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Life As An Indy Wrestling Referee Part 1

Abe brings his unique perspective to the masses! Anyone with aspirations for wrestling should peruse this for a heads up!

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Abe brings his unique perspective to the masses! Anyone with aspirations for wrestling should peruse this for a heads up!

When I graduated college in August of 2018, I knew I wanted to contribute to a wrestling promotion in any capacity I could. My first thought was Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling (ROW). They’ve produced the likes of Kylie Rae, Ember Moon, and Fallah Bahh and would obviously create great connections. The problem is that the facility is about a 2 hour drive from me. That’s nothing if I needed to travel for a show but a clear problem if I needed to be there daily.

I asked a friend if he knew anyone in wrestling and he directed me to someone named Adam Drake that works commentary for a local promotion called Lions Pride Sports. After looking into it and seeing guys like Rikishi and Jerry “The King” Lawler on previous posters, I got excited. I asked Adam if there was any way I could help. He told me that the students of the school are typically the ones that help out.

At that moment, I thought back to a conversation I had with my friend, Alex Reyes. You may remember Alex from doing backstage interviews in NXT around 2016. Several years ago I asked him how I could break into the wrestling business. My ultimate goal was to be a writer on a creative team but there aren’t entry level jobs for that kind of thing. You would need to have worked in television or wrestling for years. Alex told me that I should consider being a referee. I would learn how to take bumps and get my first experience in the industry.

After reminiscing on that talk, I decided to take the leap of faith and start my training as a referee. Adam redirected me to the school’s head coach, Houston Carson. Houston was a pro wrestler that mainly worked in his career in the state of Texas. Over his career, he wrestled the likes of Bobby Lashley, Jinder Mahal, Gene Snitsky, Satoshi Kojima, and Davey Boy Smith Jr., to name a few. Unfortunately, he was forced into early retirement before age 30 due to a medical condition. He decided to found Lions Pride Sports in 2017 then the Lions Den Training Facility in 2018.

On October 10th of 2018 I had my first day of class. It was rough, but I knew that’s where I needed to be. Everyone was so welcoming. The best part is that we all shared that love of professional wrestling. I honestly couldn’t think of another time where I could openly talk about wrestling with a group of strangers. Above all, what kept me coming back was how much I was learning in such a short amount of time.

I’ve always been a fan that made sure to defend the sanctity of pro wrestling but that loyalty got inflated tenfold after enrolling. Never again will I say someone on Raw or Smackdown “can’t wrestle” or is “overrated”. It’s probably the most ignorant thing for any fan to think. I doubt Triple H would even let you work an NXT house show in front of 100 people until you’ve mastered the fundamentals. I could probably write an entire article on just the absolute basics. I’m talking circling the ring, locking up, grabbing/receiving a headlock, and hitting the ropes. We’ve seen these things done perfectly a million times every week on television but we never get to see what it looks like when a beginner is doing them. Trust me when I say it’s not pretty.

It’s insane how much the placement of each body part matters between both people in the ring. Not just from a functionality standpoint but from a psychology one as well. I couldn’t even show my cousin that I learned a wristlock because he didn’t know where to put his feet. I used to think ring psychology was just the art of working a body part for a whole match but that doesn’t even tickle the surface. There’s psychology injected into every move, even the collar and elbow tie-up.

Everything you hear is true. Hitting the ropes at full speed stings. Taking bumps hurts. I didn’t take my first bump from another person until about a month into the class. If you bump correctly you don’t feel anything. However, I’ve taken basic sidewalk slams with no force behind them and I couldn’t catch my wind for several minutes because I didn’t follow the correct procedure. Our warehouse isn’t insulated either. The only thing between us and nature is the walls. There were plenty of days where we had to bump in 30-40 degree weather. After experiencing pain in the most simple bumps, I’m even more amazed at pro wrestlers’ abilities to hit missile dropkicks and superplexes.

In November, we had two of Booker’s students, Zack Mason and Will Allday guest lecture us. That was easily my most difficult day. I couldn’t do anything right. I attempted a dropkick without knee pads and gave myself a bone bruise that lasted a month. I tried to do a front bump for the first time and nearly concussed myself. Taking arm drags was fine but I never got the desired distance and direction Will wanted from me. It was rough.

Coach Houston is actually good friends with Lance Archer so he came to guest coach in December. We couldn’t get through our most basic drills because of how much psychology Lance needed to teach us between each step. If you think you know it all as a wrestling fan, that day would have made you realize you know nothing. Thankfully, I was reffing most of the drills because I could see how overwhelmed and unsure the rest of the class was growing. That whole day was a real privilege. I can now say I’ve taken a shoulder tackle from a member of Suzuki-gun.

I learned that there’s actual phases of a match. Every now and then the class sits down and Houston gives us a psychology talk where we break down those phases. Ever notice how you don’t see Seth Rollins ever hit a slingblade or Falcon Arrow in the whole first half of a match? That’s part of it. We’ll then be given homework where we have to find a match of our choosing and write up a whole psychology analysis of it. It sounds cliche, but I definitely watch wrestling a lot differently now. The best part is that it hasn’t gotten any less enjoyable.

You may notice I’m being very vague with the way I’m describing the things I’ve learned. I’m doing that out of respect for my instructors and wrestling schools everywhere. They’ve taken hours upon hours from their life to teach us these things. I’ve never heard these lessons spoken outside the walls of a wrestling school so who would I be to air them all out?

I’ll bookmark it right there for now. I’ve talked about my first impressions with wrestling school, so next time I’ll get into the horrors, thrills and intricacies of working in front of an audience for the first time!


Let us know what you think on social media @theCHAIRSHOTcom and always remember to use the hashtag #UseYourHead!
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