The Latest Episodes of INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet
Dec. 29, 2022

Jimmy Korderas On Owen Hart's Fall, His Problem With Some Current Referees, Friendship With Edge

Jimmy Korderas On Owen Hart's Fall, His Problem With Some Current Referees, Friendship With Edge

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Jimmy Korderas (@jimmykorderas) is a professional wrestling referee, commentator and broadcaster known for his 22-year tenure with WWE from 1987 to 2009. He joins Chris Van Vliet to talk about how he got started in the pro wrestling industry by accident, getting a job with WWE, going from setting up the ring to being a referee, some of his favorite people to work with, the biggest mistakes he sees referees make now, being in the ring the day Owen Hart died at Over The Edge 1999 and much more!


Advice for aspiring referees:

“How to Look involved without being a focal point. Like I said, for example, the face-to-face. Don't stand in between, be there for the talent, be close by so you can hear them and they can hear you. But again, don't be a visual distraction, don't oversell things. Like there's referees out there that when someone gets punched in the face, they grab their chin like they got punched. It's okay to react, you know, subtle reactions like ooh, ooh, that looks like it hurt. Ooh, that was you know, but if you're going and like oh! and you know, you get kicked in the ribs or you're, you know, grabbing your ribs and stuff like. No, stop selling what's happening to them. It's okay to react and make it look like Hey, boy, that looks like it hurt. That's the art.”

On not being the most important person in the ring:

“You're not there to be the star, the star is [in the ring] drawing, [it] is the talent that is in the ring, you're there to help them tell their story without being a part of the story. Unless, of course, there's a spot in the match where they need you to whatever the case may be, you know, be distracted by this or, or take a bump or whatever the case may be. But let's say for example, two wrestlers come to the centre of the ring, especially on television, which is very important. And they do a face-to-face. Yeah. Your initial thought is to kind of stand between them, so to keep them separated. But at the same time, if you're standing in the middle, who's in the middle of the screen, the referee's face. Stand off to the side, let them have their moment, let it breathe, let the audience absorb this, you know what I mean? Unfortunately, nowadays, you see too many referees and, you know, kind of overly interjecting themselves, let's put it that way and standing out a little too much, in my opinion.”

On referees going into the WWE Hall of Fame:

“I don't know. I would like to see that happen sooner rather than later, that's for sure. And there's so many candidates out there. I already mentioned a couple of like Timmy White, the Hebners, Tommy Young, you know, wow, Nick, Patrick, Charles, Mike. There's just even even young hand Brian, you know, there's so many referees that belong there. And, and, you know, you have announcers in there. Yeah, I'm not mistaken. So why not referees? Because, again, not being a focal point of the match, but also an integral part of the match. They help tell the story.”

On Owen Hart's fall:

"Oh, my goodness. Yeah, Unfortunately, I do remember some stuff but other stuff is foggy. But I remember going to the ring, there was a hardcore match before the incident took place. So I went out to the ring to help them clear the ring of debris that was in the ring. And as on the screen was playing a pre-recorded interview that Kevin Kelly did with I believe it's Kevin Kelly, did with the blue blazer Owen Hart. And I was in the ring kind of facing the jumbotron, holding that top rope and kicking stuff out of the ring moving towards that corner, and I heard some screaming. But then you know it, you're in front of a live crowd so I don't know what's going on. And I felt something brush against the side here on my shoulder. It wasn't enough to knock me down or anything but it was just very lightly like, but at the same time, the top rope I was holding sprung out of my hand and popped my fingers back like kind of jamming my fingers, and I looked around to see if the top rope broke, if that was what I felt. And when I turned I looked in the corner and there there was Owen, you know laying there, and again, I knew the entrance was supposed to be him descending but, you know, you're not putting it together and you are like what the heck. And as I went over I called out a couple of times and it was just his eyes wide open. You can see through the mask not moving, and I just flipped out started calling for help, and just stood back in and took it all in while they put them on the stretcher to to escort him out. And I don't know for some dumb reason I just, his cape blue blazer cape, I just scooped up all that stuff and walked back with it. I you know, gave it to somebody and watch them load them into an ambulance. And at the time I was, was a smoker, so somebody handed me a cigarette. I was sitting outside the arena on the steps like shaking with a cigarette and stuff like that, and Johnny D'Amico who worked in the production said they want you to go to the hospitals won't get checked out. I said, really? I said, yeah, they want you to go. So I said, Okay, I'm gonna go then. So I went got checked out at the hospital and they in there. And they said are you with the gentleman, the wrestler that they'd brought in? And I said, Yes, I am. And they said it's all sorry to inform you that he has passed. And I just for me, it was, you know, I called my wife, who was my fiancée at the time. I called her from there and just told her what was happening. And then from that moment on, after talking to my wife, I don't remember going back to the arena, getting my stuff, then going to St. Louis. I just remember waking up in St. Louis the next morning. Apparently, John D'Amico had driven us to St. Louis, whatever. And it was the next day in St. Louis, that I found out, you know, when I walked into the building, the first thing was, you know, running into people going, are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay? And, you know, running into Taker and Taker said say, Jimmy, are you okay? I'll be okay. He says, if you need anything, you come to me, you know, and JR said the same thing as well. But then I ran into Lawler, Jerry Lawler. And he said, Do you remember anything from last night? I'm just saying, I just remember going to the hospital stuff. Like he says, I don't know if I should tell you this, but you don't know how close you became to becoming part of that tragedy. I said pardon me. He said, You know, he saw the last 20 feet or so of the fall. He said, the first thing that came to his mind was Oh, my God he's gonna fall on Jimmy. And what I felt brushed by me was Owen falling. And when he told me that it was just."

