The Lost Diary of a 1980s Pro Wrestling Referee

(Photo: Ross LaRocco)

On February 10, 1989, World Wrestling Federation president Vince McMahon altered the course of human history in a manner that could never be reversed. Trying to avoid paying the fees that sporting events typically have to pay their state athletic commissions, McMahon pulled back his industry’s veil of secrecy during a New Jersey senate hearing, officially clarifying that professional wrestling wasn’t so much a legitimate sporting event, but a form of entertainment, right down to the predetermined outcomes. Sure, some had their doubts prior to this moment, but at that point, the secret was finally out: Pro wrestling wasn’t completely “fake” (being thrown off a ladder hurts even if you planned on being thrown from said ladder), but it wasn’t totally “real” either. This is the diary of Ken Carson, the last referee to find out.

January 8, 1989

Dear Diary,

I can’t believe it, it’s finally happening. After all these years of practicing in my room, after the countless matches in friends’ backyards and empty gymnasiums, I finally got the call: This Monday, I’m heading to the big leagues.

You know, I’ll never forget the day Dad took me to WrassleCastle 14 for my birthday. The Main Event was Lumberjack Nicholson vs The Kung Fu Kid for the heavyweight championship, and from that very moment, I knew I wanted to be a referee when I grew up.

Now that my first dream is coming true, it’s time to start chasing my second one: Working a big-time main event on Pay-Per-View television, like the six-sided steel cage match at this fall’s Rosh Hashanah Rumble. I don’t want to jinx anything, but if I work really hard and turn a few heads in the front office, it just might happen. Well, it’s time to get some sleep (Yeah right, like I’ll be able to sleep), because I’m flying out to Salt Lake City in the morning.

P.S. Just imagine — little old me in Salt Lake City! Can you believe it?

January 9, 1989 — Salt Lake City, UT

Dear Diary,

I landed in Salt Lake City in time to meet the crew for , and everything started off great. The staff was friendly, The other refs were super cool guys (Especially Stan Bennett, he’s like the Joe Montana of wrestling referees), they had these amazing little sandwiches in the cafeteria, the whole thing was a dream come true. They let me jump right in and work a couple matches, and sure, some of the guys tried testing my boundaries a little bit here and there, but I get it — this is the big time, they’re gunning for the top spot, it only makes sense that they’d try to use any advantage they can get. Honestly, the only major incident took place right after my last match of the night. Justin Jenkins won fair and square, and when it was time for everyone to head backstage, Man-Moose got up, kicked him in the crotch and powerbombed him three times. The audience was stunned, and frankly, I was right there with them; I’ve never seen anything like it. I literally told him “Okay, no more powerbombs” after the first powerbomb, but it’s like I wasn’t even there. Now I know I’m the new guy, and I know I’m going to have to earn everyone’s respect, but I’m still an authority figure, whether Man-Moose likes it or not. I don’t know how they do things back in Parts Unknown, but where I come from, we follow one simple rule: Whether you win or lose, you do it with class. You shake a man’s hand, you look him in the eye, and you congratulate him on a hard-fought match. It’s a little thing called sportsmanship, and apparently, Man-Moose’s father never taught him the first thing about it. Anyway, I gave him a good talking to backstage, so I think things should be much better going forward.

January 11, 1989 — Denver, CO

Dear Diary,

After ’s little powerbomb incident, I really hoped would go off without a hitch, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. I was reffing a perfectly clean match, when all of a sudden, Jackhammer Jones’ girlfriend climbed up and tried to get in the ring. Now, she knows good and well that she’s not allowed to do that, so naturally I turned my back to everything that was going on in the ring at the time and walked over to confront her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy Jackhammer Jones has finally found love and settled down, people just need to keep their business and personal lives separate, is all.

This whole thing is way above my pay grade, but honestly, I don’t understand why they let his girlfriend keep walking down to the ring with him anyway. If you want to watch your boyfriend wrestle, you buy a ticket and sit in the audience like everybody else, that’s what I say. Oh, and by the way, I heard this is the third time she’s jumped into one of his matches this month; it’s like a few years ago when that guy kept bringing his bodyguard to the ring. I know I don’t make the rules, but it seems like you shouldn’t be allowed to bring a bodyguard to your wrestling match if he’s going to keep interfering whenever you’re getting beat up. I guess that’s technically his job, but again, there’s a time and a place for everything. I argued with Jackhammer’s girlfriend for a minute until she abruptly agreed with me and left, and when I turned back around, Jackhammer was going for the pin. I’m not sure what happened, but kudos to him, because when I’d last looked, he was trying to fight his way out of a pretty serious choke hold, and I didn’t like his chances one bit. Chalk it up to the power of love, I guess. Man, Huey Lewis is a genius.

