It's official: Life in the ring is "ref"

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September 24, 2008

Teeth knocked out, ribs broken, knees cracked, and shoulders dislocated. These injuries are often associated with WWE Superstars, however they are injuries suffered by Tim White, a WWE referee legend.

"It is just as physical in the ring for referees as it is for wrestlers. I'm not complaining. I loved being a part of the show and always will, but it takes its toll," said White. "It's not ballet in there. If you can't take it, you should go home. As a referee you've got to love this industry."

White enjoyed a successful career as a referee, traveling around the world, and calling some of sports-entertainment's most memorable matches. Then, it happened. At Judgment Day 2002, while refereeing Triple H and Chris Jericho's Hell in a Cell Match, White was tossed into the steel cage and landed on his five-time surgically repaired shoulder. As a result of the impact, the veteran referee had called his last match. (Judgment Day 2002 Photos)

"My shoulder was ripped to shreds. I could barely lift my right arm … To this day, I still miss the excitement of climbing into that ring with WWE Superstars," White explained.

According to WWE's Dr. Chris Amann, while Superstars and Divas experience mainly acute injuries from sudden impact, referees tend to have injuries that occur over time due to repetitive motions. Having multiple matches a night adds to the stress on the joints, creating more problems such as rotator cuff issues, tendonitis and knee injuries.

"Having to go down on the mat causes a lot of pressure on the tendons, ligaments and knees," Dr. Amann explained. "They have just as physical of a job as our Superstars do."

Raw referee Jack Doan understands the physicality. In June 2007, while overseeing a Divas match, he tore his rotator cuff. Doan later underwent reconstructive surgery, but months later reinjured the shoulder. Since July, he's been unable to get back into the ring.

"You work through your injuries, and the show must go on. That's the nature of our sport," said Doan, who expects to return before year's end. "I'm looking forward to getting back into the ring. There's nothing that will stop me."

For Scott Armstrong, a former WCW Superstar-turned-referee, the physicality of calling matches seems to be misunderstood by the WWE Universe. And, being able to see the action from both a referee and Superstar standpoint may offer some clarity.

"As a wrestler, I didn't respect the referee. Then, after refereeing for three weeks, I went to Charles Robinson, who has had his elbow knocked out of its socket, and said ‘I owe you a thousand apologies. If I had known about refereeing, I would've just been a referee for 25 years, instead.'"

Armstrong added, "A good referee is someone who is totally invisible. People never see him until the count. You can get your head knocked off, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being a former wrestler has certainly helped me avoid that."

Despite the physical strain, WWE referees are resilient. They recognize that injuries come with the territory and it's their passion for sports-entertainment that drives them to stay in the squared circle. And for White, after multiple shoulder surgeries and 40 dislocations, he will jump at the opportunity to get into the ring again.

"If need be, I could get back into the ring. If WWE comes to me and says, ‘We're going to put you in,' I'll tell them to put me in and do it one more time," said White, with an ear-to-ear grin. "I'll always have the bug."

See photos of just how physical referees' jobs are

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