On who is the most talented in the ring:

“Oh, man, there was when I think back about it, you're talking about so incredibly good. Randy Orton is just so darn smooth and so good at what he does. See, because as you know, Chris, wrestling is more than just the moves, it is the personalities, it's the talent getting people invested in what they do. Randy was able to do it all and make it all look effortless, it was incredible. Eddie was one of those guys too, Eddie Guerrero. God bless him, you know, and you look back at other talents, you know, I know people are gonna say, well, Hulk Hogan wasn't a great wrestler, technical wrestler. He was a great entertainer, he was great in the ring and getting people invested in what he did. And that's the name of the game. I like to equate it to this, you know, people are talking about while the business has changed, it's evolved. It's more about the in ring product? Well, no, I get it. When you look at the wheel when it was invented, it was made of stone. And then it became wood, then rubber and vulcanised rubber, we have all these different variations of the wheel. But at the end of the day, that shape of the wheel is round, and that's what professional wrestling is. Yes, it's going to evolve a little bit in style and presentation, especially with TV and the advancement of TV. At the same time, the thing is you talk people into the seats, you talk people into the arenas, it's the talent themselves. As entertainers, you look back at the era where we had John Cena, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, you know, a bunch of talents that that's what made the that era special, because it was the talent that drew people in not the fact that this guy could do this, and he could do a Twisting Burning 450 Hammer Phoenix Splash. That's cool. Where everybody goes, Yeah, that was cool but, you know.”

When referees stopped being named:

“That stopped after I had left in 2009. All of a sudden, it was like, yes, we know that the referees are not to be a focal point. And for some reason, I couldn't give you a reason why, because that was someone else's decision, that we don't need to name the referees and put any kind of focus on them. But if you watch any sport out there, and you know, obviously, professional wrestling is sports entertainment as much as the hardcore fans dislike that terminology, that's exactly what it is, they try to emulate real sport. So in real sport, you have referee Bill Friday, you have referee Herb Dean in MMA, or John McCarthy. Yeah, you know, so it's a little recognition but at the same time they're not making them the focal point it's just it's kind of like a little shout out. There's nothing wrong with that, but they've gotten back now under it seems like under the Hunter regime to at least acknowledge good job by referee so and so or nice call by referee so and so.”

Life before refereeing:

“I really was on the fence because I thought I was going to take [over]. my dad was a mechanic and he you know, owned a garage in Greektown in Danforth, which is kind of cool. And I used to, you know, work there with him and then I got some other jobs outside, because I discovered that being a mechanic was not my calling, and I gravitated to wrestling. I used to go to every show at Maple Leaf Gardens as a fan, and I went to the office one day and secured what would be the equivalent of season tickets. I would have the same seats for every show. And if you remember back in the day, maybe The Gardens had that ramp that went from the entryway, all the way to the ring, level with the ring. I was second row ringside right beside that ramp. And one of my hobbies was taking pictures. And what I would do is I would take pictures and they used to have a place up here called direct film, where you double your prints for $1. So I get my prints developed, I keep a set for myself and I take the second set to the next show and sell them for two bucks a picture, which would help fuel my wrestling habit and pay for it.”

