WWE referees are supposed to enforce the rules and protect the talent, but their role needs to be strengthened for this to be believable.
It has become an increasingly common sight for a Superstar to brutalize his opponent while a referee flails around in the background. This is not the behavior of someone with authority. Through these actions, referees have been relegated to the position of the fan with the best possible view of the action.
The first function of a referee in any sport is to protect those under their stewardship. Clearly, WWE officials are not doing this if they are standing by and allowing attacks to happen in front of them.
Their inability—or disinclination—to get involved raises significant questions over whether these are the right men for the job.
Of course, WWE referees are not actually officials who control the rules and safety of a fight. They are brilliant communicators who help the other two performers have the best possible match. Their responsibilities include keeping time—so matches end at the right point—and setting up particular high spots, which requires careful stage management.
Yet, it is still essential to maintain the illusion that the referees are in charge.
The WWE relies on the audience to hold a level of suspended disbelief for the matches to mean something. This prevents its product from degenerating into a soap opera. Having people in charge controlling what happens is all a part of the window dressing that helps create a world that fans can believe in.
The most significant reason why referees have become so ineffective is the WWE’s refusal to offer them special protection from attack.
Soccer player Paolo Di Canio was banned for a total of 11 games in 1998 when he pushed referee Paul Alcock. Amateur players of all sports can—and do—get banned permanently for attacking officials. The WWE’s divergence from this commonality between sports seriously weakens the realism of the overall product.
Re-establishing protection for the referees would immediately allow those performing to be more stout in their role as law keepers.
There is an argument that referees have been weakened to their current position to make the WWE’s product more exciting. However, stronger refereeing would create more diversity and open up far more paths for the WWE’s creative team to explore via the talent at their disposal.
Right now, anyone can come down to the ring and attack an opponent without much discord. On rare occasions, a formation of referees, stewards and former competitors will come out to be a physical barrier between two combatants. There is little in the way of retribution after the brawl has concluded though.
Stronger refereeing would stop this.
One could physically stand in the way and stop two wrestlers going at it. The wrestlers involved—and more importantly the audience—would know that striking an official results in a ban and a fine.
If the two Superstars still choose to fight immediately, then it means all the more. They are risking financial impediment and other possible sanctions just to get their hands on each other. If they back down, then there is the intrigue as to how and when they will next meet.
Other methods of attack that are currently little seen could also be incorporated into WWE shows if referees were given more respect.
Cowardly heels could ambush their opponents during matches or interview segments, only to retreat behind a referee in relative safety. Backstage attacks would also become far more important. There would be less officials in that environment and more time to fight before the incident was potentially broken up.
Additionally, match stipulations would become far more important.
No disqualification would mean that two or more Superstars could finally attack each other with disregard for both the rules and each other's safety. As of now, these matches do not have this type of excitement. There are already many opportunities to use the arena and weapons due to the referees’ inadequate ability to enforce order.
Strengthening the role of referees has numerous advantages.
The combined effect would add a level of reality back to the product which would be far more consequential than the odd reference to real-world events. Removing the easy run-in would inspire innovation, and decisions made in the moment would be more tense.
WWE television would become more intriguing as a whole.