Last weekend, details emerged of an out of shoot attack upon a referee from two professional wrestlers that not only hit headlines within our small unique world but headlines within the “real world” too.
Whilst the attack was condemned by just about everyone within the business, this also led to others sharing their opinions. One of which really grated on me was that all referees need to learn to bump and work on the fly as a general rule. As a referee myself, I have my own opinion and story I want to share with you and just maybe my honesty and openness will get me a booking or two, who knows?
I started refereeing when I was 16 years old, I’m now double that age. There are many routes referees take to get into the business. Some pay to attend seminars organised by promoters as another way of making a few pennies, some just get thrown in by accident as the promoter literally had no other choice, with others just getting lucky by promoting themselves to various promotions across the country to get bookings with success. However, the most common way was as my own, I was a trainee.
To be a wrestler was a dream of mine as a small kid, and to be approached by a training school to come train with them was like a dream come true. After a few sessions, the promotion was having a show and I was asked to ref. I was told by not just the promoter but by other high ups within the school that this was the best learning curve. You have the best seat in the house to watch all seven matches, you can see and hear everything that happens and take it all on board. They weren’t wrong. Any trainees reading this, beg to ref. Not every show but occasionally. It’s the quickest and best learning you’ll ever get.
As a shy 16-year-old who didn’t want to put a foot wrong, that’s all I was told. I’m refereeing. No tips, no lessons, just there in my white shirt and bow tie, ready to go. I’m lucky that I’ve studied wrestling inside and out from the day I found out it was “fake”. From that moment I wanted to know how everything in that ring worked. I knew every rule that existed, so as an authority figure I’m good to go. On the business side however, I knew NOTHING. I didn’t speak to any of the wrestlers, I knew none of their “spots” and most importantly I didn’t know any of the finishes. Lucky for me, everything went to plan and I got away with that.
By the time I turned 17, I was driving and I was suddenly everyone at the school’s best friend. They are getting bookings across the country and want me to drive them with the caveat that I can referee the show. It was from here that I learnt all the in’s and out of a referee’s real role – a messenger. Literally to be the man in the middle of the ring between two or more of these great entertainers, and there was no better feeling. I slowly stopped training and refereed more shows.
The more shows I worked, the more future stars I got to meet and work with. My first real ref bump came courtesy of S.O.S, now Sheamus of the WWE. Downstairs in the basement of Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, we discussed very briefly the match plans. I was asked ever so politely if I minded taking a ref bump to help with the finish. He even said if I didn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all. For me this was no issue, but the bump was a headbutt. I hadn’t taken a headbutt in a ring but realised the premise of how it was delivered. Admitting this to the two, they walked with me to the ring just to give it a go as they wanted to know I could take it safely. Everything went better than well, and the finish was in the bag. Come to match time, and the crowd is eating this match up. After a two count, Sheamus looks up at me and in his thick Irish accent asks “are you ready to take this bump fella?”, to which I replied with just a wink. He grabs me and BOOM, I’m down. Crowd is so loud I can’t even hear what’s going on until I’m dragged backstage, where the two wrestlers are waiting there to ask if I’m ok and thank me for my help that evening. What a feeling.
Contrast this to a few months later, where I’m working a very late-night show with a start time of midnight. I’m working with wrestlers I had been watching on the UK circuit for years so it was somewhat surreal. The main event was a pinata match (don’t ask). With ladders and canes flying around, I’m doing my utmost to stay well out of the way until it’s time to lift the winner’s arm. However, I wasn’t careful enough and was struck by a rogue cane being swung. In shock and not expecting it I didn’t react, which seemed to piss off a young Sha Samuels. Taking exception that I didn’t “sell” the cane, he looked at me and screamed: “fucking sell it!”
He then whacked me once from the front and as I turned to protect and sell, a second hit me across the back. Neither particularly hurt, more stung than anything. After the match, Sha never asked if I was OK or even thanked me. In fact, I don’t think he even shook my hand after the show was all done. This was not planned, and to be honest if he wanted to involve me in the match, he should have spoken to be beforehand, as I wouldn’t have minded at all. If anything, I was upset I didn’t sell it because I didn’t know it was coming. Sure, it was an accident and maybe I should have sold the first accidental shot, but I was young and naive.
Whether it’s an ego thing or the adrenaline during a match, when something doesn’t go right most wrestlers would turn into monsters. One example was me refereeing a triple threat match, where two guys did a double down count out spot primarily used in one vs one match ups. The more veteran wrestler shouted for me to count, which I refused. Those who know match rules know there are zero count outs within a triple threat. I leant down to tell this wrestler that there aren’t any counts in this match, of which he screamed that he wanted me to count no matter what. He wanted me to show the crowd I didn’t know the rules. I stuck to my guns. When I returned to the back, I was shouted down by this guy in front of everyone for ruining their “big spot” and he never wanted me to work with him again. However, an hour passes by and he sat next to me and literally begs me to forgive him. He saw red, and wanted someone to blame. To this day, we’re still extremely good friends.