The Power of Love. Don’t need money/fame/no credit card to ride this train. (Photo: Ross LaRocco)

January 14, 1989 — Omaha, NE (I think)

Dear Diary,

So, bad news. I was working a tag match, and everything was going just fine, but the Romanian Rottweiler went for a flying body press, and Captain Connecticut ducked out of the way. Well, apparently the Rottweiler hit me instead, and apparently I lost consciousness, because the next thing I knew, he was shaking me and telling me to wake up. And not a moment too soon, either, because his partner Sergei was going for the pin. Did I see the steel chair that had somehow made its way into the ring while I was unconscious? Sure I did. Did I notice the vaguely head-shaped dent in it? Of course. It crossed my mind that someone might have taken that chair and smashed someone’s head with it, but I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t want to seem racist or xenophobic or whatever, so I minded my business and counted the pin. You can’t just go around accusing people of things like that, especially in today’s increasingly tense political climate. The crowds already boo the Romanian Rottweiler every time he speaks anyway, it’s not my place to make things even tougher for him (they wouldn’t boo so much if he stopped talking about how great he thinks Communism is, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out one of these days).

When I got backstage, some of the other refs told me this was the third time I’d lost consciousness after a relatively minor collision, and I’m not going to lie, that struck me as a bit concerning. They sounded pretty casual about the whole thing, like it’s just a thing that happens from time to time, but I don’t know, it seems pretty serious to me. I really think I should talk to the boss about going to get checked out, but I don’t want everybody to think I’m being a baby, so I’ll probably just tough it out for a while and hope it doesn’t happen again.

A great ref always knows to pay attention to what’s going on outside the ring (Photo: Ross LaRocco)

January 16, 1989 — Des Moines, Iowa

Dear Diary,

Well, apparently our little chat about sportsmanship went in one ear and out the other, because it took three other refs to help me get Man-Moose to release that figure-four leg lock he put on Paul Johnson after their match. How do you think it makes me look, needing three guys to come out and do my job for me like that? I was so embarrassed, and I felt terrible for Paul, too. You can’t stay in a figure-four that long, I can’t believe the poor guy didn’t pass out — which, by the way, I apparently did when somebody bumped into me during the opening match. I talked to the guys backstage, and apparently I’ve done that several times this month. They said we’d discussed it before, too, so, not feeling too great about that. I once saw a thing on TV about these little goats that pass out whenever you bump them or sneak up on them and yell, maybe there’s something like that for people? I’m not sure, but either way, it’s starting to get concerning.

January 18, 1989 — Milwaukee, WI

Dear Diary,

It’s starting to bother me how I keep losing consciousness like really, really easily, so I figured I’d bring it up backstage with Dr. Pain, maybe get a referral to a neurologist or something. Well, get this: It turns out Dr. Pain isn’t a doctor who also wrestles, he’s just a wrestler who wrestles. I don’t know where he got that lab coat and stethoscope, but apparently he’s been lying about his medical credentials this whole time, which, now that I think about it, is probably illegal. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but now I’m starting to wonder if Bayou Bobby Boudreax really lives in a swamp and wrestles gators, or if Tony Rigatoni’s actually a member of an organized crime syndicate. I guess you can’t trust anybody these days.

It’s lonely at the top. (Photo: Ross LaRocco)

January 21, 1989 — Chicago, IL

Dear Diary,

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this place. I was sitting backstage during tonight’s main event, just taking notes and watching the great Stan Bennett at work, when I saw Freight Train McClain pull some kind of foreign object from his tights and hit Bill Sherman in the head with it. Stan was busy arguing with Freight Train’s manager, and by the time he turned around, Freight Train had already thrown it out of the ring and gone for the pin. It was clearly grounds for a disqualification, and I thought about running to the ring and clearing things up, but I didn’t want to step on any toes. Besides, how am I going to tell THE Stan Bennett that he messed up? I tried to let it go, but it started tearing me apart — how am I supposed to sleep at night knowing the featherweight championship had changed hands on fraudulent terms, and I just stood by and let it happen? A few hours later, I went looking for the boss to tell him what I saw, and get this: He was in the cafeteria with Freight Train, Paul Stan Bennett, just laughing it up and having a few beers. I’m telling you, something stinks around here, and this thing goes all the way to the top.

January 22, 1989 — Williamson County Regional Airport, Marion, IL

Dear Diary,

Got fired. Whatever’s going on around that place, I think they knew I was getting close to blowing the whole thing wide open, and since the media would’ve had a field day with it, I guess they had to get rid of me. Honestly, it’s probably for the best. Maybe it’s time to go back to reffing backyard matches, where everybody does it for the love of the game. Maybe I’ll become a referee instructor, and help kids live their referee dreams like I did. Then again, maybe I’ll just go finish up at Dartmouth — I’m 12 credits short, might be time to quit screwing around and get that Masters degree already. Either way, and no matter how it ended, I’m still going to look back fondly on these past few weeks. I got to travel across the country, I learned a lot about being a referee, and I met a lot of great friends like Mayday McNeil. Mayday’s a fighter pilot who also wrestles, so when I told him I’d gotten fired, I asked if he could fly me home after his match. He said “no problem” and to meet him here at the airport. He’s probably just running a little late.

You may know me as Joe the policeman in the What's Going Down episode of That's My Momma.

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