Since the early days of professional wrestling, referees have always been an integral yet unassuming part of the product. There have been various times over the years, however, where officials have been corrupted by money, power or other motivations, prompting them to become part of the action.
One such instance occurred recently when Brad Maddox hit Ryback with a low blow at Hell in a Cell and fast counted his shoulders to the mat, allowing CM Punk to retain the WWE Championship. Maddox revealed his hopes of being noticed so that he could become a superstar, but he was hardly the first referee to go rogue.
It has happened many times over the course of WWE history and in other promotions as well, and no matter how many precautions appear to be taken, it's likely to happen again in the future. Most fans don't even notice that referees exist the vast majority of the time; however, sometimes they make it difficult for them to be ignored.
Here are the seven most controversial referees in WWE history, and while all of them did work for the WWE at one time or another, their actions in other promotions will also be taken into account for the purposes of this list.
Charles Robinson is one of the most popular and well-known referees in wrestling history, and he didn't reach that status by constantly calling things down the middle. Although Robinson has been an impartial official for nearly his entire WWE career, he was quite controversial while in WCW, as he aligned himself with "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
Robinson began favoring Flair and the Four Horsemen in 1999, and he became their personal referee, as Flair was the storyline president of WCW. Robinson soon began wrestling as well and was given the nickname "Little Naitch." Robinson would come to the ring in a robe just like Flair, and he also emulated him in his matches.
This didn't last long, as an injury put him out of commission temporarily, but Robinson once again went rogue in 2000, as he began to help Sid Vicious and Rick Steiner while officiating their matches. Robinson was also crooked for a short time in WWE following the company's purchase of WCW, but he soon reverted to being a normal official.
Robinson hasn't had much storyline involvement over the past decade, but he has proven capable of handling it before, so you never know when the WWE might decide to expand his duties once again.
While Dave Hebner is much less notorious than his twin brother Earl, there is no question that he has a place in WWE history as a controversial referee. Dave began working for the WWE in the 1980s and was a run-of-the-mill official, but that changed in 1988. Hebner was scheduled to officiate the WWE Championship match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant on an episode of Main Event, but things quickly went awry.
Andre hit Hogan with a suplex and went for the pinfall attempt, but even though Hogan clearly got his shoulder up after a count of two, Hebner called for the bell and ruled Andre the winner. Andre was handed the belt, and he proceeded to give it to "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, as DiBiase had acquire Andre's services in order to get his hands on the WWE Championship.
What appeared to be Dave's doppelganger ran to the ring following the match, and there were suddenly two identical referees standing in the ring. The situation was explained when it was revealed that DiBiase had locked Dave Hebner in a closet prior to the match. He then paid another person to get plastic surgery in order to look precisely like Dave. In actuality, though, it was simply Dave's twin brother.
After the incident, Dave went on officiating as usual, while Earl transitioned into a normal refereeing role as well. Unlike Earl, this was Dave's only controversial moment as a WWE official, but it is one that wrestling fans will never forget.
Most controversial referees have earned that tag by unfairly involving themselves in matches, but Tim White achieved infamy in a very different way. White was long considered to be one of the WWE's best officials, but his career was interrupted in 2002 when he suffered a shoulder injury during a Hell in a Cell match between Triple H and Chris Jericho.
White attempted to make a comeback at WrestleMania XX in 2004, but he injured his shoulder once again and was forced to retire from his officiating duties. White was still under contract with the WWE, however, and the company found an unconventional way to utilize him as it crafted a suicide angle involving White.
At Armageddon in 2005, there was a segment involving White and Josh Matthews in which White attempted to kill himself due to the fact that he couldn't be a referee anymore. It was later revealed that White had "shot himself in the foot." That wasn't the end of such segments, though, as they continued on WWE.com under the name "Lunchtime Suicide."
Matthews would continually try to interview White while the former referee explored new ways to off himself. Each and every time it appeared as though White had finally figured it out, but he would be shown alive and well the following week. These vignettes continued for quite some time and didn't really lead anywhere, but they were quite controversial in nature.
Although Brad Maddox may not quite be the most infamous rogue referee of all time, he is the most recent one. Maddox was introduced a few months ago to limited fanfare, although he did make an immediate impact, as he failed to see CM Punk's foot on the ropes during a tag-team match on Raw. As fans would soon find out, however, that was far from his most egregious offense.
While Maddox was the recipient of a tongue lashing from Punk, Paul Heyman and Raw general manager A.J. Lee, he continued officiating without incident after that. Because of that, nobody thought twice when he was installed as the referee for the WWE Championship match between Punk and Ryback at Hell in a Cell. Maddox had a major impact on the contest, though, as he hit Ryback below the belt and fast counted as Punk picked up the win.