Over years of working various shows, I would occasionally share the duties of refereeing. Some would be against taking any bump which I can completely understand, as can most of the team working alongside us. If there’s a bump to be taken in a match, then the correct referee was assigned. Not everyone gets involved within the business to risk getting hurt. Wrestling is one massive family filled with all sorts. You have ring announcers, camera operators, music technicians, even those who run the merch. You’re there for each other as well as the fans.
Now I don’t know Aaren Wilde, but I would think he would think this also. He would have turned up to Bethnal Green on Friday night, to see his family and to enjoy that massive event.
However, something did go wrong, as we all know.
Josh Bodom didn’t get his shoulder up in time for a three count, and was pinned. Right winners announced, just five minutes short of the planned finish. Of which post-match, Aaren was slammed by Sha Samuels in the ring, and then dragged outside by Josh Bodom for a knee to the face and many clubs to the back to follow. As far as the fans were to know, this could have been part of the show. It was an odd finish to the match, but many match finishes are.
A week later, Aaren did then tweet his side of the story. That the slam upon him was unplanned as was the attack by Bodom, and he sustained a shoulder injury to the point that he can no longer referee within wrestling or his real-world job of football refereeing. It is not clear what has injured Aaren.
I am not in the knowledge of Aaren having any training but a slam does need both men to accomplish this safely nine times out of 10. Having seen footage of this, Sha did tuck Aaren’s head to ensure a safe as possible landing. However, with this being a shoot slam, in my opinion it would have been hard to land this safely – you just don’t land square without practice. With no ref bump planned, Aaren wouldn’t expect to be put in this situation.
Aaren has refereed over 500 wrestling matches. He’s a really good and experi need referee and has taken bumps before, always with discussed with the wrestlers prior to them being done.
Your typical ref bump would be a shoulder tackle, squash or a worked punch, both of which isn’t a bump as such but more just you falling to the ground. If Sha went for a worked punch instead, I’m pretty certain Aaren would have sold this for him, lessening the danger for injury for all parties involved. Sha has stated he did this to think on his feet, to ensure the ending made sense. To achieve this, a number of things could have taken place in place of this slam. After the slam took place, Sha grabbed a mic and cut a promo. Why couldn’t he have done this and only this? As mentioned further above, he has “thought on his feet” before with me.
The following attack from Bodom was again unprovoked but also now to be revealed as a shoot knee and beat down, all of which has now cost him his livelihood as he is now blacklisted from companies across the land. Good riddance, this referee says.
However, one tweet I saw multiple wrestlers make an opinion of this was that “all referees should be able to bump”, which I highly disagree with. If anything, this makes me extremely angry. Not everyone in the business needs to bump. Not everyone wants to put their bodies on the line, but they’ve dreamt of being involved somehow. The most involved they could be without physicality would be referee. They’re the glue in the match – they keep it all together, help tell the story through ignoring heels cheating and help vital information get to anyone if needed. Without a referee in any sport, there is no order. No rhyme and reason. Everyone needs everyone else within this business to be successful.
Referees need to learn much more than bumping – the best referees out there know every rule for the stage they’re performing in. They need to look as legit as possible as an official to pass this whole thing off as real, just as much as the big grizzly wrestler.
One thing I will say every referee should learn is basic first aid. You never know when you’ll need it most. Many injuries have happened at shows I’ve attended as a fan where the referee was clueless to the injury or had zero idea what to do. I watched as Nik Bali got paralyzed in Cardiff in the late 2000’s with a referee unaware. It was Mike Bird who had heard word backstage that something wasn’t right, came out and took charge. It wasn’t his company, and he wasn’t in the match. His first aid training however was able to help, but the injury was already done and completely unavoidable.
Not every match has a bump, and nobody should ever do anything they don’t want to or even be expecting without agreement. This wasn’t an accident; it was recklessness which could have been avoided. There were many options to recover the situation and save face for everyone, but it would seem the adrenaline stopped any decent train of thought.
I hope Aaren makes a huge recovery, and that he can return to the thing he loves. I know if he has the bug that I do, he won’t be able to stay away too long, injured or not. If anything, I want to say sorry to Aaren for having to go through this. Maybe because refs like myself who are up for anything gives an impression that everyone else is. You should judge everyone individually and assess every situation as so.
To quote Bill and Ted, just be excellent to each other.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @TheLynnLegend. Thanks for reading!