Former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas discusses wrestling, role of the referee & The Undertaker

Jimmy Korderas
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Former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas has seemingly seen it all and has been around it all over his thirty years being in and around the wrestling business. Korderas was with WWE for many years and built meaningful and long last relationships there. Today, Korderas can be seen and heard in Canada adding his analysis of a number of different promotions, but with the primary focus on WWE. He also shares his expertise by serving as a referee for up and coming Canadian promotions such as Smash Wrestling.

In this interview, Jimmy shares his thoughts on how kayfabe still serves a purpose today, and the role of the referee and whether or not it has changed over the years. He also opens up about if the opportunity presented itself for him to follow in the footsteps of other former referees such as Teddy Long and Bill Alfonso to have a different onscreen role. Jimmy also shares his thoughts on the success of Canadian wrestlers both domestically and internationally. In the process, he advises who fans should keep an eye out for locally, those that have the qualities that will enable them to be the next big Canadian name.

Fans can communicate with him on social media such as Twitter, where he can be reached at @jimmykorderasKayfabe is often cherished, and crucial to maintaining for those involved. Why do think that maintaining that mystique is so important today?

Kayfabe is often cherished, and crucial to maintaining for those involved. Why do think that maintaining that mystique is so important today?

That’s a tough call because we talk about the evolution of the business and how the business has changed over the years. One of the biggest changes has been the advent of social media, and how information about the business and how it works, and a little bit of the backstage stuff and all that has filtered into the mainstream. People can access that now. What I think hasn’t changed is there still is some mystery around it. I like to compare it to magicians. You may have an idea of how it’s done, you may think you know how it’s done, how an illusion is done. But you really don’t. That drives you crazy (laughs) you know what I mean? How did he do that? I think he did it this way, but man, would I love to know how he really did that. Some of that is still prevalent today in professional wrestling.

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Unfortunately, some of the secrets have been let out. If there is something out there that I see that others may be in awe of it thinking of it being real that makes them say ‘I know that professional wrestling is scripted, and I know that it’s sports entertainment. But that looked real!’, when you can do that at times, it still shows that they haven’t completely lost that magic. If that makes sense. For example, the first time they did the Brock Lesnar and Big Show superplex off the ropes and the ring collapsed or imploded that happened in Orlando several years ago. Still to this day, I get asked about it ‘Oh, how did they do that?’ Well, my answer is always the same: ‘Go to Las Vegas and ask Criss Angel how he floats above the Luxor Hotel.’ If he tells you how that was done, then I will tell you how the ring imploded (laughs). We have to keep some secrets though. It’s funny because anyone that has followed me on social media knows that I get into little debates with certain people who think they have a better grasp than they do. Now, I don’t profess to know everything, although it may come across that way. I don’t know everything about the wrestling business, but I have a different perspective from everyone else. By having thirty plus years in the business, it gives me that different perspective. I may not like everything I see, but coming from that industry, I look at it from a standpoint of why that was done. As opposed to saying ‘Oh, that was crap.’ I may have liked that or have not like how it was presented on television, but let me think why they did that, and if there is a reasoning for why then maybe it does make sense.

Often today the referee plays a different role than they may have in the past. What do you feel separates the quality of called matches between different officials?

I think each scenario is different depending on the match. I think most of the time, if not the vast majority of the time, the referee is there to help the talent tell their story. The referee is the supporting actor in a movie or TV show or play. He is there to help the main characters to tell their story. He is there to be somewhat invisible, and only be visible only when needed. That is unless he is playing a different role where an angle is involved, or is involved in the finish or needs to be somewhere positioning wise, where it calls for him to be in a specific place. Including ref bumps of course.

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For the most part, I don’t think the referee should be a focal point, but should not be oblivious to what is happening, as well. Now refereeing has evolved as well, along with wrestling styles. I look at refereeing styles as much as wrestling, which has evolved stylistically in terms of aerial maneuvers and interesting offensive maneuvers, for lack of a better term. It also has a number of roots going into MMA, whether it’s submission type holds or what not. If we look at Roman Reigns and the Superman Punch, that comes from MMA. I think the same applies to refereeing. If we look at guys like Herb Dean or Big John McCarthy or any of the top MMA officials, other than the obvious size thing with Big John, we don’t really notice them, but they are always there, they are always paying attention. They are always looking like they are doing their job the entire match without getting in the way until they need to, and that’s how I think professional wrestling referees in today’s day and age approach it as well.