On Jimmy Korderas’ match that sticks in his head:

“The one match again going into WrestleMania 24 Edge versus Undertaker in the main event. And one of the biggest reasons why is not just because good friend Edge and our, you know, our locker room leader, The Undertaker, who by the way, was our locker room leader not because he put himself in that position, it was the locker room that kind of elevated him into that position. He was kind of voted in, for lack of a better term as our leader. But, you know, if you read my book, and the forward, Edge explains that they requested me for that match, especially Edge wanted me to be the referee for that match. And that meant so much to me, it was so humbling. It was so, man, but then it also put extra pressure because now as they requested me for this, I better not mess it up, you know what I mean? So those thoughts are going through your head, but at the same time, I remember the day before WrestleMania sitting in, you know, at the hotel, we're in the banquet room, you know, it was just reserved for us. And sitting at the table was Edge, Taker, Michael Hayes and me, and they're talking over the match. Then, you know, all of a sudden they say Jimmy, what do you think? And I'm like, Oh, they're asking my opinion too, this is cool. And then you know obviously that match I took a bump, and they said we want to bump the referee in this and blah blah blah. And then Taker just looks at me and says Jimmy you okay with taking a big boot? Absolutely. What are you kidding me? Taking a big boot from Taker, from The Deadman at WrestleMania. Yeah, yeah, bring it on. Yeah.”

On ever wanting to be a wrestler:

“Yeah, of course that thought comes in your head. But when you're there and you're watching it up close and personal and seeing the icing and all the soreness that goes on backstage, sometimes it hits you and you go, oh boy.”

On the first refereeing big break:

“Again, it was more along the lines of just listening to people and getting great coaching and you know, learning from some esteemed veterans. I already mentioned Pat Patterson. Gerald Brisco was a big help. Chief Jay Strongbow again, Renee Goulet, Tony Gurria, those are all the agents that were a big help and then you know, obviously David Hebner was a big help back in the day, you know, and their role as well. All those guys. Timmy White was awesome. So I had a wealth of veterans to learn from and absorb and be a sponge.”

On the first major match Jimmy Korderas refereed:

“Yeah, I did a Hogan vs. Mr. Perfect match at Maple Leaf Gardens, which is pretty cool. But being a part of the first very first Survivor Series in 1987 was very cool. Doing the women's match, you know, with The Jumping Bomb Angels and, you know, with The Fabulous Moolah and that kind of stuff. Being a part of the first Royal Rumble that ever took place at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.”

On the ref bump:

“You don't want to look like you're taking a bump as a trained professional wrestler, it has to look a little bit off, let's put it that way. You don't want to do it in a way where you hurt yourself. At the same time, like you said, it shouldn't be a clean flat back and, and where the audience especially the fan goes, yeah, he's taken bumps before he knows how to do it. It should look awkward maybe, should look a little off.”

On maybe wanting to be management:

“Thoughts were there. But at the same time, I also was thinking along the lines of, you know, as a referee, you have more longevity than as an on air talent or something like that. Because, you know, even Teddy Long as a referee eventually, as a general manager, for example, that runs its course eventually. As a referee unless, they're tired of your work or you can't [work], you know what I mean? So as long as you're doing your job correctly as a referee, there's no reason for them to let you go. If you're not performing on television, or they're tired of your persona and they want to move you on. You always run that risk as a personality.”

On counting nearfalls: 

See that's a difficult one. Because you know it's not the finish and you want to make it look as close as possible. Sometimes it's okay at times to look like you're trying to stop it, hit the canvas, but wave it off, you know, especially on a really, really close false finish. You know, not doing it all the time, just, you know, on a rare occasion, that would translate pretty good on television. I think that, I'm not gonna say any, but there are some referees out there today who have a tell on false finishes. And unfortunately, I'll give you an example. When SummerSlam was here in Toronto and 2019 I believe it was. You know, the guys from our show were at the event and we did a little thing there with the WWE guys. And with the producer, I was sitting beside the producer of our show, and there was a match going on. And he was Oh, I thought that was it, I said no. He said Yeah, but you know, I said no, I don't know what's going on in this match. I'm just watching. A little later [he says] Oh, I thought that was at, I said it wasn’t. He says, What's going on here? I said, well, the referee has a tell. And he goes really? What is it? I said, I don't want to tell you. Oh, he said, he says okay, okay, then it happened again. And he goes, come on. You got to tell me so I told him what it was. He says yeah, I shouldn't ask you to tell me because now I can't unsee it. So ever since that moment, And all my critiquing that I do and analyse, I will not give away a referee's tell on a false finish. Because if I do, then whoever watches it after that kind of says, yeah.”

On knowing a match beforehand:

“For the most of it, I try to be there. I want to hear, you know, pretty much the entire match what's going on. Sometimes you're busy doing other stuff as well, so you just get the main points. And a lot of guys will just say, You know what, don't worry about it. This is what we're doing for the finish during the match. It's, you know, it's gonna be fairly easy. Just follow along.”

On wearing multiple hats:

“Well, pretty much on the ring crew. The ring crew was, you know, looking after the ring, setting it up, tearing it down, and also maintenance on the ring too, as well. You know what needed if their boards needed to be changed or rope needed to be tightened or adjusted or anything like that. Basically looking after the ring.”

What is Jimmy Korderas grateful for:

“My wife, the career I’ve had and for making lifelong friends.”