Jimmy Korderas might not be a name you recognise straight away when you mention WWE, he isn’t one of the Superstars, a commentator or even a backstage interviewer, he is in fact a referee.
The 51-year-old from Toronto, Ontario, Canada worked for WWE for over 22 years and has witnessed the highs and the lows of the business from officiating legends of the squared circle to the untimely deaths of Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero. All of which is covered in his new book The Three Count: My Like In Stripes As A WWE Referee.
We caught up with Jimmy to talk about becoming a wrestling referee, his career highlights, his view on the Montreal Screwjob and much more.
How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?
Growing up in Toronto there were so many different wrestling promotions that we could watch on television. The main one at the time was Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling from the Carolinas because a lot of the talent from there wrestled at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
Who were some of the wrestlers that you enjoyed watching whilst growing up?
As a child growing up there were certain wrestlers like; Tex McKenzie, who was a cowboy, there was The Mighty Igor and guys like that. There was a villains tag team by the name of The Love Brothers, and they wore tie-dye and were hippy characters that I enjoyed watching very much. Even as a kid I gravitated towards the more character-driven wrestlers.
You became a referee but did you ever have the ambition to become a wrestler?
When I was much younger yes, obviously before I got involved in the wrestling business you have these ideas of what it entails to become a professional wrestler. When I got close to it I realised it is a hard life and it takes a hell of a toll on the body. Not that I didn’t want to do it, I would have loved to have tried it but for longevity purposes, I think refereeing was the right choice for me.
What was it like when you first started working for WWE?
Oh, it was incredible, it was definitely something that I wasn’t expecting but when I first began working with the company before I became a referee I always wanted to be part of the business but never envisioned myself being someone that would actually work in the ring.
When I finally got to do that it was amazing and to do it in your home town at the Maple Leaf Gardens, which is Canada’s equivalent of Madison Square Garden in indescribable, I was both nervous and elated at the same time.
WWE Referees: John Cone, Charles Robinson, Jimmy Korderas and Chad Patton
What were some of your highlights during your time with WWE?
There are so many it is hard to pinpoint but I’ll give you a few. Obviously, it doesn’t get any bigger than refereeing the main event at WrestleMania and I got the chance to do that at WrestleMania 24 between The Undertaker and Edge. Two icons and legends of the business and I got to be in there and be a small part of their storytelling.
I was involved in an angle myself in 1999 when the referee strike occurred and I the quote-unquote scab referee who didn’t go on strike with the rest of the guys, and I guess paid the price for it afterward. That was kind of fun because as much as I don’t consider referees being at the forefront and should not be the focus of attention it’s nice to be recognised every once in a while.
In the book, you mention a moment when referee Earl Hebner came to the forefront with the ‘Montreal Screwjob’ what was your understanding of events that night?
I felt bad for Earl because he was put in such a tough spot, depending on which version you’ve heard it was anywhere from ten minutes to two minutes before Earl went out to the ring they informed him of what they wanted him to do. That’s a tough situation to be put in, on one hand, you don’t want to basically screw your friend (Bret Hart) and on the other hand, you work for a company and your boss asks you to do something you do it or you don’t work for that company anymore.
In Bret’s heart deep down I think he understands that Earl was put in a bad spot and really shouldn’t blame him. It’s easier to say in hindsight I would have done this or I wouldn’t have done that, to be honest with you if I was put in that same spot I likely would have done the same thing Earl did.
What were some of your favourite moments from being on the road?
I talk a lot about Tony Chimel in the book because we travelled a lot together over the years. There is a saying that goes ‘you make a lot of good acquaintances in the wrestling business but very few good friends,’ but I was fortunate to make quite a few good friends. Tony Chimel was one of them and Charles Robinson, they just made it so much more easier to travel on the road.
Three guys you became friends with and mention in the book, Owen Hart, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, what was it like to know those guys on a personal level?
There are a lot of different emotions, tragedies in different ways whether it be an accident like in Owen’s case and Eddie’s was a completely different thing with his heart. Chris was probably the hardest one to deal with because of the circumstances surrounding that, in your mind, you try to understand why things happen and I think that is one of those situations where we will never understand it.
They are difficult times and you try to remember your friends because they were friends in the best light possible. In the case of Eddie and Owen of course that is easy to do, it’s just more difficult with the situation with Chris.
What was Vince McMahon like as a boss?
Vince is actually a great boss, because Vince is the kind of guy that wouldn’t ask guys to do something that he wouldn’t do. Vince has pretty much done everything in the business leading to him becoming chairman and he installed that into his son Shane. When Shane began working for the company he worked with every part of the company, he helped out the ring crew, he refereed, it’s not like the family are strangers to hard work.
Vince works hard and all he expects is an honest day’s work from everyone and that’s what we try to give him. I really enjoyed working for Vince, obviously, there are times when your boss gets angry for whatever reason but he was great to work for I thought.
You mentioned Shane helping setting up the ring were there any other wrestlers that would help set up the rings with you?
People have this perception that the wrestlers view themselves as Superstars and they are Superstars in the eyes of the fans but take Eddie Guerrero for example, he would come out when we were setting up the ring and he would ask what he could do to help. You’re trying to tell him nothing, but he wanted to help out, most of the guys that’s their background, when they were coming up through the independents that’s what they did, it’s not like they’re strangers to it. Sometimes I guess they just felt like going back to their roots and getting their hands dirty but as much as we could we would try to discourage them.
After WWE, you worked on a ROH show and got a great reception from the crowd, what was that experience like?
It was very humbling, how that came about was I got a phone call from Kevin Kelly and he asked if I would be interested to participate in a Ring of Honor event that was being held in Toronto called Border Wars. Kevin and I go way back from the days he was with WWE, he’s a really good guy and I jumped at the opportunity. When I went out there and the reception I got was amazing and I did get choked up a little bit, I thank the Toronto fans immensely for that.
You have held some refereeing seminars, are there any budding referees that have impressed you?
There are a few guys out there that you can see have a passion not just to get into the business to be a star or using the role of the referee just to get into the business so that they can maybe become a wrestler, because a lot of the time that’s what happens.
I know down in NXT the guys are working really hard and there’s an official down there by the name of Jason Ayers, who I really like because he’s got that passion. That’s one thing you can’t teach, you can teach a person wrestling moves and you can teach someone to officiate a match but you can’t teach passion so it’s refreshing to see stuff like that.
You can follow Jimmy Korderas on Twitter @jimmykorderas and his book is available to buy now.