Danny Davis, Bill Alonso, Teddy Long are just a few referees that took on different roles in wrestling. Any desire to play another role on-screen other than as an official?

I think everyone in the back of their mind would like to do something like that, to have a little more of a role where they, for lack of a better word, get their 15 minutes of fame. Mine came at the expense of the referee strike angle of 1999 and came about by accident. Other than that, either rightly or wrongly, as a referee, you get pigeonholed where you are only a heel ref or transition into something where you are something more than being a straight official.

That limits your longevity. The reason for that is because, if you are a referee, you can be a referee as long as you are physically able, as long as you want to, or as long as they want you there. Then, you are getting into different roles if they no longer need you in that role it isn’t that easy to transition you back into the referee role if you know what I mean? So, for longevity purposes, I always thought that it was better than I don’t become a character, so to speak.

A great deal of criticism has been made about the difference in styles between the major televised promotions’ talent and independent wrestlers. Is it justified?

It’s a weird argument because both sides make valid arguments. The old-timers and old school people complain about the next generation taking it too far, and this has been an argument going on for decades and isn’t anything new. It feels new because it feels more prominent because you have people like Rip Rogers out on Twitter expressing his mind. We have to refer back to wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, when he says things like ‘Lou Thesz complained about Harley Race’s style and Harley Race complained about Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair, thinking that they were giving up too much.’ And we go and look at those matches and think what classics those were. Every generation past complains about every generation next, and it’s going to continuing moving forward. Where the validity comes with Rip Rogers, say that the business has to evolve and change, it will constantly do that, the problem he has with it is that they are trying to evolve it too fast. They are trying to change the style too fast, or as the Iron Sheik would say back in the day, we are going to go from the A to the Z and leave out all the letters in between.

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Die-hard wrestling fans, if you give them something that they like, like the Young Bucks and Bullet Club and all that stuff that is really cool right now, it’s all resonating with that audience. But the challenge for them–and I wish them all the success in the world and all the best, they are really good guys, I know Matt and Nick and they are really good dudes and they are smart, they know how to market their brand–the challenge for them would be, and they are comfortable making a very good living outside WWE, which is difficult to do and some are doing it, the challenge for them would be if they want to expand that brand. Will that style resonate with a more casual audience who is not familiar with that? They may look at it as too over the top. The strength is playing to an audience, and if you are in front of an audience and you see 17 superkicks and a Meltzer Driver then you do that. If you want to see a Penis Plex, if that’s what the audience wants and you are able to get bookings from that, then why not?

If you move to somewhere in WWE they are more structured in their style. They are more story oriented, not that other promotions aren’t. But the big knock that I’ve heard from promotions such as New Japan is that there isn’t enough selling, storytelling or psychology, but if anyone has watched any of their big shows recently that is far from the truth. It may be done in a different way or a different style, but it’s still done very well and I enjoy their product very much, but it’s different. So, to get back to your original point, business is to be made on both sides, it will evolve and does evolve, but my comparison is to the wheel. We have evolved it from creation, its style, and its elements, but the shape of the wheel is always round. The guys that are getting it right, right now, is NXT, because they are the perfect blend of taking the old school, evolving with the new school, without going full-blown from the A to the Z.

Every fan is different when it comes to their taste in professional wrestling. I watch as much as I can, time permitting, as my work with Aftermath is predominantly WWE, but I do watch other promotions as much as I can. I do watch Impact and ROH when I can, and of course New Japan, and I have even caught a little bit of the Lucha Libre from Mexico, which is not my favorite style, but I can watch it and appreciate it. I don’t hate it. I understand it’s a different style and I can appreciate the performance aspect of it. That is what is getting lost on a lot of people nowadays is that if it’s not what they want or what they like then it’s bad. And it’s not bad it’s just different. Different is not always bad, it’s just different.

