Earl Hebner has over 40 years in the wrestling business and has been a referee for WWE, NWA, Impact and now AEW. He was the ref in seemingly all of the big WWE events from the late 1980s through the mid-2000s including the Montreal Screwjob.
Hebner joined the Prime Time with Sean Mooney podcast to talk about his current relationship with Bret Hart as well as other wrestling promotions dying because they tried competing with Vince McMahon.
"NWA was great. You had Wahoo McDaniel, Ric Flair, Dick Murdoch, I mean, so many great superstars. They were booming, and where they went wrong was when they tried to compete with Vince McMahon," said Hebner who worked for the NWA in the 1980s before joining WWE in 1988. "They had the South sold out; they would sell out Charlotte, Greensboro, they had it made. But when they tried to compete with Vince McMahon and went up North it killed them. It cost them a lot of money.
"The same thing with TNA. We had Universal Studios locked in. The ring stayed there until whenever we had to use it. You didn't have to go travel around the world, and that is what killed TNA. That is what I told Dixie Carter one night. I told her that she lost her mind. You want to be hot for 2-3 months but after that Vince McMahon will burn your butt up and look what happened."
Hebner worked for TNA/Impact for 11 years before departing in 2017. After working the indies, he then joined AEW in 2019 where he was the referee for the Cody vs. Dustin match at Double or Nothing.
"I hadn't been in the ring for a while, but I'm thinking, the main event and all this stuff, being 70 and all. This match at Double or Nothing, I was hyped up for this match. It's like, you're feeling like your old self again you know what I mean? Working with two brothers and thinking about their dad who gave me the opportunity of my life it was just unbelievable," stated Hebner.
"It was a great match and they had it all laid out. They wanted to take care of each other, which they did. It was like family to me in there. I knew Cody Rhodes when he was a baby and I knew Dustin Rhodes when he was probably a teenager. It's like, man, I'm in here with two grown men and I remember them as kids. Dusty Rhodes loved me to death. He nicknamed me Baby Earl. I feel like part of the family with those two guys. I love The Young Bucks as well. When TNA got rid of them I told Eric Bischoff that you guys are making a big mistake; he said, what do I mean? I said that these two men are the new Matt and Jeff Hardy."
As for the Screwjob and Hebner's present-day relationship with Hart, he says they smoothed things over when Hart had an appearance in Hebner's hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
"[The Montreal Screwjob] was bad and whatever, but Bret and I made up and are good friends now," revealed Hebner. "I talked to him when he was in Las Vegas for AEW and the only thing he asked me was how my brother was doing and I said that he is not doing that good but he is okay. He said that he was going to call him, and I said to give him a few days so I can remind him who you are because Bret had a show in Richmond, VA and my brother and I were on the show as well as Bret. Out of nowhere Bret called us to the ring and he put me and Dave over like no tomorrow and Bret said to the crowd that whatever happened in that match it wasn't Earl's faul. He did what he had to do. We're friends. This was about a year ago or longer, but we're great now."
Hebner was asked about his thoughts on the fledgling AEW and he propped them up while also taking shots at WWE.
"I tell you what; they are a great company and there's competition now between WWE and them which makes good for both companies. I think the way AEW is going, it's something new; it's not like you are working for a company like WWE where you are in prison," said Hebner. "Guys are more relaxed, and when guys are more relaxed you can get more out of them then when you feel like you are in jail. Even though Vince McMahon is signing everybody that he runs into and trying to keep good talent from going there, but if you stop and think about it all the talents he has signed lately are in a cellar. They are out of sight and out of mind and when is he going to use you? You are going to be nothing when you get out of that because nobody is going to remember you. He is not going to let you work for anybody else because he is paying you, but you just wasted your time and your talent by sitting in a cellar waiting to punch your number in."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Prime Time with Sean Mooney with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.