Within professional wrestling, the drama that unfolds on the literal canvas is presented as figurative art as good battles evil for championships. In many cases, there are two, and sometimes four athletes that make this showcase of athleticism happen, but there's also a fixture that is hidden by design, the referee.
Yes, the authority figure in stripes is often an overlooked commodity, even by the most diehard fans that study the details of the sport. The camouflaging of an official is done intentionally until the proper time, and a quality official is often the glue that holds the flow of the match together as the athletes performing take the audience along for the ride. The dramatic and memorable near falls that occur during a contest, as well as the finish of the match, all depend on the ability of the individual making the count.
As I mentioned previously, as a commentator in the Pittsburgh area, I've had the chance to call the action of some very talented competitors. When it comes to referees in the steel city, it's almost unanimous that longtime official, Bobby Williams is the best at the job in the area. After spending more than half his life in the wrestling business and sharing the ring with dozens of national stars, Williams developed a reputation as one of the most dependable refs on the local scene.
However, long before he stood in the same ring as AJ, Styles, CM Punk, or Bret Hart, Bobby was an enthusiastic fan of the sport. In fact, Williams has followed the genre his entire life.
"I have always been a wrestling as long as I can remember. It goes back even before I was born. My father used to go to see Pittsburgh studio wrestling when he was a kid. So, I grew up around watching wrestling. As a kid, my fondest memory of wrestling has to be Summerslam 1992. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog was by far the match that drew me in. To this day, it is still my favorite match," he recalled.
His obsession with sports entertainment grew during his youth and he devoured as much wrestling as he could find until a local show played a pivotal role in his life.
"When I was in middle school, I used to watch any wrestling I could find on TV. The WWE, WCW, ECW, and a few local wrestling companies. One day I was in the lunch room at school and noticed a poster for a wrestling event that was coming to the school featuring Headshrinker Samu. I tore it down and brought it home. I showed my brother who was equally excited to go, too. This is where I was infected by the sickness. That first live show changed my life forever," he said.
At that local event in 1997, an 11-year-old Bobby met former WWE star Samu, and decided that his dream to become a professional wrestler would one day become a reality. In an effort to learned as much as possible, the youngster found the Samoan's instant messenger name and learned much about the industry from the veteran grappler through extensive online conversations. At this point, Samu was booking shows for the Pro Wrestling Express promotion and this led to Bobby attending events for the promotion that later had an impact on his career. He took his hobby of attending shows and incorporated it into his school work, allowing for tedious projects to become fun for him.
"In school, I was taking a graphic design and web design class. One of my projects for the year was to run and manage a website. So, I began a project of covering the local matches. I would take a notebook, pen, and my camera to snap some photos, and keep notes on the matches," he said.
During the peak of the wrestling boom in 1999, a friend of the Williams family and local legend, T. Rantula began running his own events under the Far North Wrestling banner. Still in middle school, Bobby was allowed to help set up the ring at events, an experience he truly enjoyed as he was thrilled to be involved in the sport. While attending these events, he met another family friend, the late James Fawcett, who was known to Pittsburgh fans as Devil Bhudakahn. Fawcett found out that Bobby designed websites and asked for a web page.
"He found out that I built websites and asked me to run his page. I agreed and we exchanged contact information. A few days later, he came over to the house and we began creating his website. Jimmy logged all of his matches on film and paper so it made it easier to add content. For the next year and a half, I went everywhere with Jimmy. I would set up the rings before the show and do whatever was asked," Bobby explained.
In January of 2001, Fawcett wanted to repay Bobby for the work he did on the web pages. "He offered me something that was worth more to me than any sum of money. He wanted to train me," Bobby remembers.
Still not old enough to drive, Williams needed parental permission before he could begin his formal training, which his parents denied because of his education and the possible injuries. Ironically, similar to how Samu started his interest to pursue wrestling, another WWE star played a critical role in the start of his training.
"My dad traveled a lot for work. He was flying back from Detroit and stopped inside the airport for a sandwich when he ran into Al Snow at a Burger King. He approached Al and engaged in conversation about me. He explained the situation and Al's words would change my dad's opinion. He told my dad if I would go on to do anything in pro wrestling, it would be best to start early. That night, I was given the okay to begin my training. Before I began, Jimmy came to pick me up, but first he sat my parents down and told them I was in good hands and he's not letting me train as a wrestler yet, just as a referee. That made my parents feel so much better about it. That night I began my training as a referee," he said.
At just 14 years old, Bobby Williams entered into the wild world of professional wrestling and in the years that followed, he completed training to ref, as well as the tedious process of safely learning how to become a professional wrestler from his mentor. The early 2000s were a time when his career flourished and Williams was one of the most active performers in the Pittsburgh area, either wrestling or refereeing on shows nearly every weekend.
One of the highlights of his career saw things come full circle for him when he had the opportunity to work as a ref for the 1PW promotion in 2006.
"My Favorite moment occurred in England. I was in the ring for a promo with Jeff Jarrett, who was doing an angle with Bret Hart on the show where Bret hand picked his opponent. So, here I am in Doncaster, England in the ring. Bret Harts music played, he cuts promo introducing Jarrett's opponent, Harry Smith, the son of the British Bulldog so Bulldog's music hits. It reminded me so my much of Summerslam 92," he explained.
For nearly a decade, Bobby wrestled around the tri-state area, mostly for the Pro Wrestling Express promotion, in addition to his ref duties, but a bruised sternum suffered during a match in 2012 led to his decision to hang up the boots the following year. Still, Williams continued his work as a referee and for the past several years worked as the senior official for the International Wrestling Cartel, where he shared the squared circle with countless names in the industry. Williams was undoubtedly assigned these high profile contests because he truly understands the role of the referee.
"The key to being a good referee is understanding the importance of a match. A good referee is assertive and vocal. I learned that early on. I have seen so many referees take away so much from a match because they don't vocalize the rules," he said.
In December of 2014, Williams experienced another peak in his career when he did extra work as a "rosebud" at a WWE live event in Pittsburgh.
"A friend of mine worked quite a bit as an extra for WWE and through conversation, he told me who to contact. So, I sent an email and received the word. It was such a cool experience. Sure, I had worked some big shows, but at the time, my biggest crowd was 1800 people. This is the WWE and a 16,000 seat arena. It was such a great eye opener to see how a well oiled machine is truly operated. That night I worked with Bray Wyatt, Adam Rose, and R-Truth, who I had previously worked with," he said.
With an ultimate goal as a WWE referee, Bobby is optimistic about the future. "I have been reffing for 16 years. I hope that I can continue working and meeting new people."
Affectionately known as "Potter" among those in the local scene for his striking resemblance to the JK Rowlings' character, Bobby Williams has dedicated the majority of his life to learning the craft of a skilled referee. From counting the canvas at sparely attended West Virginia shows to performing in front of a WWE crowd, the journey in the wrestling business took him to another country and multiple states. More than anything, the past decade and a half was the story of someone that achieved their dream and became a respected professional in the process, which is why Bobby Williams is regarded as the best official in the Pittsburgh area.
If you would like to contract Bobby Williams, you can reach him via RPWwrestling@gmail.com
Until next week
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