One last thing, getting back to the Young Bucks: it’s just a testament to their business sense that they really understand their audience, and that’s the main thing and wrestlers need, to understand their audience. Cody (Rhodes) right now is understanding how to resonate with an audience, and others are learning. When you look at a guy like Sami Callahan, who is getting it, as well. The guy you have to look out for as well, and expect big things from because I had the opportunity to see him live and in person, would be Matt Riddle. I had watched him and had the chance to referee one of his matches against ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey not too long ago, another underrated talent, but Matt, who has limited professional wrestling experience, gets it and has got that indescribable ‘it’ factor. Now he just has to find out how to tap into a broader audience, if you know what I mean.

Canada has had some of the greatest talents in wrestling come out of the country. To what do you attribute this, what might that be because of?

I wish I could put my finger on it, but I guess it is similar to why Canadians are so proficient at hockey. They just gravitated to it. It is something that is easily digestible. However, it is something, from an athletics standpoint, I really don’t know. If I had a good answer for that I would give it, you. But it is amazing that when you look at the quality of talent from the past, such as former world champions like ‘Whipper’ Billy Watson and Gene Kiniski or you go back to the Tollis Brothers in Hamilton; Hamilton was a real hotbed for producing professional wrestlers for a while, like Calgary with the Harts.

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It goes even further beyond the Harts in Calgary because you have great talents such as Archie ‘The Stomper’ Gouldie and people like that coming out of Calgary. Lance Storm, we can’t forget about him as well. Quebec has a rich history of professional wrestling, and if you ever get the chance to speak to Quebec wrestling historian Pat LaPrade he could tell you some amazing things, and I had the pleasure of working with and meeting some of those legends. I wish I had the secret formula as to why Canada has produced so many quality talents, I don’t know what it is, but I’m proud to be part of a group of Canadians that were successful. It is really cool that I had the chance to become friends with them and associate myself with a lot of those guys.

Which Canadian wrestler today would you say fans should keep an eye on making an impact globally?

Keeping it local and speaking of this area at least, especially doing some work with Smash Wrestling and helping them out a little bit, a guy that it shocked me he hasn’t caught on is Tyson Dux. I mean, I don’t know why he is not a part of a major promotion right now. That being said, looking at some of the younger guys, I am looking at a guy like Brent Banks, who has all the physical tools and is now understanding that there is more to ‘getting over’ than just having good matches and being good in the ring. You have to have a character that resonates with the audience and the audience has to connect with it. It is amazing how he has connected with the audience right now.

Tarik is another one. There are so many guys out there. A guy for his size would be John Greed, although I haven’t seen him around lately, man is he good. When you look at the independent talent around Ontario and in our area, it is actually quite stacked. There is another kid, and although he isn’t technically Canadian, we will call him Canadian because he is from Buffalo, would be Kevin Bennett. For the time he has been in wrestling, he has picked it up really well, another guy that understands about connecting with the audience being paramount to getting yourself over, and he gets it. Those are just a couple of guys, but I could rattle my brain and think of at least a half-dozen more.

A number of notable names have transitioned from different promotions and made WWE their home. Fans are either critical of how they’re used or elated that they are now there. What are your feelings about it?

Again, every case and every individual perspective is different. We mention AJ Styles, for me, it’s called strategic debuting. I don’t know if I could take credit for that term. But we take a guy like AJ Styles, and we debut him at the Royal Rumble in front of that audience who knows who that is, and you know they are going to lose their minds when he comes out, so that’s the perfect place to debut AJ Styles. Now casual fans who had heard of him and had not seen him or anything see that and hear that and start thinking ‘Oh this guy is a big deal and maybe I should pay attention to him.’

