Earl Hebner is likely the most famous referee in sports entertainment history. He was with WWE for 17 years before joining Impact Wrestling for 11 years. Thus, if there's an expert on what it takes to be a great referee, Hebner is the guy to go to.
He discussed that very thing when he joined the Prime Time with Sean Mooney podcast.
"It takes years of experience to who you are working with and where they are going and feeling them out and knowing what they want to do next," said Hebner. "It's like working with Ric Flair. I've worked with Ric Flair for so many years that his moves and everything where he didn't have to say anything. I knew where he was going, what he was going to do. It's like dancing.
"If the cameras are in front of you, you work from left to right to the back rope. Then you have to work the hard camera rope, but then you know you are in the wrong spot so you fix your spot and then you get out of the way."
Back in his younger days, Hebner was often called on when a ref needed to take a bump and he was gorilla press-slammed over the top rope in his WWF debut.
Hebner talked about what a referee needs to do in order to take a bump as good as the wrestlers.
"It's like I tell these referees today. If you just stay relaxed and don't stiffen up and just go at it, you prepare yourself to be a piece of concrete when they hit you then you won't fall right. You stay loose; stay relaxed and go with it," stated Hebner. "I'll never forget this: Jay Strongbow once asked when we were in an agent's meeting, he asked, 'Why is Earl Hebner in all of the main events?' He said because the same way one football referee does all of the Super Bowls. He said he knows what to do, where to be and that is why he is there. I am not bragging but that is what Jay said. It made me feel good, but the thing is that when you are taking a bump you have to relax. When you go back and look at some of the bumps that I took from Shawn Michaels, a leap frog and then he plows into me, I planned where to be so when he had to hit me, I would fall and slide out of the ring and hit the floor. I guess God gifted me to do this, but I can take any bump and make it pretend to look good. I can't do it now though."
Hebner says he would listen to the wrestlers instructions before the match on exactly what he needed to do in order to take a good bump.
"Like I said, 9 times out of 10 it worked, but I would work my butt off; even after we went through the match I would still mark myself where sometimes I would even take the bump on my own and fall back and go, okay, this is what I have to do and go this far at least. It worked; most of the time it did work," said Hebner.
WWE first introduced Earl Hebner in 1988 during an identical twin angle with his brother Dave who was also a referee and road agent. It was a way for Andre the Giant to go over on then-champion Hulk Hogan by having Ted DiBiase bribe the then-unknown Earl to count 1-2-3.
Hebner was working in Jim Crockett Promotions just before that and he discussed WWE's idea for the identical twin angle.
"They wanted Hulk Hogan to drop the belt but they wanted him to lose clean; they thought about and thought about it so they were like, well, Dave Hebner has a twin brother, that's perfect. Vince flew my brother and I in and we sat and talked with Vince McMahon. It was great; it worked perfect. They kept saying it was an imposter; they made him up, and then it turned out that the truth was Dave and I were twins," said Hebner.
"We went up to Connecticut and me, my brother and Hulk Hogan worked that thing for about four days and it was the most kayfabe thing in the world that I ever can remember what kayfabe was. When I went into the building everybody goes, 'Hey Dave!' I had my head down the whole time and I just kept walking. Then Davey Boy Smith came in a little later and it was like, nobody was looking for Dave because everyone assumed Dave was already there, you know what I mean? It was great.
"I'm working in the NWA, my brother Dave told me that Vince wanted us to go up to Connecticut because he wants to give us a deal and I said okay, so I think Hulk Hogan was the one who really put the icing on the cake and said that this is perfect; this is what we need."
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.