Jeff Pearlman

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Jeff Capo

#396
The longtime professional wrestling referee once got hit in the eye with a rivet, and won't flinch twice when asked to mop up blood in the cage. POSTED March 6, 2019

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Atlantic Wrestling Federation

Universal Independent Wrestling, Wrestling Independent Network, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation, American Commonwealth Wrestling, Int’l Pro Wrestling, Lethal Arts Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Association
Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.

I currently work production and referee for PWX and PWX Pure in Charlotte, NC. I travel there about once a month.

So earlier today I found myself on Twitter, reading thoughts on the passing of King King Bundy, when I saw this …

And I thought, “Hmm … wrestling referee.”

I mean, what’s more Quaz Q&A than a wrestling referee? Especially one like Jeff Capo who—over the past three decades—has handled matches in Universal Independent Wrestling, Wrestling Independent Network, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation, American Commonwealth Wrestling, Int’l Pro Wrestling, Lethal Arts Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, American Wrestling Association, Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.

Truth be told, I don’t know what most of those organizations are. But Jeff Capo does, and he’s seen the highs and lows, twists and turns of humanity from the inside of a ring, often covered in sweat and blood and whatever else it is that professional grapplers ooze.

So I thought it’d be cool to bring Jeff here to discuss the joy of the sport; the job of a ref; the legacy of Bundy and the athletic wonder that was Tito Santana.

One can follow Jeff on Twitter here, and continue to follow his work with Premier Wrestling Xperience and PWX Pure.

Jeff Capo, you’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jeff, you’re a longtime professional wrestling referee, which fascinates me for this reason: What do you do? I mean that without a hint of snideness. I’m just genuinely interested. If the matches are choreographed, what is your role? Are you actor? Do you keep things moving? Do you ever have to intervene? For legit athletic reasons?

JEFF CAPO: The referee’s role is to be the voice of law and order in the ring. Yes, matches are predetermined. The referee is there to count pinfalls, warn wrestlers if they are using illegal tactics and possibly disqualifying them. We also work with the timekeeper or production personnel to keep the matches within the time limits. This is particularly important if you are doing tapings or live TV. Also, we are there for the safety of the wrestlers. Accidents do happen, so if medical attention is required, the referee may have to call for it.

Am I an actor? I guess in the strict sense of the word, yes. I have never had to intervene, if you are referring if the match turns into a “shoot,” where someone is legitimately trying to hurt an opponent. Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.37.36 PM

J.P.: I know you’re from Catonsville, Maryland, know you started reffing in 1993. But how, exactly, did this career begin for you? How does one become a wrestling referee?

J.C.: My road to becoming a referee was not typical. To give a bit of background, I started watching wrestling in the early 1970s. I was able to pick up a TV station from Washington, D.C.—Channel 20. On Saturdays they had a block of programming which featured Roller Derby and WWWF wrestling. I was hooked immediately. I saw my first live show in 1985 at the then-Baltimore Civic Center. It was a WWF show that had Jimmy Snuka and The Tonga Kid vs Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton.

In 1989 I was attending a luncheon for Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express. There I met Ed Zohn, a local indy wrestling promoter. I attended my first indy show, run by Ed that June. I wound up working in a couple indy promotions around Baltimore, like UIW and WIN. Those taught me a lot about the business and what went into running shows. In November of 1993, I received a phone call from the late Axl Rotten. They were running a show in Baltimore using a mix of ECW and local talent. One of the referees for the show had backed out. Axl and I had known each other for a couple of years at that point and he knew I studied the matches. He felt I had the skills to be a referee. So I reffed my first match on November 14, 1993. I got taken out of the match after receiving a chair shot to the head courtesy of Axl. And so it began …

J.P.: The legendary King Kong Bundy died earlier this week, and you wrote a very kind RIP about doing a match with him in 1994. So what made Bundy a special/unique wrestler? And what do you remember about your one gig with him?

J.C.: Well, Bundy was obviously a big star in the business. He had worked for several groups, including World Class Championship Wrestling, AWA, Mid-South, NWA and others before landing in WWF. He wrestled in the first three Wrestlemanias. Sometimes the folks who had been to the big leagues expected to be treated like rock stars and such. He was not that way at all. He was very down to earth and we had a nice conversation. It wasn’t long after that show that he returned to the WWF.

Alongside Sting back in 1988.

Alongside Sting back in 1988.