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After that, it’s up to AJ to get himself over, which he absolutely did. AJ is one of the best in the world right now, if not the best overall performer in the world. Others, I know will use the crutch of ‘So and so’s booking has been horrible,’ or ‘Creative has been killing this guy.’ I come from the William Regal school of thinking: if you are given lemons you make lemonade, regardless of what creative gives you, whether you have thirty seconds or thirty minutes to get yourself over. Sometimes WWE is a little restrictive with talent, but at the same time you have to take chances, and you may fall flat on your face, but if you don’t and you knock it out of the park, all of a sudden people start looking at you differently and they start giving you a little more liberty and not, as they say, sticking to the script, but having you do a little bit more. The top guys have that, like Jericho, and again every case is different. Look at Gallows and Anderson, they didn’t get over like we thought they would come over from New Japan, and that goes to another argument where the North American audience that appreciates New Japan is a really small niche audience, compared to the WWE grand audience.

People automatically thinking they will walk in and they are over, that’s not the case. In a case of an AJ Styles or with others, it may appear that way, again that hardcore audience will react in kind, but in fact, they truly are the minority, and they have to resonate the talents like the Shinsuke Nakamura’s and the Kevin Owens and Sami Zayns with the casual audience. They are doing it but at a slower pace. AJ was just ahead of the curve.

For some of the foreign-born talent like a Shinsuke Nakamura or a Hideo Itami, do you think language has impacted their ability to connect and get over with the mainstream audience?

I hate to say it, but yes, absolutely it is a factor. When you are a complete wrestler and not just a WWE superstar, in order to get over with the entire audience you need to be able to communicate your character not just visually but also vocally. If language is a barrier, it is that much more difficult for that individual to connect with an audience that as a person who can’t communicate well in English or in North America. I hate to say it, but in North America, you have to have a better command of the English language to get that broader audience to connect with you. That is the biggest detriment to Shinsuke Nakamura right now, as you said. He has a ton of charisma, and we can talk about his in-ring work all day long.

We can look at major superstars in the past that may not have had the in-ring talent of a Shinsuke Nakamura, but they were able to communicate and get over. Look at the Ultimate Warrior, look at Hulk Hogan. Great talkers with limited abilities in the ring. We look at a Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was actually one of the soundest wrestlers out there, but found his groove vocally through his character while punching and kicking. When he stopped being the Ringmaster and the technician he got over. I think it’s a fallacy to say that you have to be a great skilled technician in the ring to get over. It helps, but it’s not the only factor. You have to be able to communicate.

An ongoing rumor that tends to circulate is about the return of the Undertaker. Many appear divided on whether or not he should compete. At this stage of his career, what are your hopes for the Undertaker moving forward?

I’m a big Undertaker guy, it’s no secret (laughs) the guy is the man in my opinion. When you hear all those network specials, and they say hands down he was the most respected guy that has ever walked into a WWE locker room, they aren’t kidding, it isn’t a tagline, it’s not a gimmick, it’s the absolute truth. Because of last year’s Wrestlemania, he left the hat, the coat and the gloves in the ring, it led many to believe that that was it, and he was calling it a career.

I honestly can see, knowing how proud he is of his work, him maybe coming back for one more match, almost to redeem himself for last year’s match which he wasn’t quite ready for. Prior to that match, he did have hip surgery, and maybe he wasn’t quite ready but maybe he thought he was because sometimes your mind tells you that you are but your body tells you otherwise. I can see him coming back for one last match, maybe at Mania this year, to go out the way he would prefer to go out as opposed to last year’s match.

Was there anything you’d like to share, promote or make fans aware of as it pertains to Jimmy Korderas?

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I would love to promote Aftermath, which airs on Sportsnet360 which airs in Canada on 7:30 PM, Tuesday nights. We’re pretty much the lead into Smackdown Live. Unfortunately, it’s only available in Canada, so sorry about that if you are listening or reading this anywhere else. We may have some news soon about Aftermath. Let’s just say we are looking at expanding the brand. Hopefully, that will get up and ready soon. I have a book I wrote a few years ago called ‘Three Count: My Life in Stripes as a WWE referee,’ and it is still available if anyone wants to check it out, who knows maybe another one is on the way. Speaking of Aftermath, Anthony Carelli, formerly known as Santino Marella, is also on the show along with Nug Nargang.


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