he actually did! Alfonso earned the ire of Extreme Championship Wrestling fans when he came in as a touble-shooting official by doing one simple thing: enforcing the rules. ECW referees hadn’t exactly been doing that as things continued to escalate beyond the scale of traditional wrestling matches & rules. Alfonso came into the promotion bound and determined to enforce countouts, disqualifications & things like that.
How dare he!
ECW Owner Tod Gordon was having none of that, every babyface in ECW was having none of that, and eventually when big 911 got his hands on Alfonso & delivered a chokeslam, the roof blew off of the ECW Arena. Alfonso was eventually relieved of his job as a referee & transitioned into managing, leading Taz, Sabu & Rob Van Dam to various championships through the remainder of the company’s existence.
All Bill Alfonso did was his job, and he made people upset. That’s heat.