Shawn Michaels is the world champion of special guest referees.
Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton face off at Hell in a Cell with Michaels overseeing the action. His flair for showmanship, star power and relationship to Bryan, Orton and Triple H make him the ideal candidate for the job.
On Monday's Raw, Brad Maddox gave WWE fans the chance to vote between three Hall of Famers as to who would officiate the WWE Championship match. Michaels earned more than 70 percent of the vote.
Booker T and Bob Backlund didn't stand a chance.
Michaels is not only the bigger star today of the three choices, but he has played the role of special guest referee perfectly in the past. Bryan and Orton's match will surely benefit from his work in a striped shirt.
The special guest referee is one of the things that makes pro wrestling so fun. In reality, these folks would have no business serving as officials.
They have little to no experience in refereeing going into the match and almost always have a vendetta against one or both of the competitors in the ring. Done right, the addition of a special guest referee adds controversy and intrigue to a match while creating a new layer to the narrative between the ropes.
The formula for serving as the perfect special guest referee is to be ever-present, but not overshadow the wrestlers.
One should be a star and compel fans to tune it, but not end up being the biggest star of the match.
A prime example of overstepping that boundary is Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg at WrestleMania XX. The lasting image of that match was referee Steve Austin stunning both men after the match.
Sure that's what fans wanted to see as both Lesnar and Goldberg were leaving the company, but Austin became the front man of the band rather than the rhythm section.
Austin did have the right idea by getting physically involved in the match, though. The best guest referees performances have featured well-timed violence from the official.
It took Mike Tyson a single punch to punctuate the beginning of Austin's reign over the WWE.
Tyson served as a special enforcer for Michaels vs. Austin at WrestleMania IV. WWE led us to believe that he was firmly in Michaels' corner. He even wore a D-Generation X T-shirt to the ring.
He ended up replacing a fallen ref near the end of the bout and executed the three-count that gave Austin his first WWE Championship. It wasn't until Michaels took a swing at him that Tyson laid him out.
Tyson was certainly a prominent part of Austin's moment, but Austin was the real star. He had won the title, inspiring Jim Ross' famous call of "Stone Cold! Stone Cold! Stone Cold!" and Tyson merely provided the exclamation mark at the end of the victory.
Most importantly, Tyson's involvement helped create buzz about the match beforehand. A great guest referee is an added attraction, another reason to tune in.
Once the bell rang, his presence at ringside added uncertainty. Fans wondered how Tyson would screw Austin over and what might happen should those two warriors collide mid-match.
Beyond that, the ideal guest referee has a stake in who wins. For Michaels, this time around it means he is in charge of a match between the man he trained in Bryan and a man backed by his best friend, Triple H in Orton.
This element adds suspense that elevates a match.
If the referee is conflicted with each count of a pin, the audience is more entranced by whether or not he gets to three. If he must choose between allegiances, the match becomes a drama within the drama.
John Cena found that out when refereed a match between Orton and Wade Barrett at Survivor Series 2010.
Barrett, head of Nexus at the time, looked to dethrone Orton as WWE champ. The stipulation of the match dictated that if Barrett won, Cena would be freed from being an unwilling member of Nexus. If Orton won, Cena would be fired.
Cena had to choose between his job and crowning his enemy champion.
This addition to the title bout made it more than a fight over a championship. Cena's livelihood was at stake. His struggle made the match more compelling. A great choice for special guest referee does that every time.
That's what Michaels faces on a lesser level at Hell in a Cell.
Orton has been his enemy for a long time. He'll surely have a tough time playing a part in his victory, especially because it would been crushing the dreams of his pupil.
Add to that, his relationship with Triple H and a match we've seen for several pay-per-views in a row is invigorated with new life.
That was Michaels' influence on the Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania 28.
His heart surely beat madly under his striped shirt during Triple H vs. Undertaker. Triple H has been his enemy at times, but has remained one of Michaels' best friends. He had to watch as that friend looked to cripple a man he greatly respected.
Triple H pounded Undertaker with repeated chair shots and Michaels couldn't decide whether or not to end the match. That would mean saving Undertaker from serious injury, but it would also mean he'd be responsible for ending a historic streak.
In that way, Michaels played the emotional lightning rod for the match.
He cringed at the most violent moments of the match and tried his best to maintain control in an emotional situation. Of course, he inserted his Sweet Chin Music into the action, nearly deciding the outcome.
This was one of his finest performances, even though he was not wrestling.
He showed off his mastery of being a special guest referee that night. WWE can only hope he follows that up with a performance that rivals it when he suits up for Bryan vs. Orton.
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