J.P.: I once was the “celebrity” ring guy at a professional wrestling card in New Rochelle, N.Y. The headliner with Jimmy Snuka, and as the fights were occurring in the ring the other performers sat at tables a stone’s throw away and signed autographs for $10 a pop. Honestly, it was pretty sad and depressing. And I wonder—how common is that? And what is the plight of your average, non-Hulk Hogan pro wrestler?

J.C.: What you describe is considered a serious breach of etiquette. Wrestlers should not be out there when others are wrestling. Wrestlers should be at their tables before the show starts, during intermission and after the show is over. It’s OK to have the tables “open” during the show, but they are usually manned by friends and family.

J.P.: Soup to nuts, how does a night go for you? What I mean is, you’re working a card. It starts in two hours. What are you doing in the leadup? What don’t we see?

J.C.: Well, at two hours before the show, everything is done. Usually, we’re at the show long before that, putting the ring together, setting up chairs and guardrails, getting all the TV equipment and lights put up. This also may include picking up folks from the airport if anyone is flying in. Setting up tables for folks to sell merchandise or sponsors that may be at the show. It takes all hands on deck to get it done. Then it has to be all torn down and packed away and the placed cleaned before we leave for the day.

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J.P.: What’s the difference between a veteran wrestling referee and a rookie? What are the things you do better now, with experience. What are the early mistakes?

J.C.: Most early mistakes I see are not getting out of the wrestler’s way. I am much better at anticipating the move and which directions they are moving.

J.P.: What’s your craziest story from your career? The experience that gets told over and over at holiday parties?

J.C.: I was working an American Commonwealth Wrestling show in Pennsylavnia promoted by Ed Zohn and the late Mark Bodey. During the first match, the ring broke. Every match after that I had to tell the guys to fight on the floor, and the final was a “Reverse Battle Royal” where the concept was everyone started on the floor and to be eliminated was to be thrown into the ring.

J.P.: What’s the worst injury you’ve ever seen happen in the ring? And, as a referee, what is your job in that moment? Do you need to keep the show going or help the guy in agony?

J.C.: There was an indy show in Maryland, and a guy got busted open bad and bled everywhere. The match ended, but I had to clean up the ring.

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Being pushed around by Fergal Devitt.

J.P.: I remember when I was a kid, and it was finally revealed that the matches were largely choreographed. And there was this belief the whole thing would crumble. But it didn’t. People didn’t seem to care. Why do you think that is? What are wrestling die-hards seeking?

J.C.: Wrestling is entertainment, so there is always a suspension of belief. Just like going to the movies, the stuff on the screen isn’t real. It’s a form of escape we use.

J.P.: I don’t know how to feel about Vince McMahon. How should I feel about Vince McMahon?

J.C.: That depends if you are a “pro wrestling” fan or a “sports entertainment” fan. Pro wrestling fans generally dislike McMahon. Sports entertainment fans think he is a god who can do no wrong.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JEFF CAPO:

• Worst injury of your career?: I got hit in the eye with a rivet that popped off a ladder during a ladder match.

• Pure physical talent, who are the five best athletes you’ve worked with?: 1. Rick Martel; 2. Tito Santana, 3. Anthony Henry, 4. Ricky Blues, 5. A.C. Golden

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tommy Dreamer, Jerry Jones, Monopoly, Martin Lawrence, the Oak Ridge Boys, coconut cream pie, Smurfette, the number 3, Margot Robbie: 1. Margot Robbie;  2. Tommy Dreamer; 3. The Number 3; 4. Monopoly; 5. Smurfette; 6. Jerry Jones; 7. the Oak Ridge Boys; 8. Martin Lawrence; 9. Coconut cream pie.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: There was a flight from Rochester, N.Y. back to Baltimore after a bad snow in Baltimore. We nearly landed on top of another plane.

• One question you would ask Cedric Ceballos were he here right now: Didn’t know who he was. I don’t follow basketball

• Five reasons one should make Catonsville, Maryland his/her next vacation destination: 1. Fourth of July parade; 2. Great shopping area; 3. Locally owned business; 4. Close proximity to Baltimore and D.C.; 5. I live there!

• You spot a random hair on your hamburger at Denny’s. Remove the hair and eat or send it back?: Send it back.

• The world needs to know—how does The Miz have a career?: Being in the right place at the right time.

• Bryce Harper just signed a $300 million deal with the Phillies. Celine Dion calls—she’ll pay you $300 million to spend a year living naked in her Phoenix doghouse, eating only sliced turkey and attached to a 12-foot leash. You in?: Nope.

• Three best wrestling-related movies ever?: The Wrestler and All The Marbles are the only wrestling movies I have ever watched.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life