As soon as that happened, the memories of Maddox's previous transgressions came to me and most other fans. Maddox explained his actions a couple weeks later by saying that he screwed over Ryback in order to get noticed so that he could score a WWE contract as a superstar. Vince McMahon gave him an opportunity by putting him in a match with Ryback, but he was ultimately squashed.
Maddox hasn't been seen since, but he is obviously going to play a role moving forward. He and Heyman had a discussion prior to his match with Ryback, and there was a reason behind it. Ultimately, Maddox was just a wrestler who wanted to get involved by becoming a referee, but in the process, he helped extend the longest WWE Championship reign since Hulk Hogan's came to an end controversially in 1988.
There have been several crooked referees over the years, but few have been as blatant as Nick Patrick. He was a well-known official for several years in the NWA and WCW before going rogue in 1996. This coincided with the formation of the nWo as Patrick began showing favoritism to members of the group. This ultimately led to him becoming a full-fledged member of the New World Order.
Patrick helped the likes of Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and others on many occasions, as he would use fast counts to help them and even refused to count for their opponents at times. Patrick's involvement most definitely aided the nWo in gaining both heat and popularity. By 1997, Patrick had a change of heart and decided that he wanted to be a regular referee again, though, so he was reinstated by WCW.
Patrick's controversial ways were far from over, however, as he officiated the highly anticipated World Heavyweight Championship match between Hogan and Sting at Starrcade. Most agree that the angle called for Patrick fast counting in favor of Hogan during the match, but he botched it by using a regular count. Nobody knows whether this was done on purpose or accidentally, but it essentially ruined the match by making Sting look bad.
Bret Hart restarted the match because he didn't want Sting to get screwed like he did in WWE, even though Patrick had counted at a normal pace. Sting ultimately won the match, but it was regarded the worst possible blow-off to one of the best-built feuds of all-time.
Patrick would reprise his role as a heel referee after joining the WWE, as he would favor Alliance members, but he will always be known as the nWo's personal official.
While some of the crooked referees in WWE history have made decisions on their own accord, Danny Davis is the quintessential rogue official from a storyline standpoint. Davis was a normal referee for the WWE from 1982 until 1986, but he eventually began favoring the heel wrestlers and went so far as to disqualify face wrestlers for no apparent reason.
His actions escalated, and he was ultimately dismissed from his officiating duties by Jack Tunney in 1987 due to the fact that he ignored illegal double-team maneuvers that were used by The Hart Foundation in order to defeat The British Bulldogs for the Tag Team Championships. Davis would go on to join Jimmy Hart's stable as a wrestler, however, and became known as "Dangerous" Danny Davis.
He saw some success, as he competed on a couple WrestleMania cards and was a participant in the first Royal Rumble match back in 1988, but he worked mostly as a lower mid-carder. Davis' WWE career eventually came full circle, as he was reinstated as an official in 1989 and would go on to referee matches fairly until his WWE departure in 1995.
Davis was somewhat of a trailblazer for the crooked referee storyline, as he made it famous, and it has been used several times since he popularized it. Davis is a rare commodity in the wrestling business, as he was able to experience things from several different perspectives. He did well for himself as a wrestler, but his greatest contribution was definitely his work as an unfair official.
Not only is Earl Hebner unquestionably the most popular referee of all-time, but he is also the most controversial. Hebner began officiating for Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s and joined the WWE in 1988. He was with the WWE for 17 years before being released in 2005, but he continues to officiate, as he was hired by TNA in 2006. Nobody has refereed more big matches than Hebner, but no official has made more controversial decisions either.
Hebner's reputation as a controversial figure began in 1988 when he officiated the WWE Championship match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant on Main Event. He was initially playing the role of a guy who got plastic surgery to look like Dave Hebner, but it was ultimately revealed that he was his twin brother. While Earl's actions were part of the show in this instance, his most infamous moment would come almost a decade later and it would define his career.
At Survivor Series in 1997, Bret Hart was scheduled to defend his WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels in Montreal. It was well-known by that point that Hart was leaving for WCW, but he refused to drop the belt to Michaels because of personal issues between them. Fearing that he would take the title to WCW with him, Vince McMahon took matters into his own hands and orchestrated a ruse that became known as the Montreal Screwjob.
An unsuspecting Hart was placed in the Sharpshooter by Michaels, prompting Hebner to quickly call for the bell. Hart realized that he had been set up and went on a rampage that included him spitting in McMahon's face and destroying equipment. Hebner was simply doing what he was told by his boss, but many fans have never forgiven him for his involvement.
After that, Hebner continued to be featured as the WWE's main official and was involved in several storylines, including organizing a kayfabe referee strike. In addition to that, he often showed favoritism toward "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and joined in beer bashes with him following matches on many occasions.
While most of Hebner's controversy has stemmed from creative angles, he was a big part of one of the most controversial moments in professional wrestling history, and that is plenty to qualify him as the most controversial WWE referee